san jose del pacifico sunset mexico

One year ago today I arrived in Rio De Janeiro to begin my exploration of the Americas. One year on and I’m still travelling, writing this as I sit sipping my morning coffee from the Caribbean Island of Caye Caulker in Belize, considering how lucky I am.

rio de janeiro view ipanema beach

First stop: Rio one year ago

They say that as you get older each year passes more quickly than the last. Well, thats just not been true for me; looking back over the last year I can hardly believe how much I’ve seen and experienced in just 365 days. I’ve partied ridiculously at Carnaval, hitchiked to Patagonia, trekked the Amazon rainforest, been to the Mexican desert in search of Peyote… I could go on. Let’s just say it’s been an epic and life-affirming year that’s been full of incredible experiences. It has opened my eyes to so much, and not only the sights I’ve been seeing and the cultures I’ve been exploring, but also in ways of living and the choices we have in life. One revelation I want to share with the world: being stuck in an unfulfilling job with a few weeks vacation each year IS NOT THE ONLY WAY. You have a choice. If you’ve ever dreamt of doing something similar – long term travel or an extended adventure- I’m here to tell you it’s more than possible. And not only is it possible, it’s awesome.

san jose del pacifico sunset mexico

San Jose Del Pacifico, Mexico -where I spent New Years and one of my all time favourite stops

One Life-Affirming Year

Over the last year I’ve had moments where I’ve felt so content and fulfilled that I’ve looked back over my entire life and felt totally content with every decision that I’ve ever made, because they led me to where I am – and I wouldn’t trade places with anyone. It’s felt like everything I’ve been through, including every struggle and low, has been worth it. And for that, I have no regrets.

Now I want to ask you, how many times in the last year have you thought to yourself:

‘Life is truly amazing. The world is incredible and full of beauty. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be and nothing else I’d rather be doing’

It’s a pretty awesome feeling. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve thought this. I want to share with you that this feeling doesn’t have to be rare and elusive. It comes as a frequent and welcome visitor when you’re living a life that you want to live.

Now I won’t pretend that I haven’t had my low points- I certainly have – but when they come I’ve been able to console myself with the fact that I’m living a life true to myself and accept the hard times as a part of that. When I’m missing my bros back home or just going through a rough patch, I can see that its just a part of how I’m choosing to live my life – I can own it and have no resentments. And when the storm passes, as it always does, I can again easily realise how incredibly lucky I am.

bolivia national park uyuni tour

Another of countless beautiful places I’ve visited – Eduardo Abaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve, Bolivia.

Your Life Is Passing You By

Worth reminding yourself of this, regularly. Time is ticking. I’m sure you have dreams. I’m sure you have things you want to experience. I’m sure there are adventures you’d like to embark upon. If you’re not in some way working towards those dreams, start today! Do not let your dreams gather dust or they’ll be lost in the attic of unfulfilled desires forever. Those things you want to do aren’t going to come and find you, you must take ownership of your life and think about how you can make them a reality. In the last year I’ve lived and fulfilled two dreams of my own; to explore Latin America and to learn a second language.  If you’ve dreamt of travel and exploring the world then I have some good news for you – this is becoming easier and easier.

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”
– Hunter S Thompson

When you come to the end and look back on your life, do you want to have regrets about a life dictated by fear? Or do you want to be able to say ‘Damn, what a trip!’.

I think we both have the same answer.

If you are now feeling excitement or inspiration, then awesome, that’s what I was aiming for. Now, stop waiting, start planning!

If you want to know more about how I’ve been travelling for so long check out My Ultimate Guide To Budget Long-Term Travel. I’ll be writing more about travel soon – including how to stay sane during what can be at times an exhausting, lonely or overwhelming experience.

I’m off for a swim in the sea, have a great day!

ai weiwei finger
ai weiwei finger

Courtesy the artist © 2015 Ai Weiwei

“What? You dont know about [insert x here]?! Have you been living under a rock?”

This is a response I’m sure you’re familiar with and has probably at one time or another led to some blushing or embarrassment on your part. And that’s what it was intended to do, subconsciously or not; to belittle you, to make you feel beneath the now outraged person, and for you to realise that on some level they are a better person than you because they are more informed about the matter at hand. In an attempt to avoid a repeat blushing in future interactions, you’ll then spend time getting up to date on whatever the trivial matter is. But let’s be honest, most of the time, from where you’re standing – it is trivial, and it isn’t fundamental to your own path.

“One of the most powerful things you can do as a human being in our hyperconnected, 24/7 media world is say: ‘I don’t know.’ Or, more provocatively: ‘I don’t care.’ Most of society seems to have taken it as a commandment that one must know about every single current event, watch every episode of every critically acclaimed television series, follow the news religiously, and present themselves to others as an informed and worldly individual.

But where is the evidence that this is actually necessary? Is the obligation enforced by the police? Or is it that you’re afraid of seeming silly at a dinner party? Yes, you owe it to your country and your family to know generally about events that may directly affect them, but that’s about all.

How much more time, energy, and pure brainpower would you have available if you drastically cut your media consumption? How much more rested and present would you feel if you were no longer excited and outraged by every scandal, breaking story, and potential crisis (many of which never come to pass anyway)?”

