Toads and Tikal

Apple takes out her beloved red delicious and sparks a flame. Inhaling slowly, letting the smoke dance through her lip rings, she pulls and pulls until it’s too much and exhales with a cough and a giggle as we pass the famous Kopak tree a a few meters inside Tikal.

The scarred face of Whistler perks up into a smile as he points far in to the canopy and yells “monkey!” He wails out a strange jingle from a small flute that dangles from his neck.

The monkey ignores. Apple laughs.

kopaktree

***

My thoughts keep circling back to the cryptic message she gave yesterday: “find an incandescent light bulb.”

It was in response to Suzie Anna telling her that “we’re trying to find weird shit to do.”

The directions were so simple. So direct, yet I knew it was for a purpose that ol’ Tommy Edison had no idea about.

***

The signs are everywhere.

They are bolted into metal rods that stab into their dirt below. It’s almost as if they’re trying to tell you something.

They depict strange animals — howler monkeys, stalking jaguars, and curled up snakes — and flank both sides of the road that lead into Tikal. It makes you wonder: “if a chicken crossing the road leads to terrible jokes and lazy parables, what happens when these crazy fuckers scurry across the pavement?”

Maybe we’ll never know…

For now, with an infamous light-bulb packed in a purse, two bags of fruit, a few liters of water, and far too much sunscreen, we brave the muggy exotica of Tikal. Impossible lianas twist and hang from tall trees and the jungle is, as Wallace Steven’s wrote, “thick with sides and jagged lops of green” yet still the sunlight dapples through. Spider and Howler monkeys scurry from tree to tree as white-nose coatis and leafcutter ants crawl from path to path.

 

Tikalpath

***

THE MAYA

Long before Chris Columbus or any notions of “Pre-Colombian”, the Maya were pluggin’ away to make this enormous jungle city with its sprawling limestone palaces. For 700 years (3rd – 10th centuries CE) this region was vital to military, economic, political, and religious power.

But, like the endless dead vegetation coating the ground, things fall apart. For Tikal it came around the close of the 10th century. Why did something like this happen? Some say economic mismanagement; some say resource depletion; some say aliens. The salient point is that it happened: this vibrant city falls into idle ruin (ruin, unfortunately, is never vibrant it seems).

It’s never quite forgotten, but it’s never quite the same.

tikalpyramid***

THE TOADS

Fast forward a thousand years and sweating tourists wander about trying to imagine what this place must have been like.

Who builds something like this?

What does the art mean? (or, better yet, what does art mean??)

Authors like Daniel Pinchbeck and John Major Jenkins have explored some of these questions and, among other things like the Calendar, highlighted the importance that psychedelics played within the culture. This isn’t unique to the Maya. Non-ordinary states of consciousness (whether induced through psychedelics or not) are so common in cultures strewn across the world that some view it as a basic human drive, similar to food and sex.

Apple points to a small clearing a few meters from a walking path that leads to one of these vast temples. “There seems good!”

florestoad

***

The Sonoran Desert Toad, or the Bufo Alvarius for the Latin-minded, hops around the norther deserts of Mexico and can be bought at pet shops in the States. It also produces a hallucinogenic milky-secretion when the parotid glands of its neck are stroked.

A trio of intriguing chemicals — 5MEODMT, 5MeoNMT, and Bufotenine — can be extracted and, when dried beneath the sun, smoked. No one knows how old this knowledge is, but the toad iconography in Olmec and Mayan art points towards an ancient origin.

Although cultures all over the world have been ritually using psycho-actives for thousands of years, knowledge of this and their proper use had been suppressed in the Western-Northern world until the 20th century. Around that time, a mild resurgence arose. It was quickly squelched by the late 60s — anything with that much power tends to be controlled by the power elite — and most rational discourse was thrown out the window. Before that dark age, when scientists and psychotherapists were exploring consciousness and the therapeutic potential of non-ordinary states of mind, a few simple rules were set down.

Number one: set

Number two: setting

So after peering at limestone temples and soaking in the jungle ambiance, we found a secluded clearing away from the roads (setting/physical environment) and started to breath deep (set/mental preparation). Seconds after exhaling, it feels like the jungle becomes one inter-webbed breath contacting and expanding in perfect synchronization. The boundaries between sky, cloud, and tree dissipate, blending into this one-dimensional unity. Off in the distance I hear people talking and the qualities of cadence and tone become emphasized; the physical act of speaking becomes just as important as the words themselves when conveying thoughts and emotions — this is how we detect lies and judge trust. The intensity falls into a more reflective period, followed by a euphoric afterglow lasting an hour.

Shortly after we sit atop a pyramid eating animal crackers, talking, and laughing. Laughing, mostly, at a woman in the corner who tries to communicate with a pack of howler monkey’s far off in the distance. As she meows like a timid cat, they bark out dinosaur tones that stretch for miles. For some reason she thinks that she was the causative factor here —- I guess humans want to be meaningful, maybe too much…

As dark clouds start pouring in to cover the ancient canopy we say goodbye to the restored temples and gallop down manicured paths just in time to catch the last shuttle out of Tikal.

tikalpyramidsfar