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We were complex people or we would not have been doing what we were doing. Even at age twenty-four, I could look back on nearly ten years of involvement with matters most people might consider fringe in the extreme. My interest in drugs, magic, and the more obscure backwaters of natural history and theology gave me the interest profile of an eccentric Florentine prince rather than a kid growing up in the heartland of the United States in the late fifties.
Dennis had shared all of these concerns, to the despair of our conventional and hardworking parents. For some reason we were odd from the start, chosen by fate for a destiny too strange to imagine. In a letter written eleven months before our expedition I find that Dennis even then had the clearest conception of what might happen.
He wrote to me while I was on Taiwan in to say: As to the central shamanic quest and the idea that its resolution may entail physical death — indeed a sobering thought — I would be interested in hearing just how likely you consider this possibility and why. I had not thought of it in terms of death, though I have considered that it may well give us, as living men, willful access to the doorway that the dead pass daily.
This I consider as a kind of hyper-spatial astral projection that allows the hyper-organ, consciousness, to instantly manifest itself at any point in the space-time matrix, or at all points simultaneously. His letters to me made it clear that his imagination had suffered no atrophy during the years of finishing high school in our small Colorado hometown. A steady diet of science fiction had made his imagination a joy to watch at play, but I wondered, was he serious?
A UFO is essentially this hyperspatially mobile psychic vortex, and the trip may well involve contact with some race of hyperspatial dwellers. Probably it will be an encounter similar to a "flying lesson": instruction in the use of the transdimensional stone, how to navigate in hyper-space, and perhaps an introductory course in Cosmic Ecology tending. He was struggling, as was I, to come to terms with the elf-haunted psychic landscapes revealed by di-methyltryptamine, or DMT.
Once we had encountered DMT, in the heady and surreal atmosphere of Berkeley at the apex of the Summer of Love, it had become the primary mystery, and the most effective tool for the continuance of the quest. Retention of the physical form under such circumstances would be, it seems, a matter of choice rather than necessity; though it could be a matter of indifference, since in the hyperspatial web all existing physical manifestations would be open.
I would say that time is not of the essence for the venture except insofar as the culture-deaths of the tribes we are seeking are proceeding at an appalling rate. It was not our colorful fantasies alone that were centered on DMT-type hallucinogens. Our operational approach to discovering the secrets of the hallucinogenic dimension was centered on them as well.
This was because, of the psychoactive compounds we knew, the action of DMT-containing hallucinogens, though very brief, seemed the most intense. DMT is not an object of common experience, even among psychonauts of inner space, and so a word must be said about it. In its pure synthetic form, it is a crystalline paste or powder that is smoked in a glass pipe with nothing else. After a few inhalations the onset of the experience is rapid, fifteen seconds to a minute.
The hallucinogenic experience that it triggers lasts three to seven minutes and is unambiguously peculiar. It is so bizarre and intense that even the most devoted aficionados of hallucinogens usually pass it by. Yet it is the most common and the most widely distributed of the naturally occurring hallucinogens, and it is the basis, when not the entire component, of most of the hallucinogens used by aboriginal tribes in tropical South America.
In nature, as a product of plant metabolism, it never occurs in anything like the concentrations at which it comes from the laboratory. Yet South American shamans, by chemically predisposing themselves to its effects in various ways, do find the same levels of reality-obliterating intensity achievable with pure DMT. Its strangeness and power so exceeded that of other hallucinogens that di-methyltryptamine and its chemical relatives seemed finally to define, for our little circle at any rate, maximum exfoliation — the most radical and flowery unfolding — of the hallucinogenic dimension that can occur without serious risk to psychic and bodily integrity.
We thought, therefore, that our phenomenological description of the hallucinogenic dimension should begin by locating a strong DMT-containing aboriginal hallucinogen and then exploring with an open mind the shamanic states that it made accessible. It refers not only to the prepared hallucinogenic beverage but also to its main ingredient, the woody liana Banisteriopsis caapi.
This often gigantic jungle vine is pulverized and boiled with a DMT-containing plant, usually Psychotria viridis, occasionally Diploterus cabrerena. The watery extraction is then concentrated through further boiling. Ayahuasca, also called natema, yage, pilde, is the most widely distributed and used of the equatorial New World shamanic hallucinogens.
Oo-koo-he is made from the resin of certain trees of the Myris-ticaceous genus Virola mixed with the ashes of other plants and rolled into pellets and swallowed. What was eye-catching about the description of this visionary plant preparation was that the Witoto tribe of the Upper Amazon, who alone knew the secret of making it, used it to talk to "little men" and to gain knowledge from them.
These little people are one bridge between the motifs of alien contact and the more traditional strange doings of woodland elves and fairies. The mention of little men rang a bell, since during my own experiences smoking synthesized DMT in Berkeley, I had had the impression of bursting into a space inhabited by merry elfin, self-transforming, machine creatures.
Dozens of these friendly fractal entities, looking like self-dribbling Faberge eggs on the rebound, had surrounded me and tried to teach me the lost language of true poetry. They seemed to be babbling in a visible and five-dimensional form of Ecstatic Nostratic, to judge from the emotional impact of this gnomish prattle. Mirror-surfaced tumbling rivers of melted meaning flowed gurgling around me. This happened on several occasions.