– Ryan Holiday & Stephen Hanselman
from The Daily Stoic

  • P.S. Love this book, but more on that another time.

Let’s look at the bigger picture for a minute: our time on earth is limited. How do you want to use your time? Now, are you spending your time doing that?

Follow Your Bliss

“Follow your bliss and the world will open doors for you where there were only walls”
– Joseph Campbell

san jose del pacifico sunset mexico

Travel, with incredible views like this, is one of my sources of bliss. Photo taken last year in San Jose Del Pacifico, Mexico.

Do you have any dreams or ambitions in life? Perhaps you want to learn a second language? Run a marathon? Write a novel? Travel the world? Read the Greek classics? Become the best athlete that you can be? By constantly keeping up with mainstream media and culture, you’re continually spending precious time that could be used pursuing those goals, or doing and learning about things that you enjoy and really interest you; things that will lead to a more deeply gratifying life. (Or even just taking more time out for yourself to chill and recharge).

Fuck The News

“To a philosopher all news is gossip, and they who edit and read it are old women over their tea.”
– Henry David Thoreau

Think again before feeling guilty for not keeping up with current events. Science has proven that exposing yourself to a lot of news will cause you more stress and anxiety. ‘You are what you eat’ – this is true of your media consumption too. Is the information you are receiving nourishing you, making you feel more positive about your life and the world you live in? Or is it going to leave a bad taste in your mouth for the rest of your day, or even your week? Media has a significant effect on our mental and emotional health, so be mindful of what you consume.

Fuck Society

“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society”
– Jiddu Krishnamurti

Are you carving out a life that you yourself want to live? Or are you being pressured into doing what society expects you to do? A model citizen trapped in the circus of mainstream culture and media due to some unexamined fear of not being accepted by others and society? The very same society that has led us to the point where the world’s 8 richest people have as much wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion? Where there’s a perpetual state of war? Where there are enough resources to shelter, clothe and feed everyone, yet half the world live in poverty? Where almost everyone knows that world leaders and politicians are crooks and the foundations of society are riddled with corruption? A consumer culture that tries to convince us that more money and things will eventually lead to happiness? Do you really want to be accepted by a society like this? Society is bullshit and so is anyone who mindlessly subscribes to the rules of the game. Don’t be a conformist! Carve your own path!

Live YOUR Life

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Remember, your life is your life, so don’t give it over endlessly trying to please and be accepted by others. Find your own truth, and if you pursue what you are interested in, you will find the others. Your time on this planet is incredibly precious, use it wisely!

lake titicaca lsd
lake titicaca lsd

Sophie standing in Lake Titicaca, on her first LSD trip

An acid trip on the Bolivian Isla Del Sol? Yeah that was a pretty sweet one. It was also my new friend Sophie’s first time with LSD. Figuring that you yourself may never have tried psychedelics but may be interested in LSD, this post will centre on how the experience was for Sophie; a first-time tripper. She kindly wrote about the experience from her perspective for me upon request, and I’ve included her writing in sections precluded with and S: and in blue, and interspersed them with my own account of the experience. Also, indented, I’ve put a few comments on aspects of the psychedelic experience typical to LSD.

  • N.B. This is by no means an exhaustive or complete account of an LSD experience, or even our experience that day, rather a fun piece that I hope will pique your curiosity and perhaps make you consider LSD and other psychedelic substances differently. There’s also some resources for first timers at the end.

Background

S: Apart from our adventure in the Bolivian jungle, I’d had no experience with psychedelics. As soon as John told me all about the effects of acid and his experiences, I knew I would like to sense this myself too.

As we headed east leaving the Amazon and our ayahuasca chapter behind, I revealed to Sophie that I had a few tabs of LSD and we could take some together. Having both just been told that our next destination, The Island Of The Sun, alleged birthplace of the Incas, is ‘the most beautiful place in Bolivia’, it didn’t take long before we’d decided that it would be a more than opportune time and place for some consciousness experimentation. I’d long wanted to help guide someone through their first LSD experience and figured if I was to ever fulfil my vague and lazily pursued pipe-dream of one day becoming a shaman/psychedelic therapist myself, it would be exactly the type of experience I should be notching up.

Though I’m still no expert, I’d like to think of myself as a fairly seasoned tripper these days and reasonably capable of dealing with any difficult situations which may arise. Besides, and much more importantly, Sophie felt good about it and was very positive.

The Day Of The Trip

bay.jpg

The bay we arrived in to

Lake Titicaca is mahoossive so it was only after a 2 hour boat ride that we arrived to the eastern side of the island. After finding a room at a place that was essentially sheds built onto the side of a mountain, we headed in the direction of where we’d heard quiet beaches could be found.

heading down.jpg

Heading down to the beach

S: As we explored the eastern side of the island by foot, we found an idyllic small hidden beach. We walked down a rocky hill, past a small abandoned cabin, and reached a 300 foot wide beach with no one and nothing else to be seen apart from the dry landscape and clear water. We sat down in a little dune. We took the acid and sat in silence, with our faces turned to the bright warm sun.

