Inside of a Cocaine Lab – San Agustín, Colombia
Inside of a Cocaine Lab – San Agustín, Colombia.
I wish I could say that it we were inside of a pristine shiny and sterile cocaine lab that I had pictured in my mind with people wearing baby-blue uniforms similar to what a nurse would have on with dust masks over their faces while machines made noises in the background. But it was nothing like that. It was way dirtier. We were taken to someone’s house.
I went looking for his hostel early this morning because I knew I had stayed at the wrong one last night in San Agustín, Colombia. I got up early to figure out which hostel I needed to visit this morning. A Caucasian couple were walking out the front door as I approached the house and I asked them to hold the door, that way I would not have to ring the doorbell. I entered the house-hostel and it appeared that the second floor was where I would find people as there was just a washing machine and laundry on the bottom floor where the entrance had been. Upstairs a maid was making up a double bed. I asked her in Spanish if she had room for the night and the cost. She could not understand me. My non-Spanish accent deceives me often to the point where if people are not trying hard to comprehend what I am saying, they usually do not. I wonder if I sound to them like someone from China sounds to me who says ‘Harpy Bird-day’ instead of ‘Happy Birthday’ which would meet the same bewildered faces I often get in South America in response to my Spanish attempts…
A chubby man who was about 50 came around the corner and asked the girl in Spanish what I wanted. I could follow their conversation and she told him that she did not know. He asked me in English. I told him I was interested in a room. He shuffled me away to a small table area and asked me who recommended the hostel. I told him, “A friend.” He grinned and asked, “Special tour?” He has apparently been though this situation many times. He told me the price on the room. He had changed the price of the dorm room for me from C$20,000 ($8.35 US) to C$16,000 ($6.70) on the spot when I told him that was what I was paying at the other hostel. I asked him the price on the tour. He wanted to know where my backpack was. I told him it was still at the other hostel. I questioned him again what the price of the tour was. He told me we would talk about the price later and said we would leave for ‘Special Private Tour’ in 20 minutes. I was not mentally ready for it to happen so soon. I said I would return in about 30 minutes and left to collect my things.
When I came back I checked into a private room for C$30,000. The hostel owner told me there would be two other people on the tour with me. When I had returned two very pretty girls were exiting the hostel. I also had seen a guy with a beard and his unattractive girlfriend. I narrowed it down quickly, knowing it would not be the gorgeous girls who would be joining the adventure. I knew they were too fresh, pretty, and innocent looking to be hunting for trouble.
The chubby man came to my room and said we would leave in 10 minutes. I asked him the price of the cocaine tour . He thought about it in front of me and said, “Normal price: 200,000 ($83.50 US). I give you for 150,000 pesos.” He told me he used to work for Pablo Escobar. I would probably say I worked for Pablo Escobar too if I were him. I said in broken Spanish, “Senor, I am not a regular backpacker. I like to find really strange tours, events and festivals. I heard a tour like this existed and I looked for it in Medellin, but I was directed here to San Agustín. I have traveled for 16 hours on buses to get here. I need a better price.” At least that it what I tried to say. He said, “130,000 pesos.” Well, that would cover the extra cost of the room. I shook his hand. He shushed his finger to his lips and told me no one could ever know about the tour in the hostel, including his family. I told him I am an intelligent human being. I took my laundry to his wife and waited outside for a few minutes.
The chubby man, who I am going to call ‘Trimmed Mustache’ had taken the bearded guy and his girlfriend away already and then came back to pick me up on his motorcycle. I asked him on the ride, “Es seguro (Is secure)?” He nodded. We rode just to the outskirts of the town and turned on a spacious street. There were people on the sidewalk and I looked at them looking at this gringo on the back of the cocaine maker’s motorcycle and supposed what they had already supposed. It made me uncomfortable to know that people had watched me arrive on the back of a motorcycle to go into a place where I assumed they had seen so many gringos go.
When we arrived at the would be cocaine lab, the gringo couple, he from Israel and she from Ireland, were standing outside looking at a marijuana plant growing in the yard. How inconspicuous… We entered the house together. The cocaine lab was the house of Trimmed Mustache’s friend. Everyone shook hands. We went into an outside area behind the house covered with a plastic tarp where an old wooden table sat with many bags of ingredients resting on it. I recognized that something looked like the fertilizer used on a farm for planting crops.
Trimmed Mustache began the process and explained everything. His friend, who I am going to call ‘Regular Guy’ was standing beside him to help. I had my paper-pad out and asked them if it was okay if I made notes. Trimmed Mustache said, “Si, pictures okay too. But no pictures of face.” I watched him take off his watch. I thought that was clever as he knew that pictures of his watch in the pictures of his hands could give him away.
