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September 22, 2007


So this dipshit American guy is in Colombia and in the most touristed area buys some bad coke off a dodgy dealer and minutes later he is busted by the police. The police haul him down to the police station and start to address him but he cant speak a lick of spanish. They bring a sheet of paper with a statement in spanish for him to sign. He glances over it and then flicks it over and writes "100".
The cop shakes his head.
The cop shakes his head again
"500". The cops nod their heads.
"Pesos?" The cops shake their heads.
"Dollars?" They nod again. So they take him down to an ATM and he withdraws 500 american bucks and the police let him go.

The next day someone in his hostal is talking about going to the police to get a statement for an insurance policy. Being $500 down this dipshit guy thinks insurance fraud is a great way to make his money back. He goes back to the same Police station and this time he finds a semi fluent english speaker to record his claim. He says he had his camer stolen and needs to file a police report. The policeman asks him what kind of camera. He fumbles his answer. The policeman asks if he is lying. He says of course not. The policeman pressures him and threatens that if they take him back to his hotel room now and search his belongings they wont find a camera? He tells them he doesnt want to file a report anymore. The policeman threatens to arrest him on charges of fraud. He picks up an empty piece of paper. He writes "100"
The policeman shakes his head.
The policeman nods his head.
The policeman nods again.

Posted by alex at 6:46 AM | Comments (0)

September 16, 2007

Coaine and FARC - Colombian Myths and legends


No matter what you´re opinion of the substance it has radically shaped the face of colombia more than any other product or person in the 20th century. The lives of millions, kidnappings and the militant struggle of FARC all are neatly entwined one way or another with Coke.

what I ´ve put down here is a very uninformed and researched opinion drawn from late night boozy discussions with expats and in terrible basic spanish with local people. Please feel free to correct me.

Can´'t Beat the Real Thing.

Cocaine as most people know of course has it´s roots in indiegnous S American coca cultivation. The leaf would be chewed with bits of charcoal to produce very mild euphoric effort which held off feelings of hunger, cold or tiredness. Leaf chewing never really took off with the spainards, but in the 1800s some clever fellow named Albert Nieman extracted pure Cocaine. Lots of people dabled with it namely Freud who highly propositioned it as a remedy against depression before noting it´s anesthetic qualities. Companies such as Coca Cola and Vin Mariani approiated it into beverage recipes.

As I´m told, most of the Coca in the first half of the 20th century was produced in Bolivia and Peru. The poorest farmers were often the ones found cultivating it. As demand rose in 60s/70s America, flow obviously gathered pace northward. Cocaine would pass through Colombia on its way through the Darien Gap or Coca leaves would be shipped northwards and processed, which is what was beginning to become more frequent at this time. Most of the Cocaine manufacture began to happen in Colombia with illegal drug laboratories run by "Cartels" competing with each other for a larger share of market space. Into the 80s and the war on drugs had begun and America had put great presure on the Colombian government to clamp down harder on drug trafficking.

Being a smart young head of a smaller cartel, a young Pablo Escobar offered up certain names and connections (national and international..îe Bolivia, Peru) for immunity. In one foul swoop he knocked Bolivia and Peru out of the picture and started his own means of mass coca production and gave several of his leading cocaine opponents to the authorities.

This was the beginning of real lawlessness in Colombia. Pablo grew very powerful, very quickly and Medellin (his city of residence) became the centre of Cocaine power. In order to keep tight reins on what was going on, he bought government officals in all departments and from all walks of life. He apparently had the entire medellin taxi fleet on his wage roll to inform about DEA agents arriving or what not. Colombian authorites were obviously none to pleased with Pablo´s rise in power so he raised a huge priavte army spawning the legacy of the para military today. He also put out a bounty on any police officer ($500) or army officer ($1000) killed purging the streets of them and pushing Colombian cities into outright lawlessness.

This lawlessness resulted in a rise in kidnappings and of course private security. This became a boon industry. There are even a number of bullet proof tailors in Bogota still in operation.