It was just after midday when we took the acid, 3/4 tab each. I estimate that each of our doses were about 50-100 micrograms each (current drug laws make it very hard to know what you actually have – let’s fight for legalisation! OK, more on that in another post). I figured it was a good idea to take less than a full tab after others’ feedback on this batch; one example – a few weeks earlier I’d given a tab to a curious Korean girl I’d met in Sucre advising her that half the tab might be best for her first time – she later contacted me telling me she had tried half and that the trip was strong, much stronger than she’d expected and had lasted more than 14 hours(!). So anyway…

The Trip

After about an hour we both began to feel lethargic and sluggish like just we’d eaten a fat and heavy meal (we had in fact eaten a sandwich and were probably sensitive to the digestion). We lay back and relaxed and it passed after about twenty minutes as the trip began. As the psychological effects came on, Sophie told me that she had the sensation that her body wasn’t ‘hers’. Looking at one of her feet she dug it into the sand a few times, as if it were numb with pins and needles, and testing her sense of touch. She was smiling and seemed to be enjoying the novelty.

‘It’s so weird – it’s not mine!’

Looking bewildered, she picked up a small stone from beside her and threw it at her foot.

‘Yes, but it is useful, you’ll need it later’ I smiled.

  • The ‘this body is not my body’ sensation is not an uncommon sensation for people to experience on psychedelics. For this reason, looking at yourself in a mirror is weirdly fascinating.

We lay back and relaxed as you would do on any day at the beach. A little scraggly dog appeared and decided to chill with us, I happily appointed him mascot for the trip and Sophie named him Sam.

spawling on beach isla del sol.jpg

Me and Sam: a dog’s life

S: After a little while, I started to feel very relaxed. The sun on my skin felt very nice and comforting, and there was nothing else I wanted in that moment. I was sensing a lot, but emotionally in a very stable and positive way. The more I allowed myself to just take in the moment, the more I felt happy, content and at peace. I’ve never experienced myself being so present; my thoughts did not drift off to the past or future, I was able to fully feel how it was to be there.

  • Happy, content and at peace – Yes, this is why we trip!

S: I decided to go for a swim. Even though the water was very cold, it felt very nice around my body. I couldn’t get enough of the water and stood there for a while, just feeling the water with my fingertips, legs and belly. I stared out towards the sun and felt good. My feeling was that it was the perfect place to be at that exact moment.

  • Presence – the feeling that there is nowhere else you’d rather be, and nothing that you would change; that everything is as it should be – also not an uncommon effect of psychedelics. Nice.

Sidenote: the water was actually freezing, like really cold. I’d dipped in myself a short while before and at that point was comfortably dried off and happily chilling on my towel again. Crazy girl.

S: There was not much more than the beach, the water, the sun, John and the little dog that came and joined us. The world felt like a little place in those moments.

We passed the day there, simply enjoying the view and listening to music as we lay in isolation from the world and any nagging thoughts of it. That afternoon our bodies and minds were there on that beach.

the blue view.jpg

I spent long periods of time just gazing at this beauty

After the Peak – Coming Down & Hiking Up

There was no intense peak on this trip and after a few hours we could both feel the effects diminishing. As the effects started to wear off we decided to leave the beach and start heading back to give ourselves time to find our way back to our room before dark. We left the beach and climbed back up to the hiking trail, marvelling at the outstanding beauty from our new vantage point.

Sophie told me that her body felt different again, that physically she felt light and rejuvenated. I didn’t find it hard to believe as she was joyfully bouncing around with a spring in her step and a blissful smile on her face. Looking at our new surroundings we saw beauty from all sides and were charmed by some wild goats trotting freely on the mountain beside us.

walking view.jpg

The trail, sorry – didn’t get a pic of the goats

Attempting to capture the beauty of the landscape, Sophie took out her camera and snapped a few pics, but each time, upon glancing at the photo upon her screen, ‘less beautiful!’. Reality just couldn’t be matched.

As we continued walking along the trail, we noticed that we could see our spot down on the beach, where we’d spent the previous five hours or so. We’d been totally oblivious of how exposed the beach was; from the shore we’d only been looking out, and not behind us and up the hill behind. Whilst we were down there we felt totally secluded and had been in our own little universe, but now we could see that the spot was clearly visible to anyone walking the trail. Being one of the top tourist spots in Bolivia, there was a decent number of people hiking around that day. We imagined tourists hiking along that day and seeing us down there – myself sprawled on the towel and Sophie standing topless and motionless in the still cold waters of the Lake – and doubled over in hysterics. People don’t typically visit the Isla Del Sol to have a beach day, it’s more of a hiking/Incan ruin tourist pull, so imagining what people might’ve been thinking as they saw us on their way round was hilarious and we continued cracking up in bursts of laughter for a good ten minutes. Even thinking about it now brings a smile to my face.

  • Uncontrollable laughter is also not an uncommon occurrence when tripping, and quite frankly, an absolute joy. There is something so liberating and joyful about free and unrestrained laughter; it’s one of my favourite aspects of tripping.
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Night falls on the island

As the laughter died down we made our way back and went for dinner at the only restaurant in ‘town’, a small family place with 4 tables and a 10 year old kid as the waiter. We talked about our day and the trip together – a classic ‘debrief’ over dinner. After arriving back home, we perched on the mountain beside our room and gazed up at the stars, a tree dancing with the wind in our view. Tenderly, almost wistfully, speaking of the native’s beliefs, Sophie let out:

‘You know, sometimes I understand why they believe in Pachamama’

Me too Sophie, me too.

