I Accidentally Smuggled Cocaine into a Bolivian Airport
It’s the 5th of January and so far this year, all I’ve ingested is Powerade and cocaine.
In the wee hours of the morning, the city lights of La Paz twinkle and dwindle against the softly emerging light of day. The city is starting to show its first signs of life; stallholders unpack their wares and Bolivian women traipse along the roadside with their trundlestalls of boiled eggs and salteñas.
I fumble through my backpack for the third time, checking for the essential three items that months of travelling have conditioned me to regard as fundamental to my existence. Passport, phone, wallet.
Check. Thank fuck. Have I forgotten anything else? Do I have my ticket? Where’s my insect repellent? Fuck, I better have insect repellent. I’m going to the goddamn Amazon. Why would I not bring insect repellent? Come at me, dengue. Oh, found it. Sweet. Okay. I’m good. Cool.
Griffin and I sit soundlessly a little longer, our fatigued silence punctuated only by the sounds of early morning traffic passing us by. Our cab driver hums absently as we pass a sign: Aeropuerto Internacional de La Paz.
Oh, yeah, airport. Boarding pass. I unzip the side pocket of my bag, which I reserve for my most valued possessions.
My heart sinks to the depths of my already delicate stomach. I glance nervously at my companion for some kind of visual support. Head hung, spirit broken, he doesn’t even look up.
It’s funny how travelling brings out the best and the worst in us. It induces spontaneity and boldness, yet reduces traits that exist for our own protection. The lack of caution, restraint and forethought it promotes in so many of us could almost be classified as a personality type in itself – a traveller’s state of mind.
Griffin offers the slightest tilt of his head from his nap-spot against the window, and I watch in dismay as the first airport security booth flashes past him.
I pull a bag of coke out of the hidden compartment of my bag.
He stares dimly at the bag and then back at me.
“What the fuck, Josie.”
“I forgot I had it!”
Griffin snatches the bag from my hands and tears it open.
“What are you doing?”
My blood surges as I consider my options, my depleted brain cells labouring to identify a viable solution. I make lengthy eye contact with the middle-aged taxi driver in the rear view mirror.
“Getting rid of it,” Griffin retorts tetchily, rolling up a 20 boliviano note.
He does a line off his phone and passes it to me.
“Come on, it’s your fault. The least you can do is be a team player.”
I can’t think of anything worse, but I can’t think of anything else, either. Bolivian police dot the sides of the road leading up to the next security booth.
I wonder if travelling transforms you into an entirely different version of yourself, or if it just shows you who you would really be, entirely unrestricted by the ebb and flow of daily life.
I do a line and pass it along. The cab driver snickers.
“Should we offer him one?”
I clench my jaw and snatch back the phone. We exchange it between us a couple more times, polishing off the last of the evidence just as the final security booth disappears behind us. Griff cracks the window and tosses the empty baggie.
I run my hands through my hair and exhale. Far out. At least I’m awake now. Really awake.
Acutely aware of how much residue is on my hands, bag and face, I haul myself out of the cab with scenes from Border Patrol flashing before my eyes. If there are sniffer dogs, it’s game over. I’m going to be the Bolivian Schapelle Corby. I wonder if A Current Affair will try to bail me out… hope not, I look way too cracked out for TV. Can I bribe my way out? What should I title my bestselling memoir about my time in Bolivian jail? Powerade and Cocaine: The Story of a Girl, a Big Mistake and Bolivia’s Darkest Prison. Okay, so it’s a working title. We’ll get there.
Honestly, who cares? I feel fucking great.
Trying to acknowledge the fact that my sudden surge of positivity is wholeheartedly chemical and that now is not the time to be chirping and bouncing like Elmo on pingers, I step into the familiarly fluorescent sterility that characterises an airport, expecting to be confronted by the usual, intimidatingly strict security that comes with it.
There’s a total of about 14 people loitering at the baggage check, and a solitary, napping dog – almost certainly not of the sniffer variety.
This – and undoubtedly the drugs – gives us all the confidence we need. We march through customs and bag checks like we’re the cast of Entourage. I make smug eye contact with a man at a counter labelled Drug Inspection Checkpoint and saunter past, channeling Pablo Escobar. In my head I am KILLIN’ it.
We make it through to the departures lounge in less than five minutes and exchange jacked-up high-fives and other disgustingly brash, public displays of self-satisfaction. Other passengers, yet to enjoy their morning coffees, scowl deservedly.
I go to the bathroom to do a celebratory comeup wee. Opening up the front pocket of my bag to grab my stash of toilet paper, I surprise myself with yet another reckless oversight. There’s another bag of cocaine in there. There’s another, fucking BAG OF COCAINE. In my bag. In the airport. Post customs. Post bag-scan. Honestly, who am I?
Does this new traveller’s personality manifest simply through physical distance from usual life, or by the removal of day-to-day responsibilities? Do I feel absolved of accountability because it’s an unknown authority, or do I just care less about getting caught?
In utter disbelief, I find myself needing to make some tough judgement calls. I keep in mind that
- I need to get rid of the contents of the bag
- I am in a Bolivian airport toilet stall and
- I hate waste.
After a few moments of intensive deliberation, I come to a decision. The shit you do when you’re in a traveller’s state of mind.
As I roll up another 20 boliviano note and cut up a line on the toilet cistern with my student ID, I reflect on the place I’ve reached in my life and I wonder if my parents would be proud.
It’s the 5th of January and this year, I’ve still not consumed anything except Powerade and cocaine.
Cover by Nick Lowcock