I read on the news that scientists have recently created the darkest color of black that has ever existed. I looked at the pictures and it seemed like they had been digitally manipulated, making it flat and unreal and unidentifiable. It made me wonder if color alone had ever made me feel so lost, unable to differentiate with my eyes one thing from the other, needing to move my head up and down to see if I could grasp something to familiarize with. The color absorbs nearly all light and radiation; there is no shadows, no shades, just an abyss.
No, color alone hasn´t done that.
When I was a teenager, my friends and I did a road trip to a small town three and a half hours away from Bogotá. This place continues to be famous not only for the colonial architecture and rounded rock roads, but mostly because of the incredible amount of magic mushrooms that grow in the fields near by. It was the early 2000’s and the rave underground culture was at its height in Colombia. We were sixteen and had tried ecstasy, acid, cocaine, speed, weed, whatever else got into our privileged and spoiled third-world hands. This time my friends were looking for “a life changing experience,” –frivolous and trivial and I was their designated driver.
We lied to our parents and said we would stay at each other’s houses over the weekend. During those years, travelling by car in Colombia was prohibited, not by the government, but by common sense. The guerrillas were spread all over the country and the outskirts of the big cities, doing random kidnappings that the media called miraculous fishing catches, pescas milagrosas. As a matter of fact, there were more than 3000 kidnappings every year in Colombia during the first half of that decade. But that didn’t stop us, we were young and mostly stupid.
We arrived in the late afternoon and drove around the fields through the gravel roads looking for cows; magic mushrooms grow and hide under the wonders of cow shit. We parked and left the car lights on while we climbed the fences and, on our knees, began searching under every green and wise pile of shit.
After we found the mushrooms, we drove aimlessly on dirt roads, none of us knew where to go next and there was no one around, or at least no one to be seen in the dark surroundings of the desert-like plateau. We finally saw a small farmer’s house with a flickering light by the porch, so we parked outside and asked if it was ok to put our tent close to their house so we could get the remnants of their exterior light. The family was nice enough to allow us to stay in their land, offering their home, their toilet and a warm drink of agua de panela. We accepted their offer and took the drink to the tent. One by one, they started eating their mushrooms, all except for me.
An hour later we went for a walk with no flashlights or water. We held each other’s hands while we stepped on bushes and dirt, treading on flowers and herbs, moving rocks that crumbled into dust, forcing ourselves to break through the entangled hedges and plants that we only encountered as textures. We found our way onto a gravel road, we could feel the free space between us; everything we saw was blackness, but we could feel the wind leading us through the open air in the direction led by the road.
A couple of minutes later we heard the sound of drums being played in the distance, it had to be hundreds of meters away since the sound was soft and delayed. We stopped and laughed about it, thinking it had to be a hippie playing his bongos high on psilocybin. We moved on and walked a couple of steps further until we heard the sound of the drums louder as if they had gotten closer to us. We stopped again - it made no sense. How could the drums move that quickly? I wasn’t on mushrooms and I wasn’t hallucinating, and even if there is that myth of highs being contagious, we couldn’t all be hallucinating exactly the same.
We kept walking, this time in absolute silence to hear if we could pick up any sounds coming from the trees and bushes next to the road, nothing happened. Some minutes later, again, the sound of the bongos came back, this time louder, seemingly just a couple of meters away. It suddenly hit me, something or someone could appear and grab me, take me to the underworld, kidnap me or kill me, frighten me to death. I brought my hand close to my eyes to see if I could possibly see something, but there was nothing, just blackness, no shadows, no color gradient, I was lost in the immensity of losing sight, in the discomfort of blindness.
We decided to walk back, to return to the tent and recognize our faces and bodies, our materiality, solve the vulnerability by being close to each other under a protective shield, as if the tent could bring light and vanish the darkness of the exterior world. We walked with a faster pace and the conviction of being safe, but the sound still grew louder - moving towards us. The drums were following us, I could hear them playing next to my ears, it was deafening. We ran on the gravel road, twisting our ankles in the erratic position of the rocks, bumps and holes, not knowing if we would hit a tree or a fence. The darkest color of black, blinded by a flattened all-around sameness, unable to use my other untrained senses to find directions or a sense of place, chased and watched, threatened by a sound that represented contingency, anguish or pain.
When we arrived to the farmer’s house, the couple was outside sitting on a bench looking at us in silence. We asked them if they had heard the drums? Neither replied, the man stood up and walked inside the house without pronouncing a word, while the woman looked into the trees behind us. We went to our tent in silence, under a mute energy that weighed heavy on everyone’s shoulders.
We were four people (or five, if I was in fact drawn into hallucination due to proximity) tripping in a small tent, pretending to feel safe and figuring out in silence how to handle an entire night of anxiety and some sort of deranged exposure. I hated tents, I still do, but it was our only relieving option.
Something had happened, though. Something caused an inability to speak and we sat in an overwhelming and unsettling silence. While we looked at each other’s faces with the little filtered light reflected from the farmer’s house, for some unexplained reason it felt like there was complicity inside the tent, like one of us had something to do with it. At first I thought it could just be paranoia, but I could tell I was not the only one thinking about it. Each of us took one side of the tent, shrinking our bodies tight in order to keep ourselves shielded.
The light from the house turned off and the tent became worse than the blank dark wilderness. I couldn’t handle it anymore, so I waited for the others to fall asleep, walked my way to the car with my hands extended, closed myself in and drove off. I looked back on the rear view mirror, the light from the house had turned on and I could see my friends weaving and yelling words I couldn’t hear.
I smiled and left.
Untitled text by Natalia Sorzano