Cactus of San Pedro ? Don’t Try This at Home! (1 of 5)
When I woke up, no external sign – be it patchy clouds, a pleasant sunshine or a bird singing on the roof of my adobe house – could betray a most unusual day. Everything that was about to happen that Thursday bore absolutely no resemblance to the rest of my stay in the village of Vilcabamba, Ecuador.
Initially, I had been determined to leave for Piura, Peru but waking up I was surprised to see Alicia Falco in the kitchen. She came to clean up the house. I took the opportunity to pay her for lodging while she questioned me about my sojourn in her cabin. Putting me so unexpectedly in the spotlight, she made me feel bad for having seen so little of the surroundings. “You ought to stay for at least another day, you know,” she told me with a tinge of reproach. In retrospect, I am certain that if it hadn’t been for her I would have undoubtedly left in the matter of one hour.
Another day in Vilcabamba. I had my usual breakfast on the front porch while reading Dostoyevsky. When Lara finally woke up, we had one of those friendly conversations that first-time roommates entertain. “I thought I would leave today,” I said, “but when I spoke with Alicia Falco I began to feel sorry for splitting so early. I think I will hang around for one more day.”
Lara did not respond right away. She paused to think for a moment. “Does Cactus of San Pedro sound familiar to you?” she asked me casually (although later she told me she was quite apprehensive about that one fateful question). “Sure. As a matter of fact, I would like to try it. Seems like today is my last chance,” I replied.
I had nothing to lose in her eyes. As I saw it, she was on the same wavelength with me. I recalled my early attempts to get a hold of the cactus in Banos, south of Ambato in Ecuador. I was hanging out with an English guy, named Paul, when we stumbled upon a plant shop.
“Do you sell Cactus of San Pedro by any chance?” I asked the owner, knowing well that I was making a fool out of myself. He kept a stone face as if questioning my existence. Then I made my last, desperate and comical endeavor to ground myself even further. “Could you describe at least how the plant looks? Le estaria agradecido, Senor.” Well, he told me to get out, lest he call the police.
In the Hills after Pedro
Lara was as eager to taste the cactus as I was. In our mission to find the plant we relied on Lara’s information acquired in Quito. It was a detailed description of the plant’s shape, characteristics, and preparation procedures. The script was almost like a recipe, containing detailed drawings of the cactus from various angles as well as proportions in relation to the number of the people involved in the ritual.
We were aware of the secrecy surrounding our mission. The Cactus was a protected species. In the resent past, Vilcabamba was a haven for a handful of irresponsible travelers who consumed drugs openly (whether they consumed the cactus was unknown to me). There were even some cases in which the local police caught such individuals red-handed as they climbed the trees butt-naked, ‘tripping’ on God knows what! I heard a story about a nude backpacker who, chased by the police, fell off the palm tree, breaking his leg. He was said to have experienced visions through Cactus of San Pedro. It was then no surprise that the police were tough on travelers in the area.
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