I was on a riverboat heading to Iquitos, an Amazonian city in Northern Peru, with two Argentines I had met on a bus in the middle of nowhere. I was on a mission to try ayahuasca. The boat would take four days to get to the mysterious city I had heard so much about on my travels. We slept in hammocks, out in the open, along with thirty or forty other people on the upper deck. Down below, in the main cabin, there must have been two hundred hammocks hung up closely together. So many vibrant colors and skin tones filled the room. Families of every generation, lounged around, children ran around like wild animals through the maze of textiles and flesh. It was cramped and humid downstairs, it felt claustrophobic compared to the upper deck, but it offered a barrier from the sun.
I’d go down to get food three times a day. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were all included with the price of my ticket, I just needed my own bowl and fork. When it was time to eat, a cook would bang on the steel pipes and the sound would reverberate through the boat. Everyone would line up, all of us with our bowls in our hands. There was a transvestite working in the kitchen and when I’d get to the front of the line, he would smile at me and say some shit in Spanish that I couldn’t understand. The cooks behind him would snicker in the background. Then a sweaty, heavy dude behind the pot of food would plunge his hand in, grab a serving and slop it in my bowl. I thought of being in prison, lines of people waiting to be served their daily ration, in tight quarters … and there was a tranny.
Every couple of hours the boat would put in at small villages along the way to Iquitos. All of the villages had people waiting to get supplies. The villages were just small clearings in the jungle, a break in the tropical flora. I had learned that the town I was headed to was like these, they had only four hours of electricity a day and just a few houses, in the middle of the Amazon Jungle. When they started to load and unload cargo it was like watching an army of ants. They carried blocks of ice in burlap sacks on their backs, men and women alike, through the mud and up the hill into the village. The women were so strong, I had seen it in Ecuador as well, women carrying significant weight on their backs, like sherpas. Old men in old clothes would work along with everyone else, as if age held no chains on their actions. They would climb the hill that led up into their village, as others made their way down to get more supplies, like a snake eating its own tail.
It was so foreign to me. I had never thought about living with only four hours of electricity a day or of using an icebox instead of a refrigerator. There were cattle at the head of the ship, sectioned off in a pen. All day and most of the night, passengers would watch them to pass the time. Being a part of that scene, a heavily tattooed gringo standing there watching cows on a boat with some Peruvians in the middle of the night was one of the things that made me happy that I was traveling. On my last day, one of the cows had been trampled in the night, the others just stood on top of him as if he was already dirt. It felt important for me to see things like this, to experience these moments of boredom and discomfort. How else can you find out how privileged you really are? Go out and see how the rest of the world lives and it puts a lot in perspective.
At this point, I had been traveling for about six months. When I left Colombia, a girl from the hostel asked if I wanted some acid, she was leaving and didn’t want to take it with her. On principal, I never turned down drugs, so she gave me her thirteen tabs. The boat seemed like the perfect place to take some (a lot of places felt like the perfect place to take some). I offered some to the Argentines who on principal, also never turned down drugs. We each took a tab and waited for it to kick in while we smoked a spliff. I held the tab under my upper lip and I could feel my lip quiver. The Argentine who spoke the least English had a bongo with him, he drummed us along as we slowly floated down the river.
The water under us was the color of chocolate milk and it moved in ripples along the edge of the boat. The shoreline was much higher than the water level, crumbling cliffs of red mud, with roots breaking the surface, looking for water. There were people sitting up there watching the boat float by in the same way that I watched the cattle. With no electricity, the action on the river served as a distraction. I kept an eye out for the pink dolphins that were famous for living in the Amazon River. I had read that these pink dolphins had female genitalia similar to a woman and that men would fuck them; then kill them to get their dick out because the dolphins muscles would not let go once homeboy was done. I saw them, but they were grayer than they were pink.
When I lived in San Francisco I was interested in trying acid. I was attracted to psychedelics and was intrigued as an artist… would it make a difference in terms of what I created? There were so many great examples of artists opening the doors to their subconscious using acid, with great results. I often thought about how Steve Jobs said Bill Gates would have been much more interesting had he dropped acid. I was too fucked up to try it though, I had too many demons and the fear outweighed the answers. Sitting on that boat, with no phone, no technology, minimal grasp of the Spanish language, floating along the Amazon River with a couple hundred Peruvians on a boat that I couldn’t get off of, I was filled with pride. I had made it. I had made it out of the scary, shameful places of my mind and into a world of wonder and faith. The acid started to kick in around sunset. I lounged in my hammock and watched the chocolate water, in awe of the change of light, the shades of jungle green morphed into layers upon layers, it was as if I could see each individual leaf independent of one another. Eventually, it all disappeared into the darkness.
My friends were in their hammocks next to me. We looked at each other in agreement; it was kicking in. My body tingled, my palms sweaty. We walked to the back of the boat, the Milky Way unveiled overhead, it was impossible not to get lost in it. We laid down on the deck and shared a spliff, the color of the cherry made my hand glow as I inhaled. The Argentine played the bongo and we were having a great time. Some gringo kids came over to listen to the music and I talked with a teenager, it was his birthday and he was on a missionary trip with a church group. I asked about his trip and how his birthday was going, I told him how I had been a Christian but saw the light and realized it was all bullshit. I wished that someone had that talk with me when I was his age, or that I would have listened when they had. I asked if he had ever smoked weed before, he said no. It was with great joy that I offered him the spliff. “Tonight seems like a pretty great first time” I said. He took the spliff and took a drag, blowing the smoke out into the night and into the Milky Way.
The night rolled on slowly, the kids went away and I laid on the deck, looking up at the millions of stars, into eternity. That up there, that’s what I’m made of, I thought. I was filled with incredible gratitude; gratitude that I was away from everyone and everything that made me feel safe, that I was without a phone or a computer, that I was alone and anonymous. Completely free from responsibilities; I had no bills, I had no job, I had nothing and it felt so good. I never felt so alone or alive. My past seemed to drift into the humidity and the wind, I looked forward to the mystery of what laid ahead, I was excited and curious about the future. I had been left alone at the bow of the boat, laying on that steel deck, which had carried so many souls along the river. I had my flashlight with me and I pointed it towards the end of the night, into the infinite abyss. I thought about how light travels on and I pictured that flashlight going on forever and ever and with that light, I wrote thank you into the sky.