The Selected Quirks of Madjag

The Madjag Chronicles were compiled as memoirs and mental snapshots of my experiences during the 1978-1982 guerrilla growing years in Madjag Canyon and beyond. Importing weed from Mexico, lining up connections with the Colombians, and living for months in Jamaica to set up a 1/2 ton Ganja flight were some of my subsequent adventures. In recent years I have been a medical marijuana grower, a pollen chucker, and an Admin/Moderator for several online cannabis forums.

I knew The Guy Who Knew The Guy

Gerardo, AKA, Peter, came back from Buenaventura with good news. He had visited a super cartel weed stash in the Buenaventura area that his boss wanted a report on. He did the usual “eye hit” by going in person to see for himself. The hideout and export staging area was within the Uramba Bahia Malaga, a system of river tributaries spilling into a gigantic tropical estuary bay just north of Buenaventura on the upper west coast of Colombia. Here, international, long-haul smuggler boatmen would wait to be loaded in the main bay while smaller boats ferried the weed from hidden places up any one of the dozens of side river channels. Larger boats, particularly the government patrol boats, sat too low in the water and were much too wide for the narrow channels these stash platforms or warehouses on stilts were located within.

Unlike the popular beaches near Santa Marta above Cartagena on the northern Caribbean coast, the west coast was untamed and a perfect operations center for the exporters of Colombian weed and cocaine. Now known as Uramba Parque Nacional Natural, the area was primarily controlled by paramilitary cocaine traffickers in the 1980’s. It’s as wild as any oceanfront property in the world, Kalimantan (formerly Borneo) included.

Photo by Simon Phillips

Simon Phillips, a well-known off-the-beaten-path travel writer was amazed by the area and described it thus:

“The rain falls heavier here on the Colombian coast than in the Amazon. Possibly heavier than anywhere else in the world, this region is so under-studied. Never before have I experienced such magnitude of thunder and lightning and such torrential rain. It is akin to something biblical and I am charged with a new kind of energy which I have not before experienced.

With the overwhelming power of the storm and the constant din of waves breaking on the shoreline only meters below us, sleep proves difficult. By 4am we are sat upright in the attic of the discotheque. A million rain drops thunder on the asbestos roof above us, and wind tears through the holes between the wooden slats which form the walls. We are compelled to the moment. Staring into this wild weather front which comes every night, and does not pass until well after dawn.”

Photo by Simon Phillips

I had been a grower most of my early years but had never seen foreign herb fields until 1978 when I visited Negril, Jamaica. Talk about rain. Though Negril averages only a mere 60 inches per year, on the northeast part of the island, in the foothills south of Port Antonio leading up to the north side of the Blue Mountains, the rainfall measures in the vicinity of 200+ inches per year. Though that’s still only about half the annual rainfall of Kauai’s famous rain canyons, which in turn probably receive less than the Uramba Bahia Malaga, I could relate to the biblical sense that Simon Phillips spoke about when I had to huddle in a small tin shack during a gigantic 2 hour downpour during a visit to the Blue Mountain foothills 10 miles south of Port Antonio. Once the sun returns after such rain the humidity eats you alive and the earth seemingly pushes up vegetation before your very eyes. No wonder there are strains of bamboo that grow almost an inch an hour in the tropics. They live in rainy places like these. And little wonder why ganja grows so readily as well.

Peter’s home town of Cali was not far from this coast of conflict and he had spent many moons hanging out with the locals in the odd towns like BV. He wasn’t there for fun or a relaxing, good time; it was his job, you see, and he did it well. Peter was from the Colombo upper class, the almost-ruling class, and had education, skill, cleverness, and quick reflexes. Shit, he grew up with a maid bringing him his breakfast on a bed tray every morning! I used to kid him on that one you can be sure. He learned English simultaneously with Spanish from the time he entered the Cali British School at age 5. His father was a successful French attorney and his mother came from an old, old Colombian family with close ties to the government. His uncle was an important artist, like a Colombian Picasso, who was primarily a metal sculptor/fabricator instead of a painter.  

