Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Ciudad Perdida

Quite a leisurely start to the first day of the jungle trip. We were picked up from the hostel at around 10ish and driven back into Santa Marta to meet the rest of the intrepid adventurers. After a bit of packing and messing around we drove for about an hour over some fairly rough roads and finally reached the jumping off point for the trek.

We met the people who were on their way back and were greeted by a variety of cries along the lines of "turn back", "you´re doomed", "run away!"... All good cheerful encouragement.

We then set off down a dirt track and came to the first river crossing, only a shallow river so no one got wet. We then got our first taste of real walking as we climbed a small hill.

This is us after only 20 minutes. We are half dead.

However, as always the views make it worthwhile:

We finally reached the first camp and got to go for a nice swim and have a rest.

Our guide set up the hammocks and we got a nice meal inside us courtesy of the camp cook. Everyone was in bed by about 9pm - an early night theme that would continue for the rest of the trip.

The following day we were offered a chance to visit a cocaine "factory". Obviously, a chance like this doesn´t come up very often so we all readily handed over our cash and wondered off into the bush.

It was slightly disappointing to find that we weren´t being taken to some underground factory in the jungle but to a trestle table set up with a bunch of buckets in quite a nice location

Our guess is that there probably is a factory somewhere, but a bunch of gringos aren´t going to get an invite. There followed a demonstration of the process of extracting the cocaine paste from coca leaves.

The process as demonstrated goes as follows:

Over a period of three months collect leaves from the trees (so you can get 4 crops a year).

When you have a sufficient quantity chop them up in a big chopping machine to produce a leaf pulp.

This pulp is then mixed with a combination of salt and quicklime and the resulting mixture is kneaded using people wearing wellington boots for about 30 minutes.

You now need a big bucket and lots of gasoline, sulphuric acid and water. Put all this together with the leaf pulp and leave it to stew for a while.

Once you´re happy with the brew filter out the leaves and syphon off from the bottom of the bucket the mixture of sulphuric acid (which should now have the alkaloids dissolved in it), the water and about a quarter of the gasoline.

You now add potassium permanganate which we think is to remove the gasoline, but we´re not entirely sure.

This is then passed through a fairly crude filter.

The final step is to neutralise the acid using bicarbonate of soda. As well all know from our GCSE chemistry, the stuff that is dissolved in the acid will now precipitate out.

Now it´s just a case of filtering out the cocaine base and drying it in the sun.

You can smoke this cocaine base in cigarettes (apparently this is called a bazooka on the street).

The paste is sold onto to more important mafia types who refine is further and then cut it to increase the quantity.

Having seen the amount of horrible stuff that goes into the process it´s hard to understand why anyone would want to stick the result up their nose...

Around 11ish we set off for the second day of walking. Already peoples feet had started to suffer, so it was a bizarre looking troupe of people that left camp.

On the way we passed through a local village, didn´t really feel that I could take their photographs, but I took some of their huts.

After several hours of hard walking we reached the next camp and met some more weary people returning from the lost city.

The third day of the hike involved crossing a fairly deep river 9 times. The first crossing was only 20 minutes into the walk and everyone was well prepared wearing trunks and sandals.

There then followed about 2 hours of walking up and down hills (why not go around?) and lots more getting wet before we finally came to the steps leading up to the city.

At this point the regular rain storm that normally started at about 2 or 3 decided to come early and the heavens opened. I guess it´s lucky that we were already soaked from the river crossings...

There´s only 1200 steps to climb to get up into the city! But eventually we were all settled and our chef got to work

Nice views of the cloud forest from here:

The evenings entertainment consisted of our guide singing using a bucket as accompaniment. After 3 days in the jungle, anything is fun...

The following morning we were up bright and early to see the city.

Definitely worth the walk. Not sure about the insects though...

Pretty soon it was time to start walking back. Crossing the river all those times again. Half way back it started to rain again turning the paths into mud slides so by the time we reached the camp we were all pretty disgustingly dirty. Once again though our chef came through and cooked us up a nice meal and it was early into bed again (after more singing and bucket playing from the guide...). The next two days are just blurs of walking up and down hills before finally making it back to the road and jeep home.

Photos here.

More info here.


Anonymous said...

Mmm.....I suspect the last two days were when you succumbed to the temptation of that nasty white powder.

Anonymous said...

Chris, I watched a documentary once on the making of cocaine and it showed EXACTLY what you saw - men in tents in the middle of the jumgle making the main base that eventually leads to the street drug. I almost wonder if the documentary crew filmed the same tent you were in! I also had the same reaction you had when I realized how integral a part gasoline is to the whole process.
Amy Y.

Chris said...

Yeah, it´s pretty amazing, they add 4 gallons of gasoline and only remove 3 gallons.