In order to keep up with the massive amounts of cocaine being pushed north, the Cartels needed more coca. Paramilitary armies began turning up at villagers, killing a few people (some horrid cases skinning them), confisacting their land and then forcing them to cultivate coca. Compounding these problems for the government was the ongoing "war" with FARC and a steady amount of corruption. Governments were bought with ease, but all good things like the 80s have to come to an end sometime.

Pablo was brought down and his cartel torn apart. Others stepped up to grab his market share, but the damage had been done. Nobody would ever quite equal his height of power or his excessive lifestyle. His palace can still be visited today and the vestiges of a zoo and numeorus pools etc lie now in plundered ruins. The days of the giant Cartels were almost over.

FARCn Hell

FARC came into being during the period known in Colombia as La Violencia. They propogated a marxist-socialist line and protected enclaves against the military dictaorship. They kept up their crusade for a Marxist government after the re-installation of a civilian government. Of course FARC were one of numerous revolutionary groups (albeit the biggest one) and alongside fighting much discussion was bantered about from the government about surrender of arms and the formation of a genuine poltical group.

FARC had a lot of intellectual support, such as leading academics like Gabriel Garcia Marquez who subsquently left Colombia as a reaction to it´s governments. They also were constantly trying to court international support as this whole guerilla thing of course is quite costly and they wanted their struggle to be recognised as a civil war, which would give them certain human rights in combat. Now, both the government (as a hang over from la violencia days) and FARC (I guess as a self justified counter) both commited some horrific crimes but a pòpular one on FARCs side became kidnapping. We'll come to that in a moment.

Another important guerilla were M19 (the movement of April 19) and the first to take the government up on their call to amensty and the formation of a soley poltical party. They prompty won a lot of support in the next election. Immediately prominent members and the elected candiates were gunned down by paramilitary ops and the other organisations like FARC became ultra wary of any government promises.In order to protect themselves from attacks on their bases they began to kidnap high level governmnt officials to be held as a security against further attacks. This also turned into a money making opportunity as the rich Colombian elite were viewed responsible for the government and little sympathy was held for them by the mostly peasantry FARC. Many Bogatanoes have a family member or a friend whose family member has been kidnapped or killed at some point. Both the government and FARC have since amassed a large contingency of hostages to be used as shields.

FARC is now primarily made of poor pesant folk who join for the economic security rather than the idealogical values FARC supposedly champions. With little opportunity employment opportunites in the FARC controlled areas, some villagers see it as the only alternative to abject poverty. I believe 40% is made up of women making it one the least gender biased organisations in the country. Like Escobar, FARC has obviously had to provide substantial infrastructure in the areas it controls or risk losing their support base.

In an effort to make amends with Farc and negoiate, the government promised to give FARC a huge chunk of land in exchange for some hostages. FARC was at this time experiencing great finacial difficulties and seeing as this was a prime coca growing land they thought, why not? If everybody else has a slice why not us? Non political kidnappings and bus roobberies dropped significantly as FARC used it´s cocaine to finance its operations.

Tourists were rarely kidnapped as this had detrimental effects on international sympathy for their cause. In 2003 some Israeli tourists were kidnapped andd I believe some possibly killed. this created such a huge international outcry that FARC backstepped and apologised, sorry to see it´s imaged tarnished so badly along with other recent human rights abuses.

After Pablo

The colombian government began investing in the police force rather than the army (as it had previously with it´s war with FARC) and the cities became safe again. With the decline of Drug Cartel Power a lot paramilitary were out of work. The paramilitary for a along time had probably committed the worst atrocities of all the armed groups and became an easy thug to hire when the government needed dirty work done. Paramilitary groups took over small sections of country and began to extort safety money and produce their own cocaine. The government would try to stop their swell in power by organising amensty for disbanding, but this had little effect as the leader would adhere to government demands , but sub-commanders finding them selves out of a job would ressurect the group under a different movement name. Many areas are now "secure" because of paramilitary activity and people/companies paying them protection money. Bus journeys (once notoriously unsafe in some parts) are a good example. Some areas of Colombia are caught in 3 way fighting between the government, paramilitaries and FARC.