It was the transformation of language that made these experiences so memorable and peculiar. Under the influence of DMT, language was transmuted from a thing heard to a thing seen. Syntax became unambiguously visible. In searching for parallels to this notion I am forced to recall the wonderful scene in the Disney version of Alice in Wonderland, in which Alice encounters the hooka-smoking caterpillar seated on a mushroom.
There has always been a suspicion of psychedelic sophistication associated with Lewis Carroll and his nineteenth-century story of a self-transforming wonderland. In the hands of Disney's animators, the synesthesia-like blending of sense perception is exaggerated and made explicit and literal. What the caterpillar intends to communicate is not heard but seen, floating in nearby space; a visible language whose medium is the convenient smoke that the caterpillar possesses in abundant supply.
It is not. The feeling that radiates from the DMT encounter is hair-raisingly bizarre. It is as much as one can stand without the categories of consciousness becoming permanently rewritten. I am occasionally asked if DMT is dangerous. The proper answer is that it is only dangerous if you feel threatened by the possibility of death by astonishment. So great is the wave of amazement that accompanies the dissolving of the boundary between our world and this other unsuspected continuum that it approaches being a kind of ecstasy in and of itself.
The sense of being literally in some other dimension, which these bizarre DMT experiences had provoked, had been the focus of our decision to concentrate on tryptamine hallucinogens. After reading all that there was on psychoactive tryptamines, we came eventually to the work of the pioneering ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes. Schultes's tenured position as a professor of botany at Harvard had allowed him to dedicate his life to collecting and cataloging the world's psychoactive plants. His paper on "Virola as an Orally Administered Hallucinogen" was a turning point in our quest.
We were fascinated by his description of the use of the resin of Virola theiodora trees as an orally active DMT drug, as well as by the fact that the use of this hallucinogen seemed to be limited to a very small geographical area. Schultes was an inspiring voice when he wrote of the hallucinogen oo-koo-he: Further field work in the original home region of these Indians will be necessary for a full understanding of this interesting hallucinogen One has only to recall the carefully choreographed dances of Oriental mushrooms in Fantasia to wonder whether some portions of the Disney production group might have been shamanically inspired.
After all, Fantasia was a very serious and ambitious effort to make synesthesia a motif for popular entertainment. Rumors persist that many of the European animators whom Disney hired for his extravagant projects were aware of the psychedelic experience. Among the Czech animators who joined the Disney group during this period were some who probably knew of the vision-producing power of peyote and its chemical constituent, mescaline.
It bears very directly on certain pharmacological matters and, when considered with the other plants with psychotomimetic properties due to trypta-mines, this new oral drug poses problems which must now be faced and, if possible, toxicologically explained. We wanted to see if the titan-ically strange dimensions that we had encountered in the DMT trance were even more accessible via the DMT plant combinations that the shamans of the Amazon had developed.
It was of these shamanic sacraments that I had been thinking when I had dismissed the Stropharia mushroom encountered in the pasture near Florencia. I was eager to press on with the quest for the exotic, barely reported, Witoto oo-koo-he. Little did I imagine that soon after our arrival at La Chorrera the search for oo-koo-he would be all but forgotten. The Witoto hallucinogen became totally eclipsed by the discovery of psilocybin mushrooms growing abundantly there and by the strange power that seemed to swirl around the fog-bound emerald pastures in which they were found.
My first intimation that La Chorrera was a place different from other places came when we arrived at Puerto Leguizamo, our proposed point of embarkation on the Rio Putumayo. It can be reached only by airplane, since no roads make their way through the jungle to it. It is as tired and oppressive a South American river town as you could ever hope to see.
William Burroughs, who passed this way in his search for ayahuasca in the fifties, described it then as "looking like some place after a flood. It seemed incredible that an American could be living in such an out-of-the-way and thoroughly rural river town in Colombia. When la senora remarked that this man, El Senor Brown, was very old and also a black man, it became all the more puzzling. My curiosity piqued, I left immediately in the company of one of the loutish sons of the hotel woman.
As we walked along, my guide could hardly wait for us to get out the door of the hotel before informing me that the man we were to see was "mal y bizarro. A killer? Was I on my way to visit a murderer, then? It seemed unlikely. I did not believe it for a moment. Un sanguinero, dice? In the area surrounding La Chorrera, the Witoto population had been systematically reduced from forty thousand in to about five thousand in I supposed that this story I was hearing meant that I was about to meet a local bogey man around whom extravagant stories had grown up.
We soon reached a ramshackle and undistinguished house with a small yard hidden behind a tall board fence. My companion knocked and yelled and soon a young man, similar to my guide, came and opened the gate. My escort melted away and the gate closed behind me. A large pig lay in the lowest, wettest part of the yard; three steps up was a veranda.
Upon the veranda, smiling and motioning me forward, sat a very thin, very old, much wrinkled black man: John Brown. It is not often that one meets a living legend and, had I known more about the person I confronted, I would have been more respectful and more amazed. Me hee-story, baby, is so long. The son of a slave, John Brown had left America in , never to return. He had gone to Barbados and then to France, had been a merchant seaman, and had seen Aden and Bombay.
