A Round Trip To and From the Beyond

Erasmo Calzadilla

Diver. Photo: Paul Harris

I had already experienced 20 years of life when I entered the world of drugs for the first time.  On days when there were parties among circles at the university, we all kicked in to buy chispaetrén (distilled home-brewed alcohol having the taste of kerosene – literally “train sparks”).

We would also get hold of a little grass from time to time, which many of us dribbled on.  In fact, it was easier to catch a cold or be poisoned than to get high.

Later, one day a girl in the neighborhood spoke to me about certain magical mushrooms that grew in cow dung.  So, in the back of a dairy farm I was initiated as a low-flying astronaut, but it was enough to leave me intrigued.  I began to read up on the subject, and later went to places offering both beauty and seclusion for more “serious” encounters with that world.

Following my first experience, for a few years I consumed only small doses during my summer vacations, but one day —in the disguise of a friend— the devil came to tempt me.  I spoke to him with pride about my adventures with drugs, but he argued that I had made little progress.

“If you take much larger quantities, you’ll reach a limit where your mind comes to a standstill, and that’s where it all really begins.”  He didn’t manage to explain to me very well what would happen on the other side of that blessed frontier, but the glimmer in his eyes stirred me to investigate it for myself.

The following summer I headed out for eastern Cuba’s bucolic prairies washed by creeks.  I picked up all the little umbrellas that I stumbled on along the way, and in the evening —together with my girlfriend and travel companion— we devoured the “delicacy” at the foot of an incredible limestone outcrop.

To make a long story short, both of us ended up feeling that for the first time we perceived Reality as such and as it was; the mushroom had dissolved the veil that prevented us from appreciating existence in its true nature.  It was so strange and fascinating that we feared we were dead; only that could explain —we thought, terrified— what we were experiencing.

The return to day-to-day routine was difficult and traumatic.  Our culture doesn’t prepare us for these types of experiences.  We knew nothing of the mystical or philosophical.  We didn’t even know a responsible person who had experienced the same thing – only some lost “friquis” and a few second-rate mystics.

Without having anything to lean on, for a long time I was trapped with Doubt (with a capital D): doubt about the reality of reality.  It lodged in the pit of my stomach, the center of a one’s most visceral fears, and only years later the anguish turned into a butterfly.

Today, I wouldn’t recommend it to my worst in enemy.  To whomever wishes to explore the world of mushrooms, I recommend they do so with extreme caution, because a bad trip can leave you traumatized forever.

2 thoughts on “A Round Trip To and From the Beyond

  • As Oscar Wilde used to say, “You never know you have had enough until you have had MORE than enough!” I, too, undertook some experiments in “intergalactic inner-psychic travel” during my misspent youth, back in the 1960’s and early 1970’s. Worse even than the Cambodian family, mentioned by Grady below, (at least their fate was sealed quickly and mercifully) were the fates of several friends and acquaintances who consistently had MORE THAN ENOUGH (mushrooms, peyote, mescalin, LSD, etc.), and whose brains began to resemble the consistency of Swiss Cheese; for the rest of their lives they, suffered mental illness, loss of memory, inability to hold a logical conversation, etc. etc.

  • We have a country saying in the U.S. When a person is doing some sort of dangerous, possibly lethal activity, and we wish to caution that person, we might say, “Hey! You’re flirting with the undertaker.” (The “undertaker,” of course, is the mortician.) What we mean is: “Know the possible lethal consequence of your actions, and be careful.”

    Years ago, in the San Francisco Bay Area, there was a well-known story of a whole family who had arrived in the US from Cambodia. They were used to eating wild mushrooms in their home country. They went for a picnic and discovered wild mushrooms that looked familiar. Gleefully they harvested the mushrooms, consumed them. The whole family died.

    Many wild mushrooms are lethal to humans. Anyone who goes out and consumes wild mushrooms, without knowing whether this species is poisonous, is “flirting with the undertaker.”

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