El Brujo by Amy L. Bovaird
I shouted to my companions, “There it is—the Amazon River!”
Wide and curvy, it lay far below the embankment where our crude jungle hut sat, surrounded by clusters of coconut trees and tangled vines. The palm fronds dripped rainwater onto the cool, moist ground. Steam rose in the humid, saturated air.
I shivered. I am in the jungle.
Mark, one of six people in my hastily-assembled travel party from Quito, smirked. “Technically, it’s the Napo River, a tributary to the Amazon.”
“There’s no bathroom,” Joe called from our accommodation, sparing me from having to answer.
The next morning, screeches woke me. I lifted the canvas that covered the window—a square hole—and saw a baby spider monkey sitting nearby. I threw off my light cover and jumped up, grabbing some fat, ripe bananas from the table and headed outdoors. The monkey plucked a banana from my outstretched fingers, seeming to appreciate my offering. A great start to our adventure!
Hours later, we made our way back to our hut. Grietje, a Swiss gal, caught the eye of our guide. “Now what, Antonio?”
“I pick special mushroom. These tastes good. I make drink for you tonight. We have experience very interesting.”
“Oooh! Tell us more,” Marie, the Parisian, squealed.
Antonio puffed out his chest. “If you drink too little, you not feel nothing. If you drink too much, you fall down.”
“Oh my. Magic mushrooms?” Marie giggled.
“They’re not magic if they’re mushrooms. They’re hallucinogenic,” Mark corrected.
Antonio sounded mysterious. “If you good person, you see good vision. If you bad person, you see bad vision.
“That’s karma for ya’,” Joe said.
Grietje stopped walking. “You mean a spiritual vision? Will I see angels and hear harp music? Or will a little red man with a pitchfork appear?”
Antonio shrugged. “Is different for each one.”
Later that evening we calculated our weight on the metric scale so Antonio would know how much of the special brew to make for each of us. Our weight would determine the amount we drank.
“I’m not sure about this mushroom beverage,” Grietje said when Antonio was out of hearing range. “How do we know we aren’t going to pass out and get robbed?”
Hector, an Ecuadorian, put his arm around his girlfriend. “I never permit anyone hurt you. This is something especial.”
Grietje didn’t seem convinced. “How do you know? Maybe I will watch.”
Joe’s jaw dropped. “You’d miss out? You’re kidding!”
“No, I’m not drinking any,” she declared. “You guys can risk your life but not me. I plan to be safe.”
Hector protested. “This is friend, Antonio. He is registered guide, remember?”
She looked adamant. “I don’t care. You and I are not interested.”
He shrugged with a helpless “I’m-with-her-what-can-I-do” grin on his face.
Marie unwound her long braided brown hair. “This should be fun. I like new experiences.”
“Unless you have a bad vision,” Mark taunted.
I leaned back and stretched. “Antonio, what else should we know?”
“Venga.” He motioned us closer, lowering his voice. “A brujo come to tonight. You take drink and see spirit.”
Mark turned to me. “What’s a bru-ho?”
I slapped at a mosquito. “Like a medicine man, literally, a witch doctor.”
Antonio continued in a hushed tone. “First you sit circle.” He lowered his voice more. “Then open the door, and come into the hut un brujo—”
Joe leaned forward on his haunches. “Yeah?”
“—He say some words. Call many spirit. He know very well the spirit. You feel good and listen some word. You like. Not afraid.”
We mulled that over.
Antonio stood up. “I go now prepare.”
Presently, he returned. “Amy, tomela.”
I made a quick decision. I’ll do it. No turning back. I reached for the glass. Still warm. I took a whiff. Rank. The dark green, yellowish brown mixture contained leaves with bits of mushroom floating in it. Here goes nothing. I drank half of it before gagging, then forced myself to swallow the rest.
Soon, Joe, Mark, Marie and I sat in a small circle on the straw-strewn dirt floor of our hut and waited.
A slender beam of light cast from the oil lantern projected long shadows in the gloomy thatched-roof hut. The lantern was replaced with flickering candlelight.
Joe sat cross-legged next to me. “Do you feel anything?”
Marie raised an eyebrow and yawned. “How long did he say it would take?”
“Depends on your size.” Mark made a face. “I don’t feel any different yet.”
The door opened a crack.
“Look.” I jabbed Joe. “Here comes the brujo.”
My skin prickled. My heart raced. Who knew what kind of vision would come.
Antonio followed close behind and handed our spirit-leader a palm leaf he cut off from one of the trees.
The brujo took the lid off some small brown bottles and placed them around the room. A heavy, woodsy smell filled the hut.
We watched from our circle as the brujo waved the palm frond preparing to summon the spirits.
Joe sputtered. “Maaaan, I ain’t feelin’ nuttin’ This ain’t the real deal.” He raised his voice, rubbing his hands together. “I need more of that magic potion.” I wondered if he knew he was slurring his words. He poked me. “You feelin’ anything?”
“Shhh.” Marie pointed to the brujo. “He must concentrate to bring the spirits.”
When the brujo moved, I peeked. A turquoise scarf swung from around his neck. I also saw bright feathers and what looked like strange black and white markings on his torso, arms and legs. With both eyes closed, he chanted in a low voice, sweeping the palm frond back and forth. He shuffled his bare feet rhythmically. He moved faster. Spoke louder. Shriller.
My vision would surely come in a few minutes. At ninety-seven pounds, even a little of whatever I consumed affected me. Goosebumps covered my arms as I held my breath. What sort of images would surround me? I hoped for the best.
Unfortunately, this is not of this particular experience but it is of me in the Amazon swinging ... rather falling from ... a vine!
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