Around , he had come to Peru, to Iquitos. There he had been made a work-crew foreman in the notorious House of Arana, which was the main force behind the ruthless exploitation and mass murder of the Indians of Amazonas during the rubber boom. I spent several hours that day with E lSenor Brown. He was an extraordinary person, at once near and yet ghostly and far away, a living bit of history. He had been the personal servant of Captain Thomas Whiffen of the Fourteenth Hussars, a British adventurer who explored the La Chorrera area around Brown, who is described in Whiffin's now rare work, Explorations of the Upper Amazon, was the last person to see the French explorer Eugene Robuchon, who disappeared on the Rio Caqueta in John Brown spoke Witoto and once had lived with a Witoto woman for many years.
He knew the area into which we were going intimately. He had never heard of oo-koo-he, but in he had taken ayahuasca for the first time — and at La Chorrera. His description of his experiences was an added inspiration to continue toward our goal. It was only after I returned from the Amazon that I learned that this was the same John Brown who had exposed the atrocities of the rubber barons along the Putumayo to British authorities.
British banks, in collusion with the Arana clan and other laissez-faire operators, financed wholesale use of terror, intimidation, and murder to force the Indians of the deep forest to harvest wild rubber. Extracts from Casement's report are reprinted there as well. I was impressed by Brown's sincerity, by the depth of his understanding of me, by the way that Roger Casement and a world nearly forgotten — a world known to me only from its brief mention in the pages of James Joyce's Ulysses — lived and moved before me in those long, rambling conversations on his veranda.
He spoke long and eloquently of La Chorrera. He had not been there since , but I was to find it much as he described it. The fever-haunted old town on the lowland across the lake no longer stood, but the dungeons for the Indian slaves could still be seen, crumbling iron rings set deep in sweating basaltic stone. The notorious House of Arana was no more, and Peru long ago abandoned her claims to that area to Colombia.
But the old town of La Chorrera was ghostly indeed, and so was the old rubber trail, or trocha, that we would shortly use to walk the hundred and ten kilometers that separate La Chorrera from the Rio Putumayo. In 1, up to twenty thousand Indians gave their lives to push that trail through the jungle. Indians who refused to work had the bottoms of their feet and their buttocks removed by machete. And for what? So that, in a surreal act of hubris typical of techno-colonialism, a motorcar could be driven the entire length of the trail in It was a ride from nowhere to nowhere.
Walking those gloomy, empty trails, I seemed often to hear a grumble of voices or the rustle of chained feet. John Brown's rambling monologues barely prepared me for its strangeness. On the morning that our boat was leaving to carry us downriver, we stopped at his house on our way to the landing.
His eyes and skin shone. He was the gatekeeper of the Plutonic world downriver from Puerto Leguizamo, and he knew it. I felt like a child before him, and he knew that too. Bye bye," was his dry farewell.
We would be five when we arrived at La Chorrera, but we were six departing from Puerto Leguizamo. Ev and I were living together as much as a couple can live together when they pile off a boat every night with four other people to hang their hammocks in the trees. But he was with us too. Solo Dark. I must explain Solo. He was part of a fringe religion happening in South America, which I had not found in India, called the New Jerusalem.
Devotees, who seemed to be primarily fruitarian, were a tribe of mostly Americans who since or had been drifting down through Latin America, chiseling on each other, living with each other, hating each other, and weaving intrigues. They communicated through Ouija boards with entities they called "Beings of Light. According to them, everyone was a reincarnation.
One person assumed himself to be the reincarnation of Rasputin; another, who was a refugee from the inner circles of the Hari Krishna cult and wore white robes and white rubber rain boots, was the reincarnation of Erwin Rommel. The burning-eyed leader of this whole group was Solo. He had been Ev's companion for four years. Need I mention that Solo was strange? With his depthless baby blues and his wreath of wild long hair, he presented an imposing sight.
He believed that he had been incarnated as several prominent historical personages: Christ, Hitler, Lucifer. It was a gamut both depressing and predictable. I was in a peculiar dilemma, as my categories were themselves not very rigid. I had spent most of the previous three years living either as a hermit scholar studying dead Asian languages or as a lone lepidopterist in the Indonesian outback.
I was unfamiliar with the protocols that had developed among the more exotic of my peers in the post-Charles Manson era. I thought, "Can't we work this out? Aren't we all happy hippies? In any case, I was soon to learn that among the enthusiasts of the New Jerusalem there were a lot of weird personae difficult to tolerate.
If Solo did not approve of something you were doing, he would look blank for a moment and then announce that it had been revealed to him that instant, by the Beings of Light, that you shouldn't, for example, peel fruit with metal knives. The tiny minutia of existence were controlled by these hidden forces. Solo traveled with animals: dogs, kittens, monkeys he had a monkey that he supposed to be Christ incarnate. He insisted that all the animals be vegetarian, so the animals became twisted and unhealthy.
As their eyes were going around in circles he would tell me, "This is Buddha; this is Christ; this is Hitler. And Solo. Six freaks. Our group had first come together on New Year's Eve, a little over two months before, when we met with Solo and Ev, who were still a couple then and not intending to join us. Our encounter had occurred in the fog-girt town of San Augustine in Colombia. Now that night seemed long in the past. Only a day or two after that evening, Vanessa, Dave, and I had left for Bogota.
