When hallucinating, Goa is as cool a place as any

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The Independent Online
On my first day in Goa I could not get off the bed. I lay there, squinting at the coconut palms and the white sand, listening to the waves and the ticking of the fan. I felt like I had been run over by a lorry.

Two weeks ago I flew from South Dakota to London, a 14-hour trip, arriving at dawn. I spent 10 jet-lagged days at the office, during which I worked until midnight several times. On two occasions I stayed up writing all night and into the next day. Deadline pressure, all of my own making. Then I took a 12-hour overnight flight to India.

I collapsed on the hotel bed with aching, swollen feet, my limbs cracking with tension every time I moved, drifting back and forth into hallucination. At one point I woke up and could not remember where I was. After flying through seven time zones in 10 days, my body clock was over- wound and the mainspring snapped.

But if you have got to recover your lan vital, I guess Goa is as good a place as any.

To straighten myself out, I burrowed into Fire in the Brain by Ronald K Siegel, hallucinatory phenomena. As I sympathised with the sleep-deprived nurse who saw swastikas on her patient's bed sheets, I was reminded of the Story of the Dirty Needle.

It was New Year's Eve in Goa and I was with Jem and Dom in Tito's Bar, watching the fireworks and getting ready for the big party. Jem was 21, a tall, gentle lad from Edinburgh with a bushy beard. Dom was a wise-cracking West Country boy, perhaps three years older.

We took taxi-bikes to a clearing in the jungle outside Vagator, where 2,000 people were swirling in a haze of tobacco smoke and pharmaceutical delirium. Dealers had been selling so-called Ecstasy which was, in fact, MDA, the much cruder and more potent "parent" drug. Many people had decorated their faces with Day-Glo paint, in designs that leapt out under the UV lights.

Because of the uneven ground and the poor lighting and the general state of the crowd, everybody was stumbling and lurching around. You could taste fear and euphoria in the air.

Hardcore techno was playing at a volume that made bass lines resonate in your chest cavity, and some of the locals, drunk on a home-made spirit called feni, had started to grope the women. Fights were breaking out sporadically.

Dom disappeared for a while and came back to say he had taken some acid, a blotter with a polka-dot motif. Jem said he wanted to try some; he had never taken acid before and tonight might as well be the night. Dom offered to show him who was "holding" and they went off together to score.

I bumped into Jem about two hours later, standing grim-faced, a rock in an ocean of chaos. He told me his acid had not worked; he had been ripped off. But the real reason he looked like he might burst into tears any second was because someone had stabbed him in the back with a syringe. My head reeling, I asked Jem for the whole story.

He had been at the bar, waiting for the acid to work, when he felt a sharp stinging in his back. He turned around and saw someone run off into the crowd, and realised he had been stabbed in the back with a dirty syringe. He had heard about it in Bombay: how HIV- positive junkies, doomed to die of Aids, vented their frustration by stabbing innocent people with infected needles and running away.

He was not imagining it. Dom had already found the puncture mark on his back. I decided to check anyway. He unbuttoned his shirt, pulled up his T-shirt, and there it was, a reddish swelling with a neat pin- prick in the middle. Exactly the kind of mark a syringe would make.

I tried to console him, saying it could have been anything, a splinter or a safety pin. But it was no use. Jem was going to die of Aids and he knew it. It was just a matter of where and when; 21 years old and his life was over.

Three days later, Jem finally took off his shirt and T-shirt to wash them. As he rinsed them out, he noticed a tiny black scorpion floating in the bowl. It was dead, and had been since the party when it had crawled into the gap between the two garments, realised it was trapped, and stung Jem in the back. Already on the verge of paranoia as he awaited the unknown horrors of LSD, Jem had hallucinated the rest.

Far from being a rip-off, his acid had worked only too well. It was the proverbial bad trip, man.