With a Side of Mushies Please – Part II
After the weather foiled yesterday’s plans, we decided to delay our departure from Palenque for a second attempt. Gathered like a gaggle of third graders on an excursion to Dreamworld, relishing in the cloudless sky, we waited to be collected by our tour guide – the mushroom man himself – Gabriel. We had one backpack between us, holding nothing but the chocolate biscuits that would serve as the “bread” of our mushroom sandwiches, and a camera. The latter item was a risk as we had been instructed not to bring anything we would be sad to lose, but we ran it. Besides, between the four of us, we could surely keep tabs on one item, right? Other than that, we strictly adhered by Gabriel’s rules and left all of our valuables back in the room.
It was an intimate group; apart from Sam, Josh, Cat and I, there were only two other attendees, a pair of softly-spoken Danish girls. We struck up the mandatory travellers exchange but before long the conversation turned to the entertainment of the day. They asked us if we had ever “tried” mushrooms’ before, and confided that they had not. It momentarily crossed my mind that this was a rather gutsy way to debut into the word of hallucinogens, but my chronically short attention span meant that that thought was soon abandoned as my mind flitted onto the next distraction.
Gabriel arrived, upbeat as ever, and decked out in enough various leather garments to fill a pop-up Mexican market stall – there were braids and tassels galore. The exorbitant price we paid for the day must have been funding his obvious fashion addiction. We had been assured this trip was well worth the pesos, though, so we parted with the cash, counting on the fact that he knew what we meant by “special tour”; we hadn’t postponed our departure just to walk around in the bush sober.
After a 30-minute drive we bravely turned our backs on the minivan and entered the wilderness on foot. Gabriel imparted knowledge of the local flora and fauna as we walked, stopping us at various intervals for more detailed explanations of certain plant life. He gave serious warning about the large spikes that grew on a certain vine, as not only is it possible to be impaled by them as you walk past, but they fall off and cause strife from the ground as well. He picked one up and waved it in front of our faces to really drive the point home. Beware of the spikes, got it. He then urged us to rub jungle-mud all over our skin to ward off the bloodthirsty mosquitoes. We did this, but about 30 seconds later he had us swimming in a deep waterhole, so it seemed pretty redundant.
The freezing water was a welcome refreshment after 15 minutes trekking through humid jungle air. As we dried off Gabriel gathered us round and we got down to business. We were each given a banana leaf piled with six mushrooms, all of which were about the size of your average portobello. “You can eat five, and save one for later,” Gabriel offered, “or you can eat six now”. Sam and I looked at each other and nodded. “Six?” he said. “Six,” I replied. They were about four times too big to fit comfortably between the biscuits, so it was a slight mental/physical challenge to get them down, but with a bit of mind over matter it was achieved. We regrouped, wiping the tears from our eyes, and Gabriel forged the way forward.
In my experience, it can take 20 to 60 minutes before you start to feel the effects of magic mushrooms, depending on an array of variables such as whether you had an empty tummy, how many you ate, and their potency. We were told it was only a short 15 minute walk to our destination, which at first totally comforted me – until about 90 seconds later when I everything started to look as though it was made of plasticine. I was directly behind Gabriel, who was still rattling off jungle facts at an alarming intensity, so I had to steal a look behind me to see the others; faces were solemn as they concentrated on the path beneath their feet, and I don’t think they were taking in the jungle trivia either. Good, I thought, it’s not just me who’s struggling with life right now.
I turned my attention back to Gabriel who was gesturing once more to the spike-covered vine. “See the spikes? See them?!” He shook the vine for emphasis and I recoiled as they leaped out at my face. “Yeah… yeah… I see,” I managed to reply. Things got pretty weird from there on in – at some point Gabriel tried to convince Sam to pick up and eat a live bug off a mossy stump: “Tastes just like chicken!” he said encouragingly. Sam has been a vegetarian his entire life and I doubted this was the ideal time to not only take up eating animals, but to do it by unidentified Mexican jungle-bug. Not that any of us had the fine motor skills by that point to explain any of this.
I was super pumped when we reached the clearing, as I was about to fully lose the plot. My mind was a complete circus of colours and I was pretty damn sure the tiki warrior masks carved into every tree trunk were not actually there. No one was talking, instead we kind of stood there awkwardly, no doubt individually coming to terms with how fucked up we were. Gabriel directed us to a little round waterhole and we dangled our feet into the water as we took up positions around the edge. We were now facing a small waterfall that fed the pool, and behind this was a little cave. My memory flashed back to a conversation with one of yesterday’s day-trippers, “There was this beautiful little cave behind the waterfall, I sat in there for dead-set about four hours…learned a lot about life in that cave…got really cold though.”
