Down the Monkey Hole
Credit: Wade Davis / Getty Images
Sometime after sunset, as we sat on the deck, somebody passed around a bag of magic mushrooms, and because sleep seemed unlikely anyway, and because, well, hell, this was Drug Camp, most of us munched a few. For a while everybody got very witty, every story was hilarious. Trickster George, one of Peter's Peruvian crew, bopped by doing a Monty Python funny walk, giving us gringos the thumbs-up. Jonathan told me about taking San Pedro cactus in Cuzco with an incompetent shaman who got them lost in a freezing high-altitude rainstorm. They ended up huddled in a cave for hours and hours.

At some point Ohio Mike started feeling "really strange" and crashed on a foam pad on the forward end of the deck, wrestling with his demons. Peter was sacked out next to him. Hours melted by. We shifted from chair to chair, chatting and laughing, less and less, and then everyone just settled down to watch the intricacies of the trees on the bank, the fractal patterns in the roiling chocolate wake of the boat.

We reached Genaro Herrera, 130 miles upriver from Iquitos, an hour before dawn. We hustled ashore to wait six hours in the sleepy market square for the police to wake up, collect our passports, mull the possibilities of minor extortion, and finally release us to the bush. At last we set out in two badly overloaded 20-foot dugout canoes for the river Aucayacu, peque-peque-ing (as the local long-shafted outboard motors are called) up a maze of drowned forest, open lakes, and narrow passages overhung with foliage.

Our camping destination, a few well-built structures on a grassy hillside, turned out to be perfect for swimming, paddling canoes, or just chilling out and watching the river. But Peter had plans for us. He sent everyone out that night, accompanied by various members of his Peruvian crew, on different missions, some to fish, some to search for the sapo, a pharmaceutically significant frog. Jonathan, Cassandra, and I went caiman hunting with Ruber and Hairo, the late Don Julio's son who was to be our shaman during the ayahuasca ceremonies. Throughout the hunt we had to be silent – "To learn from the jungle," as Peter said – and hold perfectly still, so as not to capsize the tiny canoe. We lasted for just over two hours of silence, stillness, darkness, and no sign of caiman before convulsing with nervous laughter and pleading with our guides to turn back. It was a lesson, all right, in the native attention span.

The next day we fasted, and though we were kept pleasantly occupied with a hike in the jungle, a trip to a lake to swim with pink dolphins, "the medicine" was always in the forefront of our minds. We had observed the ingredients harvested by machete. We'd seen them boiling in an iron cauldron on a back section of the property, the pot watched by various children and elders, the mood pot-side oddly like at a tailgate party. We were as ready for game time as we'd ever be.