Australia: Shipwrecks and Acid Trips

Hello you handsome bastard. It is I, Daniel Scott Hackett, first of his name, come to teach you a lesson. And by teach you a lesson, I do of course mean tell you of each and every silly thing that has happened to or around me for the past fortnight.

First and foremost, there is work. Blueberries, blueberries, they are rotting my teeth and bruising my soul. But I do not care anymore. I work a little every day and slack off a lot, because piece rate work is unethical and I refuse to play the game. There are many people who run around all day like worker bees, stressing and pressing and arguing and generally casting away their humanity and dignity in a desperate bid to pick enough berries to earn roughly minimum wage. No; not I. I listen to audiobooks, I dance to music, I eat the fruit, I hang out with insects, and I talk to anybody with ears. I pick some berries, I earn perhaps a hundred dollars, and I go for a rest. I am my own, happy, lovely human being, and if I’m going to work for abysmal wages, I am going to do it at my leisure. Mountain Blue Farms, you are shit, and I do rather hope you get your comeuppance down the line when everybody notices how many horrendous chemicals you use on your produce.

I made a cool friend at the farm, this French Fijian girl called Elysia. She’s slow at picking fruit like me, and likes to take hour-long breaks like me, and so we have bonded somewhat. She told me an amazing story the other week, about how her parents met. I’ve never heard anything like it. Her mum was a fresh faced, red-headed journalist from Paris, and she travelled the world as a war reporter. She was attempting to cross the Pacific Ocean in the 80’s on a large merchant ship, when a storm hit. The captain was drunk and hit a big rock. The ship went down, the captain with it, but Elysia’s mother survived. She swam through the night – 16 hours straight – and eventually arrived on a sandy beach, where she passed out from exhaustion. She had unknowingly arrived at a Fijian island.

Some local people found this strange red-haired woman sprawled on the beach and bundled her into an ambulance. Sharing the same ambulance that morning was a diving instructor, a local man who had been bitten on the leg by a shark. The two victims of the sea, drifting in and out of consciousness, shared a look. And that was the first time Elysia’s parents’ eyes met. When she told me the story I scribbled it down immediately, mad with joy.

A lot of people from the Pacific island Vanuatu work at the blueberry farm, and they’re wonderful humans. I didn’t even know Vanuatu was a place until I arrived here. It is a small country to the south west of Fiji, a thousand miles or so off Australia’s east coast. The Vanuatuans are simply lovely. They come every year to the blueberry farm to work to send money back home. They never complain, they simply crack on with the work. As the days wears on and you are sweating, elbow deep in berry bushes, you will often hear them shriek and holler. I asked Elysia what it meant once. She told me that the women scream because they are hot and tired, and by making loud silly noises they make each other laugh and cheer everybody up. Always smiling, always playing practical jokes, always waving goodbye at the end of a long shift, the Vanuatuans boost my spirits every day.

We had a group volleyball tournament over at Tabulam Backpackers the other day, a hostel just down the road from our own. Our bunch of miscreants piled down there in cars laden with booze and cigarettes, tops off, trunks on, snacks galore. I was quietly proud of our little hostel; despite being only twenty or so, out of the eleven teams present we made the biggest noise by far. Other hostels function better, are more equipped, and have fewer arguments; our place is a little dirty, a bit manic, and personal space is just not a thing – but any struggles we have encountered along the way have bonded us far beyond any backpackers in surrounding accommodation. I love my family here. I really do.

The volleyball day was a good laugh. I didn’t play, for I am abysmal at most every sport and don’t like to be publically humiliated very much – people always say ‘awww don’t worry what everyone thinks, just enjoy yourself’ when I say this, however I’d argue that it’s all well and good having this mentality when you occasionally miss a goal or give away a point, but it’s quite different when literally every time you touch the ball you accidentally hoof it away across the field into the long grass or smash it into your team mate’s spectacle-clad face. People soon forget their good sportsmanship and inclusivity and start loudly wishing you would fuck off; story of my sporting life.

