Chapter 2


1990-08-19, Otavalo

"Now it is time that gods came walking out 
of lived in things . . .
Time that they came and knocked down every wall
inside my house.  New page."

           'Now it is time that gods came walking out'
            Uncollected Poems,  Ranier Maria Rilke

Datura. Beautiful, seductive shrub, green pointed leaves, flowers blooming in early evening, curving, sinewy wood. The petals with different colors. White on some trees. Yellow or pink or purple on others. Flowers emerge at night and awaken, their aroma becoming stronger, a sweetly sick and seductive perfume beckoning you to taste, to swallow, to indulge.

In the forest, on the moist earth I encountered a brilliant yellow trumpet-like horn-shaped variety striped on the inside in deep almost phosphorescent purple. Discovered these bulbs in a mysterious place, not at all where they were supposed to be.

This nightshade family member comes with a rich history of indulgence from witchcraft, long used among Curanderos in the New world, to modern medical uses for Scopolamine and Atropine.

First encountered this plant, though only casually, in Guatemala.

Seems its uses and abuses are common knowledge among the Indigenous in the pueblos. Brujos, those Central American Witches, use the plant for medicinal purposes.

What follows is a closer, more personal encounter in Costa Rica. This came rather surprisingly, or perhaps significantly following on the heels of earlier discoveries in Central America.


Monteverde. Cloud forested tropical mountain highlands. Humid, wet, a botanically rich and multi-leveled geography four and a half hours north of San Jose, three hours uphill from Puntareynas by bus.

Overlooking the Continental Divide, the regions lush vegetation and abundant fauna contributed by two continents.

In the forest live the Quetzal bird, toucans, motmots, bellbirds, monkeys, armadillos, coatimundis and myriads of brightly colored butterflies. Major conservation efforts are currently happening as well as increasing tourism.

This is also the home for much farmland on and around the mountainous slopes. Cows, horses, bananas, coffee.

During the early Nineteen-Fifties a group of Quakers emigrated from the States seeking an open land with opportunity to establish a community governed by their beliefs. They were seeking political and religious freedom and bought large parcels from the local Costa Ricans and became a significant group in the area.

Although the Quaker community has changed over the years, some moving back to the States, others dropping away from the original Quaker following, it still remains an influential part of Monteverde. They have expanded from farming to hostelery, dairy production, conservation and other efforts.

Just down the mountain a few Kilometers is the small town of Santa Elena. Primarily inhabited by native Costa Ricans, it is a main commercial center and local bus-stop for travelers on the road to Monteverde. According to one of the highland emigrants there is an uneasy co-habitation between the natives and the settlers now.

Uneasy Welcomes

Jayme, my partner, and I left the Pacific beach community of Montezuma at 6 pm on a two-hour dirt-road taxi ride to the port at Paquera. From there another two hours by boat for Puntareynas. After lunch we caught a bus for Santa Elena at 2:30pm.

The trip, scheduled for four hours, finished at nine in the evening. We were lucky to arrive at all.

Riding up rainy rock guttered and mud swollen mountain passes, a failing clutch, busted windows and overcrowded bus. The vehicle stopped frequently. All the standing passengers, fully half the bus, forced to exit and walk up to the next relatively level portion of road so the bus could pull ahead.

Tired, hungry and battered we arrived in Santa Elena, found a run -down Pension for the night, then proceeded to the main restaurant in town for dinner.

Almost immediately upon walking through Santa Elena entering the restaurant, a dive, I felt uneasy. A long-forgotten memory of an eerie tune from 'The Twilight Zone' arises from recessed archives. Don't know quite what it is, yet the eerie sensation that I have stepped through some kind of unmarked door into bizarre territory.

Something unnatural in the atmosphere like a hangover that keeps reminding you of the sour taste from the night before.

As I ate a rather plain forgettable meal I noticed a number of young locals sitting around nearby tables drinking cerveza. The smell of salsa, alcohol and threatening aggression hung like a cloud weighted with their malicious almost violent thirst. Jayme became sick that night. She thought from the food.

On the way back to the Pension I spotted a Datura tree, white blossoms overhanging the gully by the road. Plucking two flowers, I decided to indulge in an old folklore remedy for insomnia, placing the flowers on a night-stand by my pillow.

I slept well that night as the strong Datura aroma filled the room. Waking I remembered having vivid dreams, yet could not recall their content.

