CHAPTER 8 – Of Vice and Virtue
“September is coming,” she said.
“Yes, September’s next month,” I agreed.
August is a cold month in Lima. The gray skies don’t let up. The streets are wet from the constant misty rain, but it never seems to really rain. Caked layers of dirt that stick to everything coagulate into wet globs; a city of soiled Rorschach images on the sidewalks, road signs and windows. Dogs roam around in sweaters that their owners oblige them to wear. The traffic is as thick as ever, noisy and busy. Thankfully I find sanctity with her, our heat and hearts melding in this oven of ours.
But this was never a classical love story. This was never a story with an end. It just keeps going, and going, and going, seemingly never stopping until that very end that we’ll all eventually arrive to. That eternal nothingness, or maybe something else. Maybe bliss, nirvana, paradise. Maybe infernal damnation. Maybe virgins. Maybe emptiness and nothing at all. Maybe new life. Maybe star-wading in the wielding novae of the universe. Maybe pointless meandering in a nowhere that somehow is your somewhere. Maybe you decide. Maybe you don’t. Maybe the planet is always, you are always, your soul is always. Maybe not.
The House of No Ends continued to expand and contract with new batches of guests. It has been several months since I’ve left my hand to ruin, writing here. Much has happened, so I doubt my ability to tell it linearly. My hesitation is suffocating. My words seem unwilling or unsure. The whole damn thing seems unsure. I suppose I should start from our beginning.
CHAPTER 9 – Me and Mayra
Her professional garb delights me every time I see her. I wonder why she is with me, this rough and vulgar traveler from northern climates she has never known. We are distinct in every way. She is calm and collected, mature in her nature, formal in her demeanor, careful in her touch. Her familiar universe is here, and I feel that I have broken into her world in a splendorous burst of everything different.
Her eyes are the color of milk chocolate, and trap mine when we lock gazes. Perhaps we’re meeting in front of her apartment in Miraflores, or perhaps we’re eating on her lunch break in Chacaria. I arrive to some deep place when I peer into those lush-lashed orbs. Perhaps on a couch. Perhaps in a bed.
In the evenings we would eat whatever was in the house and in the mornings the same, unless I had what’s necessary to cook eggs in a basket. Her bed is a queen size monstrosity, the feather fluff of the comforter poking out from the orange fabric in places. Our time feels dense, and rarely does a day go by wherein I do not feel her hand in mine.
Now I know her sister. I know her brother as well, who decided to show up at her apartment as we were prepared to fall asleep, his first impression of me… apparently my bare feet bothered him more than anything else. This would be the first and last time I’d meet him.
Mayra had never smoked hookah. She doesn’t drink much. She didn’t smoke pot. But then, she met me, and was introduced to the house.
CHAPTER 10 – The House of No Ends
The House of No Ends, despite never ending, is always changing. Camilo finally returned from Brazil with 6 bottles of Brazilian cachaça, 100 hookah coals, mint and menthol arming tobacco, and a story about bedding an evangelist nutritionist hotty. The hookah, always on its dangerous tilt, unsteady in that moonshine bottle, was immediately armed, and we smoked heavily. Camilo regaled me with stories of Brazilian times. When he had finished, he wanted the low-down on my situation.
“So tell me about this girl, man.”
“Yea well, after you left, which was hilarious by the way, I was still tripping like a mad man when your parents got here—“
“Yea that was a stupid idea, but warranted.”
“Yes, anyway, the day before I left with Andres and Catalan to Ica, we went out to a club. I tell you man I’m never the guy to have the gusto to approach gals like we did, but we did. Andres and I danced with these girls, nothing happened, the night ended, and we came back here drunk as sailors.”
It felt good to be smoking again. I wouldn’t even mind an addiction.
I continued, “The next day, Andres found the girls on facebook, and I sent my girl a message. Then we left, saw Ica and Nazca. I came back here though, hoping for a response. Hung with Franco the days before he left, and eventually got a message from Mayra. I went out with her a few times, and now, well, the history’s in the making.”
“Ah haaaa, so you’re staying yea?”
We decided I could stay if I paid the gas, electric bill, and the hallucinogenic cactus San Pedro. I’d go off looking for a job as an English teacher, and I’d stay until the end of September.
“The end of September?”
“I need a limit,” I said.
“Man, that’s heartless.”
“Aw fuck you, it’s not heartless, we’ve already talked about it many times. And you think I’ll leave because I want to? It ain’t so black and white the thing.”
Camilo laughed, “man, Latinas man… it doesn’t matter how much you talk about that, you’re going to hurt her.”
The smoke rose to the ceiling in rings as I puffed them out of my mouth. I couldn’t be bothered to think about it then, but his words were like an anchor in my mind, and I knew he was right. The night disappeared like so many have before in this house. Camilo was back, I was here, and I was happy.
The house changed quickly. Out of the blue, Nicolai and Zulay, our young Colombian friends, showed up at the door once more. Zulay’s face lit up to see that I had apparently never left. “Gringitoooooo!!” I explained why I was there, and that yes, they’d get to meet her eventually.
On another day, Camilo was particularly keen on tidying up the house. “I love Colombian women,” he said to a smiling Zulay, “you know so well to clean.” Our sexist jokes bounce off of the good ones like steel on rubber. Camilo explained: “A Swedish girl is coming to look at the house, cause she needs a place to live. This means money for me. Don’t screw it up.”
Somehow Camilo was nowhere to be found when the Swedish girl showed up. Nicolai showed her around as I sat on my bed behind a sheet of black plastic I’d hung up on the second floor. Bad news from home had put me in a depression, but I managed to dry my face and introduce myself to the blinking blue-eyed Emma.
“Sweden huh?” I asked.
“Yes, Malmo.” She had a straight hair-cut and her thin lips seemed to suppress a smile.
“I’ve been to Malmo, it has nice bricks,” I informed her. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m writing a book.”
“Hey great, I write kind of. What’s the book about?”
“Street children who go into prostitution.”
