For the next few days, during work-hours, I accompanied Rafael to his fábrica. I expected an American-style factory with workers wearing gloves and surgical masks, but it was rough and rugged. The factory was housed in a large Quonset hut, like an immense barn, and at every step of the process there were crude methods of heating water and other liquids, musty corners with chemicals being poured and measured. It looked like a large version of an Ozark whisky-still, except that Rafael apparently did not have to hide his operation from the revenooers.
Though cocaine was all around, I didn’t use any during those days in the factory, didn’t even try coca leaves, which Rafael’s employees constantly chewed: he said it gave them the same mild jolt as coffee. While he was working the phone or greeting dealers who’d flown in on private planes, I took long walks. The factory was far from La Paz’s central area, so the only people I saw were peasant women wearing colorful wide skirts and bowler hats. When I crossed paths with them, I’d tip an imaginary bowler and they’d laugh. Occasionally, a woman would squat on the side of a dirt road, her broad skirt forming a protective cloth nimbus around her. After getting up, she’d leave a small puddle of urine and go on her way.