Final thoughts from Sophie

Are you glad you tried LSD? Was it a positive experience?

S: Yes and yes, it was even better than I expected, I’ve never felt so truly in the moment, not being distracted by thoughts, the surroundings, past or future.

Was it how you had expected it to be? And how was it different from what you expected?

S: Honestly I expected it to be less fulfilling, I mean, I expected to feel a happy and relaxed feeling, but not so much the capability to let go of all thoughts about past and future, and therefore the feeling of being totally relaxed. I also didn’t expect to feel so alert yet relaxed and open at the same time.

Delving Deeper: LSD as a Tool

I would definitely describe this first time trip on LSD being a success. However, we didn’t delve into any particularly deep areas of thought, or have the induced psychoanalysis that I associate with acid. As on this trip, it can be quite easy to simply pass through an experience in wonder and enjoyment of your surroundings without probing deeper territory. Psychedelics may indeed lead to deeper questions and revelations (as with my own first experiences), but as in this case, it’s not guaranteed. This may have been due to the strength of the dose, it may not have been enough to push us into that realm, or it could have been the captivating view that pulled us into the outer sensual world rather than our own internal worlds – honestly I’m not sure – but if you are hoping to learn some kind of bigger lesson from your experience it might be worth having a list of things/obstacles in your life with you to think about, and setting aside some time during the trip to do this. Doing this whilst tripping can help to see things from a new angle and get a fresh perspective on how you might approach and overcome problems in your life.

Notes From The ‘Guide’:

To be entirely honest, no difficult situations reared their heads and there was nothing I needed to do. Everytime I asked, Sophie told me how relaxed and good she felt. I honestly believe that the potential dangers of psychedelics are overstated. If you are sensible with set and setting and don’t have a history of mental illness, my personal view is that you will not only be fine, but stand to have an incredible experience with much to gain – not only during your adventure to new territories of consciousness, but also beyond the experience and in your life after the trip has ended. Finally I would recommend that you don’t resist or fight against what you are experiencing; accept it and go with it – that’s my first advice to anyone intending to take a psychedelic of any kind.

Due to the smooth nature of the trip, I don’t think there is much useful advice I can pass on as a guide other than the obvious: be positive, supportive and calm.

For first time trippers or trip sitters – there are some fantastic books and online resources, here are a few to get you started:

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – 

That’s it! Potential trippers, I hope you’ve found this post useful. See you around 🙂

London England Shanghai Pudong

When I left the UK in 2012 to go and live and work as an expat in Shanghai I obviously expected to learn a bit about China and its culture, but what I didn’t foresee from the experience of living away was how I would learn about the country and culture I grew up in; England.

London England Shanghai Pudong

A buddy in London – another in Shanghai

I lived over a year in Shanghai, went onto South Korea, and after three years of living away I returned to my hometown. The day I returned I took the family dog out for a walk, a walk I’d taken a thousand times before, but there was an obvious difference this time – it was fascinating. I saw my neighbourhood and its streets and people with new eyes. What used to be a typically mundane walk to the park had become an opportunity for insight into the lives of English people. I felt like a tourist. The variety of nationalities astounded me after the homogeneous populations of China and Korea, and I marvelled at the narrowly paved streets lined with houses and the traditional public house on the corner – how English! Sound boring? Well, it was for me too, that’s why I left! But on returning home everything was fresh and inspiring and I realised how much better I actually knew my country than when I had left a few years earlier.

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time.”
– T.S. Eliot 

Dog Leamington Spa England

Walking the dog – different this time

Gaining A New Perspective

“One thing about which fish know exactly nothing is water, since they have no anti-environment which would enable them to perceive the element they live in.”
– Marshall McLuhan

Arriving in China I was struck by the obvious differences from English society; language, mainstream culture, education, architecture, social norms, food, transport – and naturally compared everything to how it was back home. I had a new reference point for all of the things that’d made up and influenced my life in England but which I’d never had any real perspective on because I’d never lived anywhere else. I discussed the differences with other expats and came to a new appreciation of different aspects of my home country whilst discovering and exploring the wonders of my new life and home in the East.

Living with the internet restrictions of Chinese society (no youtube, facebook etc.) gave me a gauge on the cyber liberty of the UK, and living under their dictatorial regime – where speaking out as a dissident and protesting are dangerous acts to be involved in – gave me a benchmark with which to compare the freedom of expression my friends and family could enjoy back home. Leaving my country had enabled me to see it in a new way.

❝Those who know nothing of foreign languages know nothing of their own.❞
‒ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

New perspectives can totally reshape what has become mundane, boring or even invisible. After learning how to read and write Hangul – the entirely phonetic, syllabic and incredibly easy to learn alphabet of Korea (seriously, you can learn it in a day) – I realised how poorly designed English is as a written language. Indeed, Hangul was designed to be easy – it was created by King Sejong in 1443 in an effort to increase literacy rates and to lessen the power and wealth gap.

