Occurred: February 2017
I had been walking upstream for about 20 minutes when I saw it. Blocking my path ahead, smack dab in the middle of the river on a sandbar. Is that a… machete? It lay there, flat, regal, no doubt a propitiation for the Mayans that once inhabited — nay, still inhabit — these verdant hills. …But machetes aren’t, like, ivory colored… Perhaps I was meant to find this. It was too perfect. Mere minutes after my two friends turned back downstream. Or was that… mere seconds?! Something like that.
But this object though, this… symbol! – of the strength of magnitude of the giant granite wall that loomed before me, that I knew this stream must lead to. But then, maybe this machete looking thing was a different kind of symbol, of the cautionary variety, a not-so-subtle message from a person who walked these hills previously: “Beware.” No doubt I was proceeding at my own risk.
But the thought of danger only hardened my resolve. That Wall was so close I could almost hear the cool of its shadow. The warm river water felt good on my toes. I approached the… thing to pick it up. It began to crumble in my grasp. Dinosaur fossil? … It was all too strange. But then, a lot of things seem strange when you’re tripping on LSD.
But first, a note of caution.
I bought some acid from a friend of a trusted friend. I took a quarter-dose one day (didn’t feel anything), then a half-dose a few days later (mild effects, no side effects, no hangover).
The night I took the half-dose was wild. I was bartending at an open-air, riverside bar, and two DJs dropped in to perform a set – psychedelic trance was their style. My friend had taken about 3 doses of the same acid. He wasn’t working that night, but he also wasn’t able to enjoy the party, because he was too busy “talking to the stars,” as he later put it, and not in a good way.
That’s another story for another time (give me a few days), but the point is this: when it comes to LSD, don’t be a hero. Moderation is paramount. Or, as they say in the drug business, “Drink Responsibly!”
Also, don’t let the government determine what should be stigmatized. I mean, as a group, governments are not the most honest entities, and gov’t officials generally don’t value the well-being of their citizens before the well-being of their bank-accounts. So, if they think LSD should be illegal but tobacco shouldn’t… well, fuck em! 🙂
In Guatemala, the village of Lanquin is known as a jumping-off point for Semuc Champey, the national park most famous for its 8 cascading limestone pools. But Lanquin has its other secret spots. After spending 6 weeks volunteering there at a hostel, I found one: a smaller tributary stream with unbelievably warm water, grippy limestone underfoot, and natural pools to lie in and soak up the Central American sun. With no livestock or human settlement upstream to contribute bacteria, the water was clear and clean. The stream goes underground at some points, emerging 15 feet downhill as clean as well water. Meaning it’s good enough to drink.
After 6 weeks, it was time for me to leave little old Lanquin. Two of my friends — also hostel volunteers — were eager to sample the LSD with me, and so, after discussing a plan and preparing for an anxiety-free time and place, we waited until noon on my last day in town, measured our portions carefully in the hostel, downed them, and walked across town towards the stream.
For the uninitiated, the primary effects of (normal-to-low) dose of LSD are
- Some excitement, energy, euphoria
- High sympathy (with spongelike sensitivity you will absorb the emotions of those around you)
- Subtle hallucinations — usually visual
- Downsides: gasiness and some stomach discomfort, and I would say increasing anxiety as you up the dose
And Lanquin, Guatemala is
- Is a small touristy village — 2,000 inhabitants and 100s of backpackers — that’s pretty isolated, 3 hours driving from the nearest small city
- Uninhabited on one side of the Lanquin River
Our trip location was to be across the Lanquin River, on the uninhabited side. And of course this is Guatemala, so there’s no bridge in town that crosses the river. Instead, there’s this:
That’s right, time to go Oregon Trail all over that bitch. Thankfully there’s a rope to hold on to. The current is strong but the river only reaches 4 feet of depth in the middle.
Now, that picture is from a previous day, where we were having some fun on the rope. All subsequent photos, however, are from the LSD trip. Luckily I have photos. I didn’t bring my phone on this trip, but my friend, Sam (fake name), brought her camera! Which is how she got this photo, as we approached the river, of…
… the hostel dog, Chapo (real name), following us to the river! This dog loves the water and throughout my 6 weeks he always, somehow, knew when we were heading there for a tubing trip or a quick dip. Chapo loves to sit in the tube with someone and float downstream.
So for Chapo this river trip was no different. For us, it was hilarious. Not 10 minutes into the trip and we already had a spirit animal. Carrying him across the river while holding the rope with the other hand was a bit sketchy, but it was worth it because we would later get photos like this:
But back to present moment. We buy sandwiches at the riverside restaurant, and we ford the river, Chapo in tow.
Welcome to paradise! Me, Sam, and Jimena (again, fake names), and Chapo the Dog. As you can see, one hour after dosing, and we were starting to feel the vibes, the flutters, the energy.
So we relax for a while in this natural limestone pool. We decide that it needs a name. We come up with Tuna Pond, because we just ate tuna sandwiches and there are small fish in the pools. We let the fish nibble at the dead skin on our feet. At first we squirm. Then we giggle.
