The News From Spain agency reported recently that Judge Baltasar Garzon had initiated legal action against several officials of the Bush administration.
“If I were any of those former honchos I wouldn't travel to Spain,” my NFS source said. “Or anywhere else for that matter. Garzon is the judge who nabbed General Augusto Pinochet In London, you know.”
The NFS correspondent, who wished to remain anonymous, also reminded me that Garzon is a descendant of Francisco Pizarro, the head conquistador who foisted Spain and its civilizing church on Peru.
“Apparently, some two-dozen generations have not diluted the family’s vindictive spirit of old,” she explained. “But Garzon is more honest than his famous progenitor was: When a former Bush associate with oil connections put up his hand to the wall as high as he could reach saying: ‘I will flood all of Spain for you this high with black gold if you leave me alone,’ unlike his great granddad, Garzon refused to consider the offer.”
As the historic record shows, Pizarro and his fellow conquistadors got a roomful of gold then reneged on their promise to release Emperor Inca Atahualpa whom they held in Cusco, the capital of his extensive empire.
“And what did we gain from all his cheating? His own men killed my great grandfather and we, his descendants, have lived in poverty ever since. Justice is more valuable than gold, glinting yellow or black,” the NFS correspondent quoted the judge to have declared.
For his part, the taciturn Machiavellian former US politician apparently was duly alarmed. “This is truly ominous,” he reportedly stated with a touch of paranoia. “It won’t be the first time Spain decimates a thriving empire in the Americas.”
As a research psychologist specializing in intercultural cross influences, the historical allusion piqued my curiosity. At the first opportunity I chose to tour Peru with my family. In Cusco we smelled our way along a stone-paved alley off of the Plaza de Armas to some authentic local cuisine. That is how we first discovered The Alternative Inca Tour Service. We entered through another trapezoid doorway, its two sides precisely cut out of massive black rock at the optimal angle to withstand the Goddess Patcha Mama’s frequent willful shaking of Her mountainous Andean domain. A young native beauty greeted us at the door and proceeded to outline in Spanish the various tours on offer, including one with an overnight visit to an Inca Shaman who specialized in native hallucinogenic teas. We were in luck, we were told, since there would be full moon and no rain on the appointed night. “And the shaman is well versed in the occult sciences,” the woman added.
We debated the degree of adventurism appropriate for the three-generation mix of our travel party. We decided to shelter the children and womenfolk from the vagaries of such full immersion in native culture; only my son and I would dare the challenge; that was the family consensus. Later, the party shrank by another fifty percent due to attrition from food poisoning. I had to decide whether to forego the down payment altogether or to venture alone on a nightlong foray among the Incas. Then the assigned translator, who had already collected her fee in advance, claimed a family emergency. I was faced with another fateful decision. Trouble was I was the frugal type; I never had the fiscal latitude or the inner fortitude to forego a monetary debt owed me. And I loved to ride a good horse. I went.
We started at Ollataytambo where we sampled the local Pisco Sour, Corn Chicha, coca tea and coca candy. At the horse ranch, baring all seemed to be the operative mode for the journey: Flanked by two bare-breasted maiden guides I rode my mare bareback. The narrow path turned and twisted with the Urubamba River on its wild rush to loose itself into the grandeur of the Amazon thousands of miles down the craggy Andes. We were following the ancient Inca Trail in the belly of The Sacred Valley, my companions explained. My consciousness had already started its beneficent obfuscation. We stopped briefly for them to clear some overgrowth from our path with their machetes. I objected to my companions’ carrying of weapons as well as to the overgrowth itself. I explained as best as I could that such scene was more suitable for the tropical forest of the Amazon basin further down, not here with the sparse vegetation of the mountain terrain.
“And who knows,” I added. “You may well be wasting a singularly valuable yet-to-be-discovered plant form.”
“You are right,” my two guides responded simultaneously. “Prior to the twentieth century no one valued our native rubber tree.”
“Where would we all be without rubber?” I said making a silly dig. “You should have held on to the patent.”
“Those rubber kings in Iquitos got so fat they shipped their laundry to be done in Paris. Can you imagine?”
