It started with one message I received on 3 May from my friend Bob.
I had met Bob and Clara, a devilishly dashing Danish couple, when I arrived in Bacalar, Mexico the previous week and during one of our conversations they had mentioned wanting to go to Palenque, about 300 miles (485 km) west of Bacalar, for the Mayan ruins and magic mushrooms.
I was totally on-board since I had been trying to figure out what route I wanted to take from Bacalar to get to Guatemala City and while I had heard good things about Belize I also heard it was expensive, and I didn't have much interest in going through another country to get to Guatemala.
I took a bus to Palenque a couple days later at the end of April and found a nice, quiet hostel close to the bus station. Bob and Clara arrived a day or two after me and found a hostel in the jungle, near the entrance to the park where the Mayan ruins are located.
While I had intended on going to the ruins and tracking down some mushrooms the hostel I stayed at was conducive to getting work done (quiet, good Wi-Fi, air conditioning, etc) so I got lost in my writing for a few days. In addition, when Bob and Clara arrived Bob told me the bus ride had been miserable and they got sick on the way over so they wanted to rest before doing anything.
I wrote, I worked out, I went for walks around town, and the days flew by. On my last day in Palenque, 3 May, it hit me that I hadn't done mushrooms or seen ruins, but feeling like I still had a lot of work to do on my Patreon page I simply accepted the idea I would leave Palenque having made the purpose of my visit business rather than pleasure.
And then around noon I received a message on Facebook from Bob, "We're in panchan now at jungle palace and magic mushrooms seems to be very available here."
Whatever I had convinced myself of when it came to getting work done went right out the window upon reading his message.
I replied, "Fuck yeah! I'm going to grab a bicycle and be right over. I should be there by 1:30."
While the both of them still weren't feeling great, Bob gave me a solid "maybe" on taking shrooms with me.
Pro-tip – If someone says maybe to drugs, it just means he or she needs a solid 10-15 minutes to finish convincing him- or herself it's a good idea.
I asked the receptionist at my hostel about taking a bicycle down to the Jungle Palace, the hostel Bob and Clara were staying at, and he said I was more than welcome to the bikes in the back.
Free bikes! Woohoo!
I walk out back to find two "bicycles." One had no brakes, and the other had a flat tire.
I guess I'm walking.
I threw my drawstring bag on my back, put my earbuds in, and pressed play.
As I reached the colectivo (8-12 seater vans used for public transportation) station and only had roughly 3 miles to go, I wanted to walk, but I also told Bob I'd be there in the amount of time it would have taken on a bike, so my overriding desire to follow through on my commitment pushed me into the colectivo station where an old Méxican pointed at the road when I asked him about getting to El Panchan (location of Jungle Palace).
In hindsight, the message the old Méxican was trying to convey to me was that colectivos pull over to the side of the road near the colectivo station to pick up passengers for the ruins, but hey a finger pointed at the road works, too.
Within a few minutes of waiting by the side of the road I'm in a crowded colectivo, and about 10 minutes after that I'm getting out and walking down a dirt road I think leads to the Jungle Palace. It's not exactly an organized commercial district as much as it is one winding dirt road with small paths leading to shacks and buildings, one of which being a restaurant that apparently serves some amazing food (the name is Don Muchos, check it out if you're in the area).
I stumble upon the Jungle Palace without realizing it because I didn't see any signs and as some old Méxican woman was yelling at me (I had my earbuds in so she had to just to get my attention) I heard someone call behind me (once I had taken my earbuds out to listen to the old woman trying to sell me tamales), "RICK!"
Clara had apparently noticed me walking by and was trying to get my attention, but had an equally difficult time as the Méxican tamale woman.
Note to self – stop wearing earbuds when trying to find something or someone.
I walk over and we hug, "Not feeling too great, huh?"
She responds with a bit of sadness in her voice, "No, Bob's feeling a lot better than I am though."
"What is it, exactly? Just a cold, or some kind of bug?"
"I think we just killed our bodies when we went kayaking for 20 km in Bacalar. We were both dead the next day, and then we had to ride the bus all the way over here, too."
"Ouch, well I'm glad you guys are recovering. Where is Bob anyway?"
"He's over there, trying to get some shrooms for you guys."
She brings me over to Bob talking to a couple guys out of some back room of a two-story shack in the jungle.