So then we were three roommates, with guests Zulay and Nico. Emma took Franco’s old room, we left Camilo’s empty since he usually would fall asleep downstairs, and I was in the unfinished brick-walled room of the dirty floor and plastic sheet.
It took less than a day for Emma to get comfortable with us. Between hookah, cachaca and pisco, we managed to see the mellow Emma quite early in our relationship.
I stared at Camilo and her as they sat cuddling on the bed. “Emma,” I said, “You do know that you’re not leaving here without sleeping with Camilo, right?” She shot a look at Camilo, who looked right back at her.
“Kyle is right, you know.”
“Camilo my name’s Cale. I’ve been here for two months man.”
Although Emma denied the claim, we knew it would eventually take place. We got comfortable enough to poke and bother Emma, she defending with offensive punches to the arms. It’s a satisfactory situation.
The days came and went. My Colombian friends left eventually, but there were always more guests arriving, most of them having contacted us through my CS profile. I also helped Mayra to join the website, and now hers provides a forth profile that sends people to our house. Argentinians, Germans, Colombians, French, Mexicans, Americans. I could write about them all, but Camilo puts it best: “Some of the guests who come I’ll remember, but the rest are just extras in our movie.” They’re each important enough in their worlds, but ours is unrelenting.
The day came when Mayra was to come to the house. We were drinking a warm drink of panela water mixed with pisco, cloves, and cinnamon. It was not unlike France’s vin chaud.
I was worried Mayra would show up during one of the bizarre things that Camilo says, like that time I walked in when he was explaining to Emma, “the problem is not putting the finger in, the problem is pulling your finger out.” Or the time he said, “I fucked her so hard that I impregnated her and then aborted it at once.”
I came downstairs when I heard the knock on the door, just as Camilo was suggesting to Emma that “rape is unilateral sex.”
“Oye, hey, Mayra’s here. Be good.”
That night, Camilo sat down facing Mayra in a chair and drilled her on her life story. She laughed and awkwardly amused him. He had to approve the relationship as representative of the house. I watched from the side, letting him play out the fiasco. I watched Mayra as she kept looking at me for advice, and as Camilo kept righting her gaze back on him. I liked observing her; the curve of her nose, the pink of her lips, her voice, those blazing eyes.
She drank cachaca, and she tried the hookah smoke for the first time. “Me siento un poco mareada. I’m feelin a little high.” We shared a toke between us, our eyes closed and the smoke rising along our cheeks as we kissed.
The house continues to change. Camilo, a friend of his, and I returned to Polvos Azules in the center to buy some more pirated movies. I bought Spinal Tap. The humor seemed lost on the house’s occupants. “But, guys, he called the red thing in the olive a little guy! That’s funny!”
We would eat at the local comedor, that government restaurant built to offer a 3 sol alternative to expensive restaurants. The unpleasant metal clinking platters, the bright lights, the gross dessert glob of liquid like the drool of Jabba the Hut; all of these things turn me off. Otherwise we cook in-house. I make fried rice, potatoes, and pasta. The others make egg tortillas, fried chicken, or weird Swedish shit.
Drunken times happened. One night, Camilo’s friend came over with two girls he knew. One got so drunk that she was sexually molesting all of us, Camilo worst of all. At one point he was in one of the green plastic lawn chairs, and she was moaning as she threw her head back over his shoulder, scratching the back of his neck and pumping hard up and down on top of him. He was trying to have a conversation with the rest of us, and I was having trouble controlling my lungs, the laughter was so powerful.
Another day of drink came during the Peru-Venezuela soccer match during the Latin Cup. His friend Alain brought over a big Carlo Rossi bottle of coca leaves soaked in pisco. A potent drink, my mind went tipsy as we watched Peru demolish their a rival. Football is the Latin American’s second love, and although I despise watching the sport, I seal my lips for fear of splitting them.
CHAPTER 11 – The Economic Imperative
It is no secret that the house was filled with zombies. We would awake and roam around moaning from the morning, stepping lightly over the Argentinians on the floor. There are always Argentinians on the floor, and the days always started around the time they began to end.
“I need money, damnit,” I complained to Camilo.
“Get a job huevon. You make good money as a translator for rich tourists.”
“I don’t want to be an interpreter. Bullocks. Fuck, responsibility feels overbearing,” I retorted.
The social system and economic system coexist like brothers vying for attention. You’re more concerned about one of them over the other. You’ll always have a preference. That’s what makes you a goddamn commy or a capitalist fat cat.
The number of conversations in the house revolving around that ethereal “the system” is unknowable. Camilo’s words flow like carefully-tuned chords, trying to achieve the precise note. He might have a thick accent, but it’s remarkable how many words he knows. The debate would swing back and forth, falling into precipitous tangents before they’d return to the normal threshold of this is how it is or this is why it is.
After many hours of arguments between us, our dueling intellects exhausting our capacity to think, the final consensus didn’t quite resemble a contemplated possibility so much as a hypothetical scapegoat. The only way human systems are going to change is with an alien invasion.
I digress. The purpose of discussing the system is the fact that there was a need for money in the house. Money disappears when you’re not making it. It never just stays where it is. Now I was thinking about Mayra. Despite my years of education, from which the only real advice I took away was to lessen my impact on the physical world, the deep cultural psyche of a man with a women bubbled from within me like a welcome cancer. I wanted to spoil her silly. This meant finding work. I studied English teaching, I suppose that makes me a good English teaching candidate.
I floated my CV around a few places, namely the Britannico Institute and the North American Institute. Just looking at the buildings in which these two institutions are housed seems to invite a cultural critique. The Britannico is short, its blood maroon walls lined with navy blue trim. The North American Institute is a towering azul structure taking up an entire city block. Even the pay seems to mirror their respective countries. 16 to 18 sols per hour at the American school (6 bucks an hour), while the British one pays between 20 and 26.
There was a branch of the Britannico in a big square glass building at Bolichera, the name of the main intersection near the house. In front of it sat an iconic red telephone booth, while two giant crests displaying the Union Jack hung from the walls. The excitement these symbols invoked quickly dissipated when I learned that they weren’t hiring until September.