The same thing with the watch had obviously not crossed Regular Guy’s mind. I guessed he was the new mule to this scenario. Trimmed Mustache told us that there are three types of coco leaves that grow in South America and that it is the smallest type that grows in Colombia. The Bolivians grow the biggest type that they use to fill their cheeks that keep their energy levels high and help with altitude sickness. Cocoa leave are not dangerous or illegal in their leaf form in Bolivia and are a major source of their culture. Trimmed Mustache kept on saying, “Picture, picture!” as he was preparing the cocaine lab table, so I kept snapping pictures.
It was hard for me to translate what was being said, but there were eight ingredients beyond the coco leaves that would turn them into pure cocaine. The other ingredients were; potassium phosphate, sulfuric acid, cement mixture, re-crystallized ether solvent mixture, sodium phosphate, baking powder, gasoline and car battery acid. Those are the legitimate ingredients…
We started with the coco leaves, pulling them from the stems. Trimmed Mustache told us that a well practiced person can pull off 6 meters of leaves in about 30 seconds. He said that in large labs, a machine is used to break them up. However, in Regular Guy’s cocaine lab house, once the leaves were pulled off, we took turns chopping them like a salad with a kitchen knife. Once sufficiently hacked, Trimmed Mustache added a thick finger pinch of cement mixture as a dash on the salad.
Battery acid was in 3/4 full blue a glass to which he added a small spoonful of potassium phosphate. Sulfuric acid was also included and a little more cement was the final touch that was stirred into the concoction in the cup. Trimmed Mustache went back to the small salad and placed it into an actual metal salad bowl. The battery acid mixture was dumped on the salad and Trimmed Mustache began mashing his dressing into the leaves with a heavy rock. He told us that in large labs people in rubber boots stomp everything together. Then he added 240 milliliters of gasoline to the bowl and mashed that it into everything else. Once content with the mixture, and using an old t-shirt over-top of another bowl, Trimmed Mustache and Regular Guy filtered the liquid from the leaves. Then they dumped the strained liquid into a plastic bag. Once inside of the plastic bag, we could see the liquid separating into three different levels. The middle section was the product he wanted. When he was happy with the separation of the chemicals, Trimmed Mustache ripped the bottom corner of the bag to drain the bottom portion of liquid into a cup that was poured down the drain. Then he captured the now bottomed middle portion into the cup. That was what he was after. The top portion was also poured down the same drain.
Trimmed Mustache took the cup into the kitchen and began heating baking powder in a giant spoon on the stove. At this point someone knocked on the door. That made me very uncomfortable. A window was opened for initial inspection. No big deal, it was just Regular Guy’s girlfriend. They unlocked the door. She came in, sat on the couch of the kitchen cocaine lab, and began watching tv. Umm, okay….
We were told about the history of cocaine while Trimmed Mustache heated the baking powder to the highest temperatures the stove could push it to in a giant spoon. He said the hot baking powder was necessary for the evaporation of the liquid in the product. When hot enough, the baking powder was dumped into the cup and it made a scorching sound while some of the liquid could be seen evaporating. It concerned me to see the blazing hot baking powder dumped into a product of chemicals, one of which was gasoline, but nothing I was expecting to happen happened. Then the product was dumped back into the hot spoon and cooked for another ten minutes until a paste began to develop in the spoon bottom. The process made our entire ‘lab’ smell of chemicals. Trimmed Mustache removed all of the dark brown paste so that the only thing remaining was a mother of pearl chalky substance.
The spoon was taken to the table where Trimmed Mustache broke it up and mashed what was remaining of the off-white with a smaller spoon and then dumped the fine powder onto a saucer. From 11:35am, for the next three minutes exactly, Regular Guy held the saucer under a regular kitchen light. He told us that if the product was any other color besides a clean white, it meant there was another bad chemical included. After three minutes when he brought the plate down again to our view. It was of the purest white imaginable.
The entire process in the cocaine lab took approximately one hour from leaf on a stem to processed powder.
And that, is the dirty process of making cocaine in a cocaine lab. It was fascinating to see it made.
Once I heard a story that Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac did so much cocaine in the 1970’s that the septum in her nose collapsed and a roadie had to blow coke up her ass though a straw so that she could get her fix. That is dedication to a drug habit. I am going to attribute the septum collapse to the car battery acid and the gasoline travelling though her nasal passage. Cocaine is a very very nasty drug…
(See photos above or below…)
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