The Toad and Tikal

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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 and pulls until she can pull no more. With a cough and a giggle she exhales as we pass the famous Kapok tree a few meters inside Tikal.

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

The monkey ignores. Apple laughs.

***

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 part of me knew it was for a purpose that ol’ Tommy Edison knew nothing about.

***

The signs are everywhere.

They are bolted into metal rods that stab into the dirt below. It’s like they’re trying to tell you something.

They depict strange animals — howler monkeys, stalking jaguars, and coiled 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?”

Hmmm…

With the infamous incandescent, 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 Kopak trees while enormous palms stretch like yogis reaching for the distant sky. Sunlight dapples through. Spider and Howler monkeys scurry from tree to tree as white-nose coatis and leafcutter ants crawl from path to path.

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THE MAYA

Long before Chris Columbus or any notion of being “Pre-Columbian”, the Maya were pluggin’ away day-after-day to make this enormous jungle city. Its sprawling limestone palaces helped make this region vital to military, economic, political, and religious power for nearly 700 years (3rd – 10th century CE).

But, like the dead vegetation coating the ground, things fall apart.

Tikal fell near the close of the 10th century. Some say economic mismanagement; some resource depletion; still others – aliens. The salient point is that it happened: a vibrant city decomposed into idle ruin.

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

THE TOADS

Fast forward a thousand years: 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, in exploring some of the questions,  have brought out the importance of psycho-actives in the Mayan culture.

It isn’t unique to the Maya though. Non-ordinary states of consciousness (induced through psycho-actives or not) are so common in cultures strewn across the world that some view it as a basic human drive, akin to food and sex.

“Over there” points Apple.

We sit in a small clearing a few meters from a walking path that leads to one of these vast temples. Apple pulls out a bag.

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STROKE AND SMOKE

The Sonoran Desert Toad — or the Bufo Alvarius for the Latin-minded (aka anachronistic pricks) — lives in the deserts of northern Mexico.

A hallucinogenic milky-secretion spills out of the parotid glands when its neck is stroked. The secretion has a trio of intriguing chemicals — 5MEODMT, 5MeoNMT, and Bufotenine — that, once dried beneath the sun, can be smoked.

No one’s sure how old the knowledge is (except the toads perhaps, but they’re not ones to snitch), but judging from Olmec and Mayan art, it seems to be quite old.

Apple pulls out the infamous incandescent and sprinkles some powder inside. I pull and pull and pull until I can pull no more.

As I exhale, the jungle morphs into one inter-webbed breath that contracts and expands in perfect unity. The spatial boundaries between sky, cloud, and tree dissipate.

Off in the distance people speak and the words themselves become irrelevant — it’s the cadence, the rhythm of the spoken sounds that matter. Emotion and meaning is carried through them. The Intensity rises, crests, and then falls into the background as a euphoric afterglow trails me to the next destination.

High up on the Temple IV, Suzie Anna and I eat animal crackers while cackling at the absurdity of 10-minutes-ago. Far away, howler monkeys roar out a tremendous tremolo that dances across the canopy into the ears of a woman who sits below us. She, for some unknown reason, tries to roar back.

“I think this cracker’s a toad.” I say while munching its head.

Once the dark clouds start to pour in, the four of us say goodbye to the restored temple and gallop down manicured paths just in time to catch the last shuttle out of Tikal.

 

This is a revised version of an older post.