Rak Razam

Date of original publication

Apr 5, 2012


Stumbling into the Basel Backpackers is much like any hostel in the world, with a subtle difference.

"Ah, you are here for the LSD, nein?" says Christoph, the South Afrikkan Swiss National who manages the place. "That Dr. Hofmann, he is still going at 100, eh? Amazing."

Yes, I am here for the LSD.

And I'm not alone.

A curious thing, this hostel full of "Heads", to use the 60s vernacular. Drug-taking explorers of the innerspaces, well-versed psychonauts who have broken open their heads and had a good look around the infinite spaces found there.

The hostel is literally loaded with Heads at all the tables, lounging on the couches and sitting at the bar. They look pretty much like normal young travellers with a fair measure of middle aged and elder psychedelic statesmen thrown in to the mix. The real distinguishing feature is their frankness: the conversation around the hostel common room is awash with Head talk, LSD this and DMT that, 2CB, 5-MEO-DMT, DXY, a babble of drug speak stripped back to the essential amino acid chain combinations for those in the know, a glossonalia of alchemical slang.
Word up, true believers.

The grey haired old woman chain-smoking in the corner, I find out much later, was a nurse in the 50s who trained with Dr. Hofmann.

"He was lovely, such a gentleman," she confides in broken English over peppermint tea one morning.

Our motley crew of independent media makers has two Nowegian doco makers - Einar and Raine, Maria, a Portugese photo-journalist, Francis, a Cambridge (Crowley went to Cambridge) educated literary type who would like to do a doco for BB4 - that's the intellectual channel you know, Paul, the owner of Polyster Books in Melbourne, the leading counter-cultural outlet, and ye humble gonzo journalist. A half dozen other crew from Finland and America and South America and god knows where at the other tables, all of us brought together here in Basel by the strange attractor of LSD and the man who discovered it.

It's like all the Heads ever turned on, synapses of the evolving Cosmic Mind, all in one room and connecting up. Sparks fly, ideas transform, deep neo-theologic pathways open to the Word and lock on. Some crazy meme making spreads itself through the night, joints are rolled, beers
are drunk. The group mind comes together.

Maria is a street-wise Portuguese beauty with a Cockney accent, here to write and photograph the LSD conference for an arts magazine in London. After being psychically read by a multi-media Ayahuasca facilitator from Amsterdam she is told her liver is weak and she should stay away from the synthesised drugs.

"Datura is what you need" the man in the know says, dowsing her spiritual needs with a silver heart pendant on a chain.

"Fuck that, lets roll a joint," she suggests, and we all retire to the outside courtyard with its salubrious - five degrees centigrade ambiance. Maria, it turns out, is best friends with one of the two Boom Festival organisers, childhood buddies who have recently had a falling out that could endanger the international Trance festival. She knows crew I know in the Trance scene - it's a small world, and an even smaller community.

I first meet Einar at the bar buying a beer. He and Raine are working on a documentary on LSD and the consciousness movement for Norwegian television, but the real thing. All they want to do is get good information out there and sustain themselves while doing it. Four days later Einar would be high on acid in the belly of a boat, deep in the gonzo reporting space and starting to go all 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas', but without the fear or the loathing. Higher consciousnes and love, man - you had to be there and sometimes words just don't cut it.

Rainer is a beautiful man. He's about six foot three, long dark brown hair fading to grey, a big open face like Gerard Depardieu. He's got a long and colourful history and as we drink beers way into the winter night, he tells his trippers tales mixed with a heartfelt wisdom and sincerity.

"Those that know have a duty to pass on what they know," Raine says, as we all get deep and meaningful heading towards the midnight hour.

"My mother, she was once very against this whole drug culture, but she didn't know what it was really about, she was just repeating what she had heard, what the media told her and the habits they passed on, with their vested interests. She loves me, you know, and she thought she was looking out for me."

"By this time, of course, I had been in Goa for six months and was heavily into the scene there. I had been experimenting with acid, with ketamine, with the trance dancing and we smoked chillums all the time. After a few months she began getting worried, and one day on the phone she says to me - Raine, I am worried about you. I am coming to see if you are okay. I will be there in two days."

"I hestitate, you know, because I am looking after lots of people at my place, there are DJs everywhere, people having chillums in the kitchen, LSD is flowing like wine, yeah, and the whole place is like a party that has been going on for weeks and it never stops. But I say to her - of course, you come here to Goa, and I show you what it is really like."

"So she comes out and the first thing is she is very very shocked with India, you know, with the poverty and the begging and the death right in your face, the real deal. But I think this is a good thing, because she sees this other culture, and she is a wonderful woman but she was still so naive, she believed the world was what the tv told her."

"So she sees the world a bit differently, and by the time we get to Goa and meet my friends there she is still worried, but she has more perspective to take it all in. And for the first few days all the Heads leave and it is just me and my mother and the native Indians who live and work with us, and she meets the wives and sees me play with the kids and it's good."

"And then a few days in I take her to a trance party on the beach, and like, her jaw drops but she has a little dance on the edge of the dancefloor, and all of these people are coming up trying to give me liquid acid and offering me chillums and she's like, what is going on, Raine? Are those DRUGS? I say "this is a Trance party, mama, this is what we do. And I show her - I smoke a chillum right there in front of her, and I get high."

"And you know, after that, well, she had nowhere else to go but to accept it. And she did. And now, years later, she will just say to me to be careful and have fun, and she knows, you know, she can understand that it is just a different culture, because she has had the connection."

I love the mom stories.

I tell Rainer of how I told my mum I was going to a consciousness Symposium in Switzerland, and when she pressed further I said it was celebrating LSD and Dr. Hofmann, and how her face had writhed in a mental paroxysm as she processed the words until finally she said, dazed:

"But isn't that... a DRUG?"

We need to tell the mums of the world our stories, to bring them into the fold. And the dads and the kids and our families if there is ever to be a unified tribe again, a psychedelic tribe ready to inhabit the global village.

And as the wisdom of the Tribe fades under the weight of beer and cigarettes, I bid adieu to the Heads from around the world and stumble into my bed. But, like mushrooms after a fresh rain, the Heads continue to sprout, even here in my dorm room.

Two older guys, late 40s or early 50s are in their underwear shooting the breeze about the mysteries of life. Gentle, soft spoken - it's like i've walked into a confessional .

"When you start anew there's a sense of not remembering what came before. When I was 25 I could actively remember past lives. I was in a Buddhist monastery and I saw a thousand things I didn't want to see. You start not wanting to accept this reality, but you have to accept this, it is real."

"Oh, do you think we are more conscious because we remember we have died? Do we... bring something back, some remembrance that changes us here and now?"

"I remember being dead, you know, for me those are clear feelings. I was hit by a bus and the energy was gone, it was like I was invisible, watching my body die. "

"What do you classify as being alive? "

"When you watch a good movie you become the character you watch, that becomes your life, your consciousness. And when the movie ends? You move on, to the next movie." the midnight stoners are saying from the next bunk cluster in the dorm room.

Middle-aged French and English accents expounding on the eternal questions with a grace and intimacy. As gentle as lovers, these two men, chatting by lamplight in the Blue Room dorm, all of us drawn like moths to the flame of the 100 year old man and his chemical key.

LSD - three letters that changed the world the Symposium brochures say. And sitting here in the wee hours in a Basel backpackers, listening to soul talk and meeting the Heads that dream the dream, I totally agree.

We have all of us, been touched by this experience, changed on the inside, and now it guides our external actions and provides a lodestone for our journey between worlds.

But enough of today.

Tomorrow is a new day.

Time for the good Doctor Hofmann.

The Alchemist himself.