Bob has a much stronger grasp on Español than I do (but who doesn't (ok, maybe a few people) so I don't follow the entire exchange, but what Bob tells me is they're willing to sell "1 trip" worth of shrooms for 300 pesos. Bob feels it's too expensive and wants to ask around, but 20 minutes later we're walking back toward the same two guys without actually having looked around because fuck it, what's 300 pesos for drugs anyway, right?
I mean, technically it's $15.70 USD… but who's counting?
Technically you are… just now.
We put the shrooms in a plastic bag, exit via the dirt road, and set off west down the main road (highlighted in gold below) that leads into the Zona Arqueológica Palenque where the Mayan Ruins are, in an effort to find a little hiking path to shove the fungus in our mouths and chill out for a while.
Sidenote – Technically the ruins cover at least 10 square miles, but the site that is cleaned up for public access (Zona Arqueológica Palenque) is a fraction of that (see the image below).
If you look a the map you'll see a road and several buildings highlighted in gold. The road leads into the ruins and the highlighted buildings are the only buildings which have had the surrounding jungle beaten back into submission. All the other structures are covered in jungle.
Back to the moment…
We walk far enough that we must have passed whatever hiking path we were looking for because we eventually reach the entrance to the ruins, at which point we're told it's going to be 70 pesos to get in (if you look at the map above we are on the golden road just east of the two small streams to the right of the "Chiapas, Mexico" subtitle).
Well, fuck that, we just paid 300 pesos (each!) for drugs, another 32 pesos to get into the park itself, and now we're supposed to pay another 70 pesos to walk around some ruins while a bunch of tourists take pictures?
Eh, no thanks.
Note – In retrospect I find it endlessly amusing how quickly we backpackers get used to the currency of whatever region we're in. 70 pesos is not even $4 USD, and the jungle trek we're about to embark on got sketchy.
We decide it would be a better idea to walk along the road TO the ruins and find a path we can take through the jungle that might lead to the ruins themselves.
After about a hundred meters we spot a small opening in the dense jungle on the left side of the road, and based on the map of the area, should lead straight up-hill to the ruins (assuming the jungle naturally carves straight paths from man-made roads to man-made ruins).
The key, however, with this opening is the stream we noticed. Blindly wandering through jungle would be sketchy as fuck, especially since we don't know how far we're going. Wandering through jungle by tracking the source of a stream is still sketchy, but the assumption is the stream runs from the ruins (because humans tend to construct population centers around sources of running water for irrigation, sewage, and drinking).
We look at each other, look at the opening, and yell in unison,
There's a slight drop in elevation going from the road into the jungle opening so we have to climb down a gentle slope to reach the bank of the stream, after which the ground starts sloping back up since we are on the side of a mountain, or at least a big-ass hill. Once we're out of sight of the road (so no one can spot us) Bob makes an announcement.
"Alright, what you want to do, Rick? Eat all the shrooms now or eat them as we climb?"
With a surprised look on my face I look back at him, "Fuck, man, you want to do them now? We don't even know how long it's going to take to hike up this."
Bob can't contain the excitement in his voice when he says, "Yeah, man, I'm ready."
I relent, "Fuck it. Adventure time!"
Bob throws his fist in the air and yells, "ADVENTURE TIME!" He then takes the mushrooms out of his bag and starts dividing them up. Bob takes his half, I take mine.
"Alright, Rick, start our video blog."
"I'm going to be one with nature in this jungle." And with that, Bob takes his flip flops off.
"Good idea," I say as I take mine off as well.
The first leg of this jungle trek has us going uphill as we follow a series of small cascading ponds with water trickling from one pond into the one below it. During the rainy season all of these still pools of water are most likely pouring into one another, but in May the water is so calm it's like looking through puddles of glass.
As we climb upwards through the jungle the foliage gets thicker and trickier to maneuver through, occasionally forcing us to go around, but I keep reminding us to stick close to the water and try to get back to the water when obstacles force us away from it. We're not certain the water will lead us to the Mayan ruins, but it's a much safer bet than blindly wandering through the jungle.
About a half hour into the hike we start noticing an increased frequency in little wrappers and plastic bottles which we take as a good sign because where there's garbage there will be people, and if the amount of garbage is growing then we should be getting closer to a concentration of human beings.
Bob breaks the silence with another announcement about 45 minutes into our jungle trek. "Guys, I can feel it. The shrooms are kicking in."
After he mentions it I explore my own bodily sensations to see if something had slipped by while I was focused on not twisting an ankle or cutting the bottom of my feet open. "I can feel it, too. It's a subtle warmth in my stomach, radiating out to the rest of my body. It's so cool to think a once living organism is doing this."
