Don´t you just hate it the clichés are proven to be true? Isn’t it just shit when you realise that the teachers and worse still your parents were right all along? Today I shall recount for you my dear readers how I had to travel 5000 miles across the seas, numerous kilometres deep into the jungle and immeasurable distances through “inner space” in order to learn a fundamental lesson that every child at primary school hears but perhaps very few, this one included, ever really heed.
Now, I remember my social guardians first attempts to educate me about drugs came during my ultimate year in primary school. The message was simple “don’t do drugs”. Some years passed and at High School a further and altogether more pragmatic education was offered and the message extended to “Don’t do drugs… but if you do then always remember the 2 golden rules; (1) take them in a safe, familiar environment and (2) with people who you trust”. Whilst even a defiant teenage mind can grasp the sound logic in these golden rules, keeping to them can sometimes prove as slippery as keeping to the first 2 rules of Fight Club (or keeping the commandment about coveting your neighbours oxen), even to otherwise seasoned, mature adults like your humble narrator.
Guatape is a pretty little lake town in Antoquia state situated in the outskirts of Medellin, Colombia´s second city and one time centre of the global Cocaine trade. Aside from its general prettiness & tranquility Guatape is famed for a huge granite rock which one can climb to take in the epic views of the extensive lake & archipelago system beneath. Imagine Kesick but with 1000 times more “wow”, a pretty, pristine white colonial church and Vallenato music blaring out of tiny bars and shops. I had been in Guatape a few days, had seen all it had to offer twice over and was ready to return to Medellin. However 4 new guests checked into my hostel (bringing the total number to 5…) and we hit it off immediately with our shared love of Tame Impala, Syd Barrett and flowery shirts so I decided to stick around a few days more and hang with them.
It was approaching Christmas (but with the sun bronzing my skin and not a note of Shaking Stevens to be heard anywhere it didn’t feel like Christmas as I knew it) so, following a chance encounter with a local supplier, we decided to celebrate in the traditional manner by heading up the mountains, into the jungle and doing acid (Pepa Droga as it’s known locally). We set off into the wilderness, dropped our tabs and headed out in search of a shamanic retreat we had heard about. Unusually, we all found the tabs kind of burned our mouths as they dissolved on our tongues (acid is kind of supposed to be a name only afterall…).
Now, hearing other people’s trip stories is as boring as hearing about other people’s dreams but some description is needed for you to understand the enormity of what befell me that day. It came on fast and strong and we all had to set by the side of the track and wait (in vain) for the intensity to subsist. The jungle transformed into a beautiful Eden, we were in a paradise. As we advanced deeper into both the trip and the jungle trail I had the realization that I had now transcended my old existence altogether, that my entire life thus far had being a pathway leading me to this moment. I felt a pang of sorrow in my heart for my loved ones whom I would never see again (for we were now separated forevermore by dimensions of reality) yet also understood that sadness was not necessary as this was all supposed to be. I saw visions of my deepest fantasies being (almost) realized before me, I felt sensations in parts of my being I never even knew existed and felt my consciousness spread throughout my body. As the trip intensified, I was beed guided by entities, entities which had being with me, beside me or inside me my whole life just waiting me for me to comprehend them so that our journey together could begin. I was stripping away excess layers of self, was getting nearer and nearer to some enormous revelation, to the centre of myself if not of the whole universe. It was like having a vague notion that a surprise party is planned for you, that the guests are just waiting for you to enter the room so they can spring out, shout “surprise” and the party begin. I was skirting round the entrance, flirting with going inside, teasing the door slightly open but not yet quite ready or moreover able to enter, had I forgotten something or was there something else I needed to realise before I could go in? However, if I had began by ambling leisurely around the metaphorical threshold I was soon pacing gradually more frantically and furiously as my thought process sped up, faster and faster to the point that my mind just could not keep up with itself and then.
And then somebody turned the lights out. Things went bad. Very bad. The benevolent entities which had being guiding and encouraging me turned malevolent, mocking me, asking things of me which I couldn’t possibly provide as they didn’t even exist. I had the feeling of craving everything a human being can ever crave all in one instant, off being thirsty in a world without water and cold in a world without fire, it was hell, pure hell and one would beg for death and nothingness rather than suffer it a moment more. And I did, I begged for oblivion, I heard myself say “I give up, I quit!” ready to surrender my existence forever.