In the days following our departure, Ev and Solo raged at each other. At the pinnacle of the final row, Solo deliberately unhorsed her into a deep mud puddle in front of a number of guests. Ev left him then and came to Bogota to live in an apartment that she and Solo had said we could all use. In the two weeks while we gathered together the equipment for the expedition, Ev and I made our way to each other, and she joined our original group of four.
The harsh Andean light streaming through the skylight of the pension was transformed into a lush intensity by rites of parting and defiling that drew Ev and me together. But this was no idyll for everyone. For Vanessa, who had once been my lover, it was surely a source of resentment. Doorways within the mirrored labyrinth of feelings opened and beckoned. I said to her, "Look, I like this woman, and she speaks Spanish.
It makes very good sense that Ev come. In the meantime the situation grew more complicated: Dave, unaware of Ev's attachment to me or of her abandonment of earlier plans to travel to Peru, had invited Solo along. Dave had been much impressed with Solo's knowledge of the Colombian outback during our first meeting in San Augustine, and so he cabled Solo, inviting him to meet us in Florencia and travel into the Amazon! Waiting for us at the airport was Solo, thinking that the woman he had lived with for four years had gone to Peru with the incarnation of Rommel in white robes and matching rubber boots.
When he discovered the truth, there was an emotion-fraught sorting out scene at the airport fence. Later, in town, Ev and I took one room at the hotel, leaving Solo to figure it out for himself. With no possibility of grace on anyone's part, I was hoping that Solo, seeing that Ev's life had taken a new direction, would hit the road. I was disconcerted to encounter Solo, and as I am a bit of a wimp, hating tension, I chose not to address the situation directly.
Solo came to our room. He talked about the need to see all points of view, then he cut to the chase: "Well, it looks like there is nothing here for me. I'm planning to fly back to Bogota. Then he went to his room and went into communication with the Beings of Light. He came back two hours later to say, "You can't find it without me. I'm a man of the forest. When next we flew, it was on to Puerto Leguizamo.
And we now had Solo, his dog, his cat, and his monkey. He wore robes and had a staff adorned with bright Rowing fajas, locally woven strips of fabric. He looked both menacing and ridiculous. I knew that the boats left Puerto Leguizamo very irregularly, and I thought we would have to wait, perhaps even up to two weeks. The hotel was tiny; the food terrible.
I figured we would rub up against each other and then Solo would leave. He enjoyed cornering Ev into long, intense conversations. It was becoming a strain on everyone. But it did not happen as I had anticipated. It turned out that there was a boat, the Fabiolita, departing downriver in two days. And so, in what seemed like hours, the arrangements had fallen together and we had paid six hundred pesos to secure our fare.
On the tiny trading boat that was to be our vessel, Ernito, our captain, indicated that our berth would be the area on top of the cases of bottled sodas colored fluorescent chartreuse, electric lemon, and magenta. We were informed that it was six to twelve days to where we wanted to go, "depending on business. He actually pulled out a large, white handkerchief and waved it.
Then he dwindled to a speck. Puerto Leguizamo disappeared and the river, the green bank, the shrill of insects and parrots, and the brown water became our world. We made our way under power, but slowly, to the middle of the shining brown river beneath an immense sky and an immense sun.
A delicious moment — when one has done all that one can for a journey and is at last in motion, no longer responsible, since that burden has been given to pilot or engineer, boatman or ground control. The world one is leaving has been truly broken away from and the destination is still unknown.
A favorite kind of moment, more familiar, yet less considered in the sterile environs of ocean- crossing passenger planes, and so how much richer here, surrounded by the cargo of sun- dried fish and local bottled sodas toxic with brilliant dyes. I made a small space where I could sit cross-legged and rolled a joint out of the extraordinary kilo of Santa Marta Gold that we had laid in as a part of our provisions during the month in Bogota.
The flow of the river was like the rich smoke I inhaled. The flow of smoke, the flow of water, and of time. Heraclitus was called the crying philosopher, as if he spoke in desperation. But, why crying? I love what he says — it does not make me cry. Rather than interpret pante rhea as "nothing lasts," I had always considered it a Western expression of the idea of Tao. And here we were, going with the Putumayo's flow.
What a luxury to be smoking, again in the tropics, again in the light, away from the season and places of death. Away from living under Canada's State of Emergency, on the edge of war-bloated, mad America. Mother's death and coincidentally the loss of all of my books and art, which had been collected, carefully shipped back and stored, and then had burned in one of the periodic brushfires that decimate the Berkeley hills. Cancer and Fire. Fire and Cancer. Away from these terrible things, where Monopoly houses, waxy green, go tumbling into fissures in the animated psychic landscape.
And before all that, Tokyo: its outer-planet atmosphere, the pretension of fitting into the work cycle. How inhuman does one become in an inhuman situation for a little while? The nights on the trains. The airless rooms of the Akihabara English language schools.
Tokyo demanded the spending of money, the saving of which was the only way out. I thought back over ten months of deepening alienation that had begun with leaving tropical Asia and, like a comet being drawn in to nearly brush its star, I was being drawn through Hong Kong, Taipei, Tokyo, and Vancouver before being hurled over war-toiling America and on into the outer darkness of other, new, and wretchedly poor tropical countries.
