Breakfast with an Emerald Smuggler

Photos of actual breakfast attendees will not be shared to protective identities of those present.

In Copacabana the only place to get an early breakfast is a coffee shop called El Condor and the Eagle. This also happens to be the best breakfast in Copacabana. It has good coffee (a rarity in Bolivia) Irish soda bread and eggs. Most places just serve white bread and fruit juice. The morning I was leaving for Peru I naturally woke up at 6:00 AM. Which is a problem I seem to have; I wake up before sunrise no matter where I am. So I packed, read some and walked down to get breakfast.

Outside the restaurant I met another traveler. He had also been there for breakfast yesterday and I recognized him. He looked to be in his mid sixties and of European descent so I guessed he spoke English. The retirement crowd and I keep similar schedules so I run into them a lot.

It wasn’t long before he and I had struck up a conversation and were eating breakfast together. His name was Dan and he seemed somewhat eccentric but jovial and good company. He told me about his travels, his retirement in South America and his plans to teach English in Bolivia. He had come from Florida but now lived in a house on the ocean and had no intentions of returning to the US. I asked what he had retired from and he warned me it was a long answer.

Dan said after high school he had gone to Zambia and by strange coincidences ended up smuggling emeralds into the US for several years. A Zambian man had taught him to put the emeralds in apple sauce and drink them right before getting on the flight and once he got home he would “sort them out.” He said it was messy work but he had no complaints and made plenty of money up until his contact in Zambia died.

Then it was one job after another but they all seemed to involve travel which he loved. He said he hadn’t really worked a 9-5 job and didn’t seem to see the appeal. I told him I had quit my job to travel for a while. It was always a little uncomfortable for me to say this because I felt as though I was flaking out on my career. Dan apparently didn’t think so, “Congratulations!” he exclaimed as though it was a major accomplishment. “We are the intelligent ones,” he said.

I didn’t know if it was intelligence or recklessness. “I’m not so sure yet. I’ll have to see how it all works out.” But I couldn’t help but smile at his enthusiasm.

When he left to catch his boat he said, “Safe travels Rachel, may you never work a real job again!”

It’s good to know if I can’t get a job again I can always buy some emeralds and applesauce.