At the American Institute they wouldn’t reveal their methodology to me, and they said I needed a work visa before they could consider me. I used my charm to the best of my ability, but in this world bureaucratic rules are followed to a fault.
It would have to be for lower pay at a smaller institute where I’d find work as an English teacher. I don’t know why I studied English teaching; I’m so damn resistant to the idea. Maybe I should just get a job at a nearby restaurant and eat for free.
As I rued the idea I was surfing the internet for alternatives. That’s when I saw a relevant update from a friend. The Modern Nomad is up to the same shenanigans that I am, and it just so happened that at this very moment he’d posted something about freelancer.com. Freelance writing opportunities.
So it was that after 5 minutes I was registered and bidding on employer’s outsourced writing projects. It wasn’t long before I was writing copy for Search Engine Optimization and travel articles. The money began to flow slowly but surely, and suddenly I was capable of supporting my thirst for splendor.
CHAPTER 12 – Trapped in Our Minds
Part One: San Pedro
Recreation in the House of No Ends still involved a mixture of alcohol, hookah and the San Pedro Cactus. San Pedro translates into Saint Peter. The cactus is thusly named for Saint Peter’s renown in giving devotees the chance to experience heaven on earth.
The mescaline makes you see what you want to see. Perhaps that’s heaven. Perhaps not. Whatever is on your mind will dominate.
“This shit was the drug of choice for Jim Morrison,” said Camilo as he stirred the big pot of green cactus skin, a dizzying steam wafting up and thickening the air around us. “He took mescaline from peyote, but it’s pretty much the same deal.”
“Well, if I have anything to say about it, the stuff definitely gives you a new kind of insight,” I replied. “Maybe it’s not necessary to take, but it’s interesting.”
“Your understatements are stunning.”
After 12 hours of brewing the skin peel, it had settled into a thick green stew. The smell was choking us. Camilo had been right that each time you drink Pedro it gets more difficult; I gaged on the scent.
An Argentinian girl, Camilo and I drank our shares. Unfortunately for the girl, her night was over before it began; her body had completely rejected the mescaline. We, on the other hand, dealt with the ritual sickness that lasts for over an hour before the effects start to arrive.
The lights were out and the candles lit. I danced around the flame, acutely aware of the wax slipping down the side. Camilo had put the “Chief White Horse” CD on. He liked to joke that it was “Chief Dying Liver.”
Most of the night we spent sprawled on a mattress, the girl having long since retired from our ceremony. San Pedro puts you philosophical, and whatever was dominating your mind’s eye is going to manifest for you if you will it. I should like to call this particular trip my Mario Phase.
As Mario was still very much a part of my life, and especially since I’d recently completed the entire game in all three save slots (each up to level 96), it was clear that Mario was on my mind.
And so it was, that like an endless sea of nightmares, I saw level after level of Mario in my head. In front of my woken eyes I created impossible levels, wherein Mario entered from the top of the screen, and simply fell into lava. I cringed in depression and desperation, trying to picture Mario’s success. And as we listened then to Bach’s symphonies, I looked as the kitchen seemed to breath shadow, and from below the sink a figure of air appeared. It was Yoshi himself, smiling as ever. He even smiles as he falls into great abysses. He was smiling as he sank into the concrete floor of the house.
“Camilo, I’m tripping with Mario, man.”
“What? Oh, shit. Shit. Man. I just went into this music in my brain. This is intense. I can see the whole world. I see the systems and the structures. It’s like a giant piece of clockwork, everyone fits where they are, and there are explanations for it all, formulas and mathematical equations that describe every tendency down to its fundamental bareness—did you just say you’re tripping on Mario?”
“I’m hallucinating impossible Mario levels. It doesn’t make any sense. He can’t win, man.”
Camilo laughed, “Fucking Japanese. Hey man, what happens when Mario falls into those pits?”
“Nothingness. He falls and, he just falls. Mario World. That’s it. It’s a whole metaphor for this life, man.”
“A metaphor for life…”
“Dude Mario spends his time trying to get from one place to the other, chasing a princess, but everything is out to get him. Man, moles are bad, turtles are bad. There are spikes everywhere that’ll kill him. There are questions that he hits, but all he gets is some mushroom or flower” I said with disgust. “When he looks to the sky there are the clouds, but they’re occupied by a little evil guy who throws sharp creatures at him. His only respite is to leap over a high jump at the end. But then it just begins again!” As is customary in Pedro, I was speaking with a croaking voice, as was Camilo. It gives a sort of atmospheric authenticity to the things we brainstormed.
“That’s insightful. Japanese. Man, the Japanese are so structured. It’s very interesting that Mario came out of Japan.”
“Yes. The bow, what’s that about?” I asked.
“Man, they talk like they have some kind of blockage. HEIT!!”
“Maybe they’re constipated,” I suggested.
Camilo squirmed with excitement at the notion. “Man! That’s it! When the Japanese finally can’t take it anymore they commit suicide by relieving their bowels with a sword! Seppuku!” He motioned across his abdomen. We laughed for a few hours about that. Disclaimer: Japanese are not constipated.
Apart from the physical deformation of textures that you must endure, San Pedro allows you to see things from a vantage point that you had never before considered. Every little thing becomes interesting, and you can spend hours looking at something that would seem otherwise insignificant. You become quizzical. You become curious and ultra-aware. Things that come out of your mouth are both bizarre and yet in some way ground-breaking. All of these apparently revolutionary thoughts might appear stupid later on, but the speculative Pedro eye stays with you even after the effects have gone. You’ll forever see things from two points of view: a normal one and a Pedro one.
Part Two: Ayahuasca, again
Camilo had read my last post.
“What did you think?” I asked him sincerely.
“I liked it, but man, you can’t really talk about ayahuasca. It’s too hard.”