"I know, man."
A few minutes go by and Bob chimes in, "I got visuals. Patterns. I see colors."
I laugh and then my laughter is quickly interrupted as my ears detect something nearby, "Guys! Do you hear that?"
Bob responds, "What? I don't hear anything…"
A smile stretches across my face. "People! I hear voices! Listen…"
The faint sound of two women having a conversation can be heard through the jungle, in the direction we're heading. I feel a great sense of relief because as much as I love drugs, I do NOT want to be wandering through the jungle when these shrooms hit hard.
Bob catches it, too, "Shit, you're right! People!"
"Fuck yeah, guys, we're close! We made it!"
As we finally clear the jungle we come out onto a dirt path. Conveniently there is no one in sight. Behind us on the dirt path there is a curve that goes slightly downward out of sight, and in front of us there is another curve that goes slightly upward out of sight. As we walk up the path we can hear more and more people, until we round the corner and are welcomed by the sight of the main entrance. We managed to come out of the jungle a mere 50 feet past the entrance with NO ONE to see us.
Talk about stupid drug luck.
I stop dead in my tracks, "Oh, fuck."
Bob and Clara turn to me with looks of fear on their faces, "What?!"
I look at both of them, "Guys…"
Clara sounds nervous when she asks, "What, Rick?"
I stand there silent for a moment before another huge smile stretches across my face, "The shrooms just kicked in HARD!"
They both laugh, though Bob is having trouble focusing on walking so his laughing is cut short as he tries not to fall down. "Guys, we need to find some place to sit down soon. I'm super happy though… fuuuuuck yeeeeaaah."
We manage to stumble onto a large open field of grass in front of one of the Mayan palace in the ruins just in time for Bob to fall onto his back and relax.
Well, he's able to relax until he has to vomit.
He stumbles away and returns a few minutes later. "Fuck, I always have to vomit after I eat mushrooms."
He lays back down and soon after I'm struck with a moment of inspiration, "Oh, fuck, guys. I need to write this while I feel it."
Bob is lying on his back with his head on Clara's lap. "Good luck, man."
I take my journal out of my bag and fumble through the pages to find an empty one. I stare at it for a minute and realize I don't have a pen. I fumble through my bag looking for a pen, and then I get distracted by another great idea. "Bob! Let's vlog this!"
"Good idea, man."
Bob takes out his phone and starts recording… upside down.
Clara closes the camera app and I find myself staring at the jungle-covered mountain behind the palace 100 feet in front of us. The mountain is just sitting there, massive, and covered in dense jungle. I can't help but wonder…
"Guys… this is like the perfect example of how we ended up here. How the Mayans ended up here. This is the perfect example of how Homo sapiens conquered the planet."
Bob looks at me, confused, "What do you mean?"
I take a second to organize my thoughts, quickly re-living the little journey which led us here. "We just trekked through that jungle to save ourselves 70 pesos, we're covered in dirt and sweat, perfectly comfortable on this grass in front of these awe-inspiring ruins, some of the most beautiful structures I've seen in… in… who knows how long. And yet I can't help but stare at that mountain behind the palace and wonder… what's on the other side? I feel this longing deep down to find out, to satiate some innate curiosity. THIS! THIS is how we ended up here! THIS is how humans ended up everywhere!"
Bob lights up as he finds the level I'm on, "Fuck, man! I know what you mean now that you say it. I want to know, too!"
"This planet is cool. You guys are fucking cool."
I settle back down and just stare at the magnificent ruins in front of us. I have too much energy to shut up right now. "Dude. I want to climb on those ruins. Do you think we're just allowed to go up whatever side we want?"
Bob responds as he lays in the grass, eyes closed, "Yeah, dude. I think you should."
"I think I should, too. I'm going ."
Even as the words leave my mouth my mind goes in another direction altogether and the desire to climb the ruins is replaced by an overwhelming euphoria and slight tingling sensation throughout my body – not tingly in an uncomfortable way, but in a "Oh shit, something's happening" kind of way. I pick up my journal again and attempt to record my thoughts in real time.
We're here. It feels awesome to be here.
Fuck. The words are moving.
"Guys! The words are moving!"
They both laugh, and Bob says, "See, that's why I said 'good luck, man.' As soon as you told me you were going to try and write I just thought, that sounds like a terrible idea."
I continue trying to write.
This feels amazing.
I can feel the words in my mind, moving around as I try to put them on paper. It's like I'm trying to catch them in my imagination. There are so many colors.