“Who knows but I might be on my way to fame and riches then,” I joked.
“Not you,” they responded together. “We research our clients and we know you are one with us. You would not enslave us as the Europeans on the rubber plantations did."
They were winning me over. Since we arrived in Lima I had sought to connect with Peruvians around me. With my Middle Eastern looks I thought I could pass for a mestizo. The hint at my acceptance into the native fold sent me orbiting at the far edges of the Milky Way whose outline had started to decorate the evening skies. I felt one not only with the Incas but with all natives, indeed with all humanity and with the entire universe. I was already circling in the realm of the unimaginable.
That was when it first struck me how adept at sign language I had become after those drinks at the horse ranch and they at understanding me. I knew how alcohol affected me and this was not it. I broke out laughing wildly for I realized that it couldn’t be only the latent effect of the tea we had had. It had been offered with the explanation that it should tide us over till we made it to the shaman’s home up the slopes. Some of the discourse of Professor Timothy Leary in my college days came to mind: Could this be the magical ‘before-effect’ of the powerful hallucinogenic concoctions I was about to take? I seemed to remember him explaining that if we accept that some drugs may have a lifelong aftereffect then we should expect the sequential reverse of that in some cases. I never fully understood Leary’s theories in the first place and decided to drop his doubtful line of reasoning right then and there.
We arrived at our destination with the night still young. The entire length of the street leading from the village Plaza to the shaman’s house was lined on both sides with basalt boulders, each the size of a small tent, topped by precisely cut and fitted smaller black stones with an occasional narrow window opening at such a height that it was not possible to see through it from the street. Each window faced slightly differently from all the others. I understood instinctively that, like those of the Great Mosque in Cordova, each window was designed to allow the sunrays in for one specific day of the year. My maiden guides signaled to me that, in recognition of the shaman’s special stature as the high priest, the window of his private room admitted the sunrays on the day of the summer solstice.
The shaman waited for us at the door. Though he wore a large black stone cross on his chest, he was still fully committed to Inti, the Inca Sun God, he explained. He wore an armless woolen vest over faded blue jeans and walked barefoot. Fiber bracelets adorned his muscular upper arms and one held back his long hair in a thick braid. I queried my two companions with a gesture: “Are we in Macho Picchu?”
They understood my gut-inspired gesturing style and confirmed my suspicion with nods and a big smile, apparently in reverence and appreciation of my mentioning the name of the sacred locale at the center of which we stood. The amazing thing was that the same happy and proud smile spread across their two faces. This was a revelation for me. It was not two maidens smiling at me simultaneously. That would have been charming enough. It was a single smile shared by two separate faces. The effect of this strange phenomenon went way beyond exhilaration. Absorbing its cogency, I was instantaneously transformed into emotional omniscience. I understood my inner reality better than I had in all of my seven decades of earthbound awareness. When I inquired about that shared smile, the two maidens explained in unison that it was on account of their being in Macho Picchu, the proudest relic of Inca civilization, in the presence of the high priest who was a descendant of Emperor Huayna Capac, founder of the Inca empire, and the reigning personification of Inti, the sun god.
It is difficult to describe the depth of my delight not only at receiving this explanation from the two lovely Incan supplicants but also at being able to comprehend their sign language. I neglected to mention that at the teeming plaza of the sacred village we were treated to another cup of local herbal tea, possibly facilitating my comprehension beyond my realization. In unison, yet privately, my two companions had already explained to me that the essence of all the psychedelic experience they were guiding me through was sexual in nature, and hence my unlimited pleasure throughout the night even though no sexual contact was necessary. “The smile is the culmination of all positive feelings,” the two explained. “It is the flowering of love beyond which extends the emptiness of the universe and the nothingness of the Gods. Love is the ultimate reality and the smile is its spring flower. That is where we all are heading tonight.”
At the door, the shaman pounded his clenched fest emphatically to the V-opening in his baby alpaca wool vest where his cross lay:
"I had hoped for a different name; something authentic," I said hoping he understood English.
"Autentic," he repeated with a nod of his head. His prominent nose, which bisected his wide-open and deeply furrowed chocolate brown face, dominated the head motion. " Velcome, Autentic!" he added.