Of course, he was right. To explain the dimensions that DMT either takes you to or creates for you is impossible. I should be glad though, that I’d been aware of that fact, and had written that ayahuasca is a language. I still believe this, but after drinking ayahuasca a second time, I would like to expand on the idea.
Ayahuasca induces a state that serves as a language for communicating with yourself. Despite the fact that you are you, you are not fully you all the time. You have an instinctual attraction that normally is either turned off or dimmed to insignificance. The ayahuasca concoction opens channels in your brain that are normally closed, or stimulates regions that are normally unused. Like San Pedro, what you want to see, you will see… along with a few things you might not care to encounter. In the physical world everything is alive and observable. You consider things in new and interesting ways, and you find appreciation for even the most horrible existence.
I returned to Mama Theo at Tacna 216 in downtown Lima. It was the day Camilo and I bought the San Pedro for our other trip, and I’d picked up two dosages of ayahuasca as well. In fact, the bottle in which Mama Theo had kept her stash would be left with a half dose after my purchase, so she gave me the whole thing. I looked at Camilo in surprise.
Back at the house, I stared at the red-gold liquid. The inside of the bottle was completely caked in a dry maroon residue from when it had been full. It looked like a film of dried blood. I scraped all of the stuff into the remaining liquid and mixed it up. We decided that with the residue and the extra liquid, the bottle probably contained three whole dosages. That would mean a dose and a half for me, and a dose and a half for Mayra. In retrospect, I had no idea of the consequences of an additional half dose.
It was a Saturday evening when I climbed the winding stairs at Mayra’s apartment, the worn bottoms of my sandals squeaking on the polished granite steps. The building was constructed to be a luxury hotel, but never opened as one. The innards are stripped of wallpaper or carpeting, instead with a glossy red paint thrown over the concrete floors, and the walls covered in matte mustard yellow. The hallways often smell of lomo saltado or other sizzling meats.
I held her closely and told her not to worry. “Just remember that nothing is happening. When you’re not sure of something, just remind yourself that you’re in your apartment, and it’s going to pass.”
I had talked up my ayahuasca experience to Mayra to the point that she wanted to try it with me. Her short black hair bounced when she walked to the bed to empty her pockets onto the nightstand.
“I have you with me,” she said, sinking my chest some.
“You won’t want to be with me once we drink this,” I said motioning to the two glasses of brownish red juice that I’d just served. I glimpsed the reflection of the liquid in the glass.
“Yes I will…” she countered.
“Trust me Mayra, you’ll probably go into your own world. You’ll go inside your own mind and stay there for a while. I’ll do the same. Later, we’ll come back together.”
I brought over Franco and Camilo’s disc, called Cholo Soy, a collection of traditional Peruvian songs that are quite soothing. Mayra preferred to put in a disc of her own. It was electronic music.
We prepared a big pot of rice for when the 6 hours of effects were up. We were already hungry. Mayra turned up her pumping electronic tunes. When I said not so loud, she said it was Saturday and no one could complain.
The liquid smelled bitter as I brought it to my lips, the taste neutral but brutal. I gag slightly as I write this. Mayra drank it like anything else, suggesting it’s not that bad. But really, it just gets worse every time, like Pedro. I looked at the girl, her small fingers wrapped around the sparkling glass, wading red flowing between her lips, into her system. I really shouldn’t be drinking this, I thought, considering my bout just a few days previous with Mescalito.
Alas, the stuff was in, and we sat on the dirty white sofa next to the pounding stereo system. The electronic music. She asked me how long, I said 20 minutes.
When it came it came with such force that my eyes watered as I stared at the window curtains, which in their wisdom had decided to breathe shadow and fuse light. The whole room shrank like a disappearing scene in the back window shield of a car. It stretched out in an immense tube and I was an observer. Time was gone.
I heard shrieking, but then I corrected my ears to the sound of vomiting. The abysmal gag and scream of the body trying to jump outside of itself was coming from what in normal circumstances would be Mayra’s bathroom.
I was sitting with my head hidden in my hands. I remember trying to grasp hold of a thread in my mind. I was convinced that it was the last thread of reality; the last hold-on. I heard yelling “I want this out of me!” I swayed back and forth, or no, I sat as still as a rock, but wait I was standing, or laying down next to an old woman who whispered into my ear… her voice like the inescapable buzzing of a bee. I could not contemplate. It was like a dream, or a nightmare.
More vomiting and yelling from the closed bathroom door. I was able to muster what consciousness I had, enough to realize that this doesn’t feel right. It wasn’t right. My point of reference for what signified “right” was my previous ayahuasca trip, and I was far, far beyond that.
All of this time thinking these thoughts I assumed I was with open eyes. To my immediate surprise as I pulled my hands from my face, I realized that I had been in the darkness of closed eyes the whole time. I felt my beating heart. Like a drum roll.
I immediately salvaged my thread of reality and stood on wobbly feet. The room was moving; there were people, or presences, or my mind told me there were. I had to get to that door and check on Mayra. This task felt impossible. I had to do whatever I could, but I knew I could do nothing. At the bathroom door, after an epic journey across the room, I knocked.
“Mayra,” I managed.
She opened the door. “I.. where. I want it over.”
I knew that this was the worst thing to want. You can’t want to purge yourself of something that’s in. I held my hands to her chin and tried to focus on her eyes. She was a blur, and her entire person vibrated as I tried to summon words.
“No,” was the first thing that came out. “It will pass. Let it pass.”
She had destroyed her bed sheets at some point during the time between the first effects and her vomiting. I was completely lost, because I do not have a single memory of that happening.
Mayra went and lay face down in the bed. It looked like she had crossed through brimstone to get there. Every physical object in the room seemed tapered toward us in a sort of aggressive temptation.
Vomit painted the bathroom floor like spilled beef stew. Suddenly, projectile vomit shot forth from my deepest organs as I barely made the toilet. The voice of this purge sounded diabolical. Maniacal images and feelings tormented me as I allowed my body to call up what little there was inside. It was an experience of intensity so horrific it stung my senses. Evil. Hate. Anger. Pain. I saw it all in seemingly tangible form. The most terrible things in existence… and of all the emotions to feel toward them, I felt appreciation.
