The Legend of Cocaine Island debuted on Netflix on Friday and after watching it, many viewers have been wondering if this is a true story or a work of fiction. The answer to that question is that this Netflix original is, in fact, a true story.
The one hour and 25 minutes-long documentary feature first premiered at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival under the title White Tide: The Legend of Culebra.
The Legend of Cocaine tells the true story of a Florida man’s treasure hunt inspired by a story he heard from Julian Howell, a local hippie he met in 2007. Howell told Rodney Hyden of Archer, Florida about a duffel bag filled with $2 million dollars worth of cocaine buried on an island called Isla Culebra, part of an archipelago off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico.
For years, Howell had repeated the same story to anyone who would listen, and his tale became well-known to the residents of Archer as an urban legend.
According to Howell, he once found a suitcase containing waterproof bags filled with about 70 lbs of cocaine on Isla Culebra. He hid the loot in the ground at a secret location on the island.
Many locals who heard the hippie’s story took it with the proverbial pinch of salt and even those who thought the story might be true did not think it was worth investigating.
But amid the pains of the economic meltdown of the late 2000s, Hyden, a construction company owner who had fallen into hard times became so desperate for a way out that he ended up acting on his suspicions that Howell’s incredible story might be true.
With the benefit of hindsight, Hyden now admits that his actions were extremely stupid and dangerous but back in the late 2000s after the economic meltdown had driven him into a seven-figure debt, Hyden became convinced that traveling to Isla Culebra to find the hidden treasure was a smart idea.
Driven by greed but plagued by poor judgment matched only by confident optimism, Hyden hatched a crazy get-rich-quick scheme that involved outfitting a private expedition to find and transport $2 million worth of cocaine to Florida for sale although he had absolutely no prior knowledge or experience of the illicit drug trade and drug trafficking.
Hyden teamed up with his equally clueless drug-addicted friend, Andy Culpepper, and traveled to Culebra to start his treasure hunt.
Before he left, he made his first major potentially catastrophic decision: He confided in a local drug dealer about his plan to retrieve a mythical stash of cocaine worth $2 million in hopes of enlisting his help to sell the drugs after he finds and transports them back to Florida.
Netflix describes Hyden’s story as “fueled by a combination of desperation and blissful ignorance.”
Hyden plays himself in a documentary film that plays for laughs by focusing on the farcical aspects of the protagonist’s ambitious expedition. Lack of experience about drug dealing was not the most remarkable thing about Hayden and Culpepper, but their utter cluelessness about even the most basic things about treasure hunting — such as the fact that they would need a shovel to dig up the hidden treasure.
The documentary starts with Hyden asking viewers if they would try to dig up $2 million if they knew exactly where it was buried, as if finding buried cash was the same as finding a secret stash of cocaine worth $2 million.
The Legend of Cocaine Island is told by multiple narrators, including Hyden (who seems to be having a good time recalling and reenacting his madcap adventure). The other narrators include the drug dealer and alleged government officials who give interviews in anonymity.
Netflix’s The Legend of Cocaine Island is directed by Theo Love, who produces with Bryan Storkel.
The documentary is executive produced by Brian Knappenberger, Nate Larson, Tom Love, and Jeff Goldstein.
The Legend of Cocaine Island is available for streaming on Netflix.