places i have never been

I’m about to talk about people going to Colombian villages for a special ‘cocaine tour’, and I cannot believe, given how often I have to talk about this travelogue or tourism privilege crap, that I don’t have a tag about this business. I have to search No Award every time.

Maybe I will go to Colombia one day! I have spent most of my life tangled up in the flight paths between Australia’s Southern cities and South East Asia, but in recent years I have ventured further and perhaps one day I will venture further still.

It is totally okay to want to visit other places to learn about cultures, peoples, traditions, economies, and abuse different to your own.

It is also really excellent to learn about where your food, spirits, almond milk, cotton and illegal drugs come from, and the processes through which they journey to you. No Award strongly approves of learning of your impact upon the world, and the life cycle of your impact. Great! Good work!

“There was a bucket list and I always said that if I came to Colombia I would try cocaine.

“In Australia, it is a rich man’s drug and sells for about $300 a gram. Here we have had it for as cheap as $US5. People give it away because it is so accessible.”

There is a REASON for that! In the Western World we take advantage of different growing seasons, lower incomes, problematic socio-economic systems and the fucking awful global politics in order to gain access to cheaper provisions.

(Liz notes, um, also, shifting highly illegal substances across borders tends to be, you know, expensive.)

Rose and her friends travelled to San Agustin in south-west Colombia, a community set in rolling green hills with stunning nearby waterfalls and a 3,000-year-old archaeology site now on UNESCO’s World Heritage list.

They are believed to be the oldest known religious monuments in Latin America.

But Aaron, 25, from England, admitted he was visiting the region for only one thing.

Tourists, especially Westerners but certainly people who aren’t Westerners, can get caught up in the tourism of a thing; the exotic ancient beauty of a thing and the glamorous history of a thing. And certainly I have problems with that. Tourism, and history tourism in particular, often glosses over other problems, and exacerbates the real-world current issues such as access to clean water, seasonal tourism, othering, sexual stereotypes and environmental impacts. So if you go to a place with a beautiful old thing and you don’t see that beautiful old thing, that’s fine. I too am guilty of that.

“Before we got to Colombia we heard there was this ‘special tour’ and we have been questioning people about it and found out it was in San Agustin,” he said.

I’d like to know more about this process. How annoying was Aaron? Who was he questioning?

(“Yes, hello, random Columbian, do you know where I can get some cocaine?”  How many times do we think he got punched in the face?)

According to the Colombian government, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) now controls 60 per cent of the drug trade and encourages impoverished farmers to cultivate coca.

The guerrilla group has been in armed conflict with the government for more than five decades and now controls large parts of remote regions of Colombia and has a presence in the area around San Agustin.

Is the “encouraged” production of coca by impoverished farmers beneficial or not beneficial to their lives and families? This almost certainly means that some farmers, who need to be planting food crops for their families, are instead forced to plant coca crops. Are they enslaved by the drug cartels, or merely compelled? How are they feeding their families?

Are these ‘special’ tours helping or hindering the work and living of local farmers?

“I asked a policeman about this ‘special tour’ several times,” said a local San Agustin man who did not wish to be named.

In San Agustin, the drug tours appear to be taking place with the knowledge of local police.

“He told me to stop asking otherwise perhaps the police would think I was the one running the tour and would arrest me,” he said.

Oh, what a surprise! How unexpected that “special” tours that encourage Westerners to take drugs that have markups of several magnitude in order to validate their choice to continue purchasing said drug has a negative impact on the local community!

“San Agustin is a beautiful place and we want people to come for the archaeology, the environment, the horse riding, but not for the drugs.”

You and me both, Mr Anonymous!

But in the end, the experience that Rose and Aaron had travelled so far for did not live up to expectations.

“I thought it would be on a farm, out of the way and out of view. But we drove five minutes down the road to someone’s house, where everyone could see and everyone knew about it,” Aaron said.

“I wanted to be deep in guerrilla territory, in the forest. I didn’t feel like I got my money’s worth.”

But here we go, back deep in travel privilege territory.

When I was 10, my year four teacher got on a plane for the first time in her life. She was 40, and I was astounded.

Now, when I am closer to her 40 than I was to my original 10, I continue to be astounded, but I understand better what it means to be from a low socio-economic area in Perth’s foothills, well-known for being a brown trashheap. I got on my first plane when I was 3 months old; I had my first passport at 3 months old; and I finally understand that that’s not normal.

The travel we can achieve is a privilege. Not every experience has to be a learning one, or one that allows one to grow. But just as not every experience of travelling to volunteer is automatically helpful, not every experience of travelling is about the self. In this instance, this experience of traveling is fucking bullshit. These travellers wanted to experience – danger? The idea that their expensive rich person drug comes from a place of danger?

This expensive rich person drug comes from someone’s home. And it wasn’t dangerous for the tourists, for the visitors – they went into a person’s home, snorted some cocaine in someone’s home, and then left again, disappointed to have not had to ride the back of a truck surrounded by gun carriers or something, who even knows.

And that’s the thing about learning about the journey of our goods, and where they come from – sometimes we don’t like where that journey leads.

I mean, I didn’t expect someone to complain that there wasn’t enough danger whilst they purchased drugs in an area where people are exploited and their trip exploited them even more (of that $50, imagine how much goes to the farmer and how much goes to the drug cartel who hooked that tourist up), but the world is made up of complexities, I guess.

That they can then be interviewed complaining about what is effectively an authenticity argument is peak white person.

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One thought on “places i have never been

  1. If they wanted danger and peril buying their cocaine, they could get that at home, surely? I mean, really, if you’re after an experience of life-threatening peril when it comes to buying cocaine, buy from your local dealer using counterfeit currency! There you go! Genuine peril, and you don’t even have to risk malaria to get it.

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