The flight from Vancouver to Mexico City passed over my mother sleeping in her grave for the first winter. On over Albuquerque, only a pattern of freeway interchanges in the desert's night emptiness. On and on into what was then only an idea: the Amazon. Out on the river, the past could enter the stillness and exfoliate before the mind's eye, unfurling a dark fabric of interlocking casuistry. Forces, visible and hidden, stretching back into one's past; migrations; religious conversions — our self discoveries make us each a microcosm of the larger pattern of history.
The inertia of introspection leads toward recollection, for only through memory is the past recaptured and understood. In the fact of experiencing and making the present, we are all actors. But in the lacunae — in the rare moments of sensory deprivation when experience in the present is a minimal thing, as on a long plane ride, or any indolent, self-examining trip — then memory is free to speak and call forth the landscapes of our striving in moments now past. Now — the now that is a time beyond the confines of this story, a now in which this story is past — I do not worry the past as I did then.
Now it is set for me in a way that it was not set then. Not set then because so recent, still to be relived in memory and learned from. Five days of river travel lay before us — undemanding, freeing the mind to rove and scan.
Two all-inclusive categories emerged for us on the broad river whose distant banks were no more than a dark green line separating river and sky: the familiar and the unfamiliar. The unfamiliar was everywhere forcing us to draw inane analogies in common conversation: The Putumayo is like the Holy Ganga. The jungle evokes Ambon.
The sky is similar to the skies of the Serengeti Plain, and so on. The illusion of understanding was a lame way of getting one's bearings. The unfamiliar does not give up its secrets in this game — the Putumayo does not become like the Ganga. The unfamiliar must become known as itself before it is correctly recognized. The familiar things here are the people who have come with me. They appear as known quantities because I knew them in the past.
So long as the future remains like the past, they would remain known. Certainly this is not New York, Boulder, or Berkeley, and it is not easy to become extra-environmentals, to develop a sense of appropriate action that is never at a loss for savoir faire. The cool aesthetic of the stranger: "Me, Ma'am? I'm just passing through. Dennis, of course; his is still the time line longest on a track parallel to my own. No need to mention the matter of shared genes. Back our connection goes until lost in primal, unlanguaged feeling.
We grew up in the same household, shared the same constraints and freedoms until I left home at sixteen. But I had held close to Dennis. Two and a half years earlier, in the middle of my twenty-second year, in the hold of the British Steam Navigation Company liner Karanja, I was weak and semi-delirious, wracked with hives, heartbreak, and dysentery.
The eight days of passage from Port Victoria, Seychelles, to Bombay was then, in , thirty-five dollars. In spite of being ill, I was obliged to travel the lowest class or my funds would not carry me home. My bunk was a metal plate that folded down from the wall. Public toilets and the hammer of the engines. Bilge water sloshed from one corner of the passageway to the other.
Fifteen hundred displaced Indians from Uganda, victims of the Ugandan government's policy of Africanization, were traveling in the hold. All night long Indian women came and went from the toilets down my passageway, which was filled with bilge and engine throb. Without hashish and opium, I would have found it unbearable. To these middle-class Indians, my consolations and I were a stark example of depravity and moral failure, which they self-righteously pointed out to their children in long bird-like lectures on the evils of hippies and life in general.
After many days and nights of this, I awoke feverish in the middle of the night, the air redolent with curried food, excrement, and machine oil. I made my way to the exposed deck on the stern. The night was warm, the smell of curry not altogether lost even there. I sat down with my back against a heavily painted metal box of fire-fighting equipment.
I felt my fever lift and a great sense of relief come through me. The recent past, my romantic disappointment in the Seychelles and in Jerusalem, seemed to release its hold on me. I had a clear space in which to turn toward the future and discern it. Unbidden came the thought that I would go with Dennis to South America. Even then, I knew it for a certainty.
And, in time, it happened. Not immediately, not before much more wandering in the East, but eventually, by February , the prophecy was all round us. River, jungle, and sky enclosed us now and bore us toward La Chorrera. This boat was very little like the Karanja, but its small diesel engine was an echo of the larger engines further away in time.
Yes, Dennis came first, came in with the sepia-toned memories of our growing up in a small Colorado town. There he was, always there beside me; we were two flies frozen in the backlit world of amber memories of summer outings and afternoons. These others, different histories. Vanessa and I had been student radicals together at Berkeley from to Father a prominent surgeon; older sister a practicing psychoanalyst; a mother who gave teas for the wives of U. Vanessa first attended private schools, then in a gesture of liberal chic, her parents supported her in her choice of Berkeley, a state university.
She is intelligent, with a slightly feral twist to her gawkish sexuality. Her large brown eyes cannot hide a kitten cruelty and a mean love of puns. We were part of the Experimental College at Berkeley, but in the fall of , 1 went to New York to try to sell the tortured manuscript that had been generated by my self-enforced seclusion in the Seychelles Islands, from where I had returned only a few months earlier.
