What happens in Amsterdam…

NOT an exaggeration.

Based on my travel journal from 9/15/2006.

On our way back to the hotel we passed a mushroom shop, and I really wanted to check it out.  The shop was amazing inside, designed to look like the inside of a giant melting tree.  They had just about every kind of mind-altering drug you’d ever want, and the mushrooms were all laid out in a case with little cards detailing what kind of trip you could expect from each.  Some were high on visual effects and energy, others gave more of a “brain high”, and others were a mix of other things.  After talking with the sales guy, who seemed very knowledgable, he recommended “philosophers stones” (psilocybin truffles) since we had never taken shrooms before and they usually gave a smoother experience.  So I bought two packages of those, at 13 grams each.  He fetched them out of a refrigerated case — apparently it’s only legal to sell fresh shrooms in Amsterdam, nothing dried — and we headed out.

We stopped by New York Pizza for dinner (piping hot and ridiculously huge slices), and then went back to the hotel and took a nap before launching into hyperspace!

The truffles were nasty to eat — crunchy like walnuts, but tasting kinda like…well, fungus.  An earthy, almost musty flavor. I ate some smoked almonds at the same time, which masked the taste for me, but Critter could taste ’em no matter what.  Then we decided to take a walk and enjoy whatever happened. I had never taken any kind of psychedelic before, so I didn’t really know what to expect. (The previous night we downed a couple of massive pot brownies before going to a Madonna concert with 100,000 other people — to this day I still don’t know how we did that and had any energy for shrooms the next day!)

Half an hour later we noticed something happening.  Everything became hilarious, and we were giggling at the stupidest things as if we knew of some gigantic private joke.  Oh, it was fun…but after a while I began to suspect that we looked like typical Amsterdam tourists:  fucked-up, giggling, and walking really-really-really fast as if that would somehow make us blend in.  I nearly got run over by a bicyclist because I forgot about those bike lanes that are everywhere.

We stopped and enjoyed the city lights glittering on the canal water, skirted the Red Light District (having walked through it a couple of days before), and roamed the empty shopping corridors where the models on fashion posters appeared to turn their heads to watch as we walked by. No, not creepy at all.  Finally we ended up back at Dam Square.  We sat down on a bench (it would have been one of these) a couple hundred feet from the Royal Palace, staring at it stupidly as the windows dreamily breathed in and out and the entire building undulated as if underwater. The ground between us and the palace stretched and contracted.  I was entranced!

It was alive, y’all.

At one point I looked around the rest of the area to my left, and everything seemed shiny and brilliant. Then, turning back to the right and looking at the palace, I noticed that it suddenly seemed…closer. Like it was sneaking up on us or something. I muttered to Critter, “Is it just me, or does it feel like the palace was waaaay over there, and now it’s closer??” We giggled like idiots. Everything was looking crystalline and beautiful, but suddenly something in my mind downshifted and I realized we were sitting on a plain stone bench late at night in the plaza, which was filthy and crawling with icky-looking people. That’s when I figured it was time to head back to the hotel.

Walking, walking, walking…  I’m so glad Critter knew where he was going, because I had only the vaguest idea. It was my first trip to Europe, but it was far from his, and even when tripping balls he knew where we were and how to get around. I began to recognize the buildings near our hotel, but they started to look very “Vegas-like” to me, with their multi-colored spotlights.  It all started to look kind of artificial and tacky.  (Later I figured out that pretty much all artificial lighting has a tacky and fake look to me when I’m shrooming — natural light is much more pleasant, either from candles or sunlight.)

It seemed like we had been out for hours, but by the time we finally got back to our room we saw that less than an hour had passed.  Time warp!  Good thing we got back when we did, though, because we both suddenly hit another level and we did not want to be out in public any longer.

Critter wanted to take a cool shower before settling in, ’cause we were burning up and sweating like swine.  We turned out the lights and got into the shower, with only the light from the street coming into the room.  There was very little light in there but we could see many more things in our heads.  I saw stuff I can hardly describe: geometric patterns flowing all over everything (think “Stargate” and “Tron” motifs morphed together with Dalí’s melty-ness).  It was flowing and shifting over every surface, lighting up in shimmering/strobing neon green and blue.  We spent a while in the shower marveling at all this, then decided we couldn’t shower forever. We needed to get out and see what else was in store.

We kicked back on the bed and just looked around, the only light in the room coming from the street lights.  The curtains were bobbing and gyrating gently, as if they were liquid.  I was entranced.  Blue lights traced everything else, and when I closed my eyes I saw fantastic geometric landscapes, fractal swirls, and endless moving figures, shapes, and lights as real as if I had my eyes open.  It was all crystal-clear, better than any CG animation you’d see in a movie. 

At one point Critter went to the bathroom and was in there for several minutes…when he came out, his eyes were bugging out.  “You need to go in the bathroom!  Just sit in the dark and stare off into space.  You won’t believe it!!”  Um, OK.

