The following story was contributed by Peruvian-English Gonzojournalist Simon Wilson Cortijo.
The Lima-to-Arequipa bus ride is one of most grueling in all of Peru. Sure there are longer ones like the Tarapoto-Lima one I did recently, but at least that has some rather spectacular tropical mountain scenery to make up for the sore arse and DVT. By contrast, Lima to Arequipa is a trip through a godforsaken desertscape followed by a slow ascent up a barren mountain pass which makes Mars look like a verdant paradise.
Assuming no traffic, this boredom will last around 15 hours, but if you are a cheapskate like me who always opts for “servicio economico” where the bus stops to drop off any Tom, Dick or Harry wrapping on the driver’s window, the journey can last somewhere around 18 hours. It all depends on who’s getting off where and of course if the bus has a toilet (if it doesn’t, there will be piss stops).
As I was walking through downtown Lima with my mate Gerry en route to buy my ticket, I was almost considering compromising my principles and paying the extra $15 to travel on an air-conditioned behemoth complete with vacuum flush toilet, 80 degree reclining seats, dubbed American rom-coms and a big-bottomed terramoza serving up a not-inedible hot dinner on my lap (Cruz Del Sur, $40).
But then we passed the row of boutiques on Avenida Tacna that are stuffed with occult paraphernalia, the one where I once bought a bottle of ayahuasca from a lesbian sorceress. Gerry perked up when I told him and we were suddenly on a quest for the lesbian sorceress and the fabled ayahuasca. We found neither, but we did find a nice not-very-sorceress-looking lady selling San Pedro.
I’ve heard of that, I thought, a hallucinogenic kind of like ayahuasca, but one which no one really knows or talks about because a) everyone knows that ayahuasca is literally GOD and …
b) it’s surrounded by an aura of hippy-dippy sacredness meaning you can only access it if you are willing to shower hundreds of dollars of upon some “shaman” (usually a gringo complete with poncho and rain maker) who, aside from relieving you of all the “negative energy” that you carry around (in your wallet), will also show you how to “reconnect to the earth” and “realize that there is NO separation between you, me, the earth, and the sky. We are all ONE.”
We asked to see the San Pedro. She wasn’t selling any hippy-dippy BS. This gal was slinging San Pedro in powder form at only 10 soles (3 dollars) a hit. All you have to do, she told us, is stir it into water. She said there’s a more natural way of administering the drug by cutting up the cactus and boiling it down, but we stopped listening as soon as she said that the dehydrated powder form is just as good.
“I’m doing this on the bus tomorrow,” I exclaimed.
Gerry responded with some cautionary words and we mulled over whether doing a hallucinogenic which I’ve never tried before inside a bus traveling through the desert in the dead of night was a good idea or not.
But I was already decided. It would be investigative journalism at its most recklessly finest. I would pour this substance down my gullet, and I would keep a log of it. All for the other idiot space monkeys out there who want to do the same.
I bought two bags worth (6 teaspoons of powder, enough for two trips).
Sitting on the bus at Hermanos Flores terminal.
The annoying shamanic gringos say you should fast before you take San Pedro and make your surrounding environment one of peace and tranquility.
I rode the packed and sweltering Metropolitano from Gerry’s house in Comas while trying not to get my phone nicked, then ate an awful pizza with Inca Kola at the Estacion Central. Then walked a few crowded blocks under the blazing sun to the Flores bus terminal, arriving with just enough time to use the bathroom.
Previous experience with ayahuasca (when I shat out half my bodyweight) told me paying the 50 centimos to empty my bowels was a good idea, but instead of a bathroom I find myself entering Dante’s Seventh Circle of hell. No running water, bins filled to the brim with excrement and metal cubicles with phalluses and “Call for a good time” scrawled all over. I hold my nose and do the deed.
With that putrid image in my head I’ve now mixed up the brew. I dropped all three teaspoons of of one bag into a bottle of water and shook well.
The bus is lugging into action and I just downed the brew. I can only describe the taste as a pungent mixture of coca leaf and brake oil. I want to hurl. I imagine that you could mix it up with chicha powder and sugar to make a more palatable beverage, but this may interfere with the active agents and spoil the high.
The man sitting next to me saw and is comes at me with the questions. I tell him the truth. He’s a good sport who is genuinely intrigued. He tells me there is loads of San Pedro in Arequipa and a friend of a friend of a brother-in-law’s friend grows it. He can hook me up. Yay.
Conversation turned to the old Arequipa-vs.-Lima thing. I remember to say the opposite of what I tell everyone since I escaped The White City last month: that Arequipa’s climate is like Saudi Arabia cut into the side of a mountain, the food is overrated and the “Arequipan not Peruvian” thing is laughable. The women are spectacular however, a fact which I try to steer the conversation towards, but I realize the guy is travelling with his wife and daughter behind so nope.
An hour has passed and I don’t feel anything. However, I’m not going to mix up the other bag just yet.
First inklings of a high? I feel a little spacey. I move my limbs and they feel nice and relaxed.
