Okay – day of ACTION! Got up at some ungodly hour and rendered the podcast, got to the Internet café at 7.30am and uploaded it. Got to bookshop at 9am and bought new Lovely Plant guidebook (PHEW!)
Jumped on the first bus to the border (11am) and CROSSED THE EQUATOR!! So I’m now back in the Northern Hemisphere.
Got to the border in good time, 4pm.
Then…. Waited, and waited, and WAITED to get my exit stamp.
It was 7.30pm before I got across. And I pushed in. I bribed a Canadian guy called Matt who was in the middle of the queue (rather than the end) with a Coca-Cola and he let me in. Thanks Matt!!
It was the old South American trick of employing just one guy with a stamp to process 500 people. Urgh! Entertainingly enough though, there were actually real monks in the queue. Monks! With bare feet and brown robes, rope belts and tonsures and everything!! I realised I had never seen a real, live monk before. I was so excited I think I did a little wee. Bet they were wearing hair vests as well. I should have asked them.
So I’m now in Colombia. The direct bus to Bogotá was sold out (typical!) so I had to get the bus to Cali instead. Which is actually on the way – I know – I checked the map! Although they didn’t let me get on the 8pm bus, they said that was full (in the time it took me to pay by Visa) so I was stuck until 9pm, but once the bus was on the way I was absolutely gutted that I had lost so much time at the border. The views of the valleys and mountains on the right hand side of the bus during the day would have been spectacular. Hell – they were pretty impressive in almost complete darkness.
Every half hour, our bus got stopped and searched by police/army types with big guns and no smiles. Everyone on the bus seemed quite resigned to this as the way of life here, I stayed awake for the first four searches, but then went beddy-bo-bos and missed the rest.
I think I’m about 3 days behind schedule now; I really need to make up some time in the Caribbean. Don’t know how easy that is going to be, absolutely NOTHING has been arranged. I feel quite sick just thinking about it. There are hardly any ferry services in the Caribbean, cruise ships flat refuse to take on casual travellers and the chances of working my passage on a private yacht are probably less than 50:50. In short, I could be stuck in the Caribbean for quite some time.
If any of you know anyone who is in the Caribbean at the moment and has a boat (preferably a speed boat!) PLEASE let me know. It’s getting to the 11th hour here and I don’t want this whole thing to fall apart at the first hurdle. Thanks.
At the moment I’m on the bus to Bogotá. Colombia is beautiful, so green and mountainy and Romancing The Stone. The people are friendly as hell as well, offering me snacks and chatting to me a lot more than the folks from down south. Northerners eh? We rock. Oh, and the chicks are much better lucking. Seriously – everyone in Bolivia looks like Dwayne Dibbly. And that includes the girls.
There is still massive poverty here in Colombia though and a large portion of the country is not even under the control of the government as hard left and hard right paramilitaries rule the roost over vast swathes of the nation, and I’m going to give you three guesses how they fund their daft little insurgency. But on the bright side, Colombia is no longer the kidnap capital of the world – that honour has gone to Iraq.
In 1999, the US gave the Colombian government 3.3 billion dollars to institute ‘Plan Colombia’, a grand scheme that involves US planes spraying coca fields with Herbicide, with the intention of killing the cocaine trade at root, so to speak.
Idiots. A child could have pointed out that it wasn’t going to work, and saved the US taxpayer a fair old hunk of cash. Surprisingly(!), the gangsters who produce cocaine didn’t just up sticks from the $6,000,000,000 industry with which they had grown so fond, so when a farmer’s field was ruined by spraying, they would simply go and intimidate some other poor toothless farmer into growing stuff for them somewhere else – like in the delicate ecosystem of the Amazon rainforest.
So what’s the upshot of all this? Well, in the last ten years, there hasn’t been a single percentage drop in cocaine supply from Colombia to the US or Europe, but a lot of rainforest has been trashed. Well done America, next time you’ve got 3.3 billion dollars to waste, how’s about letting me shovel it into a burning well in front of a bunch of starving African AIDS orphans instead? It would be just as productive and much more fun.