Instead then, I did what I have always done whenever sporting events took place: I sat on the grass with the girls and got shitfaced. We played Frisbee, we had bizarre conversations, and I tried to learn how to do a headstand but was far too drunk and only succeeded in toppling over and smashing my spine eighteen times in a row.

That night I hopped in a van with a bunch of French people and was whisked away to a party, and ending up crashed at a share-house in the next town over. I had work the next day (Monday morning, eugh), and had no idea how I would get there. I ended up hitchhiking, and after an hour or so of wandering down country lanes under a baking sun, I caught a lift with two excitable and very friendly Australian dudes in a people carrier who had been awake for 22 hours and were off their tits on meth. There’s quite a lot of meth around here, actually. That’s bush life for you.

Last Saturday a bunch of us dropped acid. The idea was born of Edie and Laurel, two mad Bristolian sisters who drink even more wine than I do and are absolutely inseparable. They’re backpacking as well, and currently occupy a static caravan on the edge property which they keep well stocked with wine, weed, porn, horror films and a wardrobe that would make Madonna vomit with envy. Laurel is leaving the hostel tomorrow, after more than three turbulent, wild months here, and wanted a nice family acid trip as her send off.

I pootled down to their caravan in the early afternoon, along with Lachie (Aus), Gabriel (France), Antoine (France), Deigo (Argentina) and Seth (Blighty). The eight of us were keen to crack on with the trip. Oh, how we had no idea what was coming. For starters, the drug came in sweet form, and we had no idea how much to take. I had a half, then after an hour I shrugged and took another half, which may well have been a full tab – twice the amount I tried with Annie in Berlin some ten months ago. Everybody else had even more. Eep.

Edie and Laural decorated the garden outside their caravan with an upturned bathtub, upon which they placed all manner of mad china and crockery; a perfect mad hatter’s tea party. They supplied masks – including a horse, a wrestler, a prostitute and Donald Trump – as well as trippy 3D art which they plastered around. We sat on cushions and blankets and drank wine under the burning springtime sun, sheltered from its rays only by burlap sacks tied onto a tall metal frame we lounged beneath.

Soon enough, everybody had lost their minds. Seth abstained, and I was very glad to have him present as a point of reference for normality. I felt as though my brain was exploding constantly, I had become a human combustion engine, my senses were heightened to the animalistic, and I was accelerated through thoughts at such a rate that I could only describe my overwhelming mental state to Seth and Lachie as ‘happy and also terrified’. The best way to explain this emotion is to imagine being told you’ve won the lottery while sitting perched atop the Burj Khalifa’s spire.

I briefly forgot who I was at one point, which was quite alarming, but I figured it out after a minute or two. Seth’s knack for English understatement had me in fits of laughter all day. It’s been a very long time since I’ve met someone who makes me howl with laughter with barely a word. We were all lying on the blankets at one point, giggling after a couple of hours of madness, when someone mentioned transcendence. “I transcended once,” said Seth flatly, offering no further explanation whatsoever. We fell about laughing once again.

Edie’s trip was more manic than most. It’s odd how a drug can influence the way you physically see people, as though you can actually feel their personalities, or see them clad in it like clothing. Diego, who is the calmest person you will ever meet (sometimes to the point of infuriating all around him) seemed to gain a golden halo; he looked beautiful, majestic, lounging quietly in the sun, simply contemplating life and enjoying his trip without feeling the need to communicate. On the other hand Edie, bless her, was jittery and worrisome; she kept gobbling down further sweets and then panicking what would happen to her. I suggested she stop taking more acid. She did not listen.

Antoine disappeared for around an hour into the woods, and when he reappeared he was covered in scratches and mud with the biggest smile I’ve ever seen across his face. I’ve never seen his eyes look so alive. There was something in them that you just never see in adults. I’ve seen the look before on various psychedelic trips. It’s a blessed innocence long lost, an unbridled, mad joy, and it completely overtakes you. We roll around and cry with laughter, we cuddle and marvel at nature, giddy and silly, and our egos dissolve. We unravel. Gone are the adult barriers of poise and social order, etiquette. The senses open up, and a lifetime’s worth of carefully collected schemata crumbles. Everything is new. It’s true of all species; that calm we gain, the apathy to our world, is a simple, inevitable part of aging. Last week I watched new calves in the field run and jump and kick and play as their stoic parents chewed cud and looked on.

