We have heard various hush-hush whisperings recently about exotic hallucinogens from far and wide making an appearance in Cape Town. Of course we ourselves would know nothing of such things, but one intrepid tripper has sent us this story about his experience hiking Table Mountain under the spell of the San Pedro cactus. The floor belongs to you, Bartlett…
It’s a quarter to five in the morning at Kirstenbosch Top Gate, and not even the neon-clad lycra runners are up yet. There’s a guy in a cloak who introduces himself as Romario, and he’s talking about ‘the quickening’.
Man, this year is winding down fast says another hobbit to him and he says, yes, it’s the quickening. It’s the dregs of last year, somewhere between Boxing Day and December 31st. Who knows what sediment we will find atop Table Mountain as we climb Skeleton Gorge on a day like today. A day that is still very much night.
I’m banking on a few of my mom’s running friends at least, lost tourists, authority figures. The paranoia is tweaking me as I forecast what a day high on San Pedro in the company of complete strangers will look like.
Soon we are all sitting in a circle in the lap of Newlands Forest. Ten of us. All about to drink from the shared glass jar that is filled with a potent brew of San Pedro – drug, cactus, medicine, mescaline-ish, entheogenic, magic plant – call it what you want to, I haven’t tried it before so I can call it only by its name.
It smells vile as we pass it around the circle and share what we hope to get out of the plant and the day. I offer that something is blocked in me and that I don’t know what it is. Also that I have no expectations. And just like that everybody is real and honest and authentic with each other as we get to grips with stomaching the stuff.
Yes, there is some aura cleansing and offerings and other harmless ritualistic sensibility to ground us in our intention as we imbibe this strange bedfellow. We’re not doing this to get fucked, we are doing this to heal ourselves. That much is being made clear to us, subconsciously at least, as we are led in our psychedelic field trip by a pony-tailed fellow known to us as ‘The Om’.
Couch tripping on cacti and the like has become somewhat de rigeur in Cape Town over the last few years as shamans and charlatans have made their way to the Mother City and its big flat rock of feminine energy, armed with their recipes, insights and vials of intoxicating brew. Ayahuasca, in particular, is a guided journey you can go on just about every weekend. Fancy seeing your own death? Perhaps DMT is the kick you are looking for.
Personally speaking, this is what makes globalization great: I can take in the world’s natural wonders without a valid passport. I’m just as game for conscious enlightenment as the next hedonist and will generally jump at the chance to throw up on a mattress alongside people in the throes of a discombobulating epiphany.
What’s made these experiences ‘safe’ in the past has been the ‘container’ within which one’s personal chaos is unleashed. Generally there are a dozen people in loose-fitting clothes sitting on mattresses in a farmhouse, or a boma, in the middle of nowhere with buckets at the ready – what can really go wrong?
Which is what makes this day so potentially death-defying and exhilarating: our ‘container’ is Table Mountain in the height of the tourist season. I’ve got to hand it to ‘The Om’ – this guy is ballsy – and I’m chomping at the bit as we head up into K-Bosch as the nausea sets in.
Sure enough, I practically collide with a running friend of mine, actually, and the exchange of pleasantries is amplified (in my mind at least) as the nausea sets in. That’s the big downside: this stuff is gonna make you wanna kotch. There’s no pretty way to say that. Call it a ‘purge’, as ‘The Om’ does. It’s your body’s way of cleansing itself of impure toxins. Me, I’m not buying. I’ve paid good money for this green sludge and I’m keeping it all inside of me.
People are awful chipper as they pass us going up the forested folds. There is this moment – there’s always that moment – when one of my new-found friends is administering mercury gel to the rickety knee of another tribesman just as his homeopath who gave him the stuff jogs past, just as the guy in his 20s who rocked up in his sheepskin slippers, clown pants and over-sized hoodie is hurling his guts out onto the moss of a tree behind us, just as hikers with alpine trekking poles come slaloming by and a youth group of God’s chosen innocent converge from above.
It’s synchronistic mayhem. You’d be hard pressed to take anything too seriously at this stage. So I get the giggles and gawk at the lattice of vines and ferns forming ever-expanding and contracting tapestries before my eyes. Ah yes, this is the feeling. It’s a jungle out there, everything is alive! At one with nature. A deeper sense of the impermanence of it all. What has all the fuss been about?
Breathe in, breathe out. Feel, expand. Laying out the cards of my life, putting one foot in front of the next. For there is still a gorge of skeletons to conquer, and the temptation is to just kick it all day at the first mountain stream we come across.
The Om has other plans for us, far more daring. By the time we’ve reached the reservoirs it’s as if we’ve climbed Kilimanjaro herself. We are definitely in another country; such is the liberation and the love that abounds. Did I mention the love? The enlightenment that can happen in an instant and last a lifetime, or happen in a lifetime and last an instant, is just that for me. It’s all about the love. That’s what has been blocked. I’ve been grumpy and selfish this past year, far too calculating in my consideration of others. With love, comes acceptance. And with acceptance comes more love. Duh.
The cold mountain air cuts right to the bone round these parts. Tsunamis of clouds roll in over the reservoir; it is all so surreal and yet also all so dangerously poised on the knife-edge of reality: like holy fucken shit I don’t want to get lost down some San Pedro Table Mountain rabbit hole and die of hypothermia up here. When good times go bad…
Thankfully, some sense of mountaineering sanity had prevailed when I got up at four this morning and I’d brought along a windbreaker. We democratically decide as a group to make our way down Nursery Ravine where the hobbits and I are happy to play in the caves and absconsions we come across on the way down.
We share nuts and raw cacao, nougat and berries. We lighten our loads and I abandon my judgements. The nerdy computer guy is actually an adult film actor (read: porn star) who’s coming to grips with losing his lover after they took the granddaddy of all medicinal plants – eboga – a few weeks ago together, and just plain saw the way they were bullshitting each other. He’s looking sexier by the minute as his wisdom unwinds.
There’s the mother with a disabled child, the father going through a divorce, the struggles with addiction and the weight of the world that can be so much that sometimes, even just once in a while, you have to drink cactus juice, climb a mountain and then look down it all before making sense enough to carry on.
We are hurting. We are slaving away. We are afraid of the freedom that we may find within the created confines of our own minds.
We face up to the inevitable as we journey back down into Kirstenbosch’s enchanted forest, pussy-footing around on the treetop canopy walkway like people possessed, alongside tourists that are none the wiser.
We huddle in the hollowed trunk of a big baobab tree as we close out the day, sharing our personal successes and telling ourselves that we love each other. It’s not even weird.
I check my rearview mirror at the Helicopter Pad entrance to Newlands Forest as I attempt to leave, crossing two lanes of fast-moving traffic. That feels weird.
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