Psychedelic experiences are often planned: a day in the woods with a tab of LSD, an Ayahuasca ceremony, a helping of magic mushrooms. It is not often that you experience something so memorable by chance.
The place is Baños, Ecuador. It is famous for its adventure activities, relaxed atmosphere and thermal baths. The town lies in a valley surrounded by green mountains decorated with waterfalls, and intersected by a river which runs parallel to the town.
We had been in Baños for a few days and decided it was time to enjoy a pipe after a hard day of cycling and canopying 1km across a valley. After a great deal of searching and waiting, we sourced some marijuana and enjoyed it together in my new $2 pipe.
Having been to the thermal baths before, we weren’t expecting anything more than a refreshing cool down and reinvigoration of our muscles after the day of cycling and hiking.
In fact, we experienced something completely unplanned and unexpected.
Feeling brave, with our swimming caps on, we entered the hottest bath in the complex and immediately suffered, wondering how people could remain there for any length of time. Pushing through, I asked a local why they used the baths. He told me that they have healing qualities, both of the body and mind. The recommended process was 7 minutes in the ultra hot bath, followed immediately by 3 minutes in the ultra cold bath. We began the process and I set my watch.
The first few minutes in the hot bath were uncomfortable but our bodies adapted. Imagine running a bath and barely turning on the cold tap but still managing to suffer it. After 4 minutes, one of our group left the pool. It was starting to get unbearable. I tried to avoid checking my watch but found myself doing so in 30 second intervals, until finally 7 minutes were up and we made our way to the ultra cold bath. After the 7 minutes, we experienced a burning sensation in our bodies and minds, something which we couldn’t wait to extinguish in the cold baths. At this stage, the feeling was more of discomfort and was almost as if we had deliberately challenged our bodies to adapt to a difficult situation.
As you would expect, the sudden change in temperature was a shock to the system. The immediate reaction was a stabbing pain, like the one you get when you are under ice cold water, but amplified greatly considering our skin was still tingling. That feeling remained for about 20 seconds, when quite abruptly the water felt strangely cool, rather than super cold. A minute later, we felt almost numb inside our heads. It was here the experience really became psychedelic. It was difficult to think and we went through a period of what felt like controlled dizziness. We looked above and saw a star-filled sky, then glanced at the stunning waterfall lit up in the heart of the mountains. The views in that moment of complete tranquillity and weightlessness could not have been a better setting for what we were going through. It was a sensational out-of-body feeling and a moment of deep connection with nature and the outside.
We wanted to have that experience again and went back into the ultra hot bath. It was more tolerable than before, until around 5 minutes when it became a struggle, but we managed it and headed into the cold bath. The burning sensation was still there, but we could tolerate it more. Feeling confident, we tried 5 minutes in the ice bath. After 2 minutes, we were shaking and felt extremely numb in our heads. After 3 minutes 30 seconds, we were shaking almost uncontrollably and made a very quick exit. The pleasant numbness we experienced in our first cycle that supplemented the surrounding scenery was replaced with an unbearable ‘brain freeze’.
It is easy to cross the threshold and this proved that the guidelines given to us by the local man were precise and specific. It is obvious why so many of the locals in Baños go through this ritual: the experience brought incredible peace of mind, a feeling of tranquillity and a conscious out-of-body moment. It may not be long lasting or hallucinogenic or completely change your being, like LSD or Ayahuasca might, but it did allow us a moment of complete tranquillity, weightlessness and appreciation of wondrous natural beauty. And it was entirely by chance.
This is A guest post by a friend who joined me in Banos, Ecuador and would prefer to remain anonymous