Fuck. The words are moving again. I can't write straight.
Focus, Rick! Stay in the lines.
It just feels so good. I wish I had the mental capacity to search for all the write words to describe this better.
Must keep writing.
I feel a glow. Not as in light, but as a physical sensation. Like the electrons in my body are emitting more photons than usual and the increased pressure from those photons is causing my body to be brighter, but once again not in the luminous sense of looking brighter, but FEELING brighter. Feeling more powerful. I feel stronger. I feel my potential.
I speak up, "You know what the crazy part is right now?"
Bob laughs and responds, "What, man?"
I go down another rabbit hole with my audible thoughts, "What we're feeling… our brains are doing this. The shrooms are simply allowing our brains to send out the necessary signals and chemicals to cause us to feel this way. In a sense if we had enough control over ourselves we would be capable of feeling this way without shrooms. Can you imagine just being able consciously flip a switch and feel this way whenever you wanted?"
The smile leaves Bob's face and all he can say is, "Fuck."
I look back at my journal and pick up my pen.
These words feel like they're melting onto the page. They don't look like they're melting. They FEEL like they are. This is a crucial distinction in imagining what I'm describing. The words themselves, as I write them, feel like they could slide off the paper, but appear as if the ink itself is firmly attached to the paper.
I need a break.
"Alright! I'm going to climb that pyramid thing!" I proclaim to the universe as I stand up and wipe the grass off my fluorescent board shorts.
Bob cheers me on, "Do it, man!"
I charge (though still walking, albeit at a slightly quicker than normal pace) toward the stairs of the palace. I reach the staircase and look toward the top, which now seems much taller than it did when I was laying in the grass 100 feet away.
Just to clarify – the individual stairs are tall. Think about scaling 3 normal stair steps at a time for each of these steps.
Still assuming I have permission to just walk up the stairs because I didn't actually ask and just figured it was ok based on the number of tourists walking around at the top of the structure, I start climbing up, but the strength of the shrooms immediately reminds me I should be taking my time to mount this bitch because my body is moving too fast for my focus to stay on track and I begin to wobble.
Luckily I catch myself before tumbling down 20 feet of steep-as-balls Mayan stairs. I climb the rest cautiously and once at the top I turn around to see a grand view of the surrounding landscape, and it is breathtaking.
For miles in every direction the only thing visible is jungle. Endless jungle rising over mountains and falling into valleys. To imagine that even where I'm standing, where this Mayan City once flourished, it was nothing but jungle at one point, is amazing, and what is beautiful is the fact that if no one was here to maintain these ruins, to keep the jungle at bay, the jungle would slowly but surely creep back in and overtake everything the same way it did to all the ruins surrounding this small area that has been cleared out for visitors.
Mother nature does not give a fuck about our architectural and engineering feats, and I mean that in the most awe-inspiring way.
We are constantly at war with the awesome power of this earth. The planet wants to achieve homeostasis. It wants to do things its way, to allow the power of biology and chemistry and geology and weather and plate tectonics to do their things, and over time, if left unchecked and met without resistance they absolutely will. This planet does not belong to humanity. We suppress the awesome force of nature as much as we can, but the planet does not do as we say, it only waits with patience until we get lazy or stop paying attention, and then it sends in tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, landslides, rockslides, avalanches, floods, fires, and unstoppable erosion.
Standing on top of that palace and looking around, it's so easy to feel like I'm on top of the world. I get why we want to build tall structures, to tower over the surrounding landscape, but I don't see anyone building a pyramid or a tower that dwarfs Everest (not yet, anyway). We have nothing on mother nature. Maybe we will be able to control the weather at some point, exert power over natural global forces, but that day is not today. Today I can wonder in awe at how fragile and insignificant we are compared to the colossus that is the planet beneath my feet.
I turn around and begin to wander around the palace atop the pyramid. There is a small courtyard up here, complete with grass, and a handful of smaller open air buildings enclosing the courtyard. It's a cool fucking thing to imagine this courtyard once being filled with people. People walking around, talking about their days, holding hands and falling in love, discussing business of the day, holding conversations about politics and how the disputes of the gods have impacted the harvests. There were so many fucking people here! And now I'm here… this blink of an eye I call my life just happened to bring me to this place.
As I'm wandering around the top of the pyramid in my board shorts and dirty-ass bare feet Clara and Bob make their way up as well and after walking, running, and sneaking around for a while, probably confusing the fuck out of all the properly dressed tourists, we grab a seat on the side of the pyramid opposite the north side where we climbed up, which faces the jungle-covered hill I pointed at earlier when I said I wanted to know what was on the other side.
