Looking for the ultimate psychedelic experience, William Burroughs embarked on an adventurous trip searching for Ayahuasca in the Amazon Jungle

Looking for the ultimate psychedelic experience, William Burroughs embarked on an adventurous trip searching for Ayahuasca in the Amazon Jungle

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William Burroughs is one of the most influential and important figures in the cultural history of drug consumption. In his days in downtown New York, he experimented with everything he had at hand. In fact, he was the master that initiated other members of the dawning Beat Generation. It is at this time time in his life he developed a heroin habit that he maintained till the day he died.

In Texas he had a marihuana plantation and then in México City he continued with his heroin addiction plus alcohol. It is in this place when in 1951, the event that changed his life and encouraged him to write happened; he accidentally murdered his wife Joan. In a stupid William Tell game, Joan puts a glass over herhead, Bill points at it but shoots her in the temple.

After the emotional and burocratic onrush, Burroughs decides to go in search of what he thinks is the “final fix”, the most powerful substance on earth: the mythic Ayahuasca from the Amazonas. The only thing he knew about it came from an article in True magazine. At the time it was a virtually unknown plant for the western world.

When Joan was still alive, William had pursued a failed trip to the Ecuadorian jungle with his lover Eugene Allerton (name changed in his biography). So this time, he was decided to try the magic plant. In January 1953 Burroughs arrived to Bogotá, a city where he felt the dead weight of Spain, somber and oppressive. Looking for knowledge he went to the University where he encountered the botanic Richard Evans Schultes, a fellow American, Harvard graduate as Bill, and world expert in psychoactive plants.

He explained to Burroughs that more than 100 species of banipsteriose, the vine from were Ayahuasca is prepared, grow wild in the Amazon Jungle. This beverage is prepared from the bark from the stems, which are pounded, boiled, and sometimes mixed with other plants and induces a hallucinogen effect. He also tells him that it is a sacred plant among the Indigenous peoples and that it has been used by them since millennia to connect with the spirit world.

With the gathered information, Burroughs begins his search going down the Putumayo River. In Puerto Limón, he came upon an old man that prepared him a cold infusion of the plant in exchange of aguardiente. With this method, he just experimented dreams in vivid colors, imagining a composite city, part Lima, part Mexico City, part New York

Further south in Puerto Assis, limiting the Peruvian boarder he encountered the Policia Nacional. It was a time of conflict with Peru and they asked for his papers, were they found a mistake in his visa and bound him to wait a response from Mocoa in that town. After a long delay that included coming down with malaria, he was forced to go back to Bogotá to obtain a new visa. He felt like in a lunatic board game where if you landed on the wrong square you had to go back to your starting point. But because of this he was able to attach himself to the Cocoa Commission expedition, travelling with a bit more comfort.

 

El vomitador por Allen Ginsberg

This time in Mocoa he tried the real thing: inside a hut, a medicine-man bended towards a bowl crooning to whisk away the evil spirits. He then handed Burroughs his portion of the oily phosphorescent and bitter beverage. Two minutes later his head was spinning, and flashes of color appeared in front of his eyes. Desperate he tried to stand up, just to discover he could barely walk so in panic he downed some Nembutals and felled a bit better.

But the delirium was not over yet, he felt like in a Van Gogh painting. He then experimented convulsions of lust, an incontrollable desire which knew no gender. He pondered that the effect made you lose all respectability and wondered how it would change society if every complacent middle-class American could take it. He then realized that maybe the first feelings were like vertigo in a space-time travel described by H. G Wells in The Time Machine. The hallucinations lasted about 4 hours.

In May, he decided to leave the expedition and head to Lima. He stayed for a month lodging near Mercado Mayorista, enjoying the cheap sex given by Peruvian boys. By mid-June he was again in the jungle, this time in Pucallpa. In this area, native to the Shipibo Indians, the vine is mixed with a potent catalyzer called chacruna. He consumed Ayahuasca more than 5 times, developing a slight tolerance. He understood that the initial loss of control is extremely freighting till you stop fighting it.

He had finally experimented the most powerful drug in the world, a total rape of the senses, another level of existence. A true journey into others dimensions, different from the effect of any other substance.

 

During this period Burroughs maintained correspondence with Allen Ginsberg that later became “The Yage Letters”. In this book you can also find the story of the trip Ginsberg made in 1960; following his masters footsteps he arrived at Pucallpa searching for the maximum psychedelic experience, in his case from a more spiritual perspective.

The book was published in 1963, in the precise moment when American culture will change forever with the dawn of the psychedelic counterculture. Just 6 months later, Ken Kesey (a Beat related writer) and the Mary Pranksters took the mythical bus on a road trip through the United States making their famous Acid Test.

 

William Burroughs and the Beat Generation were essential in the cultural shift towards drug experiences. Curiously their extended use created antibodies in Governments; soon their use, trade and research were forbidden and with this, a lot of substances with potential healing powers were banned of serious scientific studies.

Be part of KatariMag

In KatariMag we love art, beauty and ideas. We devote hundreds of hours to research and write to deliver the best stories of contemporary culture.

But the love of art also has its needs. So if KatariMag moves you and entertains you, be part of our community and collaborate with us! You can choose between PayPal or Patreon


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