Down the Monkey Hole
Credit: Wade Davis / Getty Images

In the morning we bathed in the river – "Good! Closes the corona," Peter said. "Keeps the spirits from getting back in your head" – and then gathered in the cocina to compare war stories. Young Cassandra had thrown up and bled from one nostril but hadn't felt much otherwise. Ashley had asked for a second cup. The young women were made of stern stuff. Most of us had been under the spell for about three hours, though Peter had seen it last all night and into the next day. I told Genius Jerry about the clowns and comic images I'd seen. He pushed his glasses into place and smiled knowingly. "Yeah, for some reason She seems to like that sinister clown stuff." As for himself, he'd had a delightful time, playing with spirits, swinging from vines. He'd even handled the goddess herself, in the form of a flirtatious snake. He'd suffered no distress at all.

Jerry was evolved. Christine hadn't had any big breakthrough. Ohio Mike had suffered mighty dyspepsia. Ras was ashen, uncommunicative. I felt, well, quietly improved. I'm not touchy-feely, but I made a point of touching everybody – the cook, the washerwoman – whether they liked it or not. Whether they liked me or not. Nobody had seen Jonathan yet, but some of us had heard him thrashing about on the grounds, still suffering, until just before dawn.

I thought we'd have a quiet day, but then Pepe, a Matsés Indian, arrived, leading a flotilla of dugout canoes full of his wife, her sisters, and their children, and carrying a little pouch of jungle amusement. He brought sapo: frog slime. The day before, someone had brought a live sapo into camp. It was a formidable frog, brilliant green and the size of a man's hand. The Indians catch them, string them up on a wooden frame, and then tickle them so that they excrete a copious slick of defensive slime. This is collected on a stick, where it congeals like wax while retaining its intoxicating power. It is administered subcutaneously to the capillaries, once they are exposed by a quick jab from a burning pointed ember. Indians use it before a hunt, claiming it sharpens their senses. Peter claims to have been the first known white man to try sapo, a complex chemical compound currently of interest to modern medicine. And would we like to try it?

Well, it seemed unlikely we'd ever have another chance. A crowd of locals gathered around a shaded bench to see how the gringos fared. Trickster George volunteered to demonstrate that it wasn't fatal. Pepe poked him twice with a smoldering stick, then rubbed open the little burns. To these spots he applied a tiny dab of sapo. As we watched, George flushed red, his chest heaved, a look of worry crossed his face. "And he's a warrior," Christine said, expressing all our concern. The spell lasted less than 15 minutes, and then the grinning George was back.

Jerry went next. He got whacked. Turned sheet-white, blubber-lipped. Ras fainted outright and tumbled from the bench. Then came my turn. It felt like being microwaved, roasted from the inside. You go far away, like you do with a high fever, and then you come back. Poor Jerry, who looked as if he were turning into a sapo, was a huge hit with the kids, who were doubled over with giggles. He kept saying, "What? What?" until we were all howling.

And they say there's nothing to do in the bush.