There are probably better ways to spend a Friday night in Bali with a guy I met on Tuesday during happy hour on Seminyak Beach, but at least Adam and I won’t be breaking any laws. He’s even brought along a soft helmet, which won’t save my skull if I go flying off the back of his motorbike en route from Legian Beach to Jalan Dhyana Pura, but it will satisfy the minimum safety requirements of any cop if one happens to stop us along the way.
In Bali, a place where drug possession is a crime that can be punishable by death, magic mushrooms are not only legal, but they go down easy and relatively cheaply in the form of a shake (price tag: 120,000 Indonesian rupiah, or about $12). Go figure. For a moment, sitting and sipping in that cafe halfway down Jalan Dhyana Pura, I feel like it’s 1993 all over again, and I’m in one of those pot cafes in Amsterdam with my then-boyfriend Derek. (Naturally, I didn’t inhale!)
Now don’t judge or point out the dangers of drugs. Instead, answer this: What were you drinking last night? Alcohol is a drug, yet because it’s legal, it’s widely accepted as being OK. But I’m fairly certain that a magic-mushroom shake is no more hazardous to my health than those 20 minutes I spent several months ago doing vodka shots under sub-freezing conditions at Holiday Inn Silom’s Ice Bar in Bangkok.
Magic mushrooms, like Johnnie Walker whiskey and Arak (more on that in a moment) are considered to produce a perfectly innocent high here in Bali, harmless enough in moderation to be legal. It’s how the Dutch presumably regard pot, and how most of the world views booze and cigarettes, both of which are far more likely to result in death than magic mushrooms. What happens in Bali stays in Bali. That’s how I intend to justify my indulgence on this Friday night.
That said, Balinese mushrooms aren’t for everyone. They’re unpredictable, I’ve been told: Sometimes they work; sometimes they don’t. And as with all potentially mind-altering substances, there are risks, both from the substance itself and from those who might take advantage of you while you’re under its influence. When I tell Adam about my nights spent drinking a Mojito-like concoction called an Arak Obama at the Laughing Buddha Bar in Ubud, the jungle retreat in the center of Bali, he issues a stern warning: There have been several cases of tourists dying after consuming a badly prepared batch of Arak. Imbibe at your own risk!
Considering that Bali is a place where it’s not uncommon to see a family of four riding on one motorbike – dad driving, son in front of him, daughter and mother behind him – safety first clearly isn’t a national motto around here. It’s up to you to take the necessary precautions to ensure a safe flight!
I’m not sure what to make of my own take off, a mere minutes after finishing my shake, which tastes like an all-natural concoction one would buy from a health-food juice stand, while Adam remains at the gate for another 20 minutes or so. The in-flight entertainment begins in a country bar down the street, and it includes a live band that segues from Bon Jovi’s “Bed of Roses” to Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” if it had been sung by Bob Dylan instead of David Gilmour, while Carrie Underwood pours drinks behind the bar, and a guitarist with a glowing face keeps his gaze fixed on me throughout the cover band’s entire set. Huh? Is that a baby, a monkey or an evil troll going up up and away in that cigarette ad on the wall?
Outside the bar, sitting on the sidewalk, Adam and I are watching the blurry Bali night go by. Giant ants are crawling in slow motion. Everything is crawling in slow motion. I feel like a character in that Ashley Judd movie Bug. Oh my God! There’s a swarm of them, scurrying, stomping. But wait. That’s not my arm. That’s the sidewalk. Why is it undulating like waves on the ocean that’s hundreds of meters away? There’s no breeze, though the stale Bali night air could use some motion.
A crowd of late-night construction workers taking a cigarette break across the street are staring at us like we’re the evening entertainment until we’re forced to relocate out of embarrassment. Are hallucinogenic drugs supposed to make you feel this paranoid, leaving you envisioning your own imminent demise. I imagine the Internet headline: “AMERICAN TOURIST SUCCUMBS TO KILLER MUSHROOMS IN BALI!”
I look over at Adam to make sure he can’t see me sweat. Why does he seem so normal? Doesn’t he feel anything?
“What time is it?… Fifteen minutes to 1?!”
Who stopped the hands of time? I was sure it was almost dawn! Still, it’s time for me to go. Public life is easier with a clear head!
My perception may be altered but not my judgment: Shortly after 1am, I opt to take a taxi back to my hotel rather than get back on Adam’s motorbike, which doesn’t mean the ride home is any less bumpy and strange, only safer. Why is it taking so long? Speed it up. I’m imploring the taxi driver in my head because I’m not sure I can form coherent sentences with my mouth. The 15 minute or so taxi ride feels longer than did the 90-minute one yesterday from Ubud to Legian Beach on the island’s scorching southern coast.
Once we arrive and drive into the parking lot to the security gate, a man comes out and circles the car. I could swear he’s looking at it suspiciously, like a border patrol guard who has been warned about an approaching vehicle carrying contraband narcotics. When he opens my door, I think it’s all over. I’m going straight to jail.
“Good evening, sir? Welcome back to Pullman Bali Legian Nirwana.” The car inspection, he explains, is standard procedure for all incoming traffic.
A few minutes later, I’m standing (barely) alone on a balcony that’s nearly as big as the sleeping quarters in the 42-square-meter “deluxe” room to which it’s attached. Perhaps the fresh air will free my mind, and I’ll return to my normal mental state – still overthinking, but without the special effects. So I tremble (damn the paranoia!) and wait, staring out at the calm Indian Ocean while the 2011 movie Sanctum plays on HBO in the background. I’m too deep in overlapping thoughts to pay attention to the TV. In fact, I forget it’s even on, until the end of the film, when I hear a voice quoting lines from one of my all-time favorite pieces of literature.
“In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree…”
How fitting, I think to myself. Kubla Khan, a poem that Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote in 1797 (or thereabouts, according to Wikipedia) after awakening from an opium-induced dream is the perfect kicker to a night like this. I’m not sure what an opium-induced dream feels, or looks, like, but I figure it couldn’t be far from what had been going on right before my eyes earlier in the night while that band was playing “Wish You Were Here.”
Adam and I connect once more online before I pass out. He’s higher than the sun shining above little fluffy clouds of cotton. Though he seemed perfectly normal when I left him, he tells me he was far from it. He was holding back because he didn’t want to freak me out by freaking out. I don’t have the heart to tell him that had he allowed himself to freak out with me, I wouldn’t have left him high and hard. Oh, but tomorrow is another day – if we live to see it.
And I do. When I wake up the next morning, shortly after dawn, there’s no hangover, and I have 100 percent recollection of everything I may or may not have seen the night before. That’s why it’s easy to say no when a guy peddling mushrooms on the street tries to sell me a batch of fresh ones at 2pm after my hour-long pedicure and foot massage. It was an interesting adventure, but as is the case with a city you’ve always wanted to visit, enjoy briefly when you finally go, then can’t wait to leave, one trip was more than enough.
“Do You Want a Good Dream?”: A Mushroom Mix Tape