There is so much in the everyday that we ignore. It’s a survival mechanism, I suppose. It helps us focus and excel. Humans have long since shut out the extremes of the senses; we see a forest before us, we do not notice the movement of each individual leaf. But move they do, and they create sounds, and they filter light through their veins. Clouds unfurl above us, moisture evaporating constantly, and yet the sober mind only sees a white mass. I felt as though I had never seen clouds before that day. I looked at a drifting grey cloud and saw every aspect of it, every layer, its true shape and form in the sky, felt its weight. I heard music as though I’d been deaf all my life. Bass, drums, guitars; the way they weaved in and out and coalesced in perfect synchronicity made me yelp with joy.

I took leave of my friends later to be alone and contemplate as the manic phrase of the trip wound away. However, sitting alone watching the sunset, I found that there was not much inside myself to explore. It turns out that three months living on this tiny patch of land, away from loved ones, penniless, mad, lost, has allowed me to work through almost every issue I have. I am at peace, truly, and this was evident after seven hours when the sky grew black and I grew weary and felt the acid turning on me. I felt it there, prodding away at different feelings, emotions and memories, trying to find a weakness to exploit. But there were none. I gave the acid free reign of my mind, allowing it access to any deep secret or hidden memory it wished. I no longer hide anything from myself, however macabre, however sad, however ugly. There are no thoughts to fear.

I thought about past loves, about family, about regrets, about mistakes, about space and time and death… and I was at peace. I did not anticipate that, not one bit. But it showed me, truly, that there is no darkness inside me. This strange little farm has been the restart I needed, and I have learned – sober, without psychedelics, through slow contemplation and brutal self-honesty alone – to love myself, and to forgive myself. The acid was simply the perfect test of this newfound tranquillity.

For the rest of my trip, some three further hours, I sought solitude, happy with my own company. I barely spoke. I didn’t need to. Anybody who sought me out in the hours that followed found a man sitting in an armchair on the grass, gazing out at the blueing horizon with a faint smile and a contented sigh. The most important learning from that day was in regard to my own physical health. I have been smoking since March and drinking more often than not for years. My head ached that day, and a sip of Coca Cola churned my stomach. It felt so unnatural, so completely, utterly wrong. Addiction to nicotine and reliance on alcohol made me feel weak and pathetic. I decided I would refuse be a slave to any substance. And the next morning, though I do not understand the science behind it, I awoke and found I had no craving for a cigarette whatsoever. I have not smoked since, nor had an urge to smoke, and I will be far more sensible with my consumption of alcohol in the future. I can already feel the benefit of keeping a clean body; it feels like being truly alive.

I crawled back to sobriety after a grinding, anxious end to the trip lasting a couple of hours – I had grown tired and was wishing myself sober, which made time slow to a treacle crawl and soured my mood. By 10pm, however, I was sane again, and though I still felt a little bit Kevin (Spacey), I was grateful to be back on earth. Darkness fell, and as I lay on my bunk, Seth burst into the room with a mad grin on his face.

“I’ve just had a sweet,” he said.

The bloody half-wit decided it’d be a good idea to begin a ten hour acid trip at the precise moment everybody else was going to bed. I had to go to the back shed and sit outside with him in the dark – no music, everyone with a speaker had left – chatting to him while he tripped his nut off into the wee hours. Antoine passed by with a joint at one point and offered me it. I turned him down, with the justification that I’d been high for quite long enough and couldn’t stomach any more. And Seth? He considered it a moment; considered the fact that we were sat in a dark, bug infested shed surrounded by empty beer cans and cigarette ends at 2am, that his girlfriend was in bed furious with him for doing drugs, that I would soon be going to sleep and he would in all likelihood be sat alone in the bush dark tripping frogs legs for the next five hours. Then he reached for the joint.

“Ah, go on then. Let’s see how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

What a hero.

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