Saturday, December 1, 2012

Floating Over Bali on a Little Fluffy Mushroom Cloud

There were probably better ways to spend a Friday night in Seminyak with a guy I'd met on Tuesday, but at least Adam and I weren't breaking any laws. He even brought along a soft helmet, which wouldn't have saved my skull had I gone flying off the back of his motorbike en route from Legian Beach to JL Dhyana Pura, but it would have satisfied the minimum safety requirements of any cop who happened to stop us along the way.

In Bali, a place where drug possession is a crime that can be punishable by death, magic mushrooms are not only legal, but they go down easy and relatively cheaply in the form of a shake (price tag: 120,000 Indonesian rupiah, or about $12). Go figure. For a moment, sitting and sipping in that cafe halfway down JL Dhyana Pura, I felt like it was 1993 all over again, and I was in one of those pot cafes in Amsterdam with my then-boyfriend Derek. (Naturally, I didn't inhale!)

Now before you start judging and pointing out the dangers of drugs, consider this: What were you drinking last night? Alcohol is a drug, one that's capable of far more damage than marijuana, yet because it's legal, it's widely accepted as being okay. But I'm pretty sure that nothing in a magic-mushroom shake is any more hazardous to my health than those 20 minutes in August that I spent freezing my ass off in the Ice Bar at Holiday Inn Silom in Bangkok while doing vodka shots.

Magic mushrooms, like Johnnie Walker whiskey and Arak (more on that in a moment) are considered to produce a perfectly innocent high here in Bali, harmless enough in moderation to be legal. It's how the Dutch presumably see pot, and how most of the world views booze and cigarettes, both of which are far more likely to result in death than magic mushrooms. If illegal equals wrong, just because something is legal doesn't mean it's a good idea, but can we call something that's legal in Bali wrong there, too, just because it's wrong (as in illegal) in the United States? As far as magic mushrooms go, what happens in Bali stays in Bali. That's how I was going to justify my indulgence last Friday night.

That said, Balinese mushrooms aren't for everyone. They're unpredictable, I've been told: Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. And as with all potentially mind-altering substances, there are risks, both from the substance itself and from those who might take advantage of you while you're under its influence. Early in the evening when I told Adam about my nights at the Laughing Buddha Bar in Ubud, drinking a Mojito-like concoction called an Arak Obama, he issued a stern warning. There have been several cases of tourists dying after consuming a badly prepared batch of Arak. Imbibe at your own risk.

Considering that Bali is a place where it's not uncommon to see a family of four riding on one motorbike -- dad driving, son in front of him, daughter and mother behind him -- safety first clearly isn't a national motto around here. It's up to you to take the necessary precautions to ensure a safe flight!

I'm still not sure what to make of my own take off, a mere minutes after finishing my shake, while Adam remained at the gate for another 20 minutes or so. My in-flight entertainment included a live band that segued from Bon Jovi's "Bed of Roses" to Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" if it had been sung by Bob Dylan instead of David Gilmour, Carrie Underwood pouring drinks behind the bar, and a guitarist with a glowing face who kept his gaze fixed on me throughout the cover band's entire set.

Was that a baby, a monkey or an evil troll going up up and away in that cigarette ad on the wall? Outside the bar, sitting on the sidewalk with Adam, watching Bali at night go by, there were giant ants crawling in slow motion, everything crawling in slow motion. A crowd of late-night construction workers taking a cigarette break across the street stared at us like we were the evening entertainment until we were forced to relocate out of embarrassment. Before I knew it, it was 15 minutes to 1. Who'd stopped the hands of time? I was sure it was almost dawn! My perception may have been altered but not my judgment: Shortly after 1am, I opted to take a taxi back to my hotel rather than get back on Adam's motorbike, which doesn't mean the ride home was any less bumpy and strange, only safer.

When I woke up the next morning, shortly after dawn, there was no hangover, and I had 100 percent recollection of everything I may or may not have seen the night before. That's why it was easy to say no when a guy on the street tried to sell me another batch of mushrooms at 2pm after my hour-long pedicure and foot massage. It was an interesting adventure, but as is the case with a city you've always wanted to visit, enjoy briefly when you finally go, then can't wait to leave, one trip was more than enough.

Five Songs I Was Dying to Hear Last Friday Night

"White Rabbit" Jefferson Airplane

"Eight Miles High" The Byrds

"Mellow Yellow" Donovan

"Psychedelic Shack" The Temptations

"Don't Come Around Here No More" Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

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