I had studied a pamphlet at the hotel that gave a dozen Quechua words of which I managed to retain only two. But ‘cat’ and ‘sneeze’ did little to facilitate our interaction. I had to work on bridging the communication gap between us so he could read my exact thoughts and I his. I had already achieved that degree of fluency in sign language with his two followers. We had some more tea and a couple of spiked green corn tamales. These did the trick.
When we entered the shaman’s living room, none other but Dark Vader, the former American official, was sitting there with a lopsided snide smirk on his face.
“We have been waiting for you, fellow!” he said casually, doing away with introductions.
“What brings you here, partner?” I responded likewise.
“I was visiting with some of my Contra friends in Nicaragua and they suggested I consult with this man about my condition. Now that you are here to translate for us we can proceed with the business at hand.”
I thought he was pulling my leg.
“No translators, no guards, no state-level ceremonies? What is this?” I asked.
He shook his head dismissively.
“I am here on a private visit. Few know about this.” He sounded convincing.
“You speak Spanish then?” I asked.
“Not on your life. I don’t want anything to do with that country. You translate for me,” he insisted
I hesitated, remembering how quickly the Americans went through translators in Iraq for example. I wanted to see my family again and hated the risk of becoming another honor-killing statistic or, worse, having shoes thrown at me. He promised to keep our liaison a secret and I agreed reluctantly.
“Tell the shaman I am here because of my weak heart,” he said taking command of the situation.
I did and the shaman cited the example of his own brave ancestors explaining that it was entirely a matter of attitude and that it was all in the gringo’s head and that he should gather the courage to go to Spain and face his accusers. I explained as best as I could that the man was speaking of his physical heart condition but to no avail.
“I should have accepted the CIA’s offer and not let them throw that one to the sharks,” the former official said. “They told me it was a perfect DNA match,” he added. “It is too late now; I have to wait in the transplant queue.”
My host went back to our planned hallucinogenic tour. He labored to give us a clearer idea of what to expect:
“We will guide you through an unforgettable experience,” he said in sign language.
I hadn’t realized before that the royal ‘we’ had a completely different essence and sign than the plural pronoun.
“The first level of spiritual gymnastics involves the suspending of ordinary logic and the expanding of consciousness,” he explained. “You need imagination and trust in the other; you have to permit us into your soul for this to work. "
“Let me tell you,” I hastened to admit, “in my case, the process is already well on its way, what with the potions I have imbibed so far and the hours of horseback trotting.”
“The physical is the gateway to the spiritual,” our host responded. “Your Sufi tradition must have taught you that, no doubt. I can see by your receptive frame of mind that you have already been mystically transformed beyond the limiting concepts of the possible.”
He was obviously buttering me up, I realized.
“I am already comfortable in the realm of the paradoxical,” I acknowledged. I was about to explain that the thin Andean air must have played a role in inducing my total openness of mind, but this physiologically based reasoning seemed trite in the extreme.
“We will now proceed to the second level where you will gain an intimation of the divine and peer into the soul of the universe. You will travel to where no frame of reference is of any use, to the flaming borders of the cosmos. This we will achieve with a different tea extracted from the ‘Spirit Vine’ and with more willful abandon from your side. The Vine reveals the primordial to the human spirit and induces clairvoyance. But you need to let your imagination roam. Try to align yourself with the philosophy of the Vine. Imagine yourself a cosmic serpent that swallows the whole of humanity, nay, the entire creation.”
I had no problem translating his sign language to English for the benefit of the other visitor. The shaman nodded to the two maiden companions who, gold chalices in hand, strode towards us in ephemeral dance steps and tried to induce us to scoff down the brew. I took my drink in one gulp. The American former official refused to touch his.
“One is yours and the other is his for the night,” my host motioned to me from an adjacent galaxy. “But beware of the inner fires or we may lose you. Keep Patcha Mamma in your sight; Mother Earth is where you belong even when you soar to the distant heavens.”
“I am here for a physical ailment, not for this kind of monkey business,” the American insisted.