Oh yes, vision getting a little blurry, people’s faces becoming more interesting, the landscape becoming infused with meaning. We have lift off!
Really spacey now. Like Kevin Spacey in American Beauty. You know the scene with the girl and rose petals in the bath then she’s on the ceiling? I can’t see any of that but I am extremely horny. Also limbs heavy, finding it hard to write.
Wow, like marijuana sans retardation. I am thinking deeply but not forgetting what I was thinking mid-thought. I am writing perfunctorily but still pretty lucidly. When I squeeze my eyes shut I can see the old geometric patterns.
I also have a tremendous horn on but I can’t seem to get a boner. A spiritual horn maybe? I think all this writing is killing the mojo so I am just going to close my eyes and see what happens.
I looked out into the sea and saw a whirlpool of light that looked like a portal into another world. I sat there contemplating. Then I realize the sun was overhead and the whirlpool was its reflection on the surface of the water. But then the clouds clear over head and I see that it was the MOON. Is there a God?
I’m trying to remember and reconstruct the propositions of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason and failing miserably. It’s okay though because I already get it.
We’ve stopped off to eat at a rest stop somewhere past Ica. For the last hour the trippiness has left me unable to write. A Liam Neeson film was playing on the TV, the one where he’s on the plane with a bunch of terrorists trying to extort him for cash. I seemed to know every twist and turn before it happened because the great being of the universe wanted me to be watching this film just at this very moment and see that it’s an allegory of my life!
After the film finished, I felt the high had peaked so I mixed up and drank half of the second bag, which I think is now beginning to work through. I feel super tranquil. However I don’t feel any overwhelming love for mankind. It’s not that kind of high, but I also don’t feel aversion or terror. It’s a quiet, beyond-good-and-evil kind of thing. This is why San Pedro was only for kings and princes in the Chavin Culture.
I’m pretty functional. I’m not mouthing off. I’ve lost the urge to be funny and make people laugh. San Pedro, or Saint Peter, found the Keys to Heaven in the New Testament. I think I buy that. I am finding a lot of things.
We just left the rest stop and I’m really tripping balls, but it’s something I can control. I can let myself go with the surge or do normal things like write. I think I could easily take this stuff to London and just hum along all day getting stuff done like a worker bee.
This drug could really be marketed as an antidote to being a total douche. Someone could slap me in the face and I don’t think I would react. I’m so at peace.
Closing my eyes, I envision random stuff from childhood that I had completely forgotten. I saw and felt myself in a boat drifting down a river that cut through a mountainous landscape resembling Ancash – just the place where the San Pedro cactus grows. This reinforces my theory that plant-based hallucinogens have a natural habitat which transmits itself into you when you ingest them. Like when I did ayahuasca I could feel the jungle teeming through me. San Pedro is making me feel the Andean sierra.
Maybe the Indians would call this the spirit of the mountain taking hold of me. I would say the molecular structure of the plants is setting off archetypes in my limbic system.
This zoning out seemed to last a long time but it was only 20 minutes. Now I’m trying to have another vision but I think I’ve plateaued and I’m trying too hard.
I am still buzzing but the psychical effects are diminishing. I am trying to sleep but my brain is over-stimulated.
I have been trying to sleep for the last hour. The effects are definitely wearing off. Starting to get hungry. Arequipa only a couple hours away.
Guy sat next to me says Camana is an hour away. Fucks sake.
One of the most important things to know about any drug is the nature of the come down. By the time I arrived at Arequipa at 9:30 a.m. the feelings of tranquility were gone, replaced with irritation. But I would attribute this to not having slept or eaten.
After finally sleeping for about 10 hours I woke up happy. No hangover, no depression or sadness, no fatigue. This is not a drug that leaves you with any nasty after-effects.
If you were ever looking for a cross between ayahuasca and marijuana then San Pedro is it. The relaxation of marijuana without the retardation. The psychic awakening of ayahuasca without the projectile defecation.
I don’t know the powder I bought would be different than boiling the cactus down and drinking the brew. This was from the back alleys of downtown Lima and it could be weaker, but without having anything to compare it to I would say it’s good bang for your buck. Ayahuasca is more powerful but if you upped the dosage on San Pedro, who knows?
I didn’t experience any feelings of terror or violence, but I know that in Chavin culture this drug was used to whip people into states of disorientation and horror which may have involved human sacrifice and limb chopping.
I could imagine that if you were dropped into an underground maze with a totem of a monster god at its center, San Pedro would definitely be a terrifying experience. So I would agree with the hippy-dippy shaman community and recommend a safe environment in which to take it.
It should go without saying that San Pedro is not a party drug. Do not do this before a night out or on a date. Despite the initial lift, my libido did not return and I doubt San Pedro would heighten sexual pleasure – though this would require experimentation.
San Pedro is for chilling out, looking into yourself, making the world around you seem more meaningful, seeing cool stuff, recalling random lost memories and, of course, making the most boring bus ride in all of Peru a rather exciting trip.
My only comment is that Arequipa’s food is NOT overrated — it beats the whole of England!