Chris Kilham Drinks Ayahuasca at Blue Morpho, Peruvian Amazon. Photo by Zoe Helene

Psychedelic La La Land–When Visions Go Wrong
Reality Sandwich
by Chris Kilham

Bobbie from California is brimful of energy, bursting with enthusiasm, and expressing a sheen of glistening sweat as he stands shirtless, breathless, exuberant and beaming in the scorching Amazon sun. The profusion of new tattoos covering his torso and arms give testimony to his ardent mission – to represent Mama Ayahuasca. “She showed me! She did! She showed me! It’s soooooo clear!”

One thing is certainly abundantly clear- the freshness of the tattoos. Bobbie’s skin is puckered at the edges of the ink, a lavish display of brugmansia blossoms, mapacho leaves, a jaguar, a huge caapi vine growing up his chest, and the freshly needled outline of an anaconda slithering its way from his shoulder to his hand. The work, all done at a small tattoo shop around the corner from the waterfront promenade in Iquitos, Peru, the Disneyland of ayahuasca journeying, is the result of visions. Visions that convinced Bobbie that he is an important representative of Mama Ayahuasca. As such, he is on a mission to cover his upper body with the signs of his journeys, to pay homage to the plant spirits, and to “represent, man, represent!!!”

I predict that Bobbie will wake up at age 50, stare at himself wearily in the bathroom mirror, sigh “what the fuck,” and look up a good laser clinic, to start the slow process of de-inking. Visions indeed.

Because here is the sober psychedelic fact of the matter. While some visions experienced in the throes of ayahuasca, peyote, mushrooms, San Pedro and other agents are in fact prescient, insightful, revelatory and wise, other visions are mere head salad. If you are going to journey with the aid of psychoactive substances, you must learn to discern the difference between manna from the gods and mental cole slaw. The former may set you on a new, luminous life path. The latter may send you down a rabbit hole.

A woman I know, let’s call her Eliza, drank ayahuasca a couple of times at gatherings in Florida. The medicine showed her many things, and gave her valuable information about Sumeria, Atlantis, the New World Order, Edgar Cayce and exactly who is going to live, and who is going to die in the coming crisis. You know, the coming crisis that everybody talks about. That one.

The guy on the mat next to Eliza also had lavish visions, and saw things clearly. A gym rat and a Tough Mudder, he knew what had to be done. Start an army. But of course. Conveniently, he would be the general. And Eliza, just by virtue of sitting on the mat next to him (fate!!!) would be a colonel. Though she confided in me on the phone “I’m really the powerful one, because of my visions.” Apparently the army also need me “You’re absolutely essential,” she told me. But I had other plans.

Okay, so what happened from there? Eliza, a mother, decided that she had “already had the mother experience,” and that probably her 12 year old son didn’t need her anymore, so she could go off and start the army. You know, the army that is going to “be ready.” Ready for when “the shit hits the fan.” That ready. Uh huh. As of last check-in, Eliza and the general work out a lot, compete in Tough Mudder events, and are getting their army idea polished. They are preparing for the end of days, when a Vin Diesel movie-like world will ensure that those with biceps make it, and those who can’t dead-lift 350 don’t survive.

The now famous story of the Iquitos pyramid made its global debut in Vanity Fair, recounting how an ayahuasca vision experienced by Englishman Julian Haynes led to his own quixotic and very public quest. Haynes, convinced that he was directed to fulfill a high mission, funded and built a massive wooden pyramid that sat precariously in the water for a long time right off of the lively Iquitos waterfront promenade. For a time, it was the city’s most famous attraction. The pyramid was to be a world peace center, a spiritual magnet, a hotel for travelers, and many other things. I used to watch it with fascination, and always looked forward to seeing where it had drifted, near or close to the promenade. Today the pyramid is not one whole and integrated global spirit chakra, but thousands of pieces of woody flotsam, spread out all over the Rio Itaya. Larger pieces have been salvaged to make shacks. Smaller ones have been dried to fuel cooking fires.

In fact, Hayne’s pyramid eerily mirrored the frenzied tale of Fitzcarraldo, the horrific Werner Herzog film starring manic Klaus Kinski, in which the vision-driven protagonist drags a gigantic riverboat deep into the steamy verdant Amazon, as part of an ambitious plan to build an opera house in the jungle. Mad as a hatter and twice as scary to watch, Kinski embodied obsession in the film, which was shot in steamy Iquitos. If you tire of eating at Dawn On The Amazon (most near the tattoo stand), then you can drift down the promenade to the opposite corner to Café Fitzcarraldo. And if you want to sop up the rotten, sad remains of that film’s history, you can drop into Casa Fitzcarraldo across town near the banana market, where photos of the film’s stars adorn the walls, where sad-eyed jaguars are locked in cruelly tiny cages, and where the pool water is a milky green.

Beware, oh psychedelic traveler, of the sudden, astonishing, life-changing vision. Beware of “realizations” that you must abandon your comfortable life, job, home and family back in the States or Europe, and grub out a living selling raw cocoa-and-nut balls on the Iquitos streets. Beware the “realization” that you will be a great shaman, and will lead millions to a peaceful era. Beware of ANY vision at all in which you personally have been singled out to play a lead role in the re-doing of all human history. You haven’t. And for goodness sake, beware of the impulse to cover your entire body with ayahuasca visions in indelible ink.

Ayahuasca and other psychedelics can deliver positive, transformative benefits. But they can also set the mind afire with lavish, nonsensical ideas. Most common is the notion of “discovering” that you, yes YOU! will save the planet. You won’t. This is just the same old messy messianic thinking that has never worked and never will. For if there is to be a new, more free and conscious world, we will need not one, but several billion messiahs, each selflessly pulling together for the whole of humanity and planetary welfare.

In the meantime, we have only begun to see the Age Of The Kooks. As more people drink ayahuasca, there will be more visionary fallout. People will decide to undergo rapid and regrettable sex changes. They will ink themselves from head to toe, like Rod Steiger in The Illustrated Man. They will bellow revelations from building tops and get whisked away to secure cells. It is all going to happen. In the great and fabulous circus that is the explosion of ayahuasca into the public mind, every freaky, awkward, bizarre and outright nutso scenario that can play out, will.

November 2013