Peter’s job was to be the eyes and ears of the Godmother, a somewhat invisible woman whose reach was legendary in the business, yet she didn’t even make world news until a decade later. He used his exceptional wit and awareness to blend into the background wherever he went and he took extensive, accurate mental notes. Whatever he reported was taken as it should have been, as the absolute truth about the situation. It wasn’t his bag to jump into the big leagues down there, mostly because he never owned, carried, or even wanted a gun and was more interested in dancing with the inner energies involved in “Seeing” in the Castaneda sense. He had no big attraction to power over others. His interest was in the powers he could command within his own life.

Except for a few martial artists and yogis, he was the first everyday person that I had met who truly exemplified the spirit of a warrior. Maybe my perception was influenced by the Castaneda novels that I had been devouring over the years, but he blew away everyone he met because he spoke little and used events and doings to make his point. No one even came close when it came to setting the stage for a given moment. Peter could seemingly make a small situation seem big and take a large, out of control scene and make it quiet itself.

Later we speculated that he was a natural hypnotist and used his uncanny senses of timing, disappearance, and the strategic application of overwhelmingly potent weed to create a moment he owned in every way. Yet he had a light touch, like the touch of a comedian, a court jester, or the trickster Coyote. He never, and I mean ever, put anyone down in all the years I knew him. No harsh words to anyone, no harsh words about anyone. Only laughter. He merely lived deeply in the moment and then more deeply in the next. He was an incredible over-indulger, addictively so, and that quality, which I found as a mirror of a part of my own nature, lead us to speak of ourselves and the others in our circle as “Los Deviatos”, the Deviates.

Peter arrived in Phoenix at Sky Harbor Terminal One, which hosted the oldest types of  landing bay equipment and still required a passenger to exit the jet, walk down a movable staircase, out onto the tarmack, and then walk across the cement in 112F degree sun to the terminal doors. We met inside the antiquated terminal and boogied out to the hills as fast as we could. We stopped in Jerome for a beer at Paul & Jerry’s and then moved next door to a small table in The Spirit Room against the ancient plate glass window overlooking 89A.  Scents of old wood and homebrewed beer saturated the air as we caught up on everything. Peter spilled the good news. He had personally viewed somewhere in the vicinity of 50 dried and packaged tons of jungle Colombian weed during his most recent visit to the western coast. It was stacked on a free-standing, wooden platform that also served as a dock, hidden deep in one of the dozens of narrow river channels dumping into the bay just north of Buenaventura, and it was ours for the taking. The Godmother would front it if Peter could move it north and sell it. All we needed now was someone with a heavy-duty boat, an experienced crew, west coast smuggling experience, a marine band radio with serious wattage, and a buyer. That’s all.

Neither of us had ever sold much weight. I had sold my previous guerilla harvests to two people who did all the rest. I had given them the super-duper, meet-me-at-the-edge-of-my-canyon discount and personally had no previous experience as a dealer. Peter had only sold ounces of his rare private Colombian grower’s stash, called Candybar, which sold itself instantly and had a waiting line ready for more. As I had experienced with John the trucker and pilot who had been our Mexican connection, when physically moving big weight we only knew people who knew the people we wanted to know. We had all the connections in the world for getting big weight, but no wheels if you get my meaning. Not only that, where in hell would we find all of these abilities rolled into one person: someone who could handle the import and then sell 100,000 lazy boys? (lazy boy = lb. or pounds)

We really didn’t want to deal with two or more primaries on this. It gets way too messy when you have to pay the boat people before you can start sales through someone else. Some of you I’m sure have had this kind of conundrum, especially if you moved in an import circle back then. It was not at all unusual in those days when the central and southern American country boys were throwing it at the border, but still, really. What would you do, turn it down or try to make it happen?

The man, Mr. C, whose real name I cannot speak, was one of my local heroes. He used a Cessna 185 the way most of us use a car. We calculated his lifetime flight hours and discovered that he had spent an average of 4 hours a day flying since he received his pilot’s license 15 years earlier at the age of 16. He actually got his pilot’s license before he went for his driver’s license. Imagine! He stopped keeping a flight log after 10,000 hours, a landmark that not many commercial jet aviation pilots even reach across a 20-year career. He had a rural house on 100 acres that hosted a smooth dirt road leading in for one straight and level mile. That road doubled as an airstrip and by sporting extra large tires on his 185 mounted specifically for rough field landings, his movements were like those of a daily auto commuter’s except in the air. His roots were in the Mexican bounce to the US back in the late 60’s, a splendid time of seemingly unlimited pilot bravado and perpetual motion for the fly boys of the alternate air force. He had personally moved tons of mota in a mere 3-4 years.