After some time playing in the water and feeling the onset, a barefoot Guatemalan teenager walks past us, but then stops walking, and soon we realize he’s hovering near us, without having said hello, which is super awkward given our location on the uninhabited side of the river, so I say hello and chat him up a bit to make sure we’re not walking on his land or anything. We’re not. And the kid isn’t talking much, but he’s still standing near us, stealing glances at us…. OH RIGHT WE’RE HALF NAKED. The girls are in bikinis, I’m down to my boxers for swimming, so he’s being shy but taking in the view I guess.
Well, I invite the kid, whose name is Pedro (real name, fuck it) to hang out with us, because it seems polite and I like showing off my Spanish. So he accepts the invitation and stands closer to us, but still without talking.
Around this time, Sam Jimena and I had decided to explore upstream. I invite Pedro, and he accepts.
So the FIVE of us – Sam, Jimena, me, Chapo, and Pedro, begin upstream. Vibes are great and everything is beautiful. We’re having a blast. Although I do sense that Chapo is concerned about where his next meal is coming from. Or is that the acid talking?
We next came to this idyllic tree. It had a good energy. We were about 2 hours into the acid trip, and we were loving the surroundings.
[I had a picture of the tree here but I lost it – picture a cherry tree with thick, supportive branches dipping low on all sides, just begging you to climb it.]
We continued upstream…
After a few minutes of plodding up waterfalls and through mud, the river narrowed, and the banks seemed to rise in step with the surrounding hills. The vibe, til that point entirely euphoric, was…changing. The sound of the bustling Lanquin River was no longer audible. In fact, it was completely silent but for the sounds of our feet sloshing upstream. Were the banks of the river rising, the knee-high grass grasping up to our waists? Or had it been that way all along? Confronted with a deep natural pool ahead of us, we stepped up to the right, onto the bank, and our precious warm feet were met with nettle, craggly bushes. There was no path. My feet started to burn just as I noticed a string of red ants file past me.
Chapo waddled behind us nobly, with Pedro just behind him. We were barefoot, and… well, we were tripping balls on some level. Sam spoke up first. She was not down for this. Neither was Jimena.
But I was all in. We were halfway to the Wall. The Great Wall of granite dreams and pine mystery.
We decided that Pedro would stay with them and I would continue to the Wall. The girls took this picture of me as I continued on:
But wait! I wanted the camera. What if I saw some cool stuff? I came back downstream, grabbed it from Sam, and turned back upstream alone.
The LSD was in full effect, which, for the dose I took , was not too intense, no hallucinations, just wild thoughts and heightened sensation.
A minute later and I was out of ear reach from the group. I was alone. I was feeling a steady drip of adrenaline – when hiking alone in an isolated area, there is always a potential for danger – and this was not lost on me, but then I’m an adrenaline junkie, so I was definitely loving every moment, every muddy footstep up Tuna Creak. The Wall. It was close. I waded, stumbled, and crawled upstream. Sunshine. Bright green, everywhere. The water was now cool on my feet as the vegetation grew thicker and trees shaded the banks.
Still, I was thinking clearly and had zero impairment to bodily coordination. Totally lucid. It would appear that this low dose of pure LSD was quite… awesome. I had the wherewithal to take photos as I headed for the Wall:
At this point, I took plenty of photos. Let’s see what happens:
So yeah, it was a machete after all. It had probably been sitting in the river for at least a year, judging from the condition. There was a half-centimeter-thick layer of mixed mud and rust that was drying on the machete when I found it. Obviously, the creak had been deep enough to submerge the machete during the wet season, but I stumbled upon it during the dry season… I guess.
And then I made it back to Sam and Jimena, machete in hand. They laughed a lot. I guess the image of me returning with a machete in hand brought back the good vibes! They insisted that I pose for a photo with mud on my face:
After that, we played by the cherry tree, played in the water… and eventually it was time to go. We watched the sun go down over the meadow. Absolutely the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen. Indescribable. And right then, it finally hit me that this was my last sunset in Lanquin, my last night at the hostel I’d lived at for 6 weeks. And so, staring at the sunset with Jimena and Sam, I cried. I cried tears of joy at the beauty of this sunset and the beauty of this final day with my two friends, and then I cried harder thinking about how much I would miss this place and these people.
I was laughing soon enough. Sam, Jimena, Chapo and I forded the river to make the return to the restaurant side of the river, the inhabited side, Civilization. We made it across the rope and looked up to see a a restaurant patio full of backpackers – some of the same faces we had seen earlier before crossing – except now they were staring at us, maybe wondering just what we had been up to on the uninhabited side, these two mud-covered Day-Glo looking girls and one guy wearing nothing but underwear and a backpack, wielding a dog in his right arm and a machete in his left.
My Guatemalan friends always told me that the mantra of Guatemala was, “Todo posible, nada seguro.” Everything is possible, nothing for certain. Somehow, fitting.