One by one we took turns but no one stayed longer than a few minutes. When I went in I realised why – looking out through the falling water it seemed as though the other 5 people were just sitting there, watching you. I was suddenly far too aware of my facial expressions so I exited and reclaimed my seat in the audience, only to realise you couldn’t even see past the water anyway. My kaleidoscopic vision allowed me to be easily entertained at anything I looked at, so I stared at my hands for longer than I care to admit. So long, in fact, that I began to wonder if I would ever come out of this intense tripping period. I imagined my life if I didn’t – being a disappointment to my parents, checking myself into a care facility… It all seemed rather unpleasant. I became certain that I was the only one tripping balls and in fact everyone else was just maintaining the awkward silence because they didn’t know how to tell me they were leaving me here in the jungle with Gabriel. I thought I should prove my sanity and looked to my left to strike up some chit-chat with Sam but his massive toucan beak and green Jimmy Neutron hairdo was too much too handle so I reverted back to my humongous fingers.
The sun had disappeared behind the canopy, casting shadow over our pool, and I was suddenly freezing. I managed to murmur this to the others, excusing myself. I struggled up to the clearing and made it to where I had abandoned my thongs, squatting above them like a mother bird over eggs, because for some reason I thought I wasn’t “allowed” to touch the ground with my butt. All I wanted to do was to enjoy the euphoric feeling of the trip but to do so I needed to be completely alone so I could stop thinking of what the others were thinking. I spent a few seconds fueling the paranoia that emerges in these kinds of instances, before snapping out of it and remembering that I don’t give a shit if I look like a weirdo, and if people wanted to judge me then fuck them – all that mattered was that I was enjoying myself. With this little self-righteous pep talk, I lowered my forehead to my knees and went internal.
So many things happened while I sat there; I relived conversations and events that had taken place years before; I watched every season of How I Met Your Mother, and at least a few episodes of Seinfeld, in the blink of an eye. My mind warped reality with imagination, combining things from my past with possibilities of the future, in some sort of parallel universe… all that crazy shit you should expect when you eat siz massive Mexican magic-mushrooms all at once I guess.
By my calculations it had been about two weeks since I squatted on top of my footwear, and I realised I hadn’t peed once that entire time! Must be some kind of science defying record, I thought, touching my crotch to just be certain. I was busting, and really confused. I looked around for the others, considering the fact they may have left me hear long ago, only to see Cat mere metres from me in a similar position. “Pssst! Cat…I really need to pee!” I almost felt embarrassed about this, which confused me even more. “Do you think I can pee…in here?” I said, gesturing to the forest around us. “Yeah, definitely,” she replied, squinting one eye incredulously. I didn’t completely trust her, but I had a vague idea that it was something I would have done…before…so I wandered off on shaky foal-like legs and relieved myself behind the bushes.
I returned to my thong-throne and began trying to piece together my life, just the simple things, like what country I was in and what year it was… At this moment my eye caught sight of Sam who was standing in the knee-deep stream holding a leaf up in front of his face, looking from it, then to the sun, back to the leaf, then once again skywards. Having a moment.
Josh soon emerged from a thicket of vegetation with a wild look in his eyes “I missed my Dad’s birthday!” he cried, and then in a lower voice, “Mardi, I think I drank my own piss.” He looked down to the water bottle of crystal clear water that he was carrying, and threw it on the ground, as though it were contaminated with his urine. I laughed, “Did you?” “Well I don’t know, did I?” I told him that I didn’t think he did. As for his dad’s birthday, I couldn’t help with that because I had no idea what day it was, or when his dad was born.
