"To be happy near hell is something."
Forgive my scatterbrained and silly output of late. I received the first round of edits for my upcoming book from the publisher, you see, and ooooo-ee. Jumping back into those weeds with a sharpened machete feels both good and terrifying. I haven’t looked at the thing in six months and am swinging at every bloated piece of nonsense, trying to lop and trim without totally destroying. It is strange work. Odd.
Yesterday I cut a ramble about my first taste of cocaine. Oh I know coca and cocaine are not the same thing but let’s not get hung up on semantics here ok? Can we just agree not to get caught up on semantics? And without further ado I present a bloated piece of nonsense that will never see the light of day except briefly here and now.
But I know this feeling or at least a hint of it. I was in Bolivia once many years ago right when famed cocaine grower Evo Morales assumed political power and in Potosí where the silver mines drop thousands of feet into Mother Earth. I can’t remember why but outside it was miserable. That bitter sort of cold that hovers in thin above the tree line. A very bland color palette compounded the chill. The regional delicacy, if I recall, was frozen potatoes kept in the permafrost then stomped on with dirty feet. Maybe this isn’t entirely accurate but I know that I was wearing the most unfortunate herringbone sport coat over hooded sweatshirt combo. Not only was it not warm, I looked like a 5th grade teacher at a Christian school. Very embarrassing. Very un-chic.
Since there is nothing to do in Potosí except be depressed and eat frozen dirty foot potatoes I decided to drop deep into one of those silver mines that gouge the surrounding hills. There was a longish walk in the thin air from a bus stop to the mine’s entrance and I was given a bag of coca leaves and some sort of ash tea to sip and activate the leaves on the way.
I popped some into my mouth and began chewing and chewing and chewing. Munching. That’s what they say to do. Munch, don’t chew. Munching and building a little green ball in my cheek and saturating it was ash tea every once in a while.
It was difficult at first. The taste of leaves is not pleasant really and the ash tea made it worse. I’ve chewed loads of qat, the leaf that natives munch in Yemen, Somalia, Djibouti, Nigeria and Ethiopia, and in my poor memory, coca was much worse. Much more bitter with much less initial thrill. Like coca, qat is a stimulant. Unlike coca it cannot be made into cocaine and so remains an internationally outlawed, but not generally prosecuted, local novelty. I will say, it provides a nice buzz and would work well in American, European or Australian hipster circles if any of them ever got around to chewing plants besides kale.
In any case, I walked ugly and bored munching my coca until reaching the mine’s gaping mouth, climbed into an ancient elevator and dropped a thousand or so feet into the middle of planet Earth and suddenly the chill was gone and the high altitude was gone. It was thick and warm. Almost tropical. Tiny dug passageways shot every which way where hunched backed and put upon miners crawled on hands and knees still digging silver from the Earth. My mouth was numb and my spirits were relatively high. Not like “let’s-talk-about-all-the-bad-things-in-the-world-and-make-them-better-with-our-shared-genius” high but happy. And to be happy near hell is something.
There were hundreds of years of passages dug this way and that and I took the ones I was allowed to take, eventually ending up in front of a red satanic looking statue the miners call El Tio. They say Jesus has no power in the mine, that El Tio rules down here, and they stick cigarettes in his mouth and lay coca leaves at his feet as offerings and maybe weird pornography feat. short ladies in weird poses.