Hangul Korean alphabet

A couple of words in Hangul – it’s easier than it looks

By comparison, English is a clunky mongrel language – spelling, pronunciation and usage have evolved and mutated in as many and as varied ways as the places our words came from. Whilst I could easily have learnt this information without ever leaving England, the necessity of learning other languages forced these considerations into my consciousness and gave me an experiential appreciation of what would’ve been purely theoretical knowledge.

There Is No End To Discovery

Language is just one example and there is seemingly no end to the new insights one can gain by delving into another culture. After three years in the far East I felt like I’d barely scratched the surface, yet had still found countless new perspectives on all manner of things that I’d never really considered back home; from greetings; handshakes vs. bows, to social outlooks; individualism vs. collectivism.

Renewed Interest Through Others’ Interest

Buckingham palace London

Turns out the UK is an interesting place

Wanting to learn about whichever land I find myself, I ask locals their opinions and thoughts on their country. “What are the best things about your country?” is a common one I like to ask. Asking others about their homeland invites questions about your own and when I first started having my questions mirrored back to me it triggered my own interest as their curiosity of my country rubbed off on me. Trying to explain life and aspects of the UK to someone who’d only seen it in films was like an exercise in expressing thoughts and feelings on things which I hadn’t really considered. Like most people I enjoy sharing information – we all know the nice feeling when someone asks you about something that you know a lot about – and I wanted to know more, not only to be able to answer other people’s questions but to know for myself. With new insight into how culture affects people, it also made me learn about myself and how I’ve been shaped by English culture.

International Impressions – First Hand

These conversations with people of other nationalities changed the way I think about my own country in another way too – in its worldwide perception and reputation. Interestingly I found out that mention of England in the East commonly summons pictures of fish & chips, double-decker buses and red phone boxes. I also found it interesting that England is considered a very advanced and modern country, despite being way behind the East in many things like technology, transportation and rates of violent crime.

Metro in Tokyo

Metro in Tokyo – Japan is the future

I’m currently writing this as I travel Latin America, and during my 7 months in South America this year I’ve found that people here associate us with tea (of course), the old empire, the musical legacy of the 60s & 70s (I found that Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and our other greats are probably listened to more in the continent of South America than at home- I’ve lost count of the times people have told me ‘I love the music from your country’), and specifically in Argentina, the Falkland Islands and Maradona’s hand of god in ’86 – which is seen as a powerful and symbolic act of rebellion against the tyrannical empires of Europe. I previously had little idea about these international impressions and connections with of the piece of land on which I spent the first 23 years of my life.

Coming Home: Seeing With New Eyes & Appreciating the Culture That Made Me

When I left England it was the only culture I’d lived and been immersed in. I’d never been outside the country for more than a month and had never worked, studied, or lived anything like the ‘typical’ life of a citizen in any of the countries I’d visited. So when I arrived in China, everything was measured up against home – it was the only first hand reference point that I had. By the time I’d arrived in Korea, China had become another reference point. Everything new and novel about Korea was now also measured up against China. After Korea I visited Taiwan and then spent a month in Japan – and of course comparisons were then made to China and Korea. By the time I was heading back home I was thinking less about how places compared to England, but more about the finer differences between the different cultures of the far East. Because of these experiences I had new perspectives, and when I finally made it back to England it was a different country to the one that I’d left.

Street in Sheffield England UK

Typical street scene – not as typical on my return

You’ve probably heard the term ‘reverse-culture shock’, but I’m not referring to that, what I experienced didn’t induce any stress, only an enchantment with my country and culture. I saw things differently and noticed quirks in my home culture that I’d never thought twice of before. Far from becoming anti-patriotic, I became endeared with the culture that shaped me.

I remember going to a rugby game with my Dad over the Christmas holidays. Gloucester were playing, his hometown team. After a pub meal in the centre we walked through the crowds of fans filling the streets of the city surrounding the stadium. As we entered the songs started up. I’d been to countless rugby games in the past with my family but this time was different. The atmosphere bubbling as everyone was singing the two-tone refrain in the west-country farmery accent of ‘Glaaaawsteeeer, Glaaaaaawsteeer’. It struck me for the first time how quirky the experience of going to a local rugby match is. Looking through the crowd I saw all the peculiar characters you find there; the old-school fans with beers in hand to young kids in cherry and white scarves being initiated into the community. What used to be a simple enough activity for spending time with my Dad had become a fascinating cultural spectacle. After spending years where practically noone plays, watches, or talks about the sport, the novelty of hulking athletes throwing a ball around and smashing each other whilst cheering locals surrounded them was again a captivating spectacle.

Playing rugby

Playing rugby as a boy – the quirks of the sport never really occurred to me

Now when on visits to see my friends and the favourite Earl Grey tea is served with milk and biscuits, it’s not just another cup of tea and a chance to sit down and catchup – it feels so charming and typically British.

And this happens all the time, I see the things we do and how we do them in a totally new light. It stretches to everything; art, politics, interaction, humour (yet to find somewhere that tops our humour, and is probably the thing I miss most when I go away!).

