President Kennedy’s been shot. I was fourteen in 1963, sitting in my ninth grade class in junior high school. Being a young teenager, I was too busy living life for the moment to be political, but that day was different. Even the veil of youthful naiveté couldn’t mask the gravity of what had just come to pass or shield us from its repercussions. Everyone in the room felt a connection to what was going on while intuitively sensing we were all somehow going to be deeply affected by this sudden turn of event. As the school’s principal announced the assassination of the president over the inter-com, time suspended itself, as if pausing to define a major turning point in our lives, followed by a mental shock wave that resonated through everyone in the room like the rumbling of thunder after the silent flash of a lightning bolt. Psychologically, as a country, we seemed to have instantaneously experienced a simultaneous, unifying, collective shift of perceptions and beliefs about life by millions of people, that was not only felt in America but worldwide, the day Kennedy was killed. It was as if a cosmic telepathic warning sent to the planet was signaling its inhabitants that things weren’t what they seemed to be in Camelot, or anywhere else for that matter, and this sudden revelation rang true to the heart, arousing feelings of skepticism and unrest in a generation destined to “hear” the message.
By 1966 change was in full bloom, and we as the sixties generation were embodying and living our beliefs. People were massively becoming concerned about the environment and raising issues of its misuse and abuse. We became more in touch with our own bodies as vehicles, or if you will, temples, that housed the universal energy that is in all life, and because of this awareness, strived to take better care of ourselves by becoming vegetarians and eating more natural foods. We also came to respect animals as other conscious beings and did not want to unnecessarily take their lives to sustain our own if at all possible. We were practicing meditation and yoga to become more in touch with the internal energies of life and fused Eastern religion and philosophy with our Western mind’s intellect. Our hair became longer and make-up was unimportant, not because of a fad statement, but as a natural progression that came from a change of focus on priorities that inspired new habits and routines in our daily lives. The youth of the sixties were on a quest to transform and reshape our selves from the inside out, and because of this, it was easy to connect with another person on the same path no matter where you were. We were envisioning and trying to create a common ground that all people could work towards, so we could live, understand, and communicate with each other in a more positive and meaningful manner.
When the van drove up to the prison entrance, it was quite a bit different than what I had imagined. The looks and sounds of the old penitentiary gave the feeling of being arrested in the past and thrown into a medieval dungeon. Even the guards seemed like outdated relics, not of the medieval era, but from times during World War II. They had on cloth hats with shiny patent leather brims, black boots, and long trench coats like the Nazi soldiers wore in the old black and white World War ll films. It was the weirdest contrasts of feeling like being in a medieval dungeon during the dark ages, while guarded by the feared Gestapo of WW II and arrested by a modem day German special task force in the present.
These guys were wild. The truck was going close to sixty as it approached the dock, and then came to a screeching, sliding stop in front of the boat. The doors flew open, the Federales in the back jumped out, and they began cautiously walking towards us with pistolas drawn and automatic weapons ready like we had the word “SMUGGLERS” stamped across our foreheads. They closed in on us and asked if there were any weapons on the boat, and when we answered “no” one of them started to board us, looking like they were preparing for a full-on search. But little did they know there was a secret weapon hidden below deck that changed the course of things dramatically.
The night was a long one of constant vigil, no sleep, no food, and our bodies ached from being constantly thrown around by the mountainous swells. When morning finally came, we witnessed for the first time the magnitude and ferocity of the storm and its effect on the ocean surface for as far as could be seen, and that view only came periodically. By now at the storm’s height the wind gusts were anywhere from one hundred to a hundred and fifteen m.p.h., and the waves were peaking at thirty-five to forty feet. The swells would pick the boat up, and we’d be on top of a forty-foot mountain of water with a view of sets looking like they were being made from a giant wave machine coming at us from as far as the eye could see. Then with the diesel engine constantly running, Bligh “surfed” the boat down the face of the wave at an angle to keep from burying the bow into the water, and when reaching bottom, we were surrounded by nothing but giant, massive, forty-foot walls of standing water that seemed like they were about to come crashing down on and engulf the boat. Then we would climb up the forty-foot front side of the swell and surf down the backside into valley, after valley, after valley.
We would often go out with our friends to their local haunts, places the average tourist probably shouldn’t visit. One night a few of the Colombians and myself were sitting around a table in one of the bars in town waiting for a meeting when two locals sitting at a table across from us started arguing with each other in Spanish. I couldn’t pick it all up, but before we could react, one of them stood up with a gun in his hand as the guy he was arguing with kicked the table over and pulled out his piece. They both began firing point blank at each other but were either really drunk or bad aims because it was obvious they were missing each other. Quite a few shots were exchanged before one finally dropped and the other took off running. While all of this was going on, the Colombians and I had knocked our table over and hit the deck behind it, waiting for the shooting to stop so we could make our escape. In any other place it would have been surprising to be caught up in a barroom shoot·out, but when in Buenaventura, the potential for danger lurked everywhere.
Truckloads of hash leaving the Beqa’a Valley for Tripoli were usually escorted by heavily armed family members, soldiers of the Lebanese Army, and at least one high ranking Syrian army official to handle Syria’s peacekeeping forces, road blocks, or any other political security matters that might be encountered along the way. The trucks were driven to docks in the harbor where boats owned by family members or friends of theirs were loaded for the run out to the mother ship. From there, the paid Syrian army turns a blind eye towards the transactions happening just offshore from Lebanon’s coastline, while the transfer of thousands of pounds of hashish between boats is taking place.