Lloyd gets ripped out of his mind on a large dose of san pedro that leaves him thinking the ground has turned into water. Dropping cactus just ain’t good for kids.
An Andean dwarf forest is a psychedelic place. Weird, twisting Quenuales trees grow on slopes so steep they reach sideways toward the sun. Their red, papery bark glows beautifully in the rays of sunlight that reach through the canopy. Even on the flat the trees will happily twist around any obstacle, including other trees, creating an otherworldly forest of winding trees, ancient, moss covered rocks, and clear, turquoise rivers. This strange forest was surrounded on three sides by 1000 meter rock walls and 6000 meter mountains, keeping the modern world firmly at bay.
I arrived alone at my campsite deep in the forest under a heavy sweat after a 600 meter climb up into Quebrada Akilpo. I immediately laid down my pack, hungry and tired from my pre-mescaline fast. I opened my pack and grabbed my bag of dried San Pedro and coca leaves. The sun was just falling behind the massive western rock wall, and there wasn’t much time.
I did a quick coca ceremony, blowing a coca leaf in each direction around me, then placing one carefully on all sides, praying to Pachamama (“mother earth” in Quechua) to protect me. I then dropped a bit of the mescaline in each direction and bent on my knees to the sun like an Arab, offering a prayer directly to whatever Apu or mountain god that might be listening. These formalities complete, I organized the San Pedro for consumption.
I took a large handful and reckoned that would be enough. At first, I tried to chew the pieces of cactus but the taste was incredibly bitter and made my stomach turn. I forced down a good dose followed by water and stood up. It would take at least an hour to take effect, so I used my time to set up camp.
By the time my tent was up and all my things organized for the night, I was becoming a bit impatient. I walked around to a higher point in the forest where I could see the biggest mountain in the valley, Tocaraju. I was beginning to feel kind of strange, but wasn’t sure if I had taken the right dose. I returned to the campsite and took two more small piles, meaning that I had at least a cactus and a half of very high quality and pure San Pedro running through my system.
I tried to operate my MSR stove to boil water, but it was broken and wouldn’t pressurize, meaning I would have no food for the night. At that moment a group of cows began trying to invade my camp from the river. I yelled at them and charged after them with my trekking pole as a spear, trying to scare them off. Eventually they ran off further down the trail.
I began to feel very strange within a few moments, and then suddenly vomited out the San Pedro. My stomach was otherwise empty, and I felt quite better actually to have it out of me. I walked to the river and washed my face, which seemed to cut through the weirdness that was taking over my body.
Upon returning to my tent, I was shaking uncontrollably as if I was freezing. I got into my sleeping bag and looked up to the rock wall where the sun still shone. The rocks glowed and began to bend into circles. It was so ridiculous that I began to laugh hysterically. The clouds puffed and formed into funny geometric figures. It was incredibly beautiful, the colours being from a different world. I looked at the trees all around me and they seemed to wave back at me, weird, but peaceful.
My peace, however, was soon to end. The weirdness became stronger as the sun set, and as the last silver light left the sky, I became enveloped in total darkness. I tried to focus on the stars, but they were formed into the shape of a serpent. The insanity of it horrified me, and I began grinding my teeth like a crack-head needing a fix. My body was still shaking uncontrollably, even though I was warm to the touch. I moved in my sleeping bag, feeling like a worm, and began to panic that I had taken too much. I tried to think about something that would take my mind off of it, and tried to remember my girlfriend’s face. Unfortunately, all I could think about was the face of a strange Chinese man, followed by a hallucination that I was in China.
“No. You aren’t in China, you’re in Peru,” I told myself out loud.” “This is not what it’s supposed to be, it’s what it is. It’s okay. You’ll be alright.” It was a moment of clarity and perhaps sanity, but it was only a moment. Almost instantly I fell into more hallucinations, weirder and more intense.
I felt my heart pounding furiously in my chest and panic take over my body. I began to search desperately for my harmonica, hoping that that would take my mind off of everything. Eventually, through a desperate search, I found it in my pocket, ripping off a few odd notes as loud as I could, trying to scare off the demons.
I closed my tent for a moment, deciding that I should try to sleep. Soon after, I became tremendously claustrophobic, and opened it back up, throwing half my body back outside, rolling on the ground.
I laid down on my stomach with my face in the grass and then tried to look back up at the stars. The trees seemed to be moving all around me and I imagined a puma (Andean wildcat) stalking me in the darkness.
“There are no wildcats here,” I reassured myself out loud. “There is nothing that can hurt you. You will be okay. You will survive until sunrise, then you will be normal again… This is not what it’s supposed to be, it’s what it is… Shooo… shwa… woosh… shwa.”
I imagined a strange hippy I had met several years before in Thailand. He was making crazy sounds, and I began repeating them.
“Everything’s really… lalalalala… shloop, shloop… tutututu…!” I explained to him.
Suddenly, I could hear the river beside me. I looked around me and felt like the ground was turning into water. Shocked, I wormed my way back into my tent and closed the zipper yet again, until of course I was overtaken by claustrophobia and fell back out into the night. After repeating this a few times, I rose to my knees and began praying to the west again, pleading with the sun to come back out.
Eventually, the hardest edge of the trip wore off, though I continued with the opening and closing of my tent for hours. Really, I just wanted to be normal again and for the sun to return. Fortunately, I stopped feeling so panicked, and even had enough sense to get into my food and eat a bit of cereal. Feeling the crunch helped to take out my stress, and at one point I managed to stand up to try and go to the bathroom. Almost immediately, I fell to my knees, though, as the ground again turned into water.
Just before the dew set on the ground, I realized that I needed water. Still unable to walk after about 8 hours of hallucinations, I crawled on my stomach toward the sound of the river. Miraculously, I made it. Just feeling the cold of the water cut through my lunacy. I dipped my hand into a small pool and watched the ripples against the starlight, smiling.
After filling my bottle, I crawled back to my tent. Amazingly, I now had the sense to get into my pack, find my purification pills, and put one into my water. I felt like I had crossed a threshold at that point. I was now capable of taking care of my basic needs again, and would eventually be able to walk out of the forest and return to civilization in one piece.
Several more hours passed, and I began to feel as if I could perhaps even fall asleep. Eventually, I noticed more light in the sky, as a sliver of the moon rose from the west. The light however, became stronger, and I opened my tent to realize that indeed, day was coming.
Exhausted and still feeling somewhat strange even after the hallucinations were virtually gone, I stood up in my shoes and walked for the first time. It was all very weird, but I was proud to have survived the night. I packed my bag hastily and stumbled back down out of the gorge and back to civilization, led more by my feet than my mind