Looking Back

I never expected to learn about and reflect on my home culture so much when I decided to leave home, and I certainly never expected it to transform my boring old home town into a place of wonder. But what can I say? It did. As I write from Mexico a good few months from my next return home, I look forward to the cup of tea and Sunday roast that await me. If you’re on the fence about making a leap to live overseas because you’re worried you’ll miss things from home, I can’t promise that you won’t. But I can tell you that it’s an amazing journey of discovery that can change your experience of your homeland in a truly positive way. Nothing is quite like home, and I can tell you, it’ll never be the same again.

microdosing in bolivia

The wilderness of Bolivia – where the trip took place

Background

I first seriously started considering my multi-microdose wilderness trip immediately after I’d booked the three-day tour to the Salt Flats of Bolivia- the day before it started.

A multi-day trip through desert past lagoons, geysers and other natural wonders was fairly calling out for a psychedelic and despite having read a few online articles on the positive effects of microdosing, I’d never actually gotten round to it. This struck me as a perfect opportunity; the landscapes surely couldn’t be hurt by a bit of chemical manipulation but I also didn’t want to trip so hard when I’d be spending a lot of time in a packed 4×4 nor feel uncomfortable with my fellow travellers.

I didn’t tell anyone of my psychoactive ingestions; I didn’t want to be that guy who shows up and does acid everyday, well actually I did, obviously, but I didn’t want to be treated any differently.

Admittedly this ‘experiment’ wasn’t conducted under the strictest lab controls. It was the first and only time I’ve ever been on a tour of this nature, to altitudes that high (up to 4000m), or even in Bolivia – quite a few incomparable variables then. To add to the scientific rigour, or lack of, I couldn’t measure out my doses, so I just used small pieces of a tab, ranging between a tenth and a fifth of a tab each time, with the tab containing around 180μg. I’d read that it’s not effective to dose on consecutive days but I figured I’d see for myself how it works – at least that makes it an experiment right? Well, I guess this is more of a trip report then, but I’ve also tried to write analytically of the effects I felt and there is a summary of them at the end of each day.

Having never microdosed before I thought I’d do a little test run on the afternoon the day before the tour started. The fact that I was also going star viewing at an observatory with telescopes that night threw in a tasty motivator only elevated by the cool fact that my location, the Atacama desert, is one of the best places on the planet to stargaze. Realizing that it’d be more crazy not to take acid in this circumstance, I went to my room, took out my nail clippers, trimmed off a corner and chucked it down.

Day 1 – San Pedro De Atacama

[Apparently there was a decent amount on that corner and it turned out to be more of a semi-trip than a microdose.]

With its narrow dusty streets the small town of San Pedro De Atacama was like the set of an old Wild West, but lightly charged with the modern day atmosphere that tourists quietly milling around provides. Walking around with a spring in my step I felt coolly elated and couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. Thoughts slowed down, and my awareness of the spaces between them grew; there was an absence of typical mental background noise which gave a lightness to my inner being – it felt more spacious. My cognition was more focused, there was a crisp quality to my thoughts and more lucidity in my mental navigation.

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The main strip of San Pedro De Atacama

Back at the hostel I got chatting with my two roommates, a couple of friendly European girls. Socially I felt very comfortable, even probably more than normal. Chatting with them I felt calm and content, they’d just come the other way from Bolivia and we shared some stories. At one moment I saw a twinkle in the eyes of the German; she looked alive, I mean really alive. I was in that rarely visited field of experience where you once again realise that other people aren’t merely characters in your story- something within the depths of her pupils had revealed to me the easily forgotten fact of her being an actual living being with a life as vivid and complex as my own. As we looked into each other’s eyes I felt a deep human connection. Even though we’d just met I felt close. Both she and her friend seemed like genuinely good people and I felt an instinctive trust towards them.

Leaving the girls I went alone to the edge of the desert. Gazing out at a huge mountain lying before the tangerines of sunset I felt an underlying peace and stayed out there in peaceful contentedness, returning to town only after darkness had fallen. Lit up by small streetlamps the town looked magical by night, the scene coercing in me that feeling when you feel like you’re in a movie, when everything seems so scenic and atmospheric, and beauty seems to be more readily sprouting and observable in typically mundane scenes. Unfortunately the stargazing tour was cancelled due to clouds so, bumping into them again, I went out for dinner with my two roomies. I didn’t feel particularly hungry and could’ve easily skipped the meal but ordered something anyway thinking it healthy to eat something. The evening with the girls was a pleasure, I again felt at ease and had a thoroughly enjoyable time with them before we said our goodbyes.

Summary

  • Elation
  • Absence of typical mental background noise
  • Clearer thinking & lucidity in mental navigation
  • Socially felt very comfortable and positive
  • Easily felt human connection (increased empathy and trust)
  • Magic & beauty perceived much more readily than usual
  • In-a-movie feeling
  • Overall felt pretty damn great

Day 2 – Into Bolivia

After yesterday’s significantly stronger than expected dose I thought it wise to wait until after the border pass before dropping; the prospect of simultaneously dealing with a come-up and a customs official didn’t particularly appeal so I’d prepared a piece of tab, put it in a folded receipt and tucked it in my wallet ready for deployment. Stamped out of Chile and into Bolivia, it was about 8am when I was leaving the customs control shack and with the ink still drying on my entry stamp for Bolivia, I administered the first dose of the desert-drive sessions.

[The dose was fairly strong again. Yes, I know microdosing should be sub-perceptual amounts and the effects this day certainly weren’t that, but hey, I’m still learning this game.]