My guy had waterbed-style soft fuel tanks buried in the far south, western Arizona desert at a roadless, remote spot about 50 miles or so above the border on the American side. These totally safe stashes allowed him to drop his load of primo weed, quickly refuel, and then fly south and back toward Mexico in order to fall off invisibly into the east or west airspace just above Interstate 10 that was not under scrutiny. He never failed a mission and only nicked a plane once because he was a bit too high and was not paying attention while departing from the simple mesa-top airstrip in Sedona. He taxied off the pavement into soft dirt, nosed down, and bent the prop.

Let’s call him Mr. C for the sake of simplicity. It’s better that way. I can’t share his name because of respect and caring, and honestly, I’m not sure he’s made it past the 10 consecutive years with no infractions necessary to be clear of federal CCE convictions, Continuing Criminal Enterprise. Too often have I seen good men about to be clear of their past illegal exposures and sadly get a knock on the door at 4 years and 10 months for typical Conspiracy charges, or 9 years and 11 months for CCE, and then be swept into prison. The arm of the law can reach far when you hit the radar. Stay below the radar, please, will you.

Mr. C grew up in Arizona, the son of a smart rancher from a small rural town. When we met I thought I had met my long lost brother, not because we had so much in common or shared similar ideas, but because of our uncanny resemblance physically. Once, my wife got a call from a friend who mentioned that she had just seen me in Jerome with two ladies, one on each arm. I had an honest, perfect alibi so I wasn’t concerned and once my wife heard from another close friend who had been on the scene that night that it had been Mr. C she laughed and said, “Of course, I’ve seen him playing around, too”. Married men in small towns, what can you say? As they used to joke in Jerome back then, if a couple has an argument in their living room tonight, everyone knows the next day. No joke. Too many eyes and ears with nothing better to do and old houses situated too damn close for real privacy.

Peter and I were in the Bay area for a quick meeting with one of his Colombo buddies. The loads were coming so fast that they needed more help with surveillance as well as for moving money around the states. Being trustworthy and cleared for any level of responsibility made Peter extremely valuable and afforded him the ability to meet a shitload of connections in the secretive world of the shadow economy. For example, because of his New York associations he had purchased an actual New York driver’s license and accompanying Social Security card from one of his closer Colombo acquaintances for 2500 bucks; both IDs were in the real New York state database, both were able to stand any scrutiny from the law. Weed wasn’t the only thing these “friends in low places” could provide as he also learned some months later when he needed to re-enter the US after a visit to Guadalajara. They had the cream of the crop Coyotes along the border in their employ and saw to it that he came across without worry, quickly and efficiently. No huddling in the dark followed by a mad dash across the line. No Kamikaze vehicle that may or may not arrive. Peter was driven across in a family car and waved on without the slightest stop by our border customs men after a brief stop and window peek. Who knows if Peter’s contacts had these border guys in their pocket or if it had been just chance and a well-disguised vehicle driven by a mild-mannered American that pulled it off. After meeting some of these Colombo specialists later, I’ll vote for the former possibility. These fixers had ways of mending many problems.

I often asked Peter about his world because it was so intense and exciting and I was hooked when he told me the true events behind the scenes. I had found my own passion in the deep, desert canyons, growing primo weed and living the life of a desert renegade, but his world was one of true physical danger and required a different attitude if you decided to play. To be successful and just continue living meant you could only make a few mistakes, if any. You had to be a ruthless in the same sense that Carlos Castaneda’s Don Juan imparted in his teachings. There were plenty of players on every level, though few warriors like Peter and Mr. C.

While we were waiting to be contacted by his Colombo boys, we had a light bulb go off and came up with a long shot for the 50 tons. I mean why not, let’s ask Mr. C. We knew that he was in the Bay area, too; he had told us how to reach him before we left our mutual hometown in case we just wanted to party with him while we were there. He had a second (3rd, 4th ?) home just north of the Golden Gate, a houseboat in Sausalito, and knew the area well. He had some hip clubs in mind for us to enjoy. But this was more than just a party call, it was the biggest possible move we had ever been a part of and if Mr. C had the connections that we suspected he did, it might be our chance to strike it rich. All we wanted was a nice commission, say 3-5%, and we’d be….Yeah, you know the rest. Connecting two dudes, the source and the buyer, and collecting a commission from then on, is every weedster’s dream.

