We spend our days riding 125cc motorcycles to distant corners of unexplored tropical islands, searching out perfect waves and mountainside eateries. Eau de nil palms slice through warm morning light like shards of jade as we head north along the rudimentary coastal roads of the archipelago. Briny seawater polishes the shoreline, bouncing sunbeams off the sodden sandy beaches. Blinding flashes of light strike out between passing traffic, as smoke from fresh incense offerings dances around the bags of sun-warmed garbage awaiting pick up along the uneven sidewalks of town.
We’ve immersed ourselves in South-East Asian culture for around three months now, partway through what’ll become a year long-twelve country surf tour, chasing summer swells and adventure around the world. The manner of living here remains much unchanged in centuries but for the sputtering sound of a passing two-stroke engine and the distant hum of a departing jet plane.
I met Gareth at university. We spent many a gloomy British-midlands winter day playing rugby, and our evenings consisted of leering over Bruce Brown’s ‘The Endless Summer’, planning our aestival escapades. He’s a tough, stocky northerner but carries a kind soul. My childhood schoolmate Johnny – a calm yet calculated Kentish guy, is with us too.
It’s early evening, and the iridescent glow of a small neon-lit curb-side bar paints the gloaming street with scarlet brilliance. The pink and blue haze draws us in like moths to the undeniably alluring magnetism of flickering fluorescence, and we plant ourselves at a high top rounded table.
Odd lights, blanketed behind a semi-transparent cloth, reflect off the ale sodden tabletops and cracked white floor tiles underfoot. An older crew prop up the bar. A different story of ruin paints every face. Trapped like flies, they line up along the gummy bar top night after night, willingly handing themselves over as if comforted by the paralysis. A snare of self encumbrance in an arachnid’s web of tedium and repetition, watching on, twitching helplessly as death scurries ever closer. Yet, despite multiple attempts to eradicate them, the arachnid population still thrives. Was this what lay in store for me?
Nowhere to go from here. Booze then bed, a dull and wearisome routine. Mundanity has caught up with us again; got to keep moving. Clearly, this horizontal plane is too predictable; we need to stay on our toes, move vertically, keep it guessing. The understanding that one’s limited allotment of time on earth is uncertain and finite spurs us on, ever searching for more. Right now, it feels as though something’s missing. Some of this story needs filling in, the part that makes sense of the mystery. Maybe that only comes with death, but I don’t want to wait that long. These parasitic nematodes must be stopped before they inhabit us all.
“Mushrooms”? Gareth asks. I nod in agreement. We seek out the fidgety man. The dealer of fortune. Eyes all dirty and red from lack of sleep. Out of place, always around but never really there. A ravenous eel, skulking in the dark corners of despair. Every town in every country has one of these—siblings of circumstance perhaps. State issued – to balance out the depths of normalcy. Both jailer and emancipator, these locksmiths of light are easy to spot when you know what you’re looking for.
We exchange formalities with him, then cash, and thirty minutes later, this perfect stranger arrives wielding two plastic bags filled with a blood-red liquified concoction. This freak grins maniacally as he raises the bags up to eye level, peering through at us, making his face all bulbous and misshapen. Picture the prized bags of goldfish, touted by carnies in travelling fairs worldwide; only our fish-less bags are glowing with a luminous bitter-sweet crimson liquid, garnished with nothing but a plastic straw.
“Your teeth are still sharp. You still have the animal inside you,” says the strange little man. I snarl at him, and he scurries off, back to his shadowy corner, scanning for subsequent buyers.
“We can’t drink this here. We’ll appear as filthy fiends,” I say. We follow the sounds of the night toward a club at the far end of the strip. “This is right nice this”, Gareth slurs on the way in as we dispose of our empty drug bags and straws.
Crapulous clubbers and liberated locals circle us in a sea of synchrony. People’s faces begin to swirl and build into a magnificent array of coloured blocks, forming and deconstructing. I close my eyes for a second and then reopen them. Everything is normal again.
A long, glassless window separates us from the dance floor. We sit grinning like a pair of Cheshire cats, perched on barstools, wide-eyed and totally absorbed by sights and feels. The opening slowly morphs into a cinematic display, screening a story of unlimited depths. “it’s all just a movie,” I say. They’re actors, and they don’t even know it. These mushrooms are nature’s truth googles. Another dimension forms in front of that. A framed canvas landscape filled with motion and light reveals itself in real-time. It’s as if we’re behind the eyes of the artist that’s painting it. The creator of this masterpiece is our connection.
“Easy to distinguish the farce of past perceptions from the reality of presence from here”. I shout. “What?” Gareth replies. “I was saying, it’s our realities that occur differently because our existences resemble our personal projections”. “What?” he says. “Never mind”, I mumble. “I need to piss,” he says.
Johnny isn’t indulging and incessantly quizzes us on what we feel and inquiries into how everything looks. Having chosen to skip this adventure, his curiosity’s beginning to annoy me. A backseat driver in someone else’s rocket ship, I can feel his analytical mind trying to make sense of it.
His eyes are all of our thoughts now. It’s like trying to catch a wave without paddling. Observation invigorates projection; only participation inspires understanding. That said, I’m relieved to have someone strait-laced around just in case things take a turn for the worse.
How long have I been staring through this hole in the wall?
“I’ve gotta piss”, Gareth reiterates “It’s the gravity, mate. Get a hold of yourself,” I say. I feel heavy in the chair, but my mind’s light. Floating away, death of the ego.
Was this a dirty cocktail of acid and ecstasy? Or just a strong dose of psilocybe? Maybe both. Anyway, my mind’s gone, and my body couldn’t care less.
