Drink Spiking in Colombia: How I Survived the Devil's Breath
I’ve been through some crazy experiences in my travels. From getting arrested in Rio de Janeiro to paying off corrupt cops in Bali, I’ve had some hairy moments. But nothing like when I got hit with the Devil’s Breath, AKA scopolamine drug, in Cartagena, Colombia. I’m telling this story as a survivor of burundanga drink spiking in Colombia to spread awareness and warn my fellow travelers, as not all come out of this experience alive to tell the tale.
What is Burundanga?
In short, Burundanga is a drug extracted from a plant called “borrachero” shrub, most commonly found in Colombia and also known as Datura, Jimson Weed, Devil’s Snare, or the Green Devil. It looks exactly like the photo above because that is a genuine picture of borrachero. Pretty. Before you pick it to give to your loved one, that beautiful flower contains the evilest substance in the world – scopolamine.
What is scopolamine?
Scopolamine is the drug some demented bitch in Cartagena used to drug, kidnap, and rob me. You probably want a less hostile definition than that, and I am happy to provide it. My apologies, but the memory still brings up strong feelings.
Scopolamine is extracted from the seeds of the pretty tree above and powdered via a chemical process used for hundreds of years by native South Americans for spiritual ritual purposes. Of course, it wasn’t until well after the colonists arrived that people found a more deviant use for its effects.
Besides hallucinogenic, Burundanga can lead to a complete lack of free will. It makes the victim wholly submissive and obedient, caused by a reduction in declarative memory. It does not make you unconscious like date-rape drugs such as Rohypnol might, and it just turns you into somewhat of a fully functioning zombie. Hence its other nickname, the zombie drug.
A comparison that some might be able to relate to is a blackout caused by drinking too much alcohol. A drinking blackout does not mean you pass out; you lose a chuck of your recollection of your night due to a reduction in declarative memory brought on by rapid alcohol consumption.
Now, if that’s not scary as fuck enough, here’s the other clincher: Scopolamine has no taste or smell. So, there’s no way to detect this evil-ass drug if your drink has been laced with it!
Burundanga powder in Colombia
There have been countless horror stories of people emerging from the effects of Burundanga in Colombia only to find themselves robbed or worse. When I say worse, there are burundanga reports of victims with body organs missing. But the worst possible outcome from Burundanga poisoning is death.
Even while I was there in 2022, a US tourist died in Medellin just after I survived my Scopolamine experience. After meeting a woman on Tinder who drugged and robbed him with Burundanga, the victim overdosed and never woke up. This is just one of many instances of Burundanga drug crime in Colombia.
Colombia’s National Police report that Scopolamine attacks are rising, especially in Bogotá. But also in Medellin and Cartagena, the two other major cities and tourist, ex-pat, and digital nomad destinations. But it’s not just foreigners who need to look out; locals can be victims too. But the difference is tourists’ lack of awareness of the Devil’s breath compared to the local population.
As such, allow me to tell my own story…
The fateful day in Cartagena
I’ve had my fair share of bad dates in my time. Once, a real estate agent who tried to sell me a house on our second date. I had another that was the best first date in my life, but when I attempted to follow up, she couldn’t remember me. Turned out she had a split personality, and I was trying to line up a second date with the “other” woman.
But nothing comes close to my first date on May, Friday 13th, 2022; yes, it happened on Friday the 13th. I was traveling around and working remotely from Colombia at the time. It all started when I was exercising on top of the fort wall surrounding Cartagena’s historic center. The above photo shows exactly where I exercised. As I was finishing my training further down the wall, an attractive young Colombian woman was walking along; she smiled at me, and I smiled back. Then she said something in Spanish to me, and I replied:
Lo siento, mi español está poco.
But she persisted, desperately trying to communicate with me in Spanish. I couldn’t help but notice how beautiful she was. Black Colombian, couldn’t be older than twenty-five, with an enchanting smile. So, I pulled out my phone and used the Google Translate App to communicate with her.
She was interested in where I was from and what I was doing in Cartagena. We sat on the wall and talked about stuff through the translator app. I was single, so I thought, what the heck, and asked if she wanted to have dinner tonight. She seemed delighted by the idea, and we agreed to meet at the same place on the wall at 6 pm that evening.
Date with scopolamine in Cartagena
As arranged, we met on the wall at about 6 pm. She had changed into a beautiful, tight, yet revealing white dress and looked stunning. Only now did I notice the distinct facial scar that ran from the left corner of her mouth up her cheek? I never asked her about it, yet I often wondered how she got it.
She tried to take me to a noisy club, which was the first red flag. It was way too early for a nightclub and not an ideal first-date venue. I told her I wanted to go somewhere more tranquilo. She took me to a quiet hole-in-the-wall bar where we both had a drink. The second red flag was she asked me if I liked to do cocaine. I thought this was an odd thing to ask on a first date and it was here that I first suspected she was a prostitute. There are many working girls in Cartagena looking for business from tourists, mainly Americans. Many of the hustlers are on Tinder and will not reveal they are a prostitute until it’s too late.