I said it in the earlier blog: fair trade cocaine. It’s the only way out of this mess, and the only way Colombia is ever going to get its country’s lush green mountains back. Let’s hope admitted ex-cokehead Barack (replacing admitted ex-cokehead George W – weren’t the 80s great?) can see it in his wisdom to finally bring this ludicrous situation under control and make that unpopular but morally correct decision.
Right, I’m running out of batteries, so just time to say THANK YOU for all your messages of support and for the kind donations to WaterAid. It’s really giving me a lift to know that there are so many people who are willing me to succeed. Can’t wait to see you all again when I pass through the UK at the end of February – keep your diaries free!
Lots of you have been asking how you can get in touch with me on the road. The best way is via email to my yahoo account, or via the ‘Contact’ page, but if you want you can always send me a text on my usual number, but don’t ring it as I haven’t got enough credit.
Got to Bogotá yesterday, but there was barely enough time to pull my undies out of my backside before I was bang! on another overnight bus heading up to the border with Venezuela. For some reason, Colombian buses must be kept at a constant -5 degrees C at all times, so I was forced to wear pretty much all the clothing I own and my sleeping bag. But that’s the way they like it. We were roused from our collective slumbers at about 7am for some breakfast on top of a mountain. And I thought the bus was cold…! Luckily, the driver kept us all locked out of the coach for half an hour so we all got to experience the full freezing coldness of an Andean mountain on an early Sunday morning.
What is this with countries near the equator being cold? I don’t get it. I may have to right a letter to the Secretary General of the UN about it. It’s just not cricket.
I arrived at the border with Venezuela in good time – around 12 noon, expecting to breeze through the formalities in good time, but ended up waiting for an age. I got chatting to a Venezuelan teenager called Mario, and he and his mum would be my guardian angels for the next couple of days.
My first taste of Venezuela was for the taxi driver to rip us off something rotten – charging $30 to drive a mile or so. Fairly cheeky, one would imagine – but it’s taking the utter p*ss when you remember that Venezuela is an oil state and it costs $2 to fill your tank. Or $1 to fill your car, if you’re not playing Grand Theft Auto.
Actually, it was a good introduction to life in Venezuela – it’s expensive. Very expensive. In a crappy, rippy-offy kind of way.
And awkward. Very bloody awkward.
So far, The Odyssey hasn’t been a cakewalk by any stretch of the imagination, but at least I’ve been able to turn up, buy a ticket to my next destination and jump on the bus.
I think Venezuela has been taking lessons from the appallingly crap public transport system we have in the UK.
So – let’s put not enough buses on during public holidays! Let’s have no express services! Let’s make it impossible to pay by Visa! Let’s employ thoroughly unpleasant and unhelpful staff! And, just to kick Graham in the knackers, let’s make sure the only ATM in the terminal is broken.
The world and his mate seemed to be trying to get home this Sunday and the coach companies were not playing ball.
Mario and his mum looked after me, though. They were heading home to Cuidad Guyana – and I had to pass through there on the way to Boa Vista in Brazil. We combined forces and they managed to blag me on board a bus to Puerto La Cruz with them using someone else’s ticket and I managed to pay in US dollars. Baring in mind all the other buses were sold out until Tuesday, this was a lucky break for your ginger host.
Everything was sweet, and so after a pleasant afternoon spent sweating and choking on the exhaust fumes in a dirty concrete bus station, I was on my way – a roundabout way of getting to Brazil, but a way nonetheless.
For somebody with my fun-seeking personality traits it may come as a shock to some of you that I’ve never knowingly taken an illegal drug.
The closest I’ve got was haplessly sharing a ‘Happy Pizza’ in Cambodia back in 2002: coming from the country that also has a ‘Happy Rifle Range’ I (rather naively) thought it would be the Cambodian equivalent of a McDonald’s Happy Meal. Well it wasn’t for kids and I didn’t get a toy, but do I have to concede: it did make me happy.
So despite all the travel, all the gigs, the random house parties and music festivals I’ve attended over the years, nobody has ever seen me smoke a joint, snort a line of cocaine or declare I can fly after taking acid. I don’t need acid to fly, I have Ryanair.
