Going on exchange is good for a whole host of reasons, including the significant amount of free time you find yourself confronted with. Being an avid tripper and having chosen to study in Holland (for obvious reasons) it seemed only natural to combine their readily available hallucinogens with a spot of sightseeing.
So there we were: my ever-keen friend Redbeard and I, chewing a handful of psychedelic truffles (White Diamonds – for the experienced tripper) as the bus left Tilburg. Our destination was Efteling: a fairytale inspired theme park nestled amid the green pastures of southern Holland. Notoriously zany, it seemed like the perfect place to combine the euphoria and other-worldliness of truffles with all the adrenaline of roller coasters.
How wrong we were.
It was meant to be our tribute to the late Hunter S. Thompson and his psychedelic fuelled mania; a homage to gonzo journalism at its most depraved. I suppose some blame can also fall on Vice, with their “…On Acid” series (specifically the edition where they go to a theme park, which ended with the comment that doing it yourself is probably a lot more fun that reading about it… I’ll let you be the judge there).
Our first ride, the bobsled, was nothing special and with the first throes of the trip beginning we headed for the Python: a rollercoaster with two loop de loops and Efteling’s main attraction.
As the queue snaked slowly forward Redbeard leaned in: “How you doing man? This shit is so strong. I’m tripping balls.” I was pretty high by this stage too, and focusing most of my attention on being patient with the slow line and not thinking too much about what the rollercoaster would be like – so I just nod.
I’m glad to be in the sun; thank fuck we aren’t crowded inside right now; still strange with these teenagers speaking Dutch around us. Who knows what they’re saying? Doesn’t usually bother me, I tell myself, and I focus my attention elsewhere.
We finally get inside and are nearly at the front of the queue when Redbeard reminds me how high we are. All my focus has been on the tree I can see out the window and his concerned reminder jolts me back to the present. All of a sudden I can feel it coming. The immense weight of a ton of psilocybin bears down on me: my vision is blurry and I become conscious that I am sweating, a lot. “Want some gum man?” I need something to focus on, the room is closing in and I feel suffocated.
I lean forward and then slip into the barrier, almost passing out as Redbeard grabs me. I focus on the gum and pull myself back from the void. “Yeah I’m fine,” I mumble, trying to not speak too loudly. I’m afraid that the people behind us in the line will judge us, or know what we’re up to.
Like they don’t already, I just nearly passed out. Maybe they think it’s fear? Redbeard is worried: “You okay man? We can go outside? Let’s go outside. Do you want to go outside?” We have reached the front of the queue; to abandon ship now would be to face the inquisition of a seemingly endless line of Dutch teenagers.
“Fuck that, let’s just do it.”
The ride itself is great – a short rollercoaster with two loop de loops and a mellow corkscrew – but it is over in a flash and we’re off. I grin, trying to save face, and give a gimpy thumbs up to the perplexed teenagers behind us in the line. The fresh air and adrenaline has straightened me out and I feel considerably better. Unfortunately Redbeard is not feeling quite so good, and understandably so.
We are both stupidly high, fighting under a trip that is kicking in a much stronger manner than anticipated and Redbeard feels abandoned, vulnerable. He thought his one companion was about to pass out and abandon him, tripping balls, left to deal with an incapacitated sack of shit on his lonesome.
There’s no room for a dipper in a gang of two.
The ill sense of unease that scare unleashed lurks, tainting the sunny weather and our perceptions. I can’t properly apologise to Redbeard because we are still caught in the trip. To talk would send us spinning on a destructive tangent of what ifs – theory of mind has never been so difficult. The curse of conscience, present and overbearing, cuts loose, fuelled by the insecurities that have been festering below the surface while on exchange.
We find a nice clearing where we can chill away from crowds and queues and lie in the sun. I try to unpack the ill ease that lurks at the back of my mind. A sense of loneliness, and not fitting in are present – indeed they fuel my projections onto the innocent visitors. The people all seem alien, grotesque in their appearance, with staring eyes and conspiratorial whispers.
We do stick out: it’s a Monday and the park is crawling with kids; we’re both bearded, dressed like homeless skaters and festival fucked, wandering around an attraction aimed at children (which is only now apparent). It feels like we are under intense scrutiny and the language barrier does little to deny this. The drugs have opened a pandora’s box of paranoia and I struggle to rationalize:
“Is it because we look homeless?”
Redbeard levels: “You’re not homeless if you’re with a friend. If you do this by yourself, hell, if you are by yourself, then you’re a hobo.”
“I dunno man. Dunno what to think right now.”
“Me too bro… I’m a tourist in my own brain.”
Efteling is a strange place at the best of times, and with our feeling of misplacement it is even stranger. When we go up the floating pagoda and look out over the park Redbeard points out that he has no idea how high we are. I agree. It’s not just how high we are, it’s what people are saying, what is normal: all the usual cultural hurdles confronted by travellers exaggerated under the press of psilocybin.
More people, we need more people to trip with. It is too hard to be pushing the boundaries this far, this high, with only two of you. The fuck out factor is too high and after my hairy start this is evident. We decide to flag the other rides, queuing and cramped spaces are too much and not worth the brief adrenaline kick that follows. So we return back to our glen and lie prostrate in the sun, taking in the trees and trying to maintain sanity. Some baby geese walk by and we cheer up considerably. There is something nice about new life, and it’s wobbly innocence – just ask Tony Soprano about his ducks.
On the way to the exit we discover the fairytale part and enjoy ourselves considerably more. This is strange still, but entertaining – if only we had come here before the rollercoaster fuckout – perhaps we would be ecstatic rather than enduring.
All in all it feels like a big day, but a big day that is strangely representative of my time in the Netherlands. We lurk, on the outer of Dutch culture, in a strange international student bubble of over-hyped parties and shit music, embracing the distance mild substance abuse provides. Walking and looking, trying to take in a culture passively – as if being Dutch is something that can be seen or eaten rather than lived. This is the one truth that evades avoidance – cultures are hard to penetrate, and even harder to penetrate when your immersion is so minimal.
But we survived. It deepened the bond I share with my best friend. And, almost nearly as important as that cherished solidarity is the knowledge that I will never have to see the cunts that saw me pass out ever again.
And that, is why we travel.