I told her, no, I’m not interested in cocaine and I am not interested in paying for sex either. She assured me it was not her intention, but to have a good time with me. Nonetheless, my bullshit detector was going off. I finished the beer and told her we could catch up another (never) time. She got upset and pleaded with me to stay out for her birthday. Birthday?? I asked her why she had only just told me this and why wasn’t she out celebrating with friends. She said something about them being back in Medellin, where she’s from. Remember, this was all through a translator app.
She put the guilt trip on me that she had gotten all dressed up for me. I relented and told her I’d go for one more drink and that I was choosing the venue, to which she agreed. My gut was telling me to run, but I thought, what could possibly go wrong with one more drink in a busy establishment?
The scene of the crime
I took her to Plaza Majagua Restaurante, Cartagena, pictured above, only at night, all those tables are full, and there are street performers and crowds. The place was buzzing, a hive of activity. We sat at a table outside and had waitperson service, and I ordered two Sangria. Everything was going swimmingly until I went to the toilet inside the restaurant, stupidly leaving a half-empty sangria on our table.
I returned and finished the drink and promptly ordered another sangria for us. The waiter brought them and we chatted pleasantly through the translator app while watching the street performers and salsa dancing before us. My last memory was thinking:
“Wow, I feel pretty tipsy for only two drinks…”
Worst day of my life
My consciousness came back as I was in a horse carriage. And I don’t mean I woke up, but this is my first memory. What’s more, I was wearing nothing but my underwear and had nothing else on me. Not my phone, wallet, or shoes… at least they were kind enough to let me keep my undies on!
Everything was a little hazy at this point. Your memory comes back in stages, not all at once. And to say I was disorientated is a significant understatement. I vaguely remember some other people in the horse carriage asking me who I was and I couldn’t tell them my name—yeah, seriously fucked up!
The next memory I have is in the back of a taxi, trying to give directions to my Airbnb to the taxi driver. I had absolutely nothing on me, including no money to pay him. It wasn’t until later that I learned he got me home safe, and I paid the good Samaritan back his taxi fare.
The next memory was trying to get into my Airbnb in the small laneway in Getsenami with no luck, as they had stolen my house key also. I vaguely remember frantically speaking to some neighbors, and they must have called my Airbnb host, who came with a spare key to let me in. I went straight to bed and crashed.
Dealing with the Colombian justice system
I could write a whole book about this. It was honestly the shittest time of my life. The following day I woke up believing it had all been a dream. Because that’s precisely what the ordeal felt like – a dream. Or, more accurately – a nightmare. I will never forget the feeling of realizing that it wasn’t a dream. It had all happened. Snapping back to the dreaded sent a chill down my spine. It was one of the worst moments of my life.
I realized this when I couldn’t find my phone, wallet, or clothes. One of the worst things about the experience was learning how much we rely on our phones, and I felt totally naked without it. And I have been having recurring dreams of losing phones ever since. I know, sad, right?
Everything was on my iPhone, and I used banking apps to transfer and convert currency and the digital cards I used for transactions. And my communication tools back home to my friends and family, to name a few things. I am only thankful that I didn’t let the criminals inside my accommodation, where they would have stolen my computer and passport, which often happens with burundanga crimes in Colombia. Then I would have been truly fucked.
If it weren’t for the kindness of my Airbnb hosts, a husband and wife, who drove me to buy a new phone and helped me access funds, I would have been truly fucked. It’s important that while I had experienced the worst kind of human in Adriana, I also experienced the best kind through my hosts. Not all people are bad; There are some good people in the world, too, I had to keep reminding myself to resist the anger and hatred from engulfing my body and mind – I knew such thinking would only lead to more trouble.
I went to the medico, who confirmed I was drugged by scopolamine in Colombia. They also told me that had the dose been any higher; I’d be dead. This realization I had just had a near-death experience sent another chill down my spine, and I knew then I had to pursue justice.
Corrupt police in Colombia
My hosts also took me to the police, who were useless and didn’t want to know about it. Some say they are in cahoots with the perpetrators but I have no evidence to back this up. I was advised to go to the Department of Justice, who also didn’t want to know about it, but seemed pleased when I told them it didn’t have to do with drug trafficking. A man called Victorhugo told me to file a report on their website, which was all in Spanish and kept crashing. Victorhugo then joined me for a ride back into the walled city, which he asked me to pay for. I went back to Plaza Majagua Restaurante, and the owner told me they had security footage and would extract it and supply it to me. But after following up several times, he went quiet.
In short, trying to get justice in Colombia for a burundanga crime was as stressful as the ordeal itself. It took me months of back and forth on the website and speaking to several people through a translator app. I supplied them with time, photos of Plaza Majagua Restaurante and an in-depth description of Adrianna, including the distinctive tattoo on her cheek. Eventually, I was able to lodge an official report with the Department of Justice HQ in Bogata, but justice was never served.
I often wonder how many poor unsuspecting tourists have become victims of Adrianna since.
Lessons learned as a solo male traveler in Colombia
Trust no one
Do not go out at night alone.
Never leave a drink unattended.
In the west, women are mainly targeted for drink spiking. In Colombia (and other South American countries), it’s predominantly men who are victims of drink spiking, especially burundanga, or borrachero, scopolamine, Datura, Jimson Weed, Devil’s Snare, Devil’s breath, the Green Devil, the zombie drug, or whatever the hell you call it.
- Always keep a back-up mobile phone (even if it’s shit)