The Tour Starts

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Tour crew

The other 5 in my tour group were good company, I sensed good vibes from them and felt at ease and open. I was interested in their stories and I chatted and joked with them in high spirits as we passed lakes, mountains and geysers, occasionally bumping into other tourists on other versions of the same tour. We took a thermal bath in the middle of nowhere in the freezing chill and it was awesome! Everything felt fresh and new, everyone was in good spirits and there were good vibes all round. Excellent morning!

holdb.jpgAfter lunch we had some long stretches in the car to make it to our place for the night. During these stretches I felt more or less comfortable in the experience of a light trip and never once felt nervous. However, I also never felt totally relaxed. This was a strange reversal for me as normally on a long journey I feel settled and find it easy to relax. I suspect it was at least partly due to the jagged rhythm of our almost constant movement; driving from one especially picturesque natural phenomenon to the next, jumping out for a bit before jumping back in and then heading onto the next one.

Despite this, when we were in the car, I never felt like I was ‘waiting’ for or in anticipation of the next stop, I still felt very present, enjoying looking out at invariably awesome views. I suspect driving through such landscapes may well have pulled me into present awareness minus the acid, but I could definitely feel it adding a nice little edge, gently but noticeably.IMG_1223op.jpgOutside the car the wind was pounding so hard that it was seriously chilly. Being smashed by the wind however, was exhilarating, at least for me; at some stops the others didn’t fancy it and stayed in the car. Myself and one of the other guys got out at every stop, always sadistically eager to get out into the pounding gusts – we agreed that it made us feel alive!

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Shaun, at one of the stops only the two of us got out

In the second half of the day I had a soreness in my lower back, a common side effect for me after the peak of an acid trip. We had long stretches of driving and being stuck in the car for most of the day wasn’t ideal as I couldn’t use my go-to cure of stretching. Luckily I was sat up front in the seat with the most room- the others had been travelling together and as the newbie to the group they insisted I take the prime seat for the whole day. As everyone else drifted in and out of sleep I breathed and meditated calmly through difficult moments and the pain never became more than a slight discomfort. Arriving to the accommodation in the evening I stretched out on a bed which helped my back but still felt a little off physically – I figure the change in altitude (+2000km) had a fair part to play in this. For the evening I had a vague tired restlessness but didn’t have much problem going to sleep.

Summary

  • Life had an extra vigour – more animated and stimulating
  • Again, felt not only comfortable but enthused and cheerful in social situations
  • Vague restlessness – never totally felt relaxed. It seemed to be a weird mix of surface level presence with an underlying uneasiness, a background hesitation, that despite feeling fine and in positive spirits, for whatever reason something telling me ‘you can’t totally relax’
  • Sore lower back after halfway mark – typical for me on acid
  • Good mindfulness through physical discomfort

Day 3 – Deeper Reflection

[This day was much more comfortable physically, I didn’t suffer from any back pains and had no need to meditate through discomfort. Also I remembered I had my windbreaker and ditched my layers, much better – 90% of the chill was coming from the wind. Without resisting the nippy gusts I felt much easier.]

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On this day the stops were magical, the most beautiful of the tour, easily topping the first day. I had feelings of calmly blissful euphoria during moments spent out under the sun in these marvellous surroundings. I relished being out in these remote spots of natural beauty and each time the call came to get back in the 4×4 and move on, I felt a tinge of disappointment; I could’ve happily stayed longer at any one of the spots. Reluctant to go on, I was always last one back in.

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I could’ve stayed here for days

As the day before, the afternoon had some long stretches of driving. Long stretches of silence filled the car as everyone else dosed off again. With the territory devoid of any signs of humanity the long quiet drives lent themselves to reflection. There was a difference in the quality and themes of my thoughts compared to normal, and I slipped more readily into alternative perspectives, thinking unusually deeply about choices in my life, the roots and causes of things, why I am who I am, the movement of everything within the great stream.

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Gazing out felt kinda like time travel, I imagined our ancestors thousands of years ago treading this same unchanged landscape, nomadic tribes of hunter gatherers wandering this rough terrain for days and weeks on foot in search of a place that might be a settlement.

I tried to imagine how they perceived reality, disconnected from the matrix, no society-at-large to keep pace with, no news narrative to keep up with, zero sense of official history – only stories handed down from relatives or through tribes. As one of them, your reality would be the land and sky infront of you; the curves at the edge of turquoise lakes, the patterns within robust rock formations, steam dancing out of geysers. Following the stars for directions, counting the fingers until sundown, scanning the landscape for plants or movement – of prey, predators, and perhaps other people; an old alliance or group of wanderers speaking an alien tongue – this is what I imagined to occupy the minds of those wayfarers, this is how I imagined their reality.

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What a different world we occupy than that of our cousin adventurers who made their way across this same land. For those nomads, lack of modern media and technology meant the impossibility of constant news and reminders of events happening miles away in places one’d never go; no disturbing news of the latest natural catastrophe or political scandal, no feeds of photos of other people living an entirely separate life, no bombardment of commercials or the desire for needless things that they create. No hunter gatherer ever looked at a screen and read of the latest buffoon to be made president or moved their finger to give approval of an image by or of someone they’d never meet; the only source of information outside of direct experience would’ve been the mouth of a living being standing in front of them.

