Navarro the Mayan Healer passed me a cup of boiling mushroom tea. He had been boiling the tea for about twenty minutes. He told me that this was necessary for the tea to have its full effects. A few shriveled-up white mushrooms sat atop the hot tea like croutons in soup. I let the tea cool for a moment.
“Where do the mushrooms grow,” I ask?
“Everywhere,” he says with a smile. “This is the mushroom village.”
I drink a sip of the hot tea, expecting the taste to be less than pleasant. I have tasted hallucinogenic mushrooms in many parts of the world and they have an awful taste in common, of course they also share the ability to break one through the doors of perception. This time, however, they taste good. Well the tea at least tasted good and the mushrooms were in the tea.
Prior to the team, my body had been cleansed with a traditional Mayan sauna using various local herbs and medicines to smoke out the impurities in my body. I had sat with my companion in a tiny dark igloo with burning hot rocks pushed together in the middle, and a bucket filled with cleansing tea which was splashed periodically on the fire to create smoke, and heat and sweat.
Now, I was about to have my soul cleansed with mushrooms. The Mayan peoples had used mushrooms to touch God, to connect with the source. People have used drugs of all kinds since the dawn of humanity in order to relax, to find energy, to socialise and interact with our fellow Man, to create, to connect, to feel love or a sense of solace with life and death and God. It strikes me that drug-taking is as much a part of the human condition as sex, food or shelter, and has had as much impact on our development as fire. The prohibition of drugs is a recent thing, which overlooks the intertwined history of drugs and humanity. At least to Navarro the Mayan Healer, this is just part of existence.
“Are the mushrooms all edible around here?” I ask.
“No, there are poisonous ones as well. My Grandmother taught me what to look for. I lived with her in the jungle and she taught me the Mayan way. She’d slap me if I got the herbs mixed up. I learnt soon enough.” Navarro replied. “I wouldn’t go picking them without knowing. That would be dangerous. And you could end up dead if you ate the wrong one.”
“How many people must have died so we can tell which mushrooms are edible and which ones are not?” I respond. He nods. “Plenty of people must have got high trying,” I add, laughing.
It makes me wonder about all those people that had taken risks and eaten something they had stumbled upon, unaware of what it was, but happy to try it and find out if it was safe and edible for the future. That collective knowledge passed on through time so we now know what we can eat and what we can’t. Men and women must have died across the world trying mushrooms and berries and fish. From that we, as a species, learnt which fruit can be eaten and which not, which berries to pick and which to leave alone, which fish to catch and cook, and which to throw back to the ocean. This is even more evident for the mushrooms, with possibly the most potent capacity of all. Some types of this powerful fungus provide an incredible food with a delicate almost meaty taste that has no semblance of flavour that can be found in any other food. Other types cause people to get high and hallucinate, see incredible colours, create stories, and reach out beyond the senses. And finally other types of mushrooms can kill. I read an article once about some poor boys ending up in hospital after buying some poisonous mushrooms at a supermarket. The poisonous mushrooms had been mixed in with some harmless edible ones, and had looked the same to the untrained eye. The boys had nearly died.
“There are some mushrooms that block up the throat and stop you breathing in minutes,” Navarro says after some time, as if he knew what I was thinking.
I drink my tea, swallowing a few of the mushrooms cautiously. I consider for a second that these may be those very same mushrooms… but then I trust in Navarro and his Mayan Grandmother. Sometimes you just have to trust, and let fate decide. They are okay. My throat doesn’t swell up and I gulp down some more of the tea with greedy anticipation of the time to come.
“There are others that kill you over a week,” he says solemnly. I suddenly feel slightly agitated once more.
“Yes, they destroy the liver, I have heard,” my companion adds. “Or maybe it’s the kidneys.”
What an amazing plan – Growing in the dung and the wet dirt at the bottom of any garden patch; small and hardly visible without a keen eye to spot their dome-like heads… deadly, brilliant, tasty little fungi.
My tea is almost finished. At the bottom of the brown earthen mug are a few scraggily-looking mushrooms. I grasp at them with my fingers and throw them into my mouth. I hope these last ones are fine. What a tragedy if one is poisonous and I don’t even get to enjoy this last magical mushroom experience in the beautiful mountains of San Jose. They are squishy to taste, but not so bad. I have had worse. I wash them down with water. According to Navarro, it will only be twenty minutes before the effects take hold. I better get to a safe place, find a garden somewhere to relax and watch the local humming birds buzz around the trees.
“Banana will help if it gets too much,” Navarro says before we leave. “The potassium reverses the effect of the mushroom, levels things out.”
That’s always nice to know. The planet has provided mushrooms to take you away from it all and see the creation for what it truly is, and then there are bananas to bring you back to the practical reality where we reside. I’m just glad that someone many thousands of years ago found the banana and was willing to take a risk in eating it; to die trying if necessary.
All humans have a great debt to those that have gone before, especially the ones that died eating the wrong berry or fish or mushroom – poor souls. At least their deaths were not in vain, and the species was better off for it. They are true heroes to humanity. We should have a day to celebrate their contribution – For the heroes that died so we may eat so many lovely foods and so we may even have a mushroom trip on occasions.