Remember TPOL’s Quest Around the Globe Trip Report? It was a bit sparse on what I did in Colombia when I visited Cartagena and Medellin. The reason I didn’t have any pictures is because both of my phones were stolen and the pics had not been uploaded to the cloud. (TPOL’s TIP: connect your phone to the hotel’s WiFi when you check in so the photos get transferred.) The reason I don’t have any blog posts is because I don’t have any memories of what happened for two days. Initially, I thought it was from too much drinking (see There’s Such A Thing as Too Much Aguardiente and Mistakes in Medellin). After a visit from my Colombian friends, I have reason to suspect there was foul play.
The name of the culprit is scopolamine, also known as hyoscine. It is also called Devil’s Breath for those who are into goblins, ghouls, and witchcraft (read Devil’s Breath: Urban Legend or the World’s Most Scary Drug? if you want to increase your travel paranoia). According to Wikipedia, the drug is known to produce loss of memory and sleepiness, similar to the effect of benzodiazepines or alcohol poisoning. A travel advisory published by the United States Department of State in 2012 stated: “One common and particularly dangerous method that criminals use in order to rob a victim is through the use of drugs. The most common [in Colombia] has been hyoscine. Unofficial estimates put the number of annual hyoscine incidents in Colombia at approximately 50,000. Hyoscine can render a victim unconscious for 24 hours or more. Most commonly, the person has been poisoned by a robber who gave the victim a scopolamine-laced beverage, in the hope that the victim would become unconscious or unable to effectively resist the robbery.”
This brings me back to my story: I went to Llevas Park Liquor Store, which is surrounded by bars and restaurants. I saw someone drinking aguardiente and struck up a conversation. While drinking the first bottle, three young travelers from Mexico came in the store. I bought another bottle and all of us started drinking that. The last thing I remember is trading Instagram info. The next thing I remember is waking up disoriented without my phones or wallet, but I did have all my organs.
I pride myself on going out, acting like a fool, and waking up to see my phone safely on the charger. Even on autopilot, I behave myself. That’s why when this happened, I could not believe that I had just drunk too much. At the same time, I also pride myself on traveling the world alone and having the presence of mind not to put myself in a dangerous situation.
With this new information, I am convinced that my blackout was the result of bad actors and not the a a a a a alcohol. First, the Mexican traveler also messaged me that she did not recall anything from that night. Second, the nice people who stole my phone connected it to WiFi and their photos were uploaded. Seeing random strangers posing with guns on the cloud was sort of amusing, but I eventually disconnected the phone from the cloud as the reality of what could have happened set in. I don’t know if it was the first guy who was responsible for the poisoning or if after having two bottles of aguardiente, I haphazardly accepted drinks from strangers which could have been spiked with hyoscine. Regardless, the evening did not go according to plan. And for that I have myself and the devil to blame.