I proceeded to clean the floor, and to fall in love with the mop.
Back in the apartment, Mayra had shut off the stereo system. It is no small observation to note that the absence of her electronic music was like being relieved of some impossible weight. The room continued to mourn in its way, and I walked over to the sofa where Mayra had rolled herself up in the big orange comforter.
I chose my words carefully, and used a gentle tone. “Hello missy, can I join you?”
I lay down beside her and she looked into my eyes. The intensity had passed. I feared the worst from her, and prepared myself for her justified backlash at me for having let her drink this concoction.
“You know what?” she asked.
“Thank you,” she said, “thank you for sharing this with me.”
Ever since our trip on ayahuasca, we’ve discussed it many times. Mayra was glad to have taken it. She felt the same appreciation for the terrible parts as I had. I apologized for not changing the music, since it had been the heavy electronica that had made the journey through our mental labyrinths particularly violent. She suggested that it was her music, and that I had been important in her experience. She called me her chaman from then on.
I returned to the house and told Camilo about the intensity of this new trip. The extra half dose had completely stripped us of our reality, despite the fact that we had plenty of reference points to remind us that we were in the normal world. Camilo’s reaction was to promise that his next ayahuasca experience would be with two full doses.
“Man,” I said, “if I were to take any more of a dose, I’d become completely delusional.”
Part Three: Playing Shaman
The keys on the laptop Camilo had lent me felt good. I had the machine pressed up against some bricks at the end of my bed, because if the junked power connection severed, the computer would shut off. I enjoyed having this big ole laptop to write. I could spend hours doing it without feeling the pressure of spending a sol. Lying down hurt my back. I needed a desk.
Zac, a new guest in the house and a Wisconsin native, helped me build one. Zac also helped me to represent the Midwest in flying colors. We came up with gringotone, an English offshoot of the popular music reggaton, a genre known to make girls dance at 90 degree angles.
One day we watched X-Men and got to talking about the super powers of SeX-Men. Camilo and Zac then got into a conversation about sexual “bases”.
“I don’t understand the baseball reference. It’s such a shitty boring game anyway,” he said.
“Yea I get ya, I get ya, but it’s a great way to describe your sexual encounters,” offered Zac.
“So what, base one is kiss, base two—“
“Yea base two is like, anything touchy feely, and base three is oral.”
“I see where this is going, yes home run is sex. What’s a threesome?” he asked.
“Grand Slam,” Zac replied.
Camilo laughed, thinking to himself, “I had a French guest here, and he told me once he put his testicle into his girlfriend’s vagina… what the hell would that be.”
I butted in on the conversation, “foul ball!”
Camilo was usually around the house, but Emma would be gone most of the day interviewing prostitutes, or sex workers, as she liked to insist. One day, saying “sex worker” is also going to be offensive, somehow, and we’re going to have to start calling them unsure, unwilling and underappreciated bedders.
When Emma would come back nights, she and Camilo would cuddle and pinch and hit each other with uncomfortable force. We smoked a lot of hookah. There was also Mavi, a Mexican girl who had spent 4 hours on buses trying to find her way to the house. A hitchhiker and vagabondish traveler, she fit in with the house fabric well.
One day we all went to a Pisco fair in Santiago de Surco, a nearby district. The whole gang; Miguel and Alain, two of Camilo’s friends, Camilo, Mayra and I, Zac and Mavi. We wandered around pretending like we were interested in buying pisco, only to partake in the gestation.
Mayra would sleep at the house with me, behind our black plastic wall I had flung over the hammock. Every other night I’d be at her house, avoiding her brother or meeting her niece once or twice. We grew closer with each passing day.
One day, Andres showed up at the door. Venezuelan Andres, with whom I’d traveled all the way to Nazca, had triumphantly returned. Around the same time, tall, curly haired and dark-skinned English Joe had arrived. Those guys hit it off immediately.
And so it was that one afternoon, after having just come back from Miraflores, I found my two young friends laying innocently on the mattress. They looked up to me as I closed the door behind me. They had baby eyes. Or, they looked like baby eyes.
“You guys drank the Pedro, didn’t you?”
Alas, the night became a night of fun for the two Pedratics. I decided to make it my business that they saw a much cool shit as possible. Andres took to drawing trees all over the house.
“Man this tree is so amazing. It’s got the energy that’s just flowing.”
Despite his hippiscal remarks, Camilo would reassure us that young Andres was very much the Latino male. I tried to take the milk from him and burst out that I shouldn’t fuck with his art.
Mavi came back to the house and found us watching Andres pour milk onto the floor. She wasn’t surprised.
Andres decided it’d be a good idea to roam around the streets late at night. Already, he had been approached by robbers twice before in our neighborhood. Once, he made friends with them, and the other time, he was pickpocketed, but simply pickpocketed the guy back, who would never know that he’d been robbed of the things he had robbed by his own victim.
Andres showed up 20 minutes later with a giant mirror. A nice addition to the house.
We decided to take the hookah up into the bathroom, since I’d shown Joe the walls that had first awed me on my first Pedro trip, and he wouldn’t leave.
The scene was something hilarious. Joe sat on the toilet staring at the wall with my headlamp strapped around his noggin. Andres was drawing another tree on the wall, and I armed the hookah. They glared into the coal as its embers sparked.
Then I ran downstairs and grabbed the 99% alcohol and an egg. We proceeded to light the bathroom floor on fire, and to cook an egg thereupon. Andres serenated us with his classical guitar playing, and I tried my hand at it with my Alabama hick version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Otherwise, Joe’s ipod was filled with the perfect music for San Pedro; light, instrumental tunes. The sheer diversity of instrumentals that played throughout the night made it all the more shocking when, all of a sudden, “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” started to play.
The guys were Pedroed out, but I was only human at that point, so I crashed out. My first experience as a shaman was a success.
