There is more than one type of ‘tourism’ that is frowned upon, if not exactly prohibited or prosecuted. We’ve talked about the dreaded ‘s-e-x’ type repeatedly, but it’s not the only kind.
A long time friend and fellow monger was making his second or third trip to Medellin and we were out exploring one of the moderately dicey parts of town, sitting at an outside table at a bar called, get this, the “Copa Del Rey.” It was probably the name more than anything that attracted us, though there was a small handful of chicas in the place.
So anyway, we’re sitting at our table and a middle aged woman approaches us selling gum and candy and such. Considering the neighborhood and what we had both read, my friend decided to see if this woman could help him obtain a little quantity of a white powdered substance that made Pablo Escobar rich.
Although it is illegal to buy or sell the stuff, possession of a gram (I think) or less is not punishable. And from what I have seen, even selling small quantities doesn’t interest the local law folks. In any event, my friend asks this older (50?) lady if she sells more than gum. She said ‘maybe…’ So he asks her if she can get him some ‘polvo,’ which is the Spanish word for powder. He didn’t want to come out and say ‘cocaine’ although nobody probably would have cared. Still, my buddy tried to be discreet.
The lady gave him a rather strange look of almost disbelief, but said sure, follow her and off they went about a half block down the street to a hotel. He followed and the lady spoke to a girl behind the desk and said something my friend didn’t quite follow,paid the desk girl and she gave the lady a room key. The lady heads to the elevator and he follows, becoming more and more perplexed.
Finally, in a blinding flash of insight, he realizes what he’s done. When he asked the lady for ‘polvo,’ she assumed he meant sex, since ‘polvo’ is Medellin slang for what’s called ‘leche’ in Costa Rica, and ‘c*m’ in North America. He quickly tells the woman to stop and explains that he didn’t mean sex, he meant cocaine. She was good-natured about it, and with a chuckle led him back to the front desk of the no-tell hotel, where the desk girl refunded him his room money and sold him about 4 dollars worth of white powder, not to be confused with ‘polvo.’
In any event, if you should be one of those who indulges, make sure you don’t ask for ‘polvo.’ Just make a sniffing noise. That’s a safer bet.