Sunday, August 13, 2006

Ciudad Perdida Trek, Sleeping With the Military, and Coca Leaves + Gasoline Equals.....

kid at the first camp of Ciudad Perdida trek
Just finished the Ciudad Perdida (Lost City) Trek, a 5 day trek in the Colombian Jungle. It's a relatively simple trek, but filled with rain, mud, river crossings and 1260 steps after the last river crossing up to the Ciudad Perdida. The area also gets it's notoriety for being in the past, a hotspot for guerilla activity. Two years ago there was a tourist group kidnapped here while doing the same tour. Apparently, at the time the government made a cease fire deal with 2 guerilla groups. A third group was upset that they weren't included in any deals, and that's the reason why the kidnapping happened. No one was harmed and right now, guerilla groups have little use in kidnapping foreigners, since a few of them are trying to get recognition as a bona fide political party amongst the powers that be in Europe. The only thing that dissapeared on this trek were a pair of my boxer shorts that I left at the Ciudad Perdida camp. Mierda! Nowadays, the paramilitary controls the region. The paramilitary is an odd situation since it's not part of the government's military department. They are mercenaries hired on contract, who are currently paid by the government to keep the guerillas at bay. The funny thing is that once their contract expires, they can be hired by guerillas. Money makes the world go round, including here in Colombia.
Another odd military thing that we saw first hand was the military camping in the same camp as us.

It was really weird, we mingled with a bunch of youngsters carrying machine guns. People were smoking weed while the military was right there (one other tour group even got a big bag of pot given to them by their guide. By the way, this is the same guide who was part of the kidnapped group 2 years earlier. But that's a story for a different day). Regarding the tourists smoking weed, the leader of the army said 'we're the army, we're not the police. it doesn't matter to us'.....crazy. It was a surreal scene, but I guess nothing really unexpected for Colombia, since you also see machine gun carrying soldiers everywhere, which is probably a good thing.
As for the Ciudad Perdida itself, the entire site is only about 1/4 excavated. It'll be interesting to see it 3 or 4 years from now to see how vast it is. Currently, there are a few archaelogists there excavating. The ruins itself are a series of terraces set up high in the jungle. 1260 steps from the last river crossing to be exact.

the first 10 steps or so of 1260 in total
There are no buildings remaining since they were made of wood and straw. Just the circular stone terraces that housed dwellings, paths and walls are the only things remaining. The ruins don't have the notoriety (or spectacular effect) that say a Machu Picchu has. But the fact that I can walk around the ruins without anyone else around is something special in itself.

first view of the ruins

some of the ruins at sunrise. sort of looks like a tee box.

a replica of one of the Tayronian homes in Ciudad Perdida

On the last day, we were shown the process of extracting cocaine from coca leaves. It's a real interesting chemical process to separate the drug from the coca leaf. It involves materials such as salt, calcium, gasoline, sulfuric acid, and bleach. If you're a cokehead, rest assured, these materials don't go in the final product, but are used purely for extraction. It's interesting to note that most of the expense that goes into manufacturing is in the chemicals. The leaves them selves are cheap and plentiful. It's also interesting to note that Colombia is the only country int the world where cocaine is cheaper than marijuana at $1-5 a gram. Politically, even though the government is a strong ally of the US, they as well as rival guerilla groups both prosper from the cocaine smuggling trade. 80 percent of the world's coke goes through the port of Santa Marta which is 5 minutes away from wher I'm at right now here in Taganga. So if you are a coke fiend, hopefully this has been an insightful lesson into what goes into the junk you're stuffing in your nose. The money you spend on yayyo is making many a Colombian happy...and rich. See photos of the process below:

coca leaves

salt and calcium to dry out the coca leaves

can't remember what the black stuff is, but it's cooked with the leaves and gasoline during the extraction process

liquid separates from the black stuff, and then is filtered

the end product of the filtering

add a little bleach to separate the materials

final filtering gets this

once this paste is cooked, the oil burns off, and you've got yourself about a gram of white


At 6:43 PM, Blogger thaiboi said...

That's f#@$d up. It amazes me how man has come up with the most bizarre concoctions! Who would ever have thought how to make coke? I can understand weed, but mixing gasonline??...


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