This was a rambling, sophomoric, McLuhan-esque diatribe that was to die a bornin', fortunately. But in the complex autumn of that year, I took that work and flew to New York, in which place I knew no one but Vanessa. She dug me out of a flophouse on West 43rd Street where I had crash-landed and persuaded me to move up to the Hotel Alden on Central Park West, a place her mother had chosen for me. Our current riverine departure for the heart of Comisaria Amazonas followed by three years the languid moment when Vanessa and I sat together at the outdoor restaurant near the fountain in Central Park, she with her Dubonnet and I with my Lowenbrau.
In the eyes of the poor scholar and revolutionary that I then imagined myself to be, the scene seemed staged in its casual elegance, the production values definitely higher than I could usually afford. The conversation had arrived at the subject of my brother, then only eighteen, whom Vanessa had never met: "Dennis really is some sort of genius, I guess.
Anyway, I'm his brother and am quite in awe of him, having seen it all from close up, as it were. I think that he may have seized the angel of Gnosis by the throat and forced the beast to the mat. This idea he has that some hallucinogens work by fitting into the DNA is startling. It has a ring of truth that I just can't ignore. The political revolution has become too murky a thing to put one's hope in.
So far, the most interesting unlikelihood in our lives is DMT, right? Mainly that we should stop fucking around and go off and grapple with the DMT mystery. Because, you know, anybody who has studied Western Civ. It's some kind of outrage that, properly understood, might — you know that I think it would — have tremendous importance for the historical crisis everybody is in.
So say that I suspend my judgment. Then what's up? How about a trip to the Amazon? That's where these psychedelic plants are endemic. And that's where there is, God knows, enough solitude for anyone. I'm trying to get on a dig that will happen in the Gibson Desert in Australia next year. And I am committed to this hash thing in Asia in a few months, for who knows how long? No, this Amazon trip, if it happens at all, is off in the future.
But you should think about it, and something else The something else is flying saucers. I know it sounds nuts but they're mixed up in this somehow. It's pretty murky now. Fortunately it doesn't matter yet, but DMT is somehow linked to the whole psychic, you know Jungian, side of the notion of saucers. Deep water, I know. It's a hunch, but strong. We called him "the flower child. If they sold harlequin suits off the rack he would have worn one. John Dee, brightened his genealogy. I had met Dave during the summer of in Berkeley.
We had both been hitchhiking from the corner of Ashby and Telegraph, and when one kind soul picked both of us up, we became acquainted on the ride over the bridge to San Francisco. In Berkeley, Dave supported himself selling the Berkeley Barb and whatever else you sell when you loiter a lot. Since those days, Dave had graduated, both from the upstate New York commune he idealized and from Syracuse University with a degree in ethnobotany.
In letters that passed between us when I was in Benares he became determined to be part of the venture to the Amazon Basin. He was to find in the jungles and mountains of South America a world even more spellbinding than he expected. To this day he has not returned from our initial voyage. It was nearly two years before we could begin to put our plans into effect.
Late in August of fate turned me from hash smuggler to fugitive when one of my Bombay-to- Aspen shipments fell into the hands of U. I went undergroud and wandered throughout Southeast Asia and Indonesia, viewing ruins in the former and collecting butterflies in the latter.
Then came my time in Japan. Whether this gave me an edge on the others in experience seemed unlikely. Yet even my new status as desperado did not deter my passion for the Amazon. I still dreamed of visiting the green places of the vine people. We lived there three months in a clapboard house, which we rented from a family of Sikhs — we ransacked articles, wrote letters, and maintained a constant correspondence with Dennis, who was in Colorado. Building momentum, we amassed information on a near-mythical world that none of us had ever seen.
While I lived in Canada, my mother died after a long bout with cancer. She was laid to rest, and then eventually Vancouver Island, lost in swirling snow, had fallen behind us as if by a series of telescoping leaps. At last our journey loomed: One by one the barriers to our entry into the anticipated magical world fell away, until we came to this indolent moment, our first day on the river. From my journal: February 6, We are at last freed of our umbilical connection to civilization. This morning, under the uncertain skies which mark the Amazon during the dry season, we have at last gotten underway.
Part of a flotilla of gasoline and fruit soda suppliers who are on their way to La Chorrera and will certainly carry us as far as El Encanto on the Rio Cara-Parana. Moving toward the absolute center of the geography of the secret, I am moved to ponder, as ever, the meaning of this truly strange search.
I am having difficulty processing the intense content of my expectations. There can now be little doubt that, given that we continue to press forward as we have, we shall reach a state of satisfaction. We have been so long seeking this thing and it is so difficult to understand. Projections concerning who we will be or what we will do when this excursion is over are unconsciously based on the assumption that our experience will leave us unaffected, an assumption which is doubtless false, but its alternative can hardly be imagined.
Later: Two hours out of Puerto Leguizamo, upriver winds have caused us to tie up on the Peru side to await calmer weather. We are at Puerto Naranja. It is not shown on the Atlas Codazzi. The pattern of river travel immediately asserts itself.
Following the channel means moving from side to side of the river, usually near one of the banks. The land is thickly covered by a dense canopy of jungle reminiscent of Central Seram or the coast of Ambon — a Venusian forest. The dull drum of the engine, the cooing of pigeons part of our cargo , like the sacred Ganga, the brown, smooth water of the Putumayo soon flows through all our dreams and daydreams.
