Hallucinating at High Altitude
I never wished to take drugs because I am a control freak, but I also have a vivid mind that takes me into other worlds. As I embraced my energy healing work the ‘hallucinating’ has become a part of my daily existence. This trip brought me back to my vulnerability, those changes in perception of reality and deep connections with others to support you. This is a two-part blog post due to the intensity of the experience.
It is Thursday morning on the Panamanian Caribbean island of Bastimentos and I am waiting to order my breakfast when Michael introduces himself. I order my breakfast and Michael comes over to join me and my roommate Alex. We chat about travel plans as is standard in a hostel. Michael tells us that he plans to go to Volcan Baru – the highest point of Panama where you can see both the Pacific and Caribbean oceans at sunrise. Alex and I agree to join him the following morning. Lovely and simple!
On Friday morning, we go to wait for the water-ferry to the main island of Isla Colon. Our instant rapport means we have a bet for the wait – winner gets a coconut. After 24 minutes, I win the bet and the taxi driver says in a hefty Caribbean voice “You wanna ride or what?” which Michael translates for us all. We tell the driver we want to get the taxi to the mainland. We bounce over the waves and chat about the various islands.
As we approach Isla Colon our driver shouts to a water-taxi to the mainland and we pull alongside the boat. Mid-waters we throw the bags over as people hold the boat rails to keep us together. I hop between boats – a quick and smooth transition to our taxi ride! This is going to be an excellent trip we all laugh.
Love From the Sky
On the mainland, we are offered a taxi ride and he tells us to wait 5 minutes, so I get my coconut. The Coconut Man tells me to be open to friends as I travel with two men: “When you are friends with men and are open, then love can come from the sky”, we all agree with the wise Coconut Man who appears perfectly timed to cut the coconut open and take it before we depart.
In the taxi, we chat about standard stuff: our partners, other relationships, our careers and interests. We have an intense yet easy rapport like old friends. We collect Michael’s car hire and drive to Michael’s hotel.
At the Boquete hotel they instantly say agree that we can stay with Michael. All is working so perfectly for us. We head to a local shop to buy woollen clothes for the summit. The local Panamanian lady reads our minds – matching hat to character without any word. I am bent over double laughing at the scene.
Angels in the Night
At 12:30am our alarm sounds. We had 2 hours sleep. We put on our layers, grab our bags and drive up to the trail. Immediately we discover that my torch battery has pretty much gone. I am fully reliant on Michael and Alex’s headlights. We fall quickly into a formation of Alex, the ex-professional climber, leads and Michael drifts between with me at the back. It is steep and rocky. Quickly the online reviews of ‘long and very steep’ come to mind.
Alex explains this is 2km elevation over 14km length, it is not difficult but hard. We are starting at altitude and he tells me to set the pace with my heart rate. I need to control my heart rate, so I keep saying “Slower, slower” from the back.
Within an hour my perception is changed. The guys look like they have halos around them. Alex is asking me about spiritual stuff and I say that I have had a dream of us on this walk before together, then Michael discloses that he approached me because he had seen me in a dream of his. We are off. There are hours of chat about our spiritual experiences and stories.
Alex The Great
Alex is great at checking on me. He tells me when I need to eat and drink. Alex checks the GPS to know when to tell me how well I am doing. I am happy. I am challenged. When they ask how I am I tell them “My body is swaying side to side” or “I am not sure I am in my body right now”. My body and mind are no longer together. But Alex is caring for my physical needs.
At 5 hours Michael tells Alex to proceed to the top. We are near sunrise. It is raining. Michael is losing his motivation and we say out aloud to each other “I am in my body. I feel my feet on the ground. The earth gives me strength.”
Just before 7am we reach the summit. Alex is bouncing around chatting to others who camped overnight. “Come here and shelter from the wind.” He tells me. It is below freezing with the wind. I put on my silly hat and instantly feel much happier. Alex says “We can’t stay here long as it’s too cold for you”. He knows how to take care of my physical body when I my own sense of self has vacated.
Then I grab a banana to eat. I am confused. I try to speak and cannot control my mouth or the words. My perception is everywhere like the wind flying around me. I feel my body is empty and void of me. Any expectations of the sunrise, ocean views, Instagram shots are all gone – my body and mind have vacated. There are just strange sensations flying around.
Angel Michael Watches Me
As we descend Alex gallops ahead. Michael sticks close to me, looking at vegetation to wait for me to catch up. My footsteps become smaller and smaller. The kilometre signs do not seem to go down and we have sighing games. It is raining. We are soaked. The steep descent is hard on the knees and becoming more slippery. Michael is patient with me without saying a word. He gives me space and quiet. A guardian angel watching my body motion through the mountain.
Eventually we get to the end of the hike by 11am. I am happy and satisfied at a deep level, but my body is unhappy. Unable to maintain any heat and soaked through 4 layers I jump straight into the shower. Relief from the hot water eases me and I go straight to bed with a cup of tea. I am working on rebuilding my body temperature.
That night we go for dinner. I am unable to eat. My stomach feels like an alien is trying to rearrange my organs and I am exhausted. I am quiet. I cannot muster the effort to speak for the connection of mind to physical co-ordination. Michael and Alex watch me as they chat about music, or cars…or something I am not quite following.
The following morning, we agree a walk to loosen our legs. As we walk the guys are ahead of me. My knees are loosened up but increasingly I notice waves of nausea - stronger and stronger they come. At three-quarters of the way I begin to feel my stomach flip.
Alex and Michael have turned to see me sat on a tree root bent over. I muster up the movement and tell them I must head back. Alex gives me the ginger ale to ease my stomach.
I walk, barely half a foot step in front of the other. I stop to dry-heave and then burst into tears several times over. My tears are empty of emotion. I know this from my injury –overwhelm and exhaustion – my body has gone into melt down. In my mind, I can do the walk. In my physical body, I have the strength and stamina for the hike. But my soul says “no”.
It is raining hard. I stop and stare blankly when the path requires thought about where I place my next footstep. My mind and body cannot connect to work together. My soul wants to shut down fully. I bend over into the bushes and notice the beauty of the raindrops in leaves that look like diamonds. Beauty, abundance and divine gifts even as I stumble.
At the car, I undress into my bikini and curl up on the backseat to sleep. When Michael and Alex get back they are pleased to see that I am ok. We return to the hotel and agree I need ‘typico’ aka rice and lentils.
Michael suggests that we drive to the Pacific beach for sunshine and warmth to help us recalibrate. Ninety minutes later we are standing at the grey sunset of the Pacific Ocean. In less than 48 hours we have been in both oceans, sea level to 11,400 feet (over 3,500 meters) and back to sea level. Boomerang of altitude!
I open my arms on the ocean and let the energy of the water wash over me. My body calms, I am soothed and I begin to feel ‘in’ my body. I am not back together yet, but the parts of me are starting to unify.
Our last supper together and I see the connection for the three of us. We each acknowledge that our souls connect for the richness of our own paths and agree on how we have helped each other.
Alone I am unable to undertake such a trip. They gave me the strength, comfort and morale not only to complete the physical journey, but also to accept my limitations and say them openly to others. I thank them both for taking such great care of me.
These two angels taught me so much. Our conversations were long, the connections deep and full. We had humour, honesty, humility and trust with one another. They provided me space to forgive the frustration I feel when my mind and body perceive other than what my soul chooses. That when I surrender all the layers of myself, my real Self comes through.