Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán was born and raised in La Tuna, a tiny town deep in the mountains of Sinaloa. It’s in the heart of a remote and rugged region known as the “Golden Triangle,” where for generations farmers have grown marijuana and the opium poppies that get processed into heroin and smuggled to the United States.
It’s really not easy to get there. The area is under control of the Sinaloa cartel, and we had to drive for four hours over rough roads from Culiacán, the nearest major city. On the way, after passing through the hometown of another Sinaloa cartel leader, we came around a bend in the road and found it blocked by a checkpoint guarded by men armed with AK-47s.
We went to La Tuna to learn about the legend of El Chapo. We ended up staying the night at the home of one of his family members, and interviewing his mother and sister. And we happened to be there for a special occasion: the birthday of El Chapo’s brother, Aureliano “El Guano” Guzmán. There was a party thrown in his honor, and since El Guano has taken over part of the cartel, security was heavy. The party went through the night and stretched into the next morning, and there were men with heavy weapons on patrol constantly.
The people of La Tuna told us about El Chapo’s early years in the mountains, and his first conflict with the Mexican military. We also heard about the deep mistrust that the people in rural Sinaloa have for their government, and how they depend on kingpins like El Chapo to bankroll basic services like roads, running water, and electricity.
Listen to Episode 2 of "Chapo: Kingpn on Trial"
Cover: A sign near the village of La Tuna, which is El Chapo's hometown, and is located high in the sierra of Sinaloa. Keegan Hamilton/VICE News.