Part Four: Super San Pedro
As I tried to jimmy the computer into a position that allowed it to stay on, suddenly the adapter exploded with a loud BANG, and the burnt smell of fried battery juice wafted into my nose. Camilo didn’t seem surprised, and let me use his small netbook to write.
Every night came and went, just like it always does. The house seemed to be moving faster now, despite the same routines. Always conversations over hookah and beer. Always talk of sex. Always Camilo saying something bizarre.
“In the jungle the mighty jungle, Peruvians make cocaine,” he muttered.
“What are you reading?” I asked. He never went anywhere without his Nook.
“Ah ha, yes, this is important. It is called No More Mr. Nice Guy. It says the feminist movement is destroying men. We have to be proud of being men too.”
I read a few pages. “This is fucking ridiculous.”
“I know but it’s important. Me das esquina?”
“Ya, yo te doy esquina carnal.” We have a chicano blood brother connection now.
“You know, I think having to deal with an Arabic close-talker is worse than have to deal with Spanish one.” Sometimes we’d just say random things.
“I love the feeling of a restocked kitchen.”
“I’m going to name my hotel chain ‘Trust Me.’”
“Jews travel freely in Germany.”
Mavi and Zac disappeared, and we were left to ourselves. Andres began transcribing recordings that Emma had of her sex worker interviewees. We sat side by side at my table working hours on end. Andres would stop in the middle of the transcription and throw down his microphones.
“Man these girls are so fucked up, buey. Pinche cabrones.”
Camilo yelled up from downstairs, “Andres why are you talking Mexican all the time!?”
I could hear Joe giggling as he tried to beat Super Mario Bros. It was a strange mix in the house. Camilo would always cry out, “we need bitches!” I was quite happy where I was. I’d get my fill of the house, and then walk to Bolichera to jump the 24B to Miraflores, there to sleep warmly in the bed of my girl.
I ran into Joe and Andres on one of those walks to the intersection, and Andres shook my hand fiercely. “Oye, huevon, take these condoms.” He gave me two.
“Well thanks man, but you’re a poor bastard, here I only need one.” It was nighttime and he had on thick sunglasses, hiding his eyes, but he just stared at me from behind them.
“Dude. It’s tutti fruity.”
Days came and went quickly, then slowly. Then they passed by quickly again. It was always hard to tell what day it was. The House of No Ends seemed to merit the name more and more each week. I wrote every day, and every day I saw Mayra. One of those days, I told her to come to the house and watch us take San Pedro again.
“I saw in the news some interesting headlines. ‘Stoned Wallabies Make Crop Circles’ was big news from down under. And ‘Nature Doesn’t Understand Anything’ came out of the states.”
No one reacted to what I thought was pretty funny. Everyone was busy cutting the cactus. I picked one up and examined it.
“Yo Camilo, what’s this?”
“Oh, I thought why not try a different strain.”
I would later look up the cactus online. This particular strain of San Pedro was called Peruvian Torch Cactus. It was a long and slender stalk, as opposed to the other strain’s stumpy thickness. Andres and Joe were busy cutting it up. Camilo’s head was in Emma’s lap, and her laptop was on Camilo’s head.
After the juice had been stewed it was ready to drink. It was Andres, Alain, Camilo, Joe and I. Alain and Andres chugged the stuff. I peered into my cup at the green liquid. It looked and smelled the same as the normal Pedro… horrible. I sipped it, plugging my nose to keep the hellish smell from corrupting my gag reflex.
The hour and a half of sickness began to set in. I put on two jackets, sunglasses and went to sit on my bed in the dark listening to classical music. Eventually Camilo came upstairs.
“I threw up.”
Mayra arrived, and came upstairs as well. I asked her to wait with the others below as I battled against my sickness, feeling ashamed that she might see me puke. She descended and I ran to the toilet, letting all the brownish green guck stream into the bowl.
Downstairs I found everyone lounging in the dark. Several candles were lit, and we had some good Joe music playing. I went outside and sat on the curb. Mayra came to me and sat down to my right.
“What do you feel?”
“Well, nothing yet.”
“It’s like ayahuasca?”
“No our ayahuasca experience was way stronger than San Pedro.”
I stared at the building across the street. And then, as if a switch had been thrown in my perception, the whole damn building started melting and dancing around. The physical structure didn’t go anywhere; I wasn’t delusional, but it changed. The colors shifted and the lines of the building waved around. It looked like a fast-forward time lapse of the sun hitting the structure, only through a distorted lens.
“Whoooooaoa! This is nuts!”
I looked at Mayra and her face was going crazy too. Her hair was growing and shrinking. With normal Pedro you have to focus to hallucinate this strong. With this super pedro, everything of completely out of control.
Hunger struck like a train, and Mayra needed to help me as I walked to the store for some chips. Lays chips. This would prove to be the first bag of chips of many. We walked slowly, and I moved very deliberately. Back at the house I sat once more on the curb and Mayra went inside.
When I came to the door and peered in, the guys looked very confused. They were trying to talk with each other, but no one could keep a conversation going.
Mayra looked at me, “you know, you guys are very difficult to talk with right now.”
“I know, I think.”
“I’m going to go,” she said.
It was a good idea. We were all of us being very bizarre. Mayra left and I went into the house. Emma was annoying the guys by shaking the coins in her pocket. Then she slapped Camilo and looked at him sternly. Somehow, all of us felt the horrible vibes she was giving off. Camilo might be a rational person, but he agrees that we had some super perceptive powers, and we were very fragile. Emma was hurting us with her behavior.
Eventually she went to bed and we were left to ourselves. Andres disappeared out the door. Joe went up to Emma’s room and I went to sit on my bed. Not long passed before Camilo came upstairs. We had all the lights in the house on. The whole physical world was expanding and contracting. A small thread from the hammock stretched out to five times its length, shining blue against the reflection of the light. It was like a living arm of fabric.
It has come to my attention that I’m writing far too much. On this particular trip, I could write descriptively, but it seems more natural to write matter-of-factly about it. So, I will list the highlights of the trip:
- Alain threw up on himself. That was funny.
