I fucking hate mushrooms. I always have. I dislike the taste, the smell and the texture. Cooked mushrooms are how I would imagine slugs to taste, mushroom soup represents all that is wrong with cuisine and don’t get me started on raw mushrooms. It’s a fungus! A mould! You’re eating fucking mould! There was some damp in our house once which resulted in a mushroom growing out of the skirting board. Put that in your casserole, mate. Betcha don’t. All this changes, however, when the mushrooms are rumoured to be of the variety we call magic. As soon as you hear of a field where magic mushrooms grow you find yourself back at Valle De Cocora, spread out across aforementioned field with seven other backpackers, looking for the beigey-browny shrooms that had been described to you. The best way to tell if you had a good one, we were told, was to pick it (don’t bother with the white ones) and check the stem. If it goes blue like a bruise it’s good for chomping, preferably with the aid of chocolate or a drink to mask the fact you just stuffed an unwashed fungus into your gob.
I’m not sure as to the legal status of magic mushrooms in this country. As you head towards the field the locals will shout “champingnones” at you and point you in the right direction but that doesn’t mean they’re legal, you can walk down streets in Colombia and people will shout “cocaine, marijuana” at you and they certainly aren’t legal. I know they used to be legal in the UK until about 5 or 6 years ago (mushrooms, not cocaine). You used to be able to walk into shops in Camden, London, and there’d be rows of fridges containing punnets of shrooms from all over the world. Then Richard and Judy ran a feature on them and expressed disgust and of course the mindless masses who get their groundless opinions from the television agreed. The papers were all over them, telling the nation how bad and wrong they were, the government decided that people were having too much untaxed fun and it was goodbye to the humble mushroom. But I’m sorry, it grows in the fucking ground. You can’t criminalise nature be it shrooms or weed. But anyway…
So we were eight people in total. The sun was out, it was perfect weather, so off we went to find FHV Acaime on account of the fact it was meant to be a nice walk and there was a promise of hummingbirds and cheese at the top. A couple of us munched a shroom before we headed off with the rest of our stash. Now, this is a pretty walk anyway, it starts off in the sunshine as you make your way to a forest where the track continues. There are streams, little cascades and river crossings made possible with makeshift bridges. There used to be a couple of proper bridges where someone had taken the time and energy to bolt them steel wire efforts into rocks and build concrete structures at either end to support what was probably quite an impressive looking bridge. They were long gone though, all that remained was the concrete and the wires. Clearly they worked out that it was much easier to lash three logs together with barbed wire and tough shit if your balance was a wee bit shaky. That was a touch nervy, I have fuck all balance, I’ve been known to fall off the floor whilst being completely sober, I’ll be walking along and for no good reason I’ll nearly fall over like I’m pissed or something. Smooth.
But as pretty as this walk is it was given an awesome, like, fairytale quality by my wavey mushroom head. I wasn’t tripping by any means but all the colours were so much more vivid and I noticed more plants and flowers than I normally would. At the top we paid our COP$3000 each for a hot chocolate and a piece of cheese. Or “cheese” as one of the guys calls it, in inverted commas, he’s not a fan of Colombian cheese at all. I kinda like it, it’s really salty and I can see why people would dislike it, but yeah, I could go a bit of Colombian cheese every now and then. Colombian wine is another story, horse piss would taste better than that crap. I’m not known to be fussy about my wine, I drink it from a box more often than not, but even I sent a glass of a urine coloured, allegedly white wine back to the bar with instructions to never feed me anything with “hecho en Colombia” written on it ever again.
We attempted to photograph the hummingbirds which ain’t that easy, they’re so fast and they never stop moving for long. I think they beat their wings 80 times a second or something enabling them to hover and fly backwards. Far too energetic for the likes of me, if I came back as a hummingbird in my next life I wouldn’t last long unless I could bully a smaller hummingbird to bring me stuff and things as I relaxed in my tiny, hummingbird hammock sipping my tiny, hummingbird cocktails. As in hummingbird sized cocktails. Not cocktails made out of hummingbirds. That just wouldn’t taste good and I’d get the tiny hummingbird feathers caught in my beak. They make the coolest noise as they fly by your head an all, like if you were to muffle a motorbike or something, it’s like a soft, thrumming sound.
Well what better place to eat our stash, ready for the walk down? We wolfed them down, every single one of them and we had enough to give all eight of us a good trip. We started our descent and almost immediately spread out, the faster walkers at the front and of course, me at the back with one of the English fellas. After one of the bridge crossings we found the Irishman waiting for us on account of the fact I’d said I wouldn’t mind hanging out by a waterfall for a bit and he didn’t want me to be on my own and he didn’t know the other fella was with me. The three of us sat down and I just sat there, listening to the pair of them, both very funny blokes even when you haven’t just consumed a large quantity of hallucinogens, cracking up laughing until my stomach hurt. It was fabulous.
At one point the English fella took a comment I made about the water being ice cold as a challenge to jump in, stripped down to his boxers and in he went. Rather you than me, mate! That was before they even started tripping an all, we discussed the possibility of surviving a jump into the pool from the bridge without breaking anything essential to finishing the walk without the aid of a stretcher, thought better of it and just chilled out and let the mushrooms take over.
I can’t possibly describe it in detail, I did think about it for a while, how I would put this amazing experience into words, but then I decided it was just best to stop thinking and just enjoy it. And enjoy it I did. For the first part I just listened to the lads until their shrooms kicked in, watching the water and the forest in front of me. It was so amazing, like it was somehow more three dimensional, the colours were like nothing else. I mean, they were still green but SO many shades of green, greens I didn’t know existed, metallic greens with other colours thrown in, like purple flowers. We sat there, tripping balls in our own heads, I was thinking about every single thing, like I’d unlocked a part of my mind and gone up a new level in that eternal game we call life. I felt like I had a new understanding of everything.
By the end of it, me and the Irishman were sitting together, hugging each other like we’d been mates for years and the other guy was lying down chuckling to himself. I watched the rocks change shape for a while, the longer I stared the more they changed shape as they started to form tiny cities and worlds. It was only when we realised it was nearly 4.30pm that we finally got a move on to try and get back down before dark. Even the walk down was magic as the late afternoon light filtered through the trees and as we emerged from the trees into the forest we were met with breathtaking views. Valle De Cocora is made for tripping. It’s perfect. So so beautiful, it’s just… Just. It’s Just. Wordless.
It was certainly one of the best days I’d had in South America and when we got to the bottom the others had waited for us. It was great, big smiles all round, everyone had a fabulous trip along various points of the walk. But Valle De Cocora. What can I say? You know you’re somewhere special when you stop to watch clouds falling and breaking over the top of the hill and turn to the guy next to you and nod in silent agreement; Shrooms or no, this place really is magic.
Salento, Quindío, Colombia
Stayed at: The Plantation House, Salento
Useful shit to know…
- The only way into Valle de Cocora is by 4WD. You have to rent the whole thing so you can either pay for it, or wait around for other people to show up, or show up with a group to split the cost.