Nowdays FARC controls the difficult to penetrate amazon basin and come pacific costal territory. The current president Uribe has made himself popular with stance of "getting tough" on FARC and FARC have been losing ground. However fighting has also increased with this policy and many of the poorest in the country get caught in the middle. Many of the leading intellectuals that supported FARC have disowned them saying the group has lost its principals.

By 99 coloumbia was of course the world leading producer of cocain accounting for 3 quarters of international production. The government is continually promising the US to get tougher and remedial effects such as scorch earthing have begun to generate outcry as this damages only poor coca farmers when the responsibility of curbing flow should lie with American consumers.

The question could be asked what do most Colombians think about Cocaine, and their answers are probably mixed. Most Colombians will never even touch cocaine. They may never even see it. The majority of the poor realise what detrimental effects its had on the country and how it has caused an incredible amount of fighting.. However this sort of opion caries weight depnding where you live. Despite beng at his height the 7th richest man in the world Pablo Escobar had a public to deal with since he had effectively got rid of the government in his home city of Medellin. To carry favour with locals he embarked on huge housing and infrastucture projects, particularly among the poor, and as a natural orator was well liked and lionised. Some people say that Colombia owes more to Cocaine than all other commodites combined.

Posted by alex at 1:27 AM | Comments (8)

September 14, 2007


Colombia Pt 2

After some random Cocaine nights out with friends and locals in sweet ol Cartahenga, we moved quickly south to the city of Medellin hoping to make it in time for the Annual Flower Festival. This is a big event in the area calendar with campensinos from surrounding villages descending in throes with huge boquet arrangements of flowers on their backs and a lot of weeklong partying.

Unfortunately we had been supplied with the wrong dates and arrived a little earlier than expected, so we headed 6hours south to Zona Caffeteria and the quaint little town of Salento for a couple of days. Here we indulged in local trout, big homemade sandwiches and a lot of drunk card playing with some cool british kids we met. Juliet and I also visited a coffee farm and had a good chin wag with the owner about the price and competetiveness of the coffee market and I went off on my own to lovely Cocora Valley. A valley, which described to me before depature as "a place even an idiot would have trouble getting lost in." I of course managed to somehow wander off the real path into some stunning scenery and gain a hell of a lot of altitude. After passing beautiful acres of cloud forest and 60m high palms I luckily managed to gather the path was a tad irregularly high and rushed back down to the park entrance before dark but not in time to get the last jeep back to Salento. My limited spanish conversations with the locals proved little comfort and I decided to walk back as dark descended with an unknown amount of kms ahead of me. Not a single car passed me in my direction and the lack of any lightsource or even habitation proved very spooky and ethereal. Fire flies flooded the banks and the paddocks to my side and I walked on unable to see my feet thanking god i wasnt tripping right now. Luckily the town was only 12 or so km away (I had already walked 24 kms that day in Cocora) and manged home at about 9pm. Much earlier than the ETA of midnight i had given myself.

Salento Cocora Palms

Another 6 bours and we bumped our way into Medellin again as the climax of the flower festival was approaching. This was offset by bumping into a lot of old friends, some of whom had not actually left their hostal in 3days due to large stocks of cheap beer and the availability of taxi delivered coke. In fact the night before the large flower parade juliet, myself and a slew of random people muddled round the nightlife area until 6 in the morning and barely crawled out of bed in time for 3pm parade through the city. We sadly had managed to make very few of the hundreds of activities going on, but I prided myself in making it to the hevaily crowded parade site while many of my friends failed.