Solo watches me fixedly. The familiar falls behind. The river is broad. The mystery for the present is in the strangeness of this place. The watery flatness. There is a mission there called San Raphael. We are looking for Dr. Alfredo Guzman, mentioned in one of our papers as the source of an authentic sample of the oo-koo-he we are looking for.
Guzman is an anthropologist working with the Witoto upriver from San Raphael at a tiny village charmingly called San Jose del Encanto. This village is situated at the beginning of the old rubber-gatherers' trail that leads through the jungle to La Cho-rrera. Not only can Guzman aid us in our search, but he can help us hire bearers for the trek overland.
Many days to anticipate this personage. In the meantime, the cramped world of this trading vessel, the Fabiolita, is ours, its mission, to sell plastic shoes, tinned food, and fishing line at the small clusters of houses on stilts that appear several times during each day of travel.
We arrive, tie up, and while the jefe of our vessel makes negocios with the colonistas, I take my butterfly net and walk to the jungle, hoping to escape the stinging flies that swarm near the boat landings. Sometimes there are long, opinionated conversations, with everyone animated and taking part. Sometimes a silence falls among us that lasts for several hours once each of us is comfortable, watching the riverbank slide by or nodding on the edge of siesta.
February 7, A Sunday. Last night we arrived at an unnamed place and spread our mosquito nets and hammocks for the first time in the Amazon. Eight A. The moods of the approach to the secret are many. The air is delicious with oxygen, and the odors which reach us from the passing liana-hung forest change with the frequency and subtlety of a sonata. Brief stops at police inspections and ever more isolated riverside dwellings mark this day as well.
Today, after forty minutes early morning travel, we passed a shallow depression in a clay bank on the Peruvian side of the river. There, thousands of parrots gathered around a salt source. The sonic shrill of their many-throated voice and their iridescent green bodies cleaving the air heightened the impression of moving in an aqueous Venusian world. We tied up opposite the lick and some of our crew went across the river to capture some parrots to add to the traders already large menagerie.
With our own small monkey, the nonhuman population of this ark of fools numbers two dogs, three monkeys, a kitten, a danta, a cock, a pig, and a crate of pigeons. Today is the day of the full moon and tomorrow we will arrive at El Encanto. There, if present plans hold, we will meet Dr. The tensions that divide us have also surfaced. Vanessa and Solo, who have very little in common, seem warm friends. Is this because I have miffed Vanessa? It is not going well at all.
Dennis is very quiet. Dave is worrying about the food supply; he is a chronic worrier. And naive. He seems to have thought that one just takes off one's shoes and goes to an Indian brother and says that one wants to learn the secrets of the forest and they say, "Come, my son, come with us and you will learn the secrets of the forest.
Solo's animals are falling off the boat into the river once an hour. The captain of the boat hates us because we have to stop to drag these soaking monkeys out of the drink. That night we camped on the Peruvian side of the river. After dark, around the fire, the conversation anticipated a total eclipse of the moon said to be due. We wondered after the fate of the Apollo 14 crew which was returning that night from that same moon. These were the last bits of news we had received before our departure from Puerto Leguizamo.
Sometime in the dead of the night I awoke in my hammock, and after listening to the seething insect-filled night, pulled on my boots and silently made my way to the bluff of a little hill overlooking our portage. There I had a view of the river and the way along which we had traveled in the fading light of the late afternoon.
Now all was transformed, the jungle eerily silent very suddenly, the moon washed an orange-red, the eclipse in progress and near totality. The scene and the feeling were profoundly "Other. A few miles away, rain was falling from a cloud standing still in the sky; nearby foliage glistened black with orange highlights. Unknown to me in that moment was that the eclipse that had drawn me as a lone observer from my hammock to this eerie scene would in a few short hours trigger a groaning shift of billions of tons of impacted rock along the San Andreas Fault in Southern California.
Chaos was about to break out in the hell-city of Los Angeles. In a pitiless cartoon, I could imagine the pop-eyed denizens in beehive hairdos pouring out under incandescent lights into choking pollution to wail their hysteria to mobile news teams. Knowing nothing of the world beyond the forest and the river I returned to my hammock oddly cheered and exalted — the bizarre moment seemed a portent of great things.
The Cara-Parana more correctly fitted my conception of a jungle river, it being only several hundred feet across at its widest point, with lush vegetation overgrowing the banks and trailing in the water. Its flow was so sinuous and unpredictable that we could seldom see more than a half mile or so ahead.
By mid-morning we arrived at a low bluff surmounted by a white flagpole and a few corrugated buildings appearing lavish in a land of thatched huts on stilts. This was Mission San Raphael. We were properly, if unenthusiastically, received by Padre Miguel.
He was thin, Castilian, with deep-set eyes and a barely noticeable palsy that was the result of malaria contracted years before. He had been in the Amazon over thirty years. It was not possible to read from his face what he thought of us. He had seen many anthropologists, botanists, and adventurers pass through, but I sensed that our longer hair and loose manner made him uneasy.
