30 June

Born Again at Monte Alban

This is a story of magic mushrooms, ancient ruins and sacred rituals. It was the end of my boyhood and I had just returned to the State of Oaxaca, transformed into a man after nine months of ordeals in the Lacandon jungle, five hundred miles to the south. The rains had begun and I stopped in the mountain town of San Jose Del Pacifico to see if the first flush of magic mushrooms had arrived. The year before I had had a brief encounter with the mushrooms in the tiny Indian pueblo that was about to become infamous as a horde of colorfully clothed North Americans in search of Castaneda’s Don Juan were soon to arrive.

I had eaten magic mushrooms five times before as part of veladas with both Maria Sabina and Julieta, but had yet to experience the kind of the supernatural effect R. Gordon Wasson had written about in Life magazine. I was beginning to wonder if the mushrooms were nothing more than nature’s version of watered down LSD, but just in case I had returned to give it one more try. Some of the locals that I had made friends with the previous year asked me to run their mushroom business. I agreed, but declined any payment out of respect and the last bit of superstitious fear of the mushroom. All I wanted was food, housing and the opportunity, which I took, to pick some of the best for myself.

But the mountain town was soon over run by tripped out hippies and I no longer had the privacy I wanted for my experiment, so I left San Jose for Oaxaca City to escape a possible military raid like the one I had experienced in Hauatla. Only able to afford a cheap fleabag hotel in the market place, I decided instead to attempt to sleep in the ruins just outside of the city.

At night one lone Zapotec Indian guarded these ruins and for a few pesos he allowed me to live in an obscure tomb away from the main plaza. With locally woven blankets and pieces of artifacts I had found in the earth around the ruins, I tried to replicate the tomb’s ancient grandeur. After I finished decorating, I went down to the market in Oaxaca City to buy supplies and there I ran into Barbara, a beautiful golden haired California girl that I had sold mushrooms to in San Jose. Barbara also had had a less than spectacular effect with the mushrooms and was on her way back to California to get married. But I convinced her to give the mushrooms one last try before she left.

The ruins of Monte Alban loomed over the City of Oaxaca like a plumed serpent who seemed to watch as history snaked through the town and headed towards the fulfillment of some ancient prophecy. The ruins appeared to be the perfect place for the kind of experiment I had in mind. After all, this was where the ancient Zapotec priests once had their own sacred mushroom ceremonies.

At sunset Barbara and I settled in and she lit a candle in the back of the tomb. I followed her, crawling in carrying the woven sack of fruit we had brought for breakfast. The flickering candle barely illuminated the pictographs on the walls that time and erosion had all but erased. As dusk fell, we ate the mushrooms that had been preserved for four days in a jar of local honey. The effects came on very quickly, building pressure like a rocket about to blast off.

Curiously, the first audio hallucination was shared by both of us as we heard ancient ghosts singing and dancing in the courtyard above. Then my visual perception altered and the faded engraving on the walls of the tomb not only became vivid, but I could understand them, as they  took me back to the time when the mushroom eating priest was first buried in this tomb. Before it became too difficult to speak, Barbara turned to me with a far away gaze and said the most curious thing.

“Don’t worry, if anyone comes, just tell them that this is your tomb.”

Perplexed, I glanced down at my arm. It appeared to be covered in pre-Colombian jewelry. Taken back I reached up to feel earplugs in my ears and a plumed headdress upon my head. Then we heard an unearthly and terrifying screech of a plumed beast as it flew overhead. The thrusts of awareness sent us tumbling through brilliant mosaic images of ancient cities before it knocked us both unconscious. My last lucid memory was catching Barbara to brace her fall into oblivion.

 The guttural sound of the German language was my first awakening thought. I spooned with Barbara and giggled in my fading sleep, thinking how out of place the language sounded in the tomb, but the voices continued. Then I felt something disturbingly wet and mushy on Barbara and opened one eye to take a look. Standing above us and looking down into the tomb, was a group of German tourists in Bermuda shorts snapping photos with their cameras and chattering loudly.

Shocked back into reality, I sprung to attention and awoke Barbara. Her hair and clothes were covered in the squashed fruit we had brought for breakfast. In a psychotropic daze we cleaned up as fast as we could and evacuated the tomb. The German tourist continued to photograph us as we scurried away like psychotropic refuges.

The experience was everything I had hoped for and more. It defied the rules of what I knew as reality. Barbara felt that she had been mystically brought here to be the offering to this plumed beast that both desired and protected her. I didn’t know about that, but we were both sure that we had stumbled into something so extraordinary it would one day change the world. Under the afterglow of blissful rapture, I told Barbara that the ancient culture of the mushroom was still alive in the Mazateca and I invited her with me to go find it. She eagerly agreed and four days later we left for the Mountains of the Clouds.