A Balinese Quest for Magic Mushrooms
When people say drugs are a gateway, their minds often jump straight to visions of calamity and misfortune. More often than not, drugs provide a gateway to the next adventure. An escapade you would never have possibly found yourself on, had it not been for the quest to alter your reality.
In my case, on that balmy Balinese evening, that next adventure was a pursuit of the elusive local magic mushrooms.
“Salamat malam, apa kabar?” I asked, greeting the young Balinese man working behind the weathered timber boards of this well-loved beachfront bar.
“Baik,” he responded indifferently.
“Saya ingin jamur ajaib,” I grinned cheekily – I want magic mushrooms!
I’d spent the entire scooter ride there reciting these words into the tropical night air, hoping they’d complement the basic Indonesian vocabulary I’d learned alongside an intensive freelance writing course this past month.
Despite this wind-blown rehearsal, the guy seemed genuinely surprised by my request. For a moment, I doubted that I had found the right place, prompting a reflection on my questionable stumble along the dark beach, guided by my iPhone torch and the sound of music.
“You want mushroom?” he asked, his eyes searching mine.
I chuckled, shifting my loaded backpack.
“Ya, jamur ajaib. Terima kasih,” I thanked him with an Aussie twang.
“Jamur ajaib! You know Bahasa Indonesian! Baik baik. Okay. I go ask.”
I fist-pumped internally, thanking my sweet, diligent Indonesian tutor and Google Translate for this ability to transcend the average tourist onslaught of English.
I’m not saying this is the only reason I persevered to learn Bahasa Indonesian, but it was definitely one of them. Plus, when you’re travelling solo, a basic grasp of the language gains brownie points with the locals.
Take, for example, my intrepid appreciation for the local cultural practice of consuming psychedelic mushrooms – or jamur ajaib.
Waves of laughter floated across the bar, muffled by the chorus of the breaking tide mere metres away. A different Balinese man came to greet me, and I did my best to stave off my ‘tourist looking for drugs vibe’, continuing with my broken Indonesian.
“Come back Tuesday, we’ll have more then,” he smiled.
We exchanged WhatsApp details, the preferred use of communication in Indo, and I danced my way back to my scooter for a solo adventure down south. With a stupid grin plastered across my face, high off the chase, I hooned into the night.
A few days and some confusingly skittish Whatsapp messages later, I found myself facing the reality that I was not going to land these elusive magic mushrooms. With only a couple of days left in Bali, I relinquished my tripping plans in favour of soaking up some rays before being hit by the peak of Sydney winter.
Weaving my way along the beach, sunset in my eyes, I navigated bean bags, tourists and multi-coloured umbrellas, trying to find the perfect spot. Reggae music poured out of the bamboo thatched bar on my right, and the distinct lack of multi-coloured umbrellas drew me in.
Ascending the sand-covered steps, a familiar feeling washed over me as I realised I was in the bar from my mushroom adventure the other night, I smiled at the coincidence, and ordered a cold coconut from the bar window.
Before I could find somewhere to put my half-kilo local fruit down, an animated table of Indonesian guys beckoned me over, offering me a seat at their exclusive corner. Pretty soon it dawned on me that I was sitting with the employees of the bar I was in, watching them sip on arak cocktails, a popular local spirit distilled from coconut palm sap.
They recognised me from the other night, spurring a comical conversation that swayed to and fro, Indonesian to English, shrooms to scooters. One particular guy told me he was a freelance tattoo artist, eagerly showing me his Instagram page. It was pretty decent, with some of his friends and colleagues at the bar sporting his handiwork.
“I like you. Do you want a tattoo?” he inquired with a grin.
All the warnings mum had told me about getting a tattoo in Asia were immediately drowned out by the thumping reggae music and the cheeky smiles of these local legends.
“Well, I’m already getting another one tomorrow so why the hell not!” I laughed.
“What do you want a tattoo of?” queried my new friend.
“Uh, I don’t know hey?” I pondered, gazing out over the crashing waves.
“What about… jamur ajaib?” he cackled, taking a big sip of his watermelon cocktail.
“Oh my god, yes! Jamur ajaib! Of course!” I agreed as the whole table erupted into laughter.
The next day, sun beating down, I scootered over and picked up my new mate and his tattoo kit, whisking him back to my hostel reception. Earlier I’d bonded with the guys who ran the hostel, divulging my magic mushroom adventure. They had laughingly agreed to let me have the tattoo done there, whilst simultaneously inviting me to come back to Bali during the mushroom picking season.
Before I could change my mind, I was sporting three charmingly permanent magic mushrooms growing up out of my ankle. I barely had time to ogle my new funghi friends, or lament the poor choice to get a tattoo on my ankle bone, before I had jet across the island to another tattoo appointment, this one at a studio, but that’s another story.
The tattoo artist and I are still mates, and he keeps asking when I’m coming back to Bali. Every now and again I receive a rogue, and often cheeky, Whatsapp message about my ongoing interest in jamur ajaib.
Although I set out on a mission to source Balinese psilocybin, that one gateway closed, leaving many others to open in its wake. Gateways filled with unexpected twists, remarkable coincidences and good fortune. Said gateway is now on my right ankle until the end of my days, but, then again… it’s all about perspective. Sorry, Mum.