His uneasiness increased when I asked about Dr. In fact it was clear then, by the stiffening of the old priest's face, that my question hit a sore point. Nevertheless we were offered a ride upriver to where there was an inland trail to San Jose del Encanto.
Guzman is doubtless there. He passed through on his way to return to his language studies only three weeks before. And his wife was with him. While we ate, Ev questioned the priest more carefully concerning La Cho-rrera.
Yes, he confirmed, the trail took five days for a fully loaded expedition to traverse. We anticipated the need for porters to help carry our equipment. Padre Miguel said that we could get some help in El Encanto, but now was the time of hunting and men would be reluctant to leave the hunt to travel to La Chorrera. Since we were determined not to be over-burdened with equipment on the last leg of the push to reach La Chorrera, after lunch we sorted all of our equipment once again.
Many books were reluctantly left behind; our plant and drug file was thinned down to only the essential articles; excess camera and insect-collecting equipment was stored: all went into a trunk to be left in the priest's keeping until we should return. Ev's pup Lhasa ended up with La Madre, whose admiration for the beast had seemed an opportunity too good to pass up. The chore finished, we stowed our lightened supplies in the priest's powerful speedboat — an immense luxury in a world where the paddle canoe is the standard mode of transportation.
In a few minutes we were tearing over the surface of the brown river, the moving center of a cresting wave of tremendous mechanical noise. The priest looked considerably more human and at ease here, with his brown cassock beating furiously in the wind and his long beard trembling in the spray and the sunlight.
After forty minutes of this furious travel, we had gone a day's distanpe by canoe. Suddenly the priest turned the small boat at a right angle to the flow of the river, making directly for a long, low spit of white sand. The engine cut off at what seemed the last instant, and in the shattering silence, we slid lightly aground on the sand bar. It was a spot that seemed no less desolate than any other place we had passed in our wild ride, but the priest clambered up the bank and pointed out a broad trail much overgrown with vines.
It was half a mile to the village, Padre Miguel explained, as we moved our supplies into a jumbled heap on the sand. Then he was gone. Long after he had turned a bend in the river and the sound of his departure had faded, the glassy surface of the river still moved and sucked against the banks as a last echo of the unusual commotion. Then a shrill wave of insect sound swept like a drawn curtain through the area.
Silence again. There was jungle, river, and sky — nothing else. We were on our own now, without a seasoned expert in control, and we all became aware of it in that moment on that spit of sand on the shore of a jungle river identical to hundreds of other such rivers. The sense of time suspended could not last. We had to find the village and make whatever arrangements we could to move our supplies from the river.
We had to act before dark; there would be time later to contemplate our situation. No one wanted to stay with the mound of supplies, so we hid them in the bushes away from the shore and started down the trail. Vanessa brought her box of cameras; I carried my telescoping fiberglass butterfly net.
The trail was broad and easy to follow, obviously cared for. As we moved away from the riverbank, the vegetation became less lush, and we were walking through an eroded, scrubby, brush land. The soil was red, lateritic clay, and where it was exposed to the sun, it baked and shattered into sharp-edged, cubical fragments.
After half an hour of walking the trail we topped a long, slow rise and looked down on an assemblage of huts on sandy soil under a scattering of palms. Striking us immediately was a single unusual house near the center of the village, which was not of the thatched and stilted variety. As we surveyed the scene below, we were ourselves observed, and people began running and shouting. Some ran one way and some another.
To the first person who reached us, we asked for Dr. Surrounded by people giggling and whispering, we reached the anomalous house. The structure was made of palm leaves expertly woven between long arched sticks. It was windowless and rested on the ground, looking vaguely like a loaf of brown bread. We all recognized it as a malloca, the traditional type of house peculiar to the Witoto people.
Inside, resting in a hammock that hung between two smoke-darkened supporting posts, was Dr. Alfredo Guzman. His face was unnaturally gaunt, his eyes were dark and deep- set, and his hands were skeletal, nervous. He did not get up, but gestured for us to sit on the ground. Only when I sat did I see beyond the hammock to the shadowed rear of the malloca, where a plump white woman in khaki pants sat cleaning pebbles from beans in a stone-polished Witoto pot.
After we were all seated she looked up. She had blue eyes and even teeth. Seeming to address us all equally, Guzman spoke: "My wife shares my professional interests. It must make it much easier," Vanessa offered. I decided to address the issue directly.
We can appreciate your wish to be undisturbed in your work. We are anxious to push on to La Chorrera, and we hope that you will help us arrange bearers here to go with us. Most are scanned from microfilm into pdf , gif or similar graphic formats and many of the graphic archives have been indexed into searchable text databases utilizing optical character recognition OCR technology.
Some newspapers do not allow access to the OCR-converted text until it is proofread. Older newspapers are still in image format, but may be available as full text that can be cut and pasted and searched like born-digital newer newspapers. Some local public libraries subscribe to certain online newspaper archives. For instance, some UK public libraries subscribe to The Times Digital Archive and any member of one of these libraries is able to access this resource free from their home computer using their library card number.
In many instances, library access may be restricted to in-building use, in the confines of the library itself, and not a service otherwise available away from that structure to cardholders. A limited number of complimentary accounts of the for-profit databases newspapers. The archives of hundeds of newspapers are available from the Internet Archive , with full text search.
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