In the morning the flowers were limp, lifeless, devoid of aroma. They had died during the night, given up their power and now hung lifeless in that solemn disgusting hotel room.

The next day after breakfast we abandoned Santa Elena, caught a ride up to Monteverde and checked in at the FlorMar, a hotel run by one of the original Quaker families, and relaxed strolling around their farm and the nearby fields.

Aside from the land used for farming, some of these families have conserved natural forests and created nature trails. This is in addition to the Bio-Reserve in the area.

The day following I decided to walk a nature trail. One close by was recommended. It was on land owned by Quakers who were part of the community and had set aside conservation land.

Met Mary at her farm house. A bright lively middle-aged woman with a quick smile, helpful with a unique willingness to meet me eye to eye. She was hesitant to let us walk the trail without a guide. In fact, later mentioned that we were virtually the first ones to do this.

Mary drew a map and we passed time discussing the history of the community. She related how they had settled and established themselves, the changes now occurring, the discontent in the locals, and other information concerning conservation efforts. Map in hand I left, headed for the trail-head.

Walked five hours in the forest that day. The trail contains rapidly transforming landscape. Lush rainforest, parts skirting cow pastures, tall grass, banana and coffee fields, parts of an old farm road, cut-away portions of dead forest wood, skirting a river, high on a ridge.

The variety of birds a constant entertainment along with thousands of multi-colored butterflies make this an enchanted forest. About midway into the trail that day I encountered a strange area.

Rounding a corner, near an old knotted and bent vine-covered tree, just like awaking from a dream to discover you are now in some new territory, the atmosphere shifts abruptly into a heaviness that I felt throughout my body. Can hear winds blow through the forest aways back, nothing touches here, not even a whisper.

Looking around, I spotted two Datura flowers on the ground. How did they get there?

Searching for a tree, there were none in the vicinity, nor had I encountered any on the trail up till then. The flowers were fresh, still potent and firm. Yellow with attractive fluorescent purple stripes inside.

Nearby, off the path there was a clearing of sorts. Rather, an obscure well-hidden clearing. Kind of circular with discreet signs of human activity. The clearing, though well-concealed by vines allowed to grow around the fringe haphazardly and scattered forest decay here and there, contained a small stack of cut sticks about four feet long and signs of a fire. The fire had been well covered over by brush and dead leaves.

I felt uneasy about the area, walking around the circumference of the clearing, not staying inside for too long. There is an odd feeling here, a kind of staleness in the air. Had an urge to back away so I moved on.

Finishing the trail, we decided to return the next day and take a Medicine Journey. The jungle seemed safe enough, and there were no people about.

That night I rested, ate, prepared for the coming Journey. This particular trail was little used, traversed many different terrains, could take four to seven hours to navigate.

I wondered about that special area encountered in the forest. Was it just a fluke? Maybe just my imagination? If not, who had been there?

Friday morning set off for Mary's. She greeted us warmly and was somewhat perplexed that we wanted to return to the same trail. She was also curious about my feelings toward Santa Elena.

Mary wanted to know what types of things I had noticed down in the native town of Santa Elena, and why. The relationship between the native Costa Ricans and the long-time Quaker settlers had deteriorated over the past five years. There is extensive animosity toward the successful emigrants and occasional confrontations and mischief have occurred. She also admitted to believing that Brujeria, or Witchcraft was practiced there among the natives.

Our chat complete, I set off for the trail-head, and after a short nature ritual there imbibed a warrior's dose of the medicine LSD. On the road to Discovery.

Within thirty minutes my body becomes aware of streaming electricity through arms and legs. Shortly after, sensory consciousness of my external world shifts considerably.

Walking slowly, taking time to explore the flowers and insects in delicate detail. There are insects like Egyptian Scarabs all about, their hard shell backs a precision engraving of geometric designs, each unique and flawlessly executed as if created by a master artisan.

The different locales in the forest stand out in high relief. From the lush moist plant-and-flower-filled open fields of grass winding along a cow pasture, entering dark dead and rotting wooded glades, each has a separate and distinct energetic feel, a presence and personality all unto themselves.

It is the aromas, the light, the sounds, and much more. A wholly new and diverse eco-system appearing just by rounding a corner on the path, passing through some invisible but detectable portal, like entering a wholly new land.

Following the trail, do not remember much of what I saw the day before. Rather, everything has grown-up, matured, I had entered a new universe on the same path. Every part of each special scene now is in entirely new detail, fully fleshed out, expanded into more than what was perceived just 24 hours earlier.

