Monday, March 11, 2013

Iquitos, Peru: Kitchen Coke

I've only seen cocaine once in the year and a half that I've been in Peru-Bolivia. The short version is that a woman had a fight with her husband at my hotel, and he dumped her on the spot-- unfortunately for her-- without money or anything much more that the clothes she was wearing.

Cue international drug criminals scouting out the vulnerable, and next thing we see, she's sitting in the hotel lobby asking for advice about whether she should take these two bread loaf-sized packs of cocaine to Miami so she can get some money to buy dinner and pay for her hotel room.

My first thought was, "No, Mrs. Middle Class Peruvian Lady, don't do that." My second thought was, "Lady, you're going to die."

She must have read my mind when I thought she should instantly back out of the deal to fly with cocaine to Miami. Unfortunately for her, she's an imbecile: She panicked and tossed two kilos of cocaine in a dumpster somewhere and decided to walk home, wherever that is. I found out about what she did, and I am sure so too did the drug gangsters who set her up for the deal. I wasn't happy about what she'd done, but that's not the unhappiness of the unhappy guys who lost all that coke. Those guys are going to kill her.

I stay far away from drugs and drug dealers. If I didn't know already, I might look at Brian, the English drug addict in town for the past five years, the guy who approaches tourists and tells them he's been beaten up by locals last evening and robbed. "Can you help me out with a loan," he says, holding up the small finger he mutilates to elicit sympathy and money from the unwary. He mangles that finger himself to get money for drugs. The man lives for nothing other than cocaine. I ignore him. But, I am curious. What exactly is cocaine? I've seen bales of cocoa leaves that turn into cocaine; and I've seen the powder that the leaves once were; but the middle part is all mysterious to me. Or, it was until I decided to find out for myself how to make it in the kitchen sink.

Peru is the world's leading nation in the production and exportation of cocaine. This is a problem for the average person who wants to use a kerosene lamp. Precursor chemicals, kerosene, for example, are illegal here. If you have kerosene, you might well be tempted to be a narco-terrorist. How anyone came up with the combination of cocoa leaves and kerosene is beyond me. But anyone weird enough to do that can come up with a substitute, I believe. No kerosene oil? No problem. I went to the petrol station with a plastic funnel and a soda bottle and got a litre of diesel oil. I'm sure it works just as well. The process is pretty simple and the stuff one needs don't present any hardship in purchasing.

[A]s an investigation by Peruvian journalist Romina Mella of IDL-Reporteros sets out, the process of making cocaine is relatively simple and requires only a few key components. Aside from coca, the whole process makes use of just six ingredients: sulfuric acid, potassium permanganate, sodium carbonate, kerosene, acetone and hydrochloric acid.
Geofry Ramsey, "Why Monitoring Precursor Chemicals Won't Halt Cocaine Production" Insight Crime: Latin America. 29 February 2012

Kerosene, as noted above, is illegal here. I didn't have a clue where to get sulfuric acid, and not wanting to ask a jihadi where he would get some to deface a woman who had jilted him, I went instead to a guy at the local coffee shop who knows general things about the world and I asked him. He said it's battery acid in the car. I went to the auto shop and told them my truck wasn't starting and I needed battery acid to turn the motor over. This is a fairly common problem, and the solution, when I finished it, meant pouring the acid into a glass beer bottle and leaving it in the sunshine on the roof top for a few days till the water had evaporated. I confess I had never heard of potassium permanganate, but the outdoors store guy knew, and it's used for purifying water, a pretty good thing when trekking in the Amazon jungle. Condy's Crystals. It looks like Purplesauras Koolade. It's also useful for itchy feet.

But since I'm not a drug dealer and am simply a curious guy writing about stuff, I decided to play it smart and not make a sample batch of cocaine, which would be illegal. I got a sackful of ditch weeds, pretty plentiful around the Amazon River, and I shredded them in the kitchen and laid them on the roof top in a metal cake pan for a few days till they were crumbly. I got a little sack of lime from the market and used my knife blade to let the breeze blow some powder over the dampened crumbs. I funnelled the broken leaves into a soda bottle. I had about a pint of leaves and filled a two litre soda bottle with diesel. I'm a busy guy, so I let it steep for a week. I didn't know at the time I was being so fussy about my science project. "Sulfuric acid is frequently replaced by muriatic acid or water mixed with salt, wild lime (easily found in the VRAE) or bleach." Ibid.

I had no idea what is sodium carbonate, given that I eat my junk food regardless of the ingredients listed on the package and thus am chemically uninformed. "Sodium carbonate can be replaced by calcium carbonate, lime, urea or cement." I do know what cement is. After that, the science gets too complicated for me

[P]otassium permanganate could be replaced with sodium hypochlorite if necessary.... In this stage the necessary sodium carbonate can be replaced by calcium oxide, calcium hydroxide, ammonium or calcium carbonate. Ibid.
For me, it's Condy's Crystals. Since I'm not making cocaine I figure I should get something concrete out of this, like losing the athlete's foot and also killing off the grub worms in my lawn. It also happens that the body of my fibreglass boat needed some work, so I had to get acetone to fix it.

In the third stage, where the product is crystalized, acetone can be replaced by ethyl acetate, toluene, benzene, ethyl ether, methyl ethyl ketone or methyl isobutyl ketone. However, acetone is so readily available that these substitutes have not been found in seized laboratories. Ibid.
I don't even begin to know what those other things are. The good news is that my new boat won't sink when I do the repairs on it.

Because I'm not a drug guy I didn't go through with the last step, which wouldn't have been difficult.

The only ingredient that cannot be replaced is hydrochloric acid. However, it can be produced with relative ease. Mella claims that a common way of doing this, known as the “yogurt method,” involves distilling a salt (sodium chloride) and sulfuric acid with muriatic acid and water. A second method uses only the muriatic acid, and results in more pure hydrochloric acid. The materials used in both of these methods are fairly easy to come across, and cost only about $300 to $350 per liter of acid. Ibid.
The full piece, in its original Spanish, can be read here.

Once I got into the process a bit and realised that I was on my way to making tea with motor oil and bleach and Drano and other toxic shit I wouldn't pour into my toilet I had a fair idea of why I avoid drugs in the first place. It might feel good to snort cocaine, but burning holes the size of interstate highways through my brain is about the last thing I would think of as a good time in the long run. I'll stick to doughnuts and chocolate milk for breakfast so long as I'm left alone by the health food pot smoking Libertarian types ranting about free choice for dope fiends.


You can have an open mind

Chocolate milk?

Or you might prefer listening to funky music with a clear mind.

You decide. For Brian the drug addict, it's a "no brainer." For the dead lady in Lima, well, that decision was made for her.

A gentle reminder that my book, An Occasional Walker, is available at the link here:
And here are some reviews and comments on said book:

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