Gabriel materialised to my right wearing simply a pair of red underpants and a leather workman’s belt. He took a knife from one of the holsters and began to cut up mango for us all. We gathered, and slowly began to rebuild, taking sustenance from the delicious fruit. Gabriel told us it was not, in fact, a fortnight later as we all thought, but only hours since we first entered the clearing. As we regained strength, we began to laugh and swap stories of our individual adventures (not that any of us actually went anywhere). No one had paid any attention to each other, and I was of course wrong to think that I was the only cooked one. Josh was still coming to terms with the fact that he hadn’t wished his dad Feliz Complianos, but other than that we were all in high spirits. Sam and I began to strategise how we could procure more shrooms, when Gabriel said, “I don’t think the Danish girls ate all of theirs, maybe you can ask them?” Oh yeah – the Danish girls. We all looked around. They were nowhere to be seen. You had one job, Gabriel. One job. Instead of monitoring your clients you were gallivanting around in a lap-lap picking mangoes. I looked at him, and I could see that “oh fuck” expression settle onto his face. With fear in his eyes he bounded away and disappeared down the slope beside the waterfall. Although this was a pretty colossal fuck up, I really didn’t have it in me to be concerned. I was in the best mood and the four of us were having an ace time talking shit and feeling great.
We were interrupted though, when (a relieved) Gabriel returned the two Danish girls back to the herd. They were a pale shade of blue and crying, but they hadn’t disappeared. Hurrah! The opposite had happened, in fact; they never ventured out of the waterhole. Whilst we all exited when it became too cold and embarked on our own little missions in the clearing, the girls had sat, unable to move, for the entire three or four hours, in the cold water, having, basically, the most god-awful time. One of them seemed convinced that her whole family had died. It was a severe case of the terrors.
We spent some time trying to calm and comfort them, but I must admit, we were all still a few screws too loose to be much help – and plus, we did not want to catch those bad vibes. They eventually stopped crying, and perked up a little, but swore they would never try hallucinogens again, no matter how much I tried to convince them it was “all about the mindset, man”. Cat and I were jumping and running all the way back to the van, shoeless, no fucks given about any spikes. I laughed as I realised I had left my only possession, my thongs, back at the clearing. “No,” said Sam, “I’ve got them.” He was carrying basically everyone’s shoes, plus the bag with the camera holding all those photos we didn’t take. We laughed about how incapable we would have been at photography, and congratulated Sam on being so responsible.
The Danish girls gave up their left overs with pleasure, which we creatively turned into various mushroom tapas and ate as we sat in Don Muchos restaurant drinking cervazas. The sky began to cloud over, and thunder rumbled in the distance, but this didn’t matter because we were under cover and no more than 200 metres from our doorstep. The air cooled as heavy rain began to fall from the sky, and we watched the water level rise quickly in the empty streams. It was raining so hard that someone joked about going back to check on our room; we laughed and ordered more drinks, so high on life after such a crazy day. “I reckon that stream will overflow if it keeps raining like this,” I said to Sam, and we made a bet on how long it would take. Within 15 minutes we were up to our knees in water. The power cut out and we were all left perching on our chairs in the blackness, ground-dwelling power cords fizzling as the water extinguished them. We then had a more serious discussion about whether we should go back for our stuff, but with no lights, multiple electricity hazards, and unrelenting torrential rain, we realized that ship had kind of sailed. “It should be fine, though, our room was at least 10 metres from the water bank, it would have to be a massive flood to reach that high,” said Cat. We all concurred reassuringly.
When the rain eventually stopped, and we had established that we probably weren’t going to get electrocuted, we left Don Muchos and waded back to our room in the dark. We hit dry land leading up to the bridge we needed to cross to get to our cabana. As we walked towards it, the two women who ran the place came running out of their house, telling us not to go any further. “But our room is over there, and all our stuff,” we said. They looked distressed, and continued to speak at us rapidly in Spanish. Cat eventually worked out what they were trying to say. Water had risen over the bridge, there was a big flood, they said. With no light, we couldn’t see if it was still under, so we resolved to wait until morning.
They let us stay the night in their house and at the crack of dawn we went to check the damage. The water was innocently flowing down the creek at its usual level far below the bridge, as though nothing had happened, but as we approached the cabanas, signs of destruction greeted us. Palms around our room were flattened and debris was strewn everywhere. We peered in through the window of our room, and it looked normal, except for the single line tracing the circumference of the room, signaling the peak water level was about half a metre above the beds. We opened the door and pulled out our four packs, hoping for a miracle. But no, they were waterlogged and all of our belongings were either entrenched with mud, or decomposing. Everything one would usually carry with them while out and about, such as phones, cameras, money, passports, we had instead stowed away for safekeeping, just like Gabriel recommended. Yeah, really lucky we didn’t have lose that stuff in the jungle. Ironically, the only material possession we had left was the daypack holding Sam’s single camera.
Looks like we were postponing our departure from Palenque for a second time.