- We spent 2 hours trying to figure out how to light the hookah.
- Conversations were limited to 30 seconds, which had become our new attention span.
- Andres returned with stories of throwing up in front of crowds in the street.
- We poured all the flour onto the ground at the base of the candle. We gathered around it like children around a story. Andres sculpted a mini Machu Pichu as we all stared on.
- The flour’s movements were unpredictable.
- We made the adventurous decision to look into the mirror. Camilo remarked that whoever was in the mirror was not you. I made evil faces in the mirror, and I shit you not that I WAS Bilbo Baggins when he tries to take the ring from Frodo in Rivendell.
- We were each of us able to trip out on our internal organs. I felt my heart contracting.
- I had to sit to go the bathroom, unsure if I was awake.
- Andres and I drew some crazy pictures that flew from our heads, the lines of ink disappearing with each stroke.
- I had to re-teach myself how to eat food.
- We decided that our state was basically what it is to be crazy.
- We became ultra-aware. Camilo said he perceived me as an extremely success person, with great appreciation for my success. We all decided it was a good thing to be together in that moment.
- We watched an incredibly crazy anime film wherein humans clone angels in order to fight the angels that God had sent to destroy them. Evangelium. I became obsessed with the fact that there was a ‘no parking’ sign in the ultimate nuclear bunker. I also wrote on the wall, “how can you clone God but need to hold a phone?” That makes sense to me still, does it to you?
- Camilo stared at a map and saw the war with Paraguay unfold.
- We decided a history museum and Jackson Pollack paintings would be interesting in our state.
- We should have face paint and death metal.
- There was general agreement that shamans limit the experience to one typical journey.
- What about Lima?
- If we were in the forest, we would all be very confused.
- We all felt pretty damn stupid.
We were all sprawled out over my bed upstairs, the brick walls being the most interesting in the house. They simply melted and swirled together. We didn’t have to try, it just was. I suddenly got a brilliant idea, and ran downstairs.
“Guys!” I screamed.
They all freaked and came running downstairs to see if I was ok.
“No don’t worry, everything’s fine, I just, I just need you guys to see this and tell me I’m not imagining things.”
“Fuck Chael man you scared us man, we thought you were dying,” said Andres.
“No, no just watch me play Mario. Man, I can’t die.”
I had come downstairs and sat in front of the TV. I sat so close to the TV, that in my state, I was somehow able to pull the edges of the screen to the extremes of my peripherals. I was inside Mario World. And not just that, but also I was playing absolutely GODLY. I was not dying.
I proceeded to play one of the hardest levels in the game. The guys watched with dropped jaws, crying out when their jittery excitement was too much to bear. “Oye, huevon!” I let my fingers deal with the controller, and I was more of an observer. We watched together as Mario would jump on top on a moving shell, onto another moving shell, swing with his cape and crack absolutely every enemy in sight. Mario jumped and moved faster than we’d ever see him before. He got a Yoshi, jumped out in mid-air, slapped a few flying turtles and landed in the Yoshi on the other side of the screen, only to continue to gulp enemies and jump out to cape slap them. When all was said and done, I had beaten the hardest level in the game faster than ever before.
“HUEVON!” yelled the guys. Camilo said, “Chael, there’s surely some Japanese guy who just had a heart attack over there.”
It was an incredible end to the night. We slowly came down from the trip, and had long discussions about its potency. The dawn light shone through the blurred glass of the grated doorway to illuminate the disaster of the house. Flour and water were scattered all over the concrete floor, there were articles of clothing and pieces of this or that on the ground, and we ourselves were covered in floor and fatigue.
A few days later, Andres and Joe were gone, and the House of No Ends seemed to reset itself for another round of lunacy.
CHAPTER 13 – Merry Deaf
Mayra walked around her apartment in pink rubber Crocs. Her feet squeaked on the raised tile of the kitchen as she spun around between the pot of rice and the sink. There was no water. The water would shut off outside peak hours, and we’d be left dry. She had a barrel of water saved up in the bathroom, and we would scoop cups to heat in the electric kettle. I was reminded of my apartment in France, a small room on the sixth floor of a 16th century building overlooking the Palace of Justice. I also had an electric kettle.
We spent hours in the apartment. We spent days there. We did nothing but swing around listening to Beirut and Adele. Or we would simply stare at each other. From time to time we cooked, or I’d buy kebabs at the cleverly-named kebab spot “The Arab.” She had small hands.
“Yesterday Camilo, a friend and his girlfriend and I went to a rave downtown,” I told her.
“How was it?”
“Wasted. Camilo called me a good gringo because I kept buying the beer. Then I played wingman, to help the laying happen.”
I could tell that she didn’t like hearing that I’d talked to other girls. But my mouth wouldn’t be shut up by the cordial norms of modern relationships; I had nothing to hide from her, and I was hers.
Back at the house I unlocked the door and came upon a social scene of merriness that you only see once in a blue moon, or in the case of the House of No Ends, every day. Camilo, Alain and Miguel were there, Emma was there, as were 6 new guests who had found the house through my profile. One of these guests stood up with a big smile. This was Patrick Haley. From behind a big bushy beard he greeted me.
“It’s cool to finally meet you man,” he said. I link to Patrick’s travel website from my own. I contacted him ages before when I’d seen he’d posted a comment on couchsurfing about advice on a tent. He found my website and stayed in touch, eventually predicting that with my slow style he’d catch up to me. I had doubted it, but then I was sucked into the House.
We would talk about the road, about the precarious origins of inspiration, and about our mutual friend in the MN. He also regaled me with the wonders of passive income and technological mobility. As a vagabond carrying nothing of much value, I took the advice in stride.
I spoke with Patrick distractedly as Camilo started to yell at me to express his appreciation for having brought three of the guests in particular. There was a couple; a German girl and a Frenchman who was able to chant in that Tibetan croaky hoarse voice. And the other three, the cause of Camilo’s excitement, were Americans. They were deaf.