Medellin is an important city in Colombia and the former Drug Cartel headquarters. This is the city where drug money ruled everything in the 80s and Escobar had a huge mansion 3 hrs out of town with half the population on his payroll. It´sn also the city where Botero was from and his statues are scattered all over the city. Nothing is quite like seeing the twight bend the shadows of horrendous fat brass men sitting on horendous fat little brass horses in the main square. It´s also a town known for it´s women and nightlife, and silicon alley is a hell of a weird and wacky place to hangout to go dancing.

Dancer With flowers

On the bus ride to Popoyan I got severly sick and I had to bed down in a lovely new hostal on arrival. Intersped with watching a lot of almodavar movies and feeling sorry for myself (and the people next to the bathroom), Juliet and I wandered around this whitewashed city before getting word of Pisco and expecting the worst. Luckily nothing came up the coast past Peru and I´m still waiting for my first earthquake experience. Another night and I was well enough to handle 6 hours of terrible roads to the lovely little town of St Augustin. The town is the site of a wealth of Pre Inca ruins and burial mounds and a supposed eductaional cocaine factory I unfortunately failed to locate. One particular ruin took us hours to get to, walking up to the edge of a vast canyon and scracted in giant pictures on the rocks overlooking the river way below were very vivid shamen and condors.

Pre Columbian

We took the path less travelled opting a road I had previous no knowledge of existing, bumpily through spectacular country to Pasto. The bus brokedown numerous times and it began to get very cold. We had been specifically told not to travel at night in these parts and it was 1 am before we made it to our hotel. The next day was a full day of travel also with no breaks to the Ecuador border and on to Quito. The border was terribly slow and we were more than a little sad to be leaving out favourite country so far. I guess it was Colobias way of telling us not to leave.

Books Read: Laughter in the Dark/ Camera Obscura - Nabakov,
Music: Justice, Single Frame Ashtray, This Heat, Les Savy Fav - Go Forth, Film School

Posted by alex at 12:35 PM | Comments (0)

September 10, 2007

Colombia Pt 1

Sex Drugs and Football

I´m starting to dread writing these things now. I think I´ve forgotten how not to make thing sound uninteresting.My travel journal entries sound boorish, impersonal and threadbare. Despite intentions otherwise they limp badly between unoppinated and being beaten into a travel checklist. They arent even half acceptable generic travel articles which I used to be good at.

so it´s late now in this sad little internet cafe on Gringo street in Quito and I have to be up early for my first of many spanish lessons. I ´m a little worried. languages were never my forte. Amazing how far miming and weak smilies accompanied by a shrug of the shoulders can get you. At any rate, South America so far has been beautiful. Colombia in particular is a country of passion, where friends, soccer and pushup lo-cut tops are revered and food is deep fried, even if you´re eating cereal. It´s a country where people are imensely friendly and any kind of weird association with it being a dangerous place (along the gringo trail at least, )just makes it less over run and the people more insistent to welcome you to a country they are very proud of. There´s more to colombia than Coke, FARC and gabriel garcia marquez, but i´ll deal with them later on too.

Bogota was an interesting though somewhat grey city we never really got the chance to explore. Thanks to many of the travel frightened people we met in New york we were filled with horror stories of the certain muggings, kidnappings and knifings we were surely in for once touching down in South america. This was of course as far from the truth as could possibly be. In fact Colombia turned out to be one of the safest countries you could visit as long as you used your head. But it meant we didnt venture very far into the night the first few days. Compounding thngs, most people start their S American journeys in Argentina and head northwards and so everybody has a horror story of some kind by the time they hit Colombia and Juliet was ravenous for them. She got very nervous, yet like a cankersore kept prodding.

