Dreaming Among the Trees and Coca Leaves

May 18, 2017
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I am not sure when, I am not sure how, but somewhere along the labyrinthine path to adulthood I lost colorful dreams. It was only during the successive strings of sleepless nights preceding my trip to Peru when I came to realize this absence. Adulthood had pried my coiled fingers open, and out of my fisted grasp were the glorious nights once crafted by painted strokes of unsteady, lawless, childish imagination. I deeply missed these nights where my cheek caressed a pillow before my lids closed like two drawn curtains before the start of a play. And what a play it was! One with watered down, magenta sunsets which clouded Mars’ horizon, one with amorphous creatures which often took the shape of my bedside linens flung on a chair, one with limitless drama, romanticism, and spontaneity. These were the nights where my mind, a mine of wonder, curiosity, and imagination, burned with craving for nighttime's solace. Before I landed myself in a tent on the cliffs of the Andes Mountains, the nostalgia of what dreams-great dreams which never dimmed or died-felt like was the only warmth I could find in the deep, darkening, dull nights of adulthood.

Upon hiking 14,000 feet to Peru’s picturesque skies, I found a forgotten feeling amidst the rolling slopes of the Andes Mountains. I seemed to lose direction, a type of consciousness, as I complicitly watched my feet stride along the narrow pathways of corrugated mountain ridges, climb up the slippery stairways amidst clouds, and trudge along the sodden pathways where overarching trees made strange shadows out of sun beams. A strange silence filled the void of consciousness. Ten hours a day of walking left my head, usually teeming with information and adrenaline, oddly quiet: its thoughts followed the simple beat of my heart and my feet.

After the first day of meandering, I found exhaustion in my unoccupied being and could only fixate on the tempo of footsteps, the distance ahead, and a few memorized songs to pass the time. My staggering body embarked on its final steps to the tent when my path was intercepted by porters with green bags in hand. Our weary eyes flickered, briefly meeting with a sense of understanding. One of the bags was flung my way, caught millimeters away from my face, and received with a distant grunt:  “Buenas Suerte.” This unlikely present lay at my fidgeting fingertips, which prodded at the leafy substance. Ultimately, I stashed its contents into the innermost crevice of my day pack and headed to the nearest sleeping bag to find some respite in my dreams from hours of monotonous trekking. Yet, I was only met with the stale breath of insomnia.

Morning dawned, awakening all of the Andes. The birds chirped a sweet tune and I begrudgingly reached for my hiking sticks. My worn hiking shoes hit the ground and began climbing the notorious Inca stairs. I soon found these hellish stairs to serve as a painful distraction from boredom and isolation: phenomena unknown to my perpetually occupied being. The only facet of hiking that sparked my interest was the surrounding plants and vegetation. The Andes Mountains in Peru are considered a cloud forest: prone to perpetually changing scenery which allows one to stumble upon ruinous cloudbursts, shimmering waterfalls, and hollowed out caves hourly. My trail guide noticed the admiration which brightened my darting eyes.“It is quite a sacred place isn’t it?” his voice trailed off in awe. I nodded in inspiration, and reaching for the plastic green bag, I felt the grainy residue of dirt on my fingertips. “Those are coca leaves,” my guide said, smiling, “religious vegetation for the Incas. Those leaves grow and serve as remedies for all illnesses.” Reaching for my bag, he pulled out a handful of leaves. We shared them, every couple of stairs stuffing more into our mouths. The world smelled like coca breath.

Ten hours later, my legs burned with weakness. I had become the living embodiment of a stairmaster, and my muscles found normalcy in inclination. My body collapsed as soon as I stepped foot in the campsite. My head hit the pillow at the touch of a styrofoam mattress. My hands searched for a nearby flashlight as my lids closed, but failure to identify its location pried my eyes open. It was then when I saw the low hanging silhouette of a magnificent spider. All eight legs like blood-lusting prongs approached my way by cobwebs. I let out a whimpered shriek and swatted at its specter, but felt nothing more than the crisp Peruvian air between my fingers.

Closing my eyes, I wondered at what world I had ventured into, only to open them a few seconds later to two of the hanging beasts. Again I reached for a flashlight, desperate for some clarity.  My hand felt a switch on a metal rod and I pointed to the great mass of the tent as if with a sword awaiting conflict. However, every sharp beam which slashed through the darkness was contrarily met with more spiders; I had discovered the lernean Hydra of insects. I wallowed in hopelessness, shrieking madly, as every stray glance of my eye multiplied the shadows of insects, their figures consuming the light.

Pandemonium followed: like police sirens wailing through a busy city, my harrowing shrieks intermittently interrupted questions and confused reassurances from my family and tour guide, who insisted that coca leaves had no hallucinatory effects. Terrified, I shook throughout the night, knowing that my eyes deceived my reality, that I had been dreaming wide awake in a cloud forest, among the trees and coca leaves. Eyes wide open, I was reacquainted with the long lost sensation of my childhood nights.  

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