“Man, Chael, you’ve brought me the strangest CS experience yet. Look at this man, just look at this,” he said as he showed me that they were all communicating with his Nook, their iPhones and a few pads of paper.
The hookah stood in the middle of them, the air of the House a bit thick with the smell of cinnamon. Emma lay over Camilo as he sucked on a bottle of beer before passing it along. I got into a conversation with Selene, one of the deaf girls, about the cochlear implant and whether they’re for or against it; very much against it. They consider the implant, which allows for partial hearing, to be mutilation. They believe the deaf community should be in charge of a deaf child who is born to hearing parents. That’s another story altogether.
CHAPTER 14 – Old Friend
Patrick, the deaf, and our European couple were one day gone as quick as they’d come. I regretted not having more time to pick Patrick’s brain about his ideas for passive income. Freelancer would have to do. After creating a portfolio, I started to win jobs. I wrote short stories, I became the South America expert for a British travel website, I became a permanent contributor at another site, I wrote all the articles for a website about Chile, and I wrote many more pieces that are scattered throughout the web.
Mayra did not get to meet Patrick. But she would get to meet an old friend of mine. He would fly into Lima on August 23rd.
The bus to the airport crashed into a taxi on the way, and I had to jump another one. I stared out the window at the city lights flashing by. The driver swerved, apparently unaware that there were passengers in his vehicle. The Latin American bus systems are menacing, and at first glance quite confusing. I once wanted schedules, I wanted the routes displayed at marked stops, and I wanted bus numbers. Now, I see the merits of this chaos.
At the airport I stood around a gaping horseshoe crowd awaiting arrivals. Chauffeurs held signs that said “Carlos” or “Bill Davies.” I shoulda made a sign… My friend came out, hauling nothing more than a two small shoulder bags. I thought, damn, and I consider myself a light packer…
We embraced. “It’s been a long time,” I said.
That was Sammy’s call sign, the yup. He’s quiet, but has a deceivingly quick wit.
“Two years about,” I said.
“Bout that,” he said. “It’s really good to see you.” Sammy is a modest person who never overreacts. He has a humanistic authenticity that is rare in the modern world of plastic people. If he’s happy it’s a legitimate thing, and if he’s perturbed he does not feign it.
We reminisced about times we spent together in France, smoking hookah in my small room or drinking in our tiny town’s pubs. We talked about the time we saw the Great Mosque in Casablanca, and the time we drove through the rolling olive orchards of southern Spain. He caught me up on his last years at the university, and I spoke briefly about my travel down through California and Mexico.
We walked around town or sat around the house smoking, drinking and talking about everything. Camilo enjoyed Sammy’s company, and remarked to me, “man, he doesn’t say that much but what he does say is interesting.” It’s an especially good feeling when two friends who are strangers get along.
Yann, a young Frenchman who spent 3 weeks in the house, Sammy and I would take San Pedro. Like me, they had never before taken hallucinogens. Perfect. I decided it was best to go right for the hard stuff, the Super San Pedro.
Although they each lived their trips in their own ways, we shared in a few preparations that we’d made. The colorful paints we splashed over a large sheet of paper faded and glowed like an unsure electrical connection. We opened a bag of cheap cheese puffs and were horrified at our heightened abilities to detect their synthetic chemical composition. When Camilo guided us to the laundry in the afternoon, still under the effects, I became disgusted at the incredible dirtiness of Lima’s streets.
The dirt was not just clinging to every surface, but it was the air itself. The scream of car horns and aging buses seemed to give strength to the feeling of uncleanliness. Though I had never truly been fond of the city anyway, I realized then that I rather despised it.
We only ever seem to be able to skim the surface of our own minds. The reasons we choose to do things are sometimes not entirely clear to us, but we do them. Lima is a paradox for me, and an unlikely setting for the last three months of my life. But it will continue as the setting… at least, for one month more.
CHAPTER 15 – The End of The House
Sammy was asleep in one of the rooms, and Yann in Emma’s old room. Camilo was passed out, as always, on one of the downstairs mattresses. I woke early to pack my things.
Camilo was soon leaving for Holland, there to spend a year or two studying economics in university, working toward a doctorate. I had been lucky in sending just one e-mail to one hostel not three blocks from Mayra’s building smack dab in the center of Miraflores. They needed an assistant receptionist in exchange for a bed.
This would be the end of the House of No Ends for me.
For Mayra, the house was something that she had never experienced before. It was like that for a number of guests. Some embraced its minimalism. Others showed up, took one look, and disappeared forever back into the world of predictable and homogenous hotels.
The House challenged your ability to adapt. All types came through. If you had been accustomed to a singular way of life, then the House presented you with a radical epiphany that people are bizarre.
I tapped Camilo on the head. “Hey.”
“I’m leaving man. I’ll be back to say goodbye to Sammy in a day or two.”
Camilo looked up at me groggily. “Are you going to Pari—what is it?”
“Pariwana,” I told him.
“Yea, Pariwana, you going now?”
“Yea,huevon, but I’ll be back.”
“The house man, it’s ending. Man, Franco and I have been doing this for two years.”
“That’s ridiculous dude. But you gotta come hang at the hostel at least one night, it’s quite a trip,” I said.
“Yea man I’ll come I’ll come, it should be interesting. The cardboard cutout of a gringo experience—“
“Whatever man, it keeps me here for another month.”
“Ah, you still think you’re just going to leave at the end of September?”
I sighed, “Yea, man I aint ready for a steady something. I don’t want a family, I don’t want to stop, man. I talked about this with her before and—“
“—and it’s not just me falling in and falling out man. She’s..”
“You’re in love, huevon, you’re going to stay here,” he said.
“No. She’s important.”
I shouldered my pack and swung my umbrella to my side. When I closed the door behind me, I held onto the bars. They were cold to the touch. The glossy black metal paint was lightly coated in dirt, just like everything else in Lima. I peeled off a small flake of paint, and let it flutter to the ground. Then I left the House of No Ends.