The shaman suggested an injection he had for him but this was refused as well. Slowly, I surrendered the last memory of sensibility and willingly let myself be swept up by the perfumed whirlwind of intimacy swirling around my maiden muse and me. We spiraled up the moonlit skies to where All was clear to the senses. I traced the initiatory path of the prophets to the sacred seat of power. The universal order was one flawless consciousness. Bright and luminous scintillating patterns of colored light ignited the skies from one wide horizon to the other. But the other guest kept the same somber expression, constantly jumping at the least motion.
“All this and we are only at the middle stage,” I marveled to the shaman hours later upon regaining a measure of balance in our post-rapture repose.
“We shall head back now,” he explained. “Only the few can reenter the mythic era and pass from the sensual to the numinous to achieve the coveted union with Inti. You retain traces of sensibility. With that His light will annihilate you, I am afraid."
I objected but to no avail. I explained our argument to the American guest.
“Travel insurance doesn’t cover this, I know,” he said wearing his usual self-assured, all-knowing expression.
“He doesn’t want to budge from his geo-temporal cage,” the shaman gestured in response. “He never dropped his guard for a moment. How can a man of the spirit like me do anything for him?”
“What you have led me through is not totally strange to my field,” I said seeking to get even closer to the shaman.
“Who said it had to be?” he answered. “Truth is unitary.”
“I am familiar with such states of altered consciousness as out of body voyages and near death experiences.”
“Except that those places you have just visited are real. That is my incontestable truth.”
“Only in the biological sense that ‘junk DNA in our cells may contain dormant mystical knowledge,’ as I have heard it explained,” the American said with certainty. Leave it to this guy to ponder the mysteries of cellular memory, I thought. Perhaps that is why he refused that enemy donor.
“That is the old Byzantine riddle of what came first, the quail or the egg?” the shaman said mocking. “I find it easier to accept that at source we humans were ideations and only later discovered we could inhabit matter.”
“And hence our physicality, you want me to believe,” I joined the argument on the American’s side. “I am not totally convinced. I exist and therefore I dream.”
“I exist, period!” the man declared.
"Infinite love is the way out of all illusion,” the shaman concluded on a conciliatory note.
We retired to the shaman’s Andean stone guestroom, the other guest still wearing his expression of impatient disbelief. In a timeless mythical diorama I witnessed all the past, present, and future simultaneously compressed in a four-dimensional plane. With a sense of relief, I accepted the shaman’s explanations in lieu of the experience itself: The four short arms of the cross-like diagram cut in stone in the floor of the room symbolized the four forces of the universe: earth, water, wind and fire or Itni, the Sun God.
“At the center of the four potencies of the cross is the human community, the Arabs, the Americans, the Incas, the Spanish and everyone else,” he explained.
“Leave the Spaniards out of it,” the American shouted.
The shaman continued, paying little attention:
“The physical multi-dimensionality, the social complexity, and the historical development of all peoples are thus completely incorporated and given full expression in this unique Inca symbolic representation,” he explained.
He seemed convinced of what he said. When I tried to augment my understanding and acceptance of that reality by drawing him into expounding on the wisdom of his revelations he declared harmony as the basis of it all and pointed to the bottomless hole at the center of the diagram that drained all negativity from the four corners of our four-dimensional existence.
“It is the whole of humanity, not the Inca and the Arabs alone,” he added. And, let me tell you, it was all real and clear as the midday sun though it was all conveyed to me in sign language.
As my good friend, the shaman, said something in Quechua to our companions, the two maidens shared another horizon-wide single smile as bright and promising as the break of dawn. He signaled to me: “Let’s follow the girls,” and we did. They brought us a third but milder offering, a wooden bowl of beer each. We took our seats at the back of his “House of the Sun.” The balcony was made of rough-hewn native wood supported by sturdy pillars above the abundant wild growth at the edge of the Amazon waters on our left. A huge uniformly green plot of yucca was at our right. My host signaled to me that our beer was made from thoroughly chewed and fermented yucca:
“The fermentation does not dilute the arousing effects of women’s saliva on a man’s lips,” he explained wistfully as he ogled our two partners who had brought it for us with the freshly roasted farofa. “You sip the beer, swish the remnants of that honey around in your mouth and imagine all the virginal lips behind it,”
Suddenly, I realized the improbability of the geographic transition we had made by traversing his house. I put up my hands in the classic timeout signal. He read my thoughts and raised his hands to answer when the American politician showed up on that balcony looking very upset.