So I went into the bathroom and shut the door, lowered the toilet lid, and sat down in absolute darkness.  And holy fucking shitballs…  Having nothing to focus on visually, my mind completely opened up. Giger-esque forms sprang up, outlined in neon blue. Geometric scenes straight out of an Escher gallery appeared, morphing from one to the next, mixed with shifting patterns which had a vaguely Egyptian feel to them…  Roman columns were rising and falling, zooming past me…  At one point (and this is where things start to sound a little nutty) my mind seemed to be flying through the animated blueprints of a vast machine of some sort, in full 3-D.  I was completely dumbstruck, my mouth hanging open in wonderment.  I kept thinking, “What is all this stuff? Where does it come from? Is this all really just a chemical thing??” I had the distinct feeling that I was being shown something, but I didn’t understand what it was. As if an otherworldly presence was saying “Hey, look at this!” I keep mentioning Escher and Dalí, but it then hit me that they must have drawn some inspiration from similar experiences.  (Dalí supposedly didn’t get inspiration from drugs, but at that moment I was totally certain he had.) The whole experience was like being inside their paintings, so surreal and beautiful, but also somehow alien. Just in-effing-effable.

That’s when I christened the bathroom with a new name: The Chamber. Thinking back on it, I now realize it was like stepping into that interstellar travel pod from the book/movie “Contact.”

“Wanna take a ride?”

Eventually I joined Critter back on the bed.  We talked, laughed, described things we were seeing, felt completely comfortable and happy.  His face was morphing in the dim light, and his body looked like it was inside a “cocoon” of lights and shifting patterns.  So strange and interesting.  Eventually he went back into The Chamber for another round, and I decided to turn on the desk lamp to see what was going on.  Everything looked normal, until I looked down at the paper bag that the mushrooms had come in.  Leaning in closely I could see the surface of the bag moving and breathing, and shapes started to form.  A dancing Shiva, some clouds, some little people figures.  I was enthralled!  But suddenly I snapped out of it and said to myself, “OK, I’m standing here staring at a paper bag.”  Then I let it go and decided to just enjoy it. Which is really the point of it all, isn’t it?

You and me both, Ellie!

Then I looked at the wall and discovered a whole new world of amusement.  The walls were painted in that style where the paint is dabbed on to give it texture, whatever that’s called, and the paint was swirling and shifting in fractal patterns. Like living liquid, multiple layers of color and shapes flowing and swirling behind each other. 

I must have looked ridiculous sitting on the bed with my face right up to the wall like that, because Critter came out of The Chamber and asked what I was doing.  I excitedly told him to look at the walls.  He didn’t see anything special.  I said, “Look, it’s moving!  You don’t see that???”  He really didn’t.  So he sat down on the bed, and a few minutes later he gasped, “OH WOW, THE WALLS!!”  He was so excited.  We both were like children, marveling at the shapes and colors dancing on the walls and carpet.

It was so amazingly beautiful, and we both laughed at how ridiculous it was.  Here we were during our last night in Amsterdam, holed up in our hotel room, staring at the walls and drapes.  But it was just fine — we’d already done a couple of days sightseeing and whatnot, so we were happy to just enjoy being where we were.  I felt like I had never seen anything so fascinating in my life.  At one point I went back into The Chamber for a few minutes, and I could hear him out on the bed gasping in wonder. “Ohhh, look at that!  And that one, wow!!”  He was a little kid again, seeing something for the first time: a falling star… a firefly… a hyperspatial fractal mandala…


Eventually we decided it was time to get some sleep since we were supposed to leave town in the morning, but I was still experiencing heavy visuals even with my eyes closed: millions of multicolored bubbles swirling and bobbing in fractal patterns over vast landscapes made of gears and wheels.  So absolutely strange.  Eventually we fell asleep and surely had bizarre dreams, though I don’t remember them.

The next day, however, things were VERY different. We both felt like all emotion had been drained out of us — it was a strange, empty feeling. I think all our serotonin had been burned up the night before, leaving us in a zombie state. I’d never felt so utterly hollow like that before, or since. We packed up our stuff, neither saying much about how awesome our experience had been… We were just a couple of human-shaped husks shuffling down the street with our bags, stopping briefly to eat some cheese-toast things with coffee before continuing our lifeless shuffle to the train station.

When going through my Amsterdam photos later, I noticed that the last one I took was of the truffles. I’m so glad I took this picture, because it helped me identify exactly which strain we had (p. tampanensis) so I could seek it out at home.

Since then I’ve taken magic mushrooms many times, and the experiences have never been quite as magical as that one night, but they’ve all been interesting and enjoyable. Well, except for that time we recklessly decided to double our usual dose. I was fine, but Critter went into the 13th Dimension and things got supremely weird. That experience still haunts me to this day…but that’s a whole different post for another time! Use responsibly, kids.

My journal had a ranty “These should be legal!” screed at the end (furiously scribbled on the train the next day), but I don’t feel the need to include that. I do think they should be legal, though, especially with all the evidence we now have about how beneficial they are in treating depression and trauma. When used with care and respect, psychedelics can do wonders! Unfortunately, they’re labeled “dangerous” while highly-profitable legal drugs like alcohol and nicotine destroy lives, and often entire families, every single day. Thank you, bullshit War on Drugs.

The bright side is that attitudes towards psychedelics are changing more and more each year, with some states decriminalizing or even legalizing them. One of these days I think you’ll be able to go down to your local shroom shop and pick up some magic truffles on your way home from the grocery store. Or maybe even grow your own. It’s not that difficult, from what I hear…

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