Then it passed very suddenly. I presume you have all seen (and if you haven’t then stop reading this and go and see it now!) the scene in Pulp Fiction when John Travolta injects adrenalin into Uma Thurman´s heart, she wakes instantly & fitfully from a dangerously, deepening comatose and that’s how it was for me. I heard myself gasping (my lungs grasping) for air before opening my eyes and realising that I was back, the nightmare was over, I had awoke seconds before I hit the ground and I was now safe and warm in my bedroom. Except that no, I wasn’t. Instead I was in the jungle, sat in a ditch next to a stagnant pond surrounded by dense vegetation, foliage and brambles. And I was completely naked. Well almost naked save for one white converse All Star trainer and a thick coating of mud.
As my mental faculties began to return I still had no idea where I was, how I got there or where my companions or my clothes were. At first I was in denial, “this can’t be real, it’s part of the trip as there is no way I can possibly be in the Colombian jungle stark bollock naked”. Maybe 5, 10 or 15 minutes passed (estimating time was hard without either my phone or a fully functioning consciousness) before realisation and acceptance set in, “yes this is real, I am naked in the middle of the jungle and now I have to deal with it”. Now, we have all heard heroic stories of how people in adversity find a strength and composure they otherwise never knew they had, be they conscripts under heavy enemy fire or English footballers stepping up to the penalty spot (before missing) and this was my moment; I composed myself and collected, rational thinking retuned. I scanned the sky, it was still light but dusks shadows were gathering so I deduced it must be around 6 o clock at night (the rising and setting of the sun really is like clockwork so close to the equator). I listened for sounds, a motorbike engine grunting from somewhere behind me revealing the location of the road so I waited until near darkness and set off towards it. This wasn´t easy as somehow I had made my way through some pretty dense jungle before settling on my resting spot so I had to fight my way back with sharp little branches and nettles relentlessly scraping, scratching and stabbing at me with every step. I lost my footing a few times falling unceremoniously hard and head first to the earth.
By the time I reached the road the veil of night was drawn down, the cover of darkness kindly cloaking me from any passer-by. I had no idea where I was but I walked anyway, first this way and then that way until I found some kind of familiarity. Every house I passed had packs of dogs in its gardens territorially hounding me off and threatening to betray me with their cacophony of barks. “Shut up!” I implored them fearful that there infernal noise would tempt a curious master out of his home who would discover my nakedness.
After an hour, maybe two hours I found the main road back to Guatape. As I said before, Guatape is a small, peaceful town and accordingly evening traffic is light on the one, long, road that connects back to Medellin. Because of the atmosphere of peace and tranquility I was able to hear car, bike or motor chiva engines from a safe distance allowing me generous opportunity to dive behind convenient bushes and take cover until the headlights had safely passed. Nevertheless there were a few close calls. As I neared the town I heard voices from the road ahead, a gang of youths out smoking & laughing, playing reggaeton from a little portable stereo its bass pushing the tiny speakers to distortion. I stealth crawled behind a wall at the opposite side of the road until I had safely overtaken them. Nearer to town again, I heard the loud rattling engine of the evening bus so ran for cover behind a tall stone gate that lead to a little housing complex and spa hotel and waited for it to drive passed. But it didn’t pass, it slowed and then it stopped. I peered round and could see the light it cast. I heard the sounds of pneumatic doors as a passenger disembarked, then footsteps coming towards me; a single voice speaking into a mobile phone nearing my hiding place. A silhouetted figure emerged in front of me, a female dragging her travel case behind her. I remained frozen behind the pillar of the gate, pressed tightly against the cool concrete, my hands cupped to cover my genitals (which were of course shy with the cooling night air). She walked through the gate, her bag now in one hand, her mobile phone in the other pressing it to her ear. She headed straight passed me and along the road towards the houses. By this point I was praying for her not to turn around, painfully aware of the explaining I would have to do if she turned around to see a naked white man hiding in the shadows behind her. Thankfully, she kept on walking getting further and further away until she was gone.
Aside from the fact that being naked in public in a foreign (and sometimes dangerous) country potentially poses problems of legality, the night had also cooled. Accordingly, I had eyed up every washing line in every garden I had passed since finding the road desperately hoping for stray jeans and T-shirts to be hung out to dry which I could borrow without consent driven by an unprecedented necessity. However everytime I had my eyes on a prize my fledging criminality was stifled by the braying dogs but now, as I reached town I saw was in luck. On the outskirts of town I found a small lonely breezeblock hamlet, a mud path led from the main road to its gardens impaled into which were 2 wooden posts and between them, a line hung with some manner of garments which fluttered lazily in the breeze. Almost uniquely, suspiciously even, this house had no dogs patrolling it yet neverthless I approached with caution, tip toing up the long path tapping into my natural, unrealised flare for theft. I got within grabbing distance of my bounty, a tiny pair of blue, paint stained pants of some material the likes of which I have not seen before or since. I plucked them from the line and struggled into them. They were wet and cold, the harsh material chaffed me and they barely covered my knees and yet I rejoiced as I knew they would preserve my legal position in the event I was discovered (I still maintain that a theft charge is infinitely more preferable to a public indecency charge). There was no T-shirt to be had, only a car seat cover which I wrapped around my back to stave of the cold.