Photo by Sausalito Floating Homes Tour

Though Mr. C was a pilot, he had friends in many places. His extensive resume included Afghanistan in the late 1960’s, Mexico in the early 1970’s, and Pakistan in the late 1970’s through the early 2000’s. He had practically lived full-time in Peshawar during his hashish exporting years. His old Afghani digs first played into the hands of the Soviets, and then into the hands of the Taliban, so he had made the move to northern Pakistan to continue his work.

His contacts ranged from DC-3 fly boys to boat-barge combo captains who sailed the oceans and could deliver serious weight in one shot across the world…or two or three or four. You can imagine the reputation and street credentials he carried when it came to making deals at this level. He never carried a gun, never dealt hard drugs, and rarely used a phone. He would rather fly a 1,000 miles to sit down and talk with someone than use a phone unless it was a secure line, scrambled with what was quite the hi-tech gizmo for the time: a handheld jumbo device that you put your phone against or more specifically, into! A bit later a much smaller version of a scrambler that you held in front of the phone handset hit the market and Mr. C was one of the first to get a dozen. That later model was made in Europe and he felt that it was clean of any back-doors or built-in decryption angles. Today this would be a moot point since even the current 256 DES cipher can be cracked in a relatively short time by the NSA, though our government will tell you otherwise just to keep you feeling safe so you’ll continue trusting your current technology to keep secrets. Throughout the years whispers of possible CIA involvement swirled around Mr. C, and no wonder.

Portable Telephone Scramblers, 1970’s

“The Portable Telephone Scramblers were portable and could be used on almost any land line phone of cell phone. They were highly popular in the 1970’s and scrambled telephone conversations from end to end. You would need two (one on each end on the telephone call).

There where many uses. They were used b y countermeasures sweep teams as part of their overall service to clients. Private investigative agenices would give one to one of their high end clients to call them. This not only provided a good communications security method, it also impressed the client. Here is how they operated and their specs.
The Scrambler is a strap-on telephone device designed to scramble your conversations from end to end (each party must have a Scrambler set to the identical digital code). From simple monitoring of cellular phone conversations to subversive bugs and taps, the Scrambler protects your communication, and because it is fully self-contained, it can be used anywhere in the world without modification. The Scrambler employees a speech spectrum inversion technique which is digitally controlled by the unit code select switches. There are 13,122 user selectable codes in four factory code groups providing 52,488 code combinations. Operates on a standard 9-volt battery.

• Pivoting acoustic couplers accept virtually all styles of telephone handsets, including the new cellular radio-telephone and cordless phones. Works on all standard communications systems which utilize a telephone handset: tone or rotary
• Fully self-contained, (no wires to connect or get tangled) lightweight, compact, and enclosed in durable high impact ABS housing
• Pick-up and hold together or use elastic strap attachment
• The SCRAMBLER employs a speech spectrum inversion technique which is digitally controlled by the unit code select switch concealed in the battery compartment. There are 13,122 user selectable codes in four factory code groups providing 52,488 code combinations.
• Coding System operates over long international distances and prevents unauthorized interception by other units.
• Clear natural sound quality allows voice recognition of individual
• Operates on standard 9 volt alkaline battery (not included)
• can be used with conference calls between two or more parties.
• Easy to read, pulsating status display L.E.D.’s indicate: Voice Scramble or Voice Clear condition, receiver volume Up or Down, microphone Mute and Low Battery”

From: The Ralph D. Thomas PI Vintage Collection

Our opportunity was all or nothing, We had to take all 50 tons or none at all. And it had to be within a week or two because the weed would get funky sitting in the humidity down there. This was a serious point when discussing Colombian weed and why issues of degenerating quality were common in tropical places – it was damn difficult to dry and cure large quantities in such humidity even if the rainy season didn’t interfere, which if it did could be catastrophic. This dry/cure factor alone, I believe, brought about the wave of dirtbag, sometimes moldy, commercial quality Colombo that plagued the market in later years once they began their increasingly colossal plantation grows and began launching tons at our borders. Growing 50 or 100 tons is fine if you have a way to dry it, but guess what, it’s not that easy in the back hills or mountains of third-world countries. I know many guerilla growers reading this history this can testify to the fact that when you have that sudden big, bumper crop that you’ve always wanted, new problems arise. It’s inherent in the economy of scale for weed, baby.