Okay, some people may have seen me in a nightclub sweating like a madman and hugging random strangers while simultaneously attempting to chew my own face off, but that’s just how I dance.
If I get a little agitated when some narcotic is being passed around in my presence, it is not because of the existence of said narcotic, but because of the looks I get from my peers when I politely decline. A kind of ‘do you think you’re better than us?’ look which I don’t really deserve. Of course, I do think I’m better than them, but that’s only because my healthy arrogance leads me to believe I’m better than everyone… it has little or nothing to do with what they choose to suck into their own bodies.
So it may come as a further shock when I say that I am 100% in favour of the ending of prohibition and the legalisation of ALL drugs. As soon as possible. Obviously not to make my life easier, I don’t grow them, deal them or take them: but to make this world – the only planet we’ll ever know – a more peaceful place for everyone. Everyone.
And, guess what? There’s a whole bunch of powerful people who FINALLY agree with me…
But (I hear you scream) drugs ruin people’s lives!! Yes. Yes they do. But then so does falling in love with the wrong person, getting pregnant at 16, your boss being an utter bastard, eating too much, not eating enough, bad tattoos, plastic surgery, adultery, modern architecture, World of Warcraft, RELIGION!!! …but none of these things are illegal in the Free West.
Although Modern Architecture possibly should be.
I hope you don’t think I’m being unduly flippant here comparing drug addiction to adultery. Look at the suicide statistics: drugs (if involved at all) are almost always a secondary factor after relationship breakdowns, mental illness or peer group isolation. ‘They ruin people’s lives’ is an inept an excuse for keeping the status quo as when people say ‘There’s no point in getting rid of Hitler / Stalin / Pol Pot / Idi Amin / Trujillo / Pinochet / Milošević / Saddam Hussein / Colonel Gaddafi / Mugabe / Bono – because somebody else will just replace him.’ Don’t get me started on that one.
Humans do tremendously dangerous things in their everyday lives – they drive cars, climb ladders, breathe in all kinds of germs on The Underground, get drunk, change lightbulbs, eat undercooked meat, climb aboard a jet plane or take leaky wooden boats over high seas with no radio. We can’t (and shouldn’t) stop them doing these things, but we can all work together to make these risky propositions a little less fraught – health and safety guidelines, for example. The same should be true of drugs.
Mentally competent adults living in a free society should be able to claim 100% ownership of one thing: their own bodies.
Your own body should be the one thing that is inherently YOURS. Whatever bonkers thing an educated, mentally competent adult wants to do to their own body – so long as it harms no others – should be the alpha and omega of human rights. If we can’t claim ownership of our own faces, arms, legs, hearts and livers then we are nothing. Your body is the one thing that every human – from the shoeless orphans of Kinshasa to the privileged toffs of Cambridge – has dominion over from birth, and that’s an authority that no other human should be able to take away.
We can’t get away with saying that everyone who has ever taken drugs is insane. If that were the case, over a QUARTER of the British population would be certifiable. And that’s just the people who didn’t lie on the survey. There are millions of functioning cocaine users all over the UK. Chances are you’re sitting less than 50 metres away from one RIGHT NOW.
Of course there is plenty of “well, I should be allowed to do what I want with my body, but other people – you know, stupid people – shouldn’t” being bandied around, but even with a monster ego like mine I couldn’t even think something as arrogant, well, not with a straight face.
But I come now to the crux of the argument: making something legal does not make it ‘right‘. There are enough people out there who disagree with abortion – fair enough, nobody is going to force them to have one. People don’t like horror films, fine – don’t watch them. I can’t stand Russell Brand: happily I have a remote control. When drugs are legalised – and I’m confident this is something that will happen in my lifetime – I will continue to pass on the joint to the next person. I don’t smoke, I have never smoked, I hate smoking and I’m not going to take up something I detest just because it’s legal. Did legalising homosexuality make otherwise completely heterosexual people gay? Of course not. I’m never going to degrade myself my snorting a line of legal cocaine any more than a holiday to Spain is going to make me want to fight a bull.
