For part one of In the Eye of the Beholder
I woke up in our tent wearing nothing but my underwear. A villager told me that I got out of the tent at night and ran around the jungle in a stupor until other villagers caught up with me as I was standing on an edge of a cliff gazing into the muddy water below. When I spoke to Alex, he had terrifying news. He died that night and was now a ghost. He demonstrated to me how his hands went right through various small objects but his theory was busted when he tried to grab a backpack and was able to hold on to it. Overall, I thought I felt fine, just a bit dizzy, but in a I noticed something was wrong. Something happened to my vision.
In the distance, everything looked fine, clear and sharp, but close up everything was so blurry. I could not even read my digital watch. Was I the only one? I got dressed and came out of the tent. Sitting outside were Henny and Laura (two fellow travelers from the night before). Henny looked terrible. Her eyes were half open, and when she looked up, she had the expression of a confused child. Sitting on a log, her feet were apart but knees together. Her hands were clenched together, as if she was praying, and her head was deep into her shoulders. It was far from cold, but she looked like she was freezing. Laura was nearby. She didn’t look cold, just out. She stood a bit awkwardly, somewhat resembling a scarecrow with a plain smile on her face. She didn’t look happy, just dumb.
“Wonder how we look to them,” I thought to myself. Not much better I suppose. “How is your vision,” I asked. “I and Alex can’t see objects that are close by clearly.”
“Same thing here,” one of the girls answered. I don’t even remember which one. “Did you not hear the talk the guide gave us all after we drank?” I remembered no such thing. “After we drank”, the girls explained, “the guide told us that the effects should last no longer then forty-eight hours, and that it will temporarily affect our vision.” Clearly, something got lost in the translation.
I skipped breakfast. I just couldn’t figure out how to peel the boiled eggs I was served. The rest of the day went by like a big dark sluggish cloud. I tried to talk about it, but nobody remembered what happened. The only person, who could fill in the blanks in English, was Natalie, and she was extremely mad with us for going though with the whole thing in the first place. Eventually, I was able to get out of her that it was her who helped us into our tents. She said that going down the stairs I uncharacteristically refused any help and walked down without holding on to anything, ignoring my fear of steep steps. Henny, however was in such a deep trance, she could not move even though she was half awake. The guide and Natalie had to move her legs for her.
The rest of the ride in the boat was in a sort of awkward silence. People were either staring somewhere undefined or sleeping. I felt tired and weak, and went to sleep. Alex helped me open a few sleeping mats on the bottom of the boat, and as soon as I laid down I went out like a light. Here, I also draw somewhat of a blank. I remember vaguely that Alex kept putting a wet bandana on my forehead, trying to feed me some pill, and was asking me about where the thermometer was. I also remember he slapped my cheek once, not hard, just as you would to wake someone up, and I, apparently insulted by the gesture, tried to hit back missing him by a mile. I woke up several hours later convinced I slept for no more than a few minutes. Deciding that sleeping was a lost cause, I devoted myself to the second most popular task on the boat, staring at the sky. I don’t know how long I spent doing it, but when I was done it was already evening.
The river was shallow and Don Pepe thought I could use some cooling down so he sent me for a swim. I began to remember something, but it all seemed so distant and vague it felt like a dream. For a second, I remembered the day: the beet salad and maybe changing into my bathing suit, but it seemed to have happened weeks ago. Even though dinner sounded like a good idea, I ended up not eating again. I felt hungry and sick all at the same time. Instead, I drank water and tea. I felt like nothing but air should enter my body for a while. I wished the day to be over and it was ending slowly in one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen. I bet its beauty could partially be attributed to my condition, but I finally felt somewhat at peace.
Looking back, I only wish I found any of this fun or funny. Simply said – it wasn’t. Frightening to even think how this whole “spiritual experience” could have gone terribly and irreversibly wrong.