A flash of light hits hard. It cracks everything apart. Orgasmic shockwaves electrify my limbs. Some feel too strong to bear but pass just before I melt. Zesty rapture surges in and out and through my body. Every part of me is electrified and tingling. It’s as if mother earth has led me to her soul.
I watch on as the revellers sway in slow motion. The pulsating bass line matches my heartbeat, or is it the other way around? Human beings break apart into organic blocks with each low-frequency thump, then evolve by remodelling and reorienting. They split, smoothly separating, brick-like but light, just hollow blocks of energy, swirling and orbiting around unexplainable forms. These anthropoid building blocks attract back together as if magnetised, recognisable once again as human but now somehow different. Am I deciding how they appear? Nothing makes sense at this time, but all is understood. Have these people come here to imitate themselves? How did their characters follow them here? Is mine following me? I spin around to check but see nothing.
I order drinks from the bar in an attempt to appear compos-mentis, but as I sip my cocktail through a straw, I notice a new sensation. A cold, moist feeling’s forming in my lap. It isn’t the overpowering air conditioning or the secretion of drug-infused ruby Powerade from my pores, but my cocktail. I’m smiling so much that spirits and juice are leaving my mouth as quickly as they’re entering.
Johnny leaves us and heads home. Understandably, two drooling psychonauts, incessantly laughing and pondering the building blocks of life, possibly didn’t make for the best company at two in the morning. There’s no safety now. We’re all in. Alone with the straight-edged ones. What will they do with us? I can feel the judgment already, their fear of letting go-or is that my own?
I fixate on my rapidly heightening level of self-awareness. Then, suddenly, I notice the much-unwanted attention we’re drawing from security staff and the local police — who have now stopped roaming the bar searching eagle-eyed for miscreants and have congregated about two feet away from us, presumably knowing they had found some. This particular country still carries a death penalty for specific drug use, so I want to leave sharpish. Gareth, however, is still adamant he needs to find a toilet. His unwavering focus on urination is deeply unnerving to me. We’re still under the ever-growing watchful gaze of the law. So we come up with a written plan to avoid ending up behind bars or worse.
Naturally, to avoid any confusion, the schematics are carefully drawn out on paper napkins. We show the direction of travel using straws and write our names in melted ice pools on a drink-marinated bar. The plan, albeit superfluous considering we’re sitting only ten feet from the bathroom door, is in agreement. I am, under no circumstance, to leave my barstool while Gareth is in the bathroom.
No sooner am I alone than I determine something’s wrong. Gareth’s in trouble; he needs my help. I leap off my stall, nervously smiling my way past the cops and security, leaving behind the liquid-based sketch. I amble along slowly but is it too slowly? What is the average speed of a fully grown male anyway? This damned gravity is making me walk like a spaceman—all bouncy and straight up. I lean into my gate and focus on the bathroom door. I begin to search for Gareth, starting with the bathroom stalls. He probably can’t swim, considering all the drugs he’s consumed. Better inspect the toilet water to make sure he isn’t drowning. After a prolonged inspection of cubicles and bowls, I conclude that he’s gone.
Well, that does it. It’s the rack for me. Or maybe the firing squad. Too tall for the rack. I begin spinning into a world of fear, and with my hand reaching for the final toilet seat, I notice approaching voices. They’re female; I must be in the women’s bathroom. The slippery guy must have slid right past me. Gareth, now back at the bar, as he has been for a while, is sweating bullets. He’s sitting alone, studiously consulting the napkin blueprint, wondering where I’d gone and what had come of our infallible plan we’d ingeniously devised only moments earlier. We take one look at each other and, in a moment of relief-spiked confusion, make for the club’s front doors, heading out in the direction of home, or so we think.
Gareth needs to piss again. The man’s bladder is that of a seventy-five-year-old. We’re probably a good 50ft from the ocean, and my paranoia is growing by the second. “Don’t go in there, man; she’ll take you”, I say. We reach for the water’s edge with linked arms and an insect-like wide stance—mimes tethered by self-imposed fetters. I yell something about sirens luring unsuspecting men in there all the time, and we lay back in the sand to reassess our options. The stars are blazing now. They begin moving toward us—hyperdrive in the Millennium Falcon.
Gareth turns away to relieve himself in the sand.
“shit,” he says “What happened?” I ask, “I forgot to undo my shorts”, he responds. “let’s get a taxi”. “that’s just what they’ll be expecting us to do. They’ll be looking for us by now, and a cab’s the first place they’ll check”. “besides, you’ve pissed yourself red. I say.
Poor bastard’s so fucked up he’s lost control of his carny hands. He’s covered in a mix of alcohol, sports drink like mushroom fluid, cocktails, and urea. How are we going to explain this to the laundry ladies? Never mind that now, trouble for another day. We’re lying on the brightest patch of pitch-black beach, a galactic spotlight shining over us as we fly through space at an all too fast rate of travel. Only the zephyr’s salty gust can guide us homeward now.
After a ten minute battle with the key, we realise the door of our hotel room was unlocked all along. I wedge my single mattress into the acacia wood wardrobe in the corner. An attempt to quieten the silence and finally get some sleep. A wooden womb of contemplation.
The age of disconnection and materialism is in full swing. It doesn’t sit well—one hell of a risk. The real moments of love are in the seconds we’re fully engaged with someone or something. Entirely as they are and wholly as we are at that exact time. Mentally arranged truths are just fabrications of existence— arrogant, self-gratifying reinforcements of decision and belief. Although less profound and less short-lived than meditative practices, psychedelics allow a quick glimpse into the unknown. A slice of light through the darkness. A one-time pass to the other place, where time doesn’t exist, and connection still yields purpose.