Tales from a scatterbrain musician trekking across the tattered globe.
COLOMBIA IS THE WRONG PLACE TO LOSE YOUR MIND.
Santa Marta, Colombia - May 2011
Colombia is the wrong place to lose your mind. Safe? Nah. Keep your wits. Bring a travel compadre. Bring a map. Bring a gun. If you don’t have a gun, put an orange inside a tube sock and swing it at the other person’s gun. Get some sleep, but make sure it’s with one eye open. This is the Old Wild West, and rules are a loose formality.
Once coined “The Murder Capital of the World” during the reign of drug lord Pablo Escobar, Colombia has slightly cleaned up its act, allowing myself and childhood friend Gerard Peterson to seek out Roberto Escobar, brother and right hand man to Roberto. Roberto was still living somewhere in the hills of Medellin, Colombia, wasting away with one ear and one eye.
If Pablo Escobar was the Michael Jordan of drug dealing, Roberto Escobar was the Scottie Pippen, and the two were crushing more nose candy than Burt Reynolds if Boogie Nights had three sequels. Today, Pablo was long gone, but Roberto was still living on, hiding away from the new Colombian thugs that were after his blood.
Colombia had almost killed us a few nights before. Traveling from the Capital of Bogotá, Peterson and I had been dropped off on the most dangerous street in Santa Marta at 3 a.m. Otis, our cabby, drives us through the hard knock streets. He explains (In Spanish) that we will be held up at gunpoint if we hang outside too long, signaling a 9mm handgun with his finger and making a “pow!” sound with his chapped lips. Peterson searches the guidebook for lodging before putting his finger on “Hotel California”. This would hardly be what Don Henley had in mind.
Otis drops us off and we hand him a fist of sweaty pesos. It’s 3:00 a.m. We are now very alone in the “Compton” of Colombia, a jungle waiting to take our money, pride, and probably our “worthless gringo lives”. Prostitutes lurk on the street corners of paint-chipped storefronts that formerly encompassed all the colors of the rainbow. Drunk locals line the porches, armed with 40 ounces of malt liquor and other buzz pumper-uppers and downers. The street is bumping heavy Latin music out of a retro Boombox straight out of a Spike Lee Joint.
The locals begin to take notice of us. Though these aren’t the regular locals, they are the crackheads, thugs and she-daddy hookers that give Colombia a bad rep. Our cabby is long gone, leaving us to be heckled by a transvestite in her underwear and a bra. She is now the victim of heavy addiction, scratching her neck and wobbling down the sidewalk like a Veloca Raptor. Everyone is on some sort of illicit substance, petitioning us for drugs and sex.
It’s dark. No street lamps. Everything appears in black and white, like a 2pac Documentary minus the pretty ladies and hints of destined glory. Here, Peterson and I sit, two bitch gringos alone in a world where there can be only one highlander, and it´s not going to be us.
We knock on the door of the first hotel, no vacancy. More crackheads begin to take interest in our vulnerability, lurking like a zombie apocalypse toward our defenseless selves. Peterson and I slip inside the second hotel barely in time. This place is a rat hole. An open-air gated fence separates us from safety and the Jurassic Park outside. Two disheveled men wait outside, starring at us with their hands gripped on the bars. It’s quiet now and I can hear them breathe. A third thug joins the two men at the barred window. He is tall, mustached and heavily tattooed. He asks ¨´van a hacer?´´, translating to ´what are they going to do?´. These men had plans for us. And if our wallets weren’t involved in their scheme, our butt-holes certainly were.
We ran upstairs to our dirt-nest room on the second floor, peeking from behind the blinds at the chaos just 10 feet below. The security is zero, the lock on the door is broken as the wolverines watch us just ten feet below.
We scavenge the room for possible weapons and reinforcement. Fortunately, Peterson is a bit of a MacGyver. In high school, he built us a catapult so we could sling water-balloons and road kill at the neighbor girls. Maybe that’s why none of us had high school girlfriends.
The two of us scavenge the room for defense mechanisms. Peterson finds a stick in the closet and jams it in the sliding window. Locked. The door is missing the chain lock also, so we use a small screw to jam the door shut. Peterson hands me a long board he had torn off the wall. He grabs a hard cover bible from the nightstand. We analyze possible hand-to-hand combat moves, should someone come busting through the window.
“Newski, if anyone comes through that window, I’ll smash em’ in the face with this bible. You come in for the second attack with that 2x4,” says Peterson. We grin at each other. It’s the first moment of relief in an immensely intense hour.
We sleep less than sound, jacked on adrenaline and fear, waiting for daylight to make our next move. I was stone cold sober, but I’d never felt higher in my life. It was time to find Roberto Escobar.
Manila, Philippines - Sept 20, 2011
Bangkok, Thailand - September 28, 2011
- 1) Conservative looking expat passed out face down on the sidewalk.
- 2) Innocent schoolgirl smoking what appears to be a George W. Koosh cone joint.
- 3) Goateed Thai man doing karate.
- 4) White girl rubbing the Buddha belly of an overweight customer.
- 5) British guy folding his arms over his crotch, giving a WWF “suck it” gesture with determination.