Imagining their simpler existence I envied their lack of the moral dilemmas that we are faced with in the consumer society of today: What tech products can I buy without causing child labour in the congo? What clothes can I get without endorsing sweatshop slavery? Should I stop eating meat to lessen my carbon footprint? What should I do about the corrupt political system – vote for one of a choice of crooks, or not vote for anyone? And then, what can and should I do to play my part in positive societal change? None of these thoughts would have passed through their minds. Though they might still have had deeper thoughts about the more far-reaching ramifications of their actions, they were free of the overt madness that faces us in the modern globalised world as their basic actions for survival wouldn’t have had the same clearly traced consequence on the lives of people the other side of the world. Utilitarian considerations would surely be less labyrinthine and confounding. They would never have been forced to be made aware of the upshots of their actions so explicitly before being seemingly left with no option but to continue living in the very society that is the cause of these problems, therefore also contributing one’s own share to the evils of the world.

But there, I could see land untouched by civilisation. I peaked into the land and life of the past, saw ancient formations and structures that outdate the ancient cities of Athens and Rome. Staring out at the landscape I imagined those drifters and with the raw plainness of pure nature before me, tapped into their freedom from this modern psychological bind.

Summary

  • Physically more comfortable than previous day
  • Euphoric moments when outside under the sun
  • Incredible beauty
  • Wanted to spend more time at most stops
  • Peaceful contemplation
  • Enjoyed expanse of nature

Day 4 – The Last Day

[This was the first day that I felt diminishing effects from the D and therefore the weakest of the 4 days. I figure this was due to my body building tolerance.]

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We rose early, driving out over miles of salt flats to see the sunrise from what used to be an island where the Incas made offerings to the god of the sun. After getting there and climbing to the top I took a seat facing the mountains to the east. It looked pretty cloudy so I didn’t think we would see the sunrise and after a while figured it wasn’t coming so got up to go over and chat to the others. Moments after I’d gotten up, Shaun called over to me ‘John!’ and pointed as if the sun had just popped up behind my back. I knew he was fucking with me so I flipped him off. ‘No really!’ he pointed again. I turned around and there it was; the tip of the orange arc peaking over the mountains. I’d missed the split second moment of appearance – but I didn’t feel disappointed, the inevitability of it seemed obvious; clearly I was never meant to see the sunrise on that crisp morning. I laughed to myself and took it as a lesson on patience.

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I was in good spirits and seeing two guys chucking an American football on the flats went over to join them. I enjoyed the simple joy of chucking a ball and sensed a freeness amidst the disconnection of being in the middle of salt flats. It felt like being in the middle of an ocean. It wasn’t a typical experience of what I would consider being in nature: surrounded by trees in a wood or forest, or amongst towering mountains – there I could see flat endless pure white terrain to the horizon in every direction. It was the most distant I’ve ever felt from organised society, even being with other people.

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At the end of the tour our driver left us in Uyuni, my first experience of Bolivian society. Walking through the town I felt excited to be in a new place, but not noticeably more so than how I normally feel arriving in a new place. Having taken the dose on this day around 5am, I suspect that the acid had actually worn off by the time we arrived. With a few of the others I grabbed a bus to Potosi, I was heading northwards towards the Amazon in my quest for ayahuasca.

Summary

  • Diminished effects on the 4th day. This was probably the first actual ‘microdose’
  • Positive outlook – didn’t feel disappointed missing the moment of sunrise
  • Physical activity felt good – tossed that pigskin like a pro

Conclusion

Am I glad I did it? Absolutely. At the end of the tour my feeling was gratitude; for the opportunity to see nature on such a scale, the cheerful company of my fellow tourers, the magical places, and all of them combined. I imagine that most who are fortunate enough to go on such a tour, dosed or not, also feel grateful, but personally I know the experience wouldn’t have been the same if I hadn’t.

Though the doses may’ve been more effective if I’d taken a day’s gap (or 3) between each one, speaking from the other side I can say I still felt obvious effects for the first three days. However, there was a clear and significant dimishing on the 4th day – interestingly I’ve also read online of someone reporting likewise; not feeling any diminishing effects on consecutive days until day 4 (and they actually microdosed).

This was an entirely new experience for me; it was my first time on a tour of that nature, first time taking a lower dose, and first time taking acid on consecutive days. This obviously makes it very difficult to make any cross-comparison between the variables.

Does that render all of my observations as totally invalid? I don’t think so. Even if I’d taken nothing away from this wonderful experience it’d have been worth it on its own merit, but beyond the joys of the trip itself I do feel I’ve gleaned some useful info on the effects of acid at lower doses. I found that it’s totally fine for me to be around other people and can actually make me more talkative and open, enhancing interactions and conversations.

The experience has also led me to believe that in certain potentially stressful situations, ones that may therefore seem especially inappropriate on a psychedelic, a lower dose could actually be an aid of great benefit. An aid in staying mindfully calm and focused, and to lessen the chance of spiralling into negative thought patterns or ‘freaking out’ – interestingly something that high doses of psychedelics are often believed to increase the odds of. Obviously this requires more investigation and I intend to try microdosing again in a more controlled environment. Stay tuned.

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