As I reached town, the silhouette of the houses careering into view, I was overcome by a mixture of relief and apprehension. The former as I was almost home to a shower, to my own clothes, to safety and hopefully to some kind of explanation and the latter as I yet needed to pass through the populated centre of town. However when I reached it I discovered a further mercy had being dealt to me, the streets were deserted, the house lights were off and the stores and bars all closed. Through my relief I questioned the strangeness of this, for although it was Sunday, it was by my estimations still only around 9 or 10pm and therefore relatively early. I made my way across the town passing only a wandering hobo (we exchanged nods recognizing a shared plight and I think I even saw a degree of sympathy in his eyes, he was after all much better attired than I and looked altogether more healthy at this point) and finally, I arrived uneventfully back at my hostel. I tried the door but it was locked, I tried it again, definitely locked. This meant that I would have to ring the bell and bring the night attendant to the door, something I had been desperate to avoid. As the door opened I was greeted by Juan the landlord, he eyed me up and down the shock and relief written on his face “My God, we were so worried!!”. He asked me what had happened and I told him as much as I could. He returned to his bedroom and I straight to the shower.
I stood beneath the font with the lukewarm water gushing over me, replenishing me as I rejoiced in having made it home. I even treated myself to a laugh at the sheer absurdity of what had just happened. I scrubbed hard, struggling to wash the dirt away, realizing for the first time it was bound to my flesh by my own dried blood and the water now began to sting as the extent of my wounds began to emerge. I exited the shower and glimpsed myself in the mirror, I was covered in lacerations from head to toe, cuts and scratches zig-zagging across me like the frenzied brush swipes from a Jackson Pollock painting. I caught sight of the time, it was 5am. I was stunned, I had seen the sun set only a few hours earlier so by my estimations it should have been 10 or 11 at night, where had 6 hours gone since my coming around and finding my way back to the road?! I shuddered at the thought that I must have blacked out at some point on the road. I dried myself off and went to bed falling quickly into a dreamless sleep.
I was woken early by the sound of voices talking in the common area and upon awaking was greeted by seething pain all over my body, my back burned where I lay on it and my entire body ached. I prized myself up, peeling away my vest which had stuck to my body with blood shed in the night and hobbled to the door towards the voices. It was my companions from the previous day. I asked them what had happened and they said that I had had a bad trip (no shit), that they tried to get me back home and even stopped a car but couldn’t get me to move. Apparently I forcefully, even violently resisted their attempts at coercion so in the end they left me sat by the side of the trail. The relief was abundant in their expression as was the guilt and awkwardness at having left me.
A few hours later there was a knock on the hostel door, during my absence Juan had reported me missing and now the Police wanted to talk to me. I found myself surrounded by 7 officers questioning me in Spanish about what had happened. “Had you being drinking…had you taken any drugs?” Juan acted as interpreter and advocate, we exchanged conspiratorial looks before he turned to the officer and relayed my answer, sugar coating the truth to spare me any further hassle “yeah, they had been drinking, a few beers and they smoked some weed… but nothing more”. The officers seemed satisfied with this and genuinely sorry for the state I was in. My clothes had been found next to the road but unfortunately the cash from my wallet, my telephone and my MP3 player were gone never to be seen again.
The next day my companions checked out heading back to Medellin. I however was unable to travel as it hurt to walk, to sit, to lie or to do anything. I had no appetite for days but an unquenchable thirst. I spent Christmas sat alone in an empty hostel my skin screaming every time I made the slightest movement. Juan and his family were sympathetic and their kindness to this foolish foreigner still restores my faith in humanity every time I think about it. But it was nonetheless a very sorry way to spend Christmas with nothing to do but reflect upon my own idiocy, on how near I was to having to invoke my insurers repatriation clause and of course to reflect and try to piece together just what the hell had happened both within the trip and out there in reality as I stalked naked in the Colombian wilderness for 10 or so hours.
Within a few more days my wounds had started to heal and so I headed back to Medellin. For the next few weeks every time a fellow traveler asked how I accrued my cuts and bruises my story was rewarded with disbelief, sympathy, laughs and several beers for its narrator. Even now half a year a later I have several scars which will stay with me for life serving as a visible, pertinent reminder of how lucky I am to be alive, of how quickly heaven can turn to hell and that sometimes, just sometimes, it turns out your parents were right all along.
Stay safe kids.