“I Thought I saw some of those NFS crews around the square today,” I said. “Is that what upsets you?”
“No, not the NFS,” he answered. “Ultimately they work for us even if they don’t know it. But now they have some of my Contra friends with them and I had no advance notice of that. It means someone is double-crossing me.”
“What exactly do they have against the man?” the shaman asked as we went in again.
The politician still didn’t comprehend much sign language. I continued to translate.
“I don’t really know what they hold against me. I hope they realize I am a changed man,” he said. “I am now for gay marriage and all, you know. And I never liked war in the first place. I got seven draft deferments during the Vietnam War; I didn’t want to fight, period!”
“How do you like the logic of that?” the shaman said smiling. He and I felt quite close now. “What would it take to relax this guy a little?” he asked rhetorically.
He paused for a moment, his face assumed a grave expression, and then he embarked on a lengthy expose of Incan history as if to compensate me for skipping the third and ultimate stage of the mind-expanding tour. He knew that interested me:
“Emperor Huayna Capac and his descendants built a huge empire in a single century,” he bragged.
“Mohammad and his followers did the same a millennium before that,” I signaled back. There was a slight hesitancy as I expressed the concept of ‘millennium.’ I found Roman numerals easier to signal than Arabic ones.
“Our man, General Quiso Yupanqui, whipped the ass of the Spaniards right at the head of the valley you came through,” he added. “He buried them with boulders rolled from up high.”
“We are good with stones too, you know!” I responded. “And not only because of the Rock of Gibraltar.”
“All to no avail,” the shaman added overcome by a rueful mood.
I sought to console him.
“We enslaved the Spaniards long before they did you,” I explained in fluid sign language with expressive dexterity and much boxing-of-ears-and-chopping-of-heads motion of my hands. “But I admit to some complicity of my people in destroying your great empire. After all, we taught the Spaniards navigation and gave them the astrolabe.”
“True, they weren’t as familiar with the heavenly constellations as our two peoples were. And those Arabian horses,” he reminded me.
“Were the horses they brought with them really Arabian? The gun powder came from China, though.”
“All is forgiven,” he signed magnanimously. ” We bear no grudge.”
“We are on the same side now,” I responded. ”The enemy of my enemy is my friend, as the saying goes.”
“The gringo tried to convince me of that when you stepped out. I refused to collaborate with him against the Spaniards. He said they were after him. That is why he chose to vacation here and not in Europe.”
“He seems too tense to enjoy his vacation,” I explained. “And he refuses your potions.”
“Let us try the last one,” he said. “You deserve that third round of the real stuff.”
He called our two beauties and ordered the tea. We all headed to the Amazon side of the house to partake of the magic potion in the bosom of nature. The river flowed at a languid pace, its surface one reflective glass sheet extending from the dark forest at its distant bank to the adjacent border fractured by the eddied flow at the edge of our balcony. Two full moons shone brightly from the east. As we stepped out we detected the half-hidden shadows of a dozen figures, some with their distinctive NFS badges flashing occasionally in the moonlight. Slowly and in hushed motion, they snuck toward the stairway of our balcony on the terra firma side.
“The Contras have switched sides,” the American guest said and ran. Before we realized what was happening, he aimed at the moon in the depth and took a head dive.
“He won’t survive this one. He has a weak heart,” I signed hoping to save the man’s life, my hands spinning over my head in alarm like the blades of a helicopter.
“He’s escaped,” the shaman screamed in perfect English. “Go after him,” he ordered the two women. “I’ll get the raft. Jump! Now!”
“Guard our backs,” shouted the two women in perfect English as well.
Hoping to save the man’s precarious life, I too dove in the calm warm waters. Surprisingly the nibbling of a school of piranhas at my flesh had a pleasant tickling effect