I kept to myself during most of my stay in Medellín, enjoying the solace of solitude, but one afternoon I happened to sit in the hostel lobby to use the Wi-Fi. I was minding my own business, when I heard a loud voice say “Hey!” It was obvious that this “hey” was directed at me, since I was the only person in the lobby. I looked up and a random man was inviting himself to sit down at my table.
Once my initial perturbation subsided, we went through the general niceties. He’s from Australia, blah, blah, blah. My Australian stranger, we’ll call him Rick, asked if I wanted to go to dinner with him and his friend. I was rolling solo in Colombia, so an evening with new friends was appealing. His friend, let’s call him Ross, was from New York. He was a loud talker (is that a New York thing?). And, we spent a couple minutes connecting over our shared New York pasts.
We pondered where to eat for the evening. Rick was on a budget so he was edging toward fast food, which no. I have nothing against that backpacker budget life (hey, I’ve done it) but no, not on vacation. I don’t like to waste meals, especially on vacation. So we vetoed that idea in favor of a much less budget friendly option: El Cielo.
El Cielo (the sky) is a concept restaurant. It combines traditional local dishes with molecular gastronomy and theatrical presentation. Everyone recommended it and it was supposed to be everything. Ross stopped me, looked me in my eyes and said, “Yes! That’s where we’re going.” Period.
With the spur of the moment decision, we weren’t quite dressed for such a fancy affair. Rick had on shorts and flip flops, you now, struggle-life attire. Plus, we didn’t have a reservation. The host gave us a bit of side eye when we asked for a table, but he had an opening. Cheers!
This restaurant is one of those bougie places that doesn’t have courses, it has “moments.” And they don’t give you a menu when you arrive. They bring you several dishes “to prime your palate,” and then ask you which tasting menu and wine you would like.
Half the things they brought to the table didn’t even look edible. There were literal sound effects, lights and theatrical fog. I wish I could go into every detail about all the courses. There were 15 delicious “moments.” Each was served with such care and full consideration for all the senses. Music for your ears. Scents of flowers and herbs for your nose. Stunning, unexpected presentation for your eyes. Interactive eating for your touch. And, of course rich flavors for your taste buds. It was amazing.
In the midst of getting my life eating this meal, Ross started talking about his quest to find cocaine. Sccrrrrrrrrrrrrrt! Full stop.
Okay, I’m not stupid, I know people do cocaine in Colombia. But, I was not expecting that as casual dinner conversation. Ross told us he was asking friends he visited in Bogotá where to find it, and his friends looked at him like he was crazy. Cocaine doesn’t have a positive reputation in Colombia. This dumb American pissed them off by being so cavalier about asking for drugs. They were ready to excommunicate him and his tom foolery. And, I can’t blame them.
So in a nutshell Ross is a stereotype and on a mission to find cocaine while he’s in Medellín.
I had my priorities straight so I continued eating my food, and that’s when the table next to us asked if we were Americans as well. We didn’t realize they were American because they had been speaking Spanish the whole time. Turned out they are from Colombia and lived in Miami.
We were sharing stories about Colombia when Ross slipped in that he’d love to spend some of his time getting high. Then to my utter shock their immediate response was: “We have a bunch of left over coke at our hotel. We were going to flush it down the toilet because we go home to Miami tomorrow, do you want it?” I laughed out loud. What is happening here??
So Ross followed complete strangers to their hotel to pick up their leftover cocaine. I thought that was the end of my story y’all, but alas it was not.
Back at the hostel, between sharing bumps of coke with Ross, Rick explained how expensive cocaine is in Australia. (Which, yeah, everything is expensive there.) He said he spent $400 on a bag and it didn’t even get him high. So for Rick, being in Colombia was like the discount drug jackpot. He told me he even went to a city in Colombia that’s known for cocaine tourism.
What is that, you ask. Well that my friend, is when people travel to remote cities to snort, smoke and ingest coca and cocaine. There’s men who offer to take you into the back woods somewhere and make fresh coke for you.
Rick told us about the process from getting picked up at the bus station to driving into the bush. They chopped up the leaves then added ingredients like lime, fertilizer, gasoline, and sulfuric acid*. He was in the kitchen of a hut in the woods, with this guy, his girlfriend and his machete, cooking up blow.
After mixing, he said there was a big yellow blob that the girlfriend held up to a light bulb. When she pulled it down, it was a crystal white pile of powder.
Years ago I read the book Cocaine Nation. It’s truly a good book, and from it I already knew how horrible all the things are that go into creating cocaine. But to hear him say he watched someone pour diesel fuel, battery acid, and whatever the hell else into this concoction; then hand it to him, and he was like, “yup, I’mma snort this.” I couldn’t deal. The high must be out of the this world to justify that.
And you know what he had the nerve to say after all that? “The taste of gasoline was a little strong in the line I did, but it was pretty good.”
*Side Note: By this point in his story, Rick and Ross are both high, bouncing off the walls. The worst part, they were not in control of their salivary glands. You know how people get that build up of spit in the corners of their mouth, that makes you want to scream “WIPE YOUR DAMN MOUTH!, yeah that’s how I felt.
I'm Natasha Ho, a trained chef and avid traveler. I've studied culinary traditions from cuisines around the world, and I help food lovers learn how to cook a wide variety of meals that are consistently delicious so they can have more fun, ease and joy in their kitchen.