Nine times more dangerous than the United States, Columbia is no place for the nervous traveller. So it is against his better judgement that, in the summer of 1998, journalist Stephen Smith finds himself boarding the Cocaine Train out of Cali, home of Columbia's infamous drugs cartel. The Cocaine Train is one of the last remnants of a once great railway system, and Smith is riding it in search of a grandfather he barely knew—Fred Leslie Frost, pioneering railwayman, upright citizen and diplomat, with a Columbian mistress and an illegitimate son.