I break the silence, "It's so crazy to think people lived here."
Bob agrees, "So crazy, man. They lived their whole lives here."
"They loved. They cried. They killed. They laughed…"
In front of us, all the way down the stairs on the south side of the palace, is a massive tree with a path looping around it, and a ton of locals hocking random souvenirs to passing tourists.
That tree though. To think about how long that tree must have been there.
While I'm looking at the tree Clara builds a pyramid on Bob's head.
We spent the rest of the afternoon climbing around the pyramid and laying in the grass by our stuff before being approached by one of the security guards, who after a series of miscommunications we realized he was telling us the park was closed.
We gathered up our stuff and while Clara was ready to leave, Bob and I looked at each other for a moment before experiencing the same though…
Clara took the backpack and I threw my drawstring bag onto my back. Bob and I headed toward the the path on the south side of the pyramid we were climbing on earlier and found an ancient staircase that was roped off with a "No Traspasar" sign.
"What do you think, Rick?"
"Where do you think it goes?"
"I don't know… one set of stairs goes behind this big ass temple next to us, but the other just goes back into the jungle."
"Well… what's the worst thing that'll happen to us?"
We think about it for a minute, and come to same conclusion. The park is already closing, and if we get caught trespassing they're just going to kick us out of a park we're already supposed to be leaving.
"Adventure time!" We exclaim in unison as we climb over the chain suspending the sign across the staircase, hoping that all the locals around the tree below us aren't watching, or at least we hope they don't care.
As we walk back into the jungle I can't help but laugh as I quicken my pace, "This is literally the worst time for me to be wearing fluorescent yellow board shorts."
Bob laughs, and soon we disappear from sight of the vendors.
And as soon as we are out of sight the amount of light coming into the jungle around us decreases significantly. We walk for a couple minutes and come upon a tiny stone structure that looks like it might be a small shrine of some sort. Nature calls so I take a glorious piss off the walkway and listen to the stream hit all the leaves and grass on its way down the hill. Everything I do just feels amazing. I could roll around in a pile of horse shit right now and be perfectly content with the universe, let alone relieving myself in the middle of Mayan jungle in a closed off area of the ruins.
After we relish our rebelliousness for a few minutes we head back to the main area, climb back over the chain, and make our way down the stairs. As we exit the park we see Clara sitting off to the left, patiently waiting for her two high time traveling adventurers.
The exit/entrance to the ruins is a large cul-de-sac where buses and colectivos drop off and pick up visitors and locals alike, and in typical tourist fashion there are a ton of local vendors around the cul-de-sac selling everything from Mayan art and souvenirs, beverages, and… FOOD!
I notice one of the vendors next to where we are sitting is selling young coconuts (so they're green). After all that running around and climbing nothing on earth sounds so refreshing as fresh coconut water. As I get to the table I also notice the woman running the spot has some bananas for sale, so I pick up a few bananas while the guy next to her cuts open the coconut for me. I take the coconut and bananas back over to Bob and Clara and we share in the glory of what tastes like the best meal I've ever had. The cold sweetness of the coconut water right out of the coconut and the sweet meaty pulp of the banana.
There wasn't a single thing I would change about that moment.
We hung around for a little while longer before jumping in a colectivo with a bunch of locals and hop out a few minutes later when we reach the dirt road I first arrived at several hours ago. Bob and Clara start walking down the road toward the Jungle Palace, but after taking a few steps something slows me down to a stop. I look around: up the road where the colectivo just took off, watching Bob and Clara laughing as they walk down the road, and then up. I look up at the sky, close my eyes, and I make my decision as I take a big deep breath.
"Guys!" I call out.
Bob and Clara turn around.
"I'm going to walk back to my hostel."
I smile, "Yeah. I think it's time, and I want to walk back."
We hug goodbye, I put my earbuds in, and I set off down the road with the biggest smile on my face, an overflowing heart, and an invincible pep in my step that soon turned into me dancing all 3 miles back to my hostel.
Have you done shrooms before? Was it a positive or negative experience? What did you learn from? Did it change your perspective on anything? Comment below and tell me about it!
- MÉRIDA – THE ADVENTURE BEGINS IN MEXICO
- REFLECTIONS ON MY TIME IN TULUM
- LIFE, LIBERTY, AND THE PURSUIT OF A DREAM
- THE COST OF WALKING AWAY FROM LIFE
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