Rounding a corner in the dark tree shrouded path a trembling sensation sweeps down on me abruptly. Chillingly.

Looking around to see if anything is familiar only to discover that I was standing next to that great old vine covered tree encountered the day before.

On the ground were two fresh Datura flowers.

Now inspecting the path and environs more carefully I spotted many more. Petals and whole flowers here and there as if dropped from bushes. There are no bushes in the area, nor any flowers above the ground, caught in the branches of other trees.

The ones lying about are moist, as if just plucked. I pick one up, it's aroma strong, powerful, overwhelming. Began to feel its strength. Letting my arm drop to my side, I held the flower for just a few minutes more as I continued to search the area.

Notice a tingling sensation in my arm from my hand, moving up and spreading into my shoulders. A disturbing jagged kind of vibration, powerful and relentlessly snaking its way through my arms up into my body. From another intuitive space inside I am aware that whatever was in that flower is headed into my heart and my consciousness.

I had never felt the plant's intoxicating capability so immediately and forcefully as that moment. I can feel the plant's ability to alter my consciousness even when I fought it. Dropped the flower with a shudder.

I began to move toward the clearing, encircled by trees and brush. The heaviness in the air that was encountered the day before now arises as a powerful resistance, some wavering massive wall, not solid in the material sense, yet maybe even stronger for its lack of that.

Circling the clearing, being pushed back by some unseen force, oppressed. I am being warned. My body is tingling throughout, head becoming muddy and consciousness cloudy, dispersed. An unseen cumulus of confusion descends.

In my curiosity I push through the unnatural fog, stepping fully into the circular clearing. Walking around, notice more indications of a recent fire and other telltale signs of activity. Much more is occurring energetically. I no longer feel that awesome resistance. What is within that circle is difficult to comprehend.

In the center of the circle I am swept up in a vortex of chaos. Head is becoming lighter, body shivering not with heat nor cold nor fear, something else again. The strong sweet aroma of Datura, usually only emerging in the evening, is everywhere.

Like tenuous threads from some kind of steely web enmeshed within my skin there is an insistent pulling, like a puppet being guided by an unseen maestro.

It is like an inducement to leave my body right then and there. Supremely seductive in the casualness of the swirling effect, and immensely powerful as some kind of energetic activity is attempting to lift my consciousness clear of the Earth.

An intuition strikes me that the Datura is part of the Vortex but is not all there is. There is this presence that feels somehow conscious.

Jayme circles the clearing and expresses a frantic desire to leave immediately. She emphatically does not want to confront whatever has manifested within that awesome circle of madness.

In the middle of that circle now, it is intoxicating and alluring. Know I need to leave, somehow not wanting to, don't have the motivation to move. Must move, must get out, must not look back.

Making an effort to move, Now ......... Clear .... And ..... Through!

Further on the trail, another hour, maybe two, I encounter another space energetically similar to the first. Daturas on the ground, signs of human presence, there is a smaller circle whose interior is obscured by loose vines.

Do not stay to explore this one. No. No.

Coming toward the end of the Journey finding a banana grove, clear, bright sunlight, fresh mountain air and open we sat for awhile. Talking about, among other things, the mysterious islands we found in the forest.

Perhaps it was me that made the observation that three of those Datura-covered areas were discovered. That felt funny, I could only remember two distinctly, and felt that there was a third also. And what about those flowers? They should have already been limp and dead, there was nobody on the trail that day. What were they doing there? Who brought them to this area, the natives or the Quakers? For what purpose?

The following day I explored the humid, fern dominated moss- covered Bio-Reserve and prepared to leave Monteverde. I was still reflecting on two different experiences walking the same trail, as I caught the bus at 6 a.m. in Santa Elena to return to San Jose.

Riding through town I spotted many more Datura trees growing in the yards scattered throughout the village.

Up till the experience in Monteverde I had believed certain things about Energy. One supposition I held was that there was no 'good or bad' taint. Energy was simply energy. The purposes it is used for determines its effect.

Yet, what I sensed so powerfully at those clearings felt malevolent.

I don't know if there actually was something called Witchcraft being ritually practiced there. I believe something happened or was happening. The experience was too directly disturbing and bodily real to be mere hallucination. My perception of the World has changed, although with many unresolved questions. And my Journey continues.

Copyright 1994 Steven Gilman

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