Happy New Year! I am back to work, still not a TV owner and excited to share my South American experiences that concluded an incredible year of travel. Here is my favorite story:
I have never tried drugs. Seriously, not even marijuana, not even last year. I had no idea that this alibi would not help my case as I negotiated my freedom from the Bolivian police…
3:20 AM November 11, 2015
After staying up all night to catch a 3:35 AM flight from La Paz, Bolivia to Medellín, Colombia, I was relieved to finally be in my seat with fifteen minutes remaining until take off. Mucho coffee and a manageable elevation were waiting for me in Colombia. “Are you Anthony Haddad? If so, please follow me.” asked the flight attendant. I said yes and jumped out of my seat with excitement because I was sure I was being upgraded to First Class. He passed the First Class area and continued to walk out the door of the plane. He handed me off to two large police officers dressed in camouflage military-like uniforms. “¡Vamos!” they yelled, grabbed my arm and rushed me down the stairs of the jet way, under the plane, into the rain (no, I didn’t just add the rain for extra drama, you can’t make this stuff up!), and over to the baggage area under the airport where three other police officers were standing over my bag. They pointed at my bag, told me to pick it up and follow them. They started walking super fast through the guts of the airport and I had no idea what was happening or where we were going. “Que paso, que paso?” I kept asking as we finally ended up in a police office under the airport. They sat me down and were just staring at me, totally silent for a couple of minutes and then I started laughing. I pointed to my bag and asked if I could take something out from one of the front pockets:
That’s right, a non labeled, re-sealable zipper storage bag containing individually wrapped pods of white powder. Something a lot of people carry between Bolivia and Colombia: LAUNDRY DETERGENT! HAHAHAHA, they weren’t laughing as they yelled: “Drogas, drogas, cocaína!!!” – “No, no, no, para lavar la ropa” (to wash clothes) I replied rubbing the inside of my arm. I’m not sure why I chose that spot to simulate washing clothes because it sort of looked like I was pretending to shoot a needle into my arm. “Si, si, si” they replied, “DROGAS!” They kept yelling.
That was the extent of my Spanish vocabulary for that situation. I somehow asked if they could get someone from the airline desk to come down because I remembered overhearing them speaking English to other customers while checking in for the flight. A guy came down, looking more scared than me, and translated that I am in big trouble because I had cocaine. I laughed and told him it was soap and he said I was wrong. He just kept repeating “Big trouble.” I looked over and two of the police officers were sniffing and tasting the detergent while shaking their heads. Once again, I have no idea what cocaine looks like, other than what I’ve seen in movies, but I don’t think it looks like the DETERGENT I had! Anyway, I was also scared that they were going to get sick eating my soap. I yelled “no, no, no, chemicals!!” They looked at me like I was crazy. Their eyes said “yeah, we know, these are DRUGS!” It was organic, fragrance free, powdered detergent so I guess they couldn’t identify any of it as soap by the smell or taste?
The airline guy finally told me that they wanted to do a test to see if the substance I had was an illegal drug. If the drop turned blue then it was cocaine. Ahhh, relief, I thought I was saved. “Yes, yes, please do the test.” So, the main police officer woman that was running the show (it was obviously her first attempt at a drug bust) dropped the solution on one of the pods and it turned greyish/very faint blue and they all exclaimed, “Azul, azul, drogas, drogas!!!” They got outrageously excited, like they had just won the 1.5 billion boliviano lottery or something. I started laughing again and said, “Noooooo, no drogas.” The airline guy said, “You are in big, big trouble.” and ran out of the door.