Old Skool bowling! Villa de leyva
We wandered around the old district, went bowling at a non-automated bowling alley (!), looked at a lot of Fat people Botero paintings (yay!) and when we got bored we headed North to a Villa De Leyva, a little colonial town that looks so similar to a quaint 1700s mexican setting that even film crews had turned up to pay homage. And throughout our 2 day stay we were subjected to men in ragged blue coats and fake muskets storming the main church while fake cannon fire kept the whole town up all night. The town with its cobblestone alleyways and whitewash was very pretty but at the same time very boring, so we rented some horses and rode out to a pre inca astronomy site and a very bad winery for some of the worst tasting I had every experienced. Colombian wine is not something to be taken lightly or... perhaps even at all.
Barichara church
So we headed north to a superquaint yet busy little town called San Gil and camped down there for one of our most fun weeks in Colombia. We got on Famously well with the Australian owner and hence spent nights plotting RISK maneouvers and world domination or drinking with locals in the square. Colombians are a friendly people but San Gil locals took it to a new level. With pushup bras and slick moustaches they would come stumbling over to pour bottles of a horrid aniseed drink down our gringo throats and wrap their arms around everyone and we would fall about grinning and laughing about what I dont know as my spanish was non existent. During the day we managed some spectacular walks up to some amazing waterfalls or basked in the botanical gardens by the river which were drenched in spanish moss and fell about into the river. We also did some grade 4 rafting and paragliding over tabbaco plantation which i managed to crash into when i landed. The local night clubs also proved incredibly hideous and Juliet and I got staggeringly drunk and while the place was overflowing with people a weird couple tried some seedy dance moves on us and then tried to suggest we go back to their house. After a trip to the nearby quaint colonial town of Barricharra we were itchy for the carribean and the warmth.
Tobacco Farmer, Santander
By this time I was beginning to tire of every meal consisting of fried stuffs. Colombians deep fry everything. They also like to dress in particulary skimpy clothes which can sometimes result in some obscene fashion statements with tummys and asses falling out and over too tight 80s pants and boob tubes. I never quite understood the esteem that colombian girls were held by foreignors..The gringos we would meet would fall overthemselves describing how hot the girls from Cali and Medellin were, but I never got it. It´s certainly the centre of silicon injections and plastic surgery spruce ups but I was never enamored. We arrived at the gravel beach fishing village of Taganga and were shocked at the amount of gringos holed up there. Particulary Israelis. Israelis I learnt are pack animals. They gather in large groups and crowd a place and suddently, bam! they are all gone. A group of 40 or so people leaving at once. It´s weird. Anyway this crummy little beach community was a dive and a half and crowed with these weird backpackers professing the beauty of the beaches and laying about for weeks on ended smoking and snorting too many drugs. I immediately head into the jungle with a couple of friends to hike to the Lost city of the Tayoronas while Juliet stayed behind to do the Dive course I had given her for her birthday. The lost city was a three day hike away through thick jungle mountains, across a mulitude of rivers and amongst a mess of mosquitoes. It was a awesome trip and the city of stone terraces hidden in the jungle is huge. Apparently ridge top city was only discovered as recently as the 70s when word got out of a lot of murders happenning up in the mountains near Santa Marta and a lot of gold began coming onto the black market. The local Tayrona people had secretly worshiped there since the city was abandoned and were anxious to protect the sacred gold relics hidden in the stone platforms that grave robbers had got wind of. Up at the city the Mosquitoes were positvely violent and many came down with more bites than skin.
Child of the Tayronas

Juliet and I tried our luck in Tayrona national park where the beach was fronted by forest but it was crowed with backpackers and we didnt like the scene very much. We headed back to Santa Marta and bused it further west to possibily the most beautiful city in S America ; Cartahenga. As the prinicpal port for shipping Spains plundered treasures back to the old world , it propsered and the result id this beautiful colonial city with boganvillia strewn balconies shadowing bustling cobblestone alleyways. Here we strolled the old town, celebrated Juliets birthday in Cuban bars, visited a mud volcano and stayed at nearby white beach for a couple nights where we ate too much lobster and drank too much free beer

Mud Volcano Cartagena

Books Read: Don Quixote, Vanishing Point
Music: Arcade Fire - Neon Bible, The Ponys, Mount Eerie

Posted by alex at 9:13 AM | Comments (0)