A guest post by Dag Walker
I stood in the semi-dark of the long, low room of the ayahuasca centre in central Iquitos, red plastic cup in hand, thinking of what could possibly happen to me physically and mentally if I actually drank this stuff in hand. I’m not rash or stupid. I read the work by the Vanity Fair writer and saw how he feared the loss of his mind and chickened out and ran off to England to pursue a non-story rather than risk all of his long life’s work of accumulating skill and memory that he feared could be, perhaps would be lost from one drink of ayahausca. In probably every conceivable way that writer had more to lose than I, but I have my own valuable life and life of the mind that I care about, even so. I’m not willing to toss it away for nothing more than a macho gesture or a cheap thrill. So, having examined my prospects and weighed the possible loss of my mind if not my life itself, I dumped down the cup of stuff I expected to taste like a mixture of shit and gasoline, thinking it would tear a layer of skin off my tongue and leave me hoarse for a week, something like the worst whiskey known to man. To my surprise it tasted a bit like thick dishwater. It had a vague vegetable taste, but not anything particularly bad, not compared to many things I have eaten, some so foul, and some so welcome in the midst of famine where people died by the thousands and anything one could put in ones mouth without literally choking and gagging and puking it up was food, that I am sometimes almost violently upset at picky eaters like vegetarians and those who whinge about McDonald’s. I look at food as food, the stuff one can get down that allows one to live. I’ve seen people die because there was nothing to eat at all. I have eaten rot vultures would avoid. I am not too sensitive sometimes. Ayahuasca was, for me, nothing terrible. I drank it down and sat down in the dark. If my worse nightmare is genetically engineered food, then, as I know already, I am blessed in this life.
I am blessed in this life. I doubt many would agree with that assessment were they to cover front to back any period of my benighted times. I am one shit-poor Modernist. I live so badly so often that I live a literal life of terror. I am blessed, and I am humbly thankful for it. That doesn’t make me a good man or a Christian or a believer in things other assume about the religious. But the gods have blessed me and I am thankful. Others shudder when they come to know me well.
As I sat in the dark of the ayahausca centre with a half dozen men and women in the dark I heard them, one by one, puking and heaving and spitting till I thought I might go mad without a radio to sweeten the sounds of the night. I smelled the night air, the flowery scent of perfumed women, the joy of femininity, the wonder of women. I breathed it in, the smell of women and mapacho, the smoke of the thick, black tobacco cigarettes of the curandero. I smelled the dust in the air and the scent of men who sweat all day. I got strong gusts of puke wafting on the gentle breeze and people around me heaved up the contents of their sick guts. And I sat through it all waiting for my turn to puke as well. Turns out I’m a bit tougher than the average Peruvian. I didn’t quite burp, though I had a litre of milk in me at the time.
I sat in the dark, my friend John beside me to keep me safe should my ayahuasca experience turn violent or insane. This night, John is my mother, the only mother I have.
I had John come with me because I do have deep fears about my own mind. I fear that I am a monster and that, alone, unleashed, I am a dog of war more mindless and terrible than most could imagine. I brought John along to save those Peruvians I would not harm if I were my ordinary self. I couldn’t anticipate the man I might be under the influence of a strong hallucinogenic. John is a veteran from the military here and I expected him to kill me should things get dangerous for others. I have no wish to harm these gentle people. I brought John to save them from me, even though John is one of them and would likely never hurt me no matter. He, like they, is a gentle hand to hold in horror.
I sat alone in the dark, John, a simple fellow whom I do too little for at this time, say beside me, my protector and theirs. The locals puked up buckets. I sat alone and considered myself. I should have brought a book and a flashlight.
This is the first of my three sessions drinking ayahuasca.
I sat in the dark and was left to the contents of my mind. My life could well be a thread of a certain length, some knots along the way to show experience of this or that. Perhaps, though not so much compared to so many, knotty much so. Yeah, lots of knots and a long thread even now, though I’m not so old and expect to live a long time yet, should I follow the course of my family. I could, conceivably, live as long again as I have so far. I am close to 60. I have lived some long and terrible times. I hope to live much and many more. Many of those agonising times flashed through my mind as I sat in a metal framed rocking chair with all the plastic weave in place, a chair of honour for the old guy, I think so. I rocked as images rolled in waves through my mind in the darkness. But ayahuasca, that had nothing to do with me at all.
No, I drank my alloted fill of ayahuasca in the evening and sat still and rocked and thought while those about me fell into trances and puked and spat and gained something, I suspect, that I could not catch.
When I first heard of ayahuasca almost a year ago and told the Russian girl I was with that I would try it, she scoffed and said all I would do is find out about myself, and if I didn’t know about myself at my age it was too late.
I know myself well enough. I know I am blessed.
Ayahuasca had no effect on my whatsoever. The curandero said I need to drink more next time, that I am strong and that I need a bigger dose. That could be true, and I will try the three times I set myself. I’ll drink the stuff till I puke if that’s what it takes. And then I won’t do it any more.
I found, as I sat in the darkness with Peruvians, that I am alone. John sat beside me in the darkness, swinging his feet and finding his own contentment in his, how to put this gently, his own lovely mind. Other Peruvians sat around us and communed with the nature of things Peruvian. I reached out for God.
I got up and walked around outside the shack, passing the toe tree, skirting the rabbit hutch, drawing back as the cat raced in front of me, and me stopping only because the lot is tiny. I stood alone, bored and disappointed as the moon rose and shone through the light wispy clouds in the endless empty skies. Nothing. Nothing at all.
To be continued…
Iquitos Peru, Ayahuasca, What Happened To Me, Part Two
A guest post by Dag Walker
This piece is an excerpt from my up-coming book, “Iquitos, Peru: Almost Close,” a popular account of Iquitos, its history and people.
You will want to read Iquitos Peru, Ayahuasca, What Happened To Me, Part One;
A gentle reminder that my book, An Occasional Walker, is available at the link here:
If you would like to read more about Iquitos Peru, click this link to my blog, No Dhimmitude;
Hi Bill Grimes here. While we stay tuned for Ayahuasca Part Three, and Four, I recommend these articles by Dag Walker posted here in the Captain’s Blog;