Drying and curing may be tough if you are guerrilla growing but so is transporting that larger load to your destination. It can turn out to be a nightmare unless you’ve  planned well for your new growth. High-end Colombo was more likely to travel in smaller loads whether by air or sea. Thus, as Colombian became popular the quality became uneven as many exporters got into the biz in a big way. Most Colombo earned the rating of mere commercial quality as the years progressed. Eventually the coke business made weed so secondary and so unattractive in South America that even commercial bales became difficult to find. Fortunately those who had good connections they could still get the Santa Marta Gold, or Red, or Black Colombo. But many exporters switched sides and felt why move boatloads of weed when a suitcase of cola was worth the same and much easier to import, stash, and deal? Ironically, as you have witnessed over the past 35 years, coke began arriving by the boatload anyway. I guess some folks have never heard of “too much of a good thing”.

We met at a local sushi bar in Redwood City and broke the news to Mr. C over a bottle of hot sake. Nothing like sushi and sake to get a plan on its way. He wasn’t that surprised about the quantity of herb in question, however he did pull me aside quietly and asked me how well I knew Peter once we hit him with this, “ Oh yeah, the split will be 50-50 between us and the transportation guys. Your boys will get 25 tons for bringing it in”. A split like this was unusual and instantly set off the red flares.

Next he asked how long I had known Peter. Then he asked where we had met. Then he asked was I sure he was OK. He was collected yet nervous.

I could tell that he was concerned because it sounded to good to be true and one of the first rules in the biz is if it sounds to good to be true it usually is. The too good to be true offer is often the bait on a sting operation’s fishing rod, ready to reel in the sucker that jumps at it. I have had one, maybe two, genuine situations that were not only TGTBT but also turned out to be massively bonus, like a hidden treasure that fell into my lap and proved to be better yet. Still, you know how it goes most of the time.

Mr. C was somewhat satisfied when I gave him all the details confirming my friendship and faith in Peter. Peter had been hanging out for several years in the same small central Arizona town that Mr. C hailed from and though they had never met, he had heard talk of a Colombian in the area for several years through mutual friends. He respected my friendship with Peter as well, but being a skillful professional who has never seen the inside of a jail, he had to be convinced, really convinced, before he’d lift a finger.

An offer of such magnitude on the first date was unsettling. Back at the table I whispered to Peter that Mr. C was reluctant. What could we do to prove your people are for real? Think about it, I said, if it was you would you jump in? He asked Mr. C if his boatmen had worked in Colombia before and Mr. C said yes. Peter wrote a name down on a napkin (oh the napkins that must be floating around in people’s collections) and gave it to Mr. C. He told him to give that name to his captain and wait and see. I found out later that though it was a gamble, the name on that napkin had deftly opened all the doors. Peter added that Mr. C’s guys should use their connections to double-check that Peter was in the family. Peter gambled on the fact that virtually no one outside of those who had actually been there and done that would recognize his name. He knew it carried weight and even if they thought he was a narc using top-secret info, their connections would keep calling on the next higher guy until someone said, “oh yeah, Peter, he’s in the car.”

The rest was history. Mr. C drove away and left us to our sushi feast. An hour or so later he walked back in smiling from ear to ear. It hadn’t taken many calls at all and his boat captain confirmed that he had personally moved a load or two for that family once before. That group was one of the few dozen with substantial clout that controlled the world of weed in South America in the late 70’s and early 80’s, families with cartel leaders that you would recognize later in the news for their better-known move into coca products as the Disco era unfolded and the expanded need for that white fuel grew to epic proportions. His boatmen would pull it off, as many a nameless, invisible boatload had been smuggled in the past. Docks would be swarming with helpers and warehouses would get full. Vehicles would come and go and the daily grind of the commercial weed business would carry on as it had for endless years, played out in ports around the world.

Mr. C, the man whose name I cannot speak, is still out there. He says he’s retired, a line I have heard from him more than once throughout the years. God bless him. His legendary skill and dedication to the weed world has earned him gold stars in the continuing book of Cannabis. Who knows, maybe you bought a bit of hash back then, in the late 1970’s, from a guy who knew a guy who knew the guy.