‘But we need to protect the children!’ and on that point, Mr. and Mrs. Knee-Jerk Reaction and I heartily agree. But do the maths. Governments around the world waste TRILLIONS of dollars trying to stop drugs entering their countries and locking up dealers. Turn that around. With legalisation, regulation and taxation governments would not only make billions in tax, they would save billions by cutting the prison population by up to THREE-QUARTERS, all but eradicating drug-related crime, as well as the massive savings that would be made on things like policing, customs and legal aid.
All that extra wonga could be spent on IMPORTANT THINGS like education, health care, and stopping terrorists blowing stuff up. It could be spent not on protecting a 21 year old accountant from himself, but on educating kids on the real dangers of drugs (like the problems cannabis can cause to a developing brain) and on severely punishing people who give or sell drugs to minors. Hell: there’d be enough empty cells to throw them in.
At the moment the only people befitting from the status quo are the drug dealers. If anyone can suggest to me a criminal activity that is as profitable or as easy as dealing drugs I’m all ears. A note to would-be jewel thieves: you’re in the wrong business, mate.
And don’t give me that hackneyed old crap about some drugs being ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than others. The ongoing Mexican Drug war last year resulted in the cold blooded MURDER of more people than ANY OTHER WAR CURRENTLY BEING FOUGHT IN THE WORLD TODAY.
And where does most of the cannabis – soft lovely squishy friendly hippy cannabis – that’s in the United States at the very moment come from??
Mexico, of course!! Hey stoners! That’s a f–k load of blood you’ve got on your hands! Well done you!
The time has come for us all to band together for the good of ourselves, our communities, our civilisation… and support this movement to rid the world not of drugs (because that is proving impossible) but of drug lords. And the only way to do that is by legalising the whole stinkin’ lot of them.
Yes, I agree that drugs are not the best of ideas, but all we are doing with this daft prohibition business is making a bad situation worse. Drugs exist. They always have and they always will. While vast numbers of humans on this planet want to try them, we’re never going to stop them.
If I want to dick around with the chemical composition of my own brain, (MY brain, not yours) no farmer in Colombia, mother in Mexico, kid from Moss Side or policeman in Baltimore should have to sacrifice their lives to the process that makes that possible.
I decided at a young age to never take drugs – not for religious reasons, not for health reasons, not because I’m a party pooper, but because the whole dirty business – and it’s nothing but a business – made me feel profoundly uncomfortable.
Their left hand for giving money to drug dealers when they were younger – something they both admit – and their right hand for supporting the profits and business practices of today’s drug lords by keeping drugs illegal. Whose interests are these bastards representing? Us? Or the drug lords… and the global trail of death and misery that they leave in their wake?
Even as the war on drugs continues to pile up the casualties, drug rehab program options for addicts everywhere continue to increase.
One thing is for sure: my hands are clean. I’m putting them up in the air and surrendering. The war against drugs has been lost. It’s time to declare war against the drug lords: a war we can win without firing a single shot.
In this eight part series, I take THE GRINGO TRAIL through South America.
Starting in BUENOS AIRES, I have a quick look around URUGUAY and CHILE before heading up to BRAZIL just in time to miss the 2002 World Cup Final. But I didn’t miss the party afterwards!! Then I head over to Bolivia, the most BRILLIANT country in the WORLD (and I should know, I’ve been to a few!).
From the salt plains of UYUNI to the rivers of the AMAZON RAINFOREST via the Health and Safety-baiting Silver Mines of POTOSI and the CAMINO DE LA MUERTE (the Road of Death), Bolivia is just a powerhouse of nutty hilarity from beginning to end.
After hitting the INCA TRAIL to MACHU PICCHU, I head up through PERU and ECUADOR and end my journey in Bogota, COLUMBIA, one of the most dangerous capital cities in the world. Although I’m still here to tell the tale, so it probably isn’t that bad…! Finally, I find myself racing to get back to the UK for my cousin’s wedding in Dublin, Ireland: I’m cutting it pretty fine, you’ll have to watch the video to see if I make it or not! Enjoy!