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It is that time before dawn when the sky is still dark. Awakening to the sense that the sun is coming, feeling the chill of the wind that travels round the earth with the sun, I rise, smelling the scent that says morning is here. The birds outside feel it and sing their songs to it.
Lighting a lantern and doing a quick toilet, I dress and enter the darkness outside. My eyes adjust, the starlight gives definition to the environment and I can see. Cat vision. No artificial light anywhere, only the clear pre-dawn sky of Bali allowing the starlight to show me the way through a garden of nutmeg, papayas and frangipani into the stands of coconut palms and hedges which define the fields where cows are grazing-pastures beneath the blowing palms just behind the beach, the white coral sand beach falling off 4,000 meters into the Java Trench of the South Indian Ocean.
I've not come for a walk on the beach just now: the sun is still too far around the earth's curve to dilute the darkness, and it's too cool for a swim. I turn into the coconut gardens, where the cows graze in pasture lush with grasses and mushrooms. Wong Sapi, the cow mushroom, is what I Seek: Panaeolus Sphinctrinus, one of the many varieties of mushroom that contain psilocybin.
The Balinese will also be out soon, in search of Wong Sapi to sell to travelers and to restaurants that serve it up as mushroom omelettes. The starlight allows the light colored mushroom caps to glow out of the background of dark, emerald green grass now in no-moon blackness.
Already other dark shapes can be seen moving back and forth across the pastures, and as the sky gets lighter the Balinese smile hello. I pick one after another of the magic mushrooms until my basket is full enough, then move back to my room to prepare a heavenly breakfast, to begin another cosmic day on this enchanted emerald isle.
Mushroom Mountain Erupts
During my stay I journeyed with a party of friends to Kintamani, a village on the rim of the crater of the huge volcanic mountain named Gunung Agung that straddles the eastern-most side of Bali. It is the holy mountain on whose slopes sits Besaki, the oldest temple complex on the island. It is here that Mataram Hindu royalty, priests, high guildsmen, and others came when they fled the Jihad (Holy War) of Islam. Gunung Agung is the volcano that wreaked havoc in the early 60s on the day of a once-a-century Balinese celebration. It is Shiva's mountain, and the main temple in the complex at Besaki is Shiva's. Shiva is the God of Smoke, to whom all the Sadus of Hindustan bless every chillum of charas before smoking and while lighting up. He is also god of the magic mushroom.
Our small group moves out into the cold night, across the narrow road, and down to a small terrace on the inner edge of the rim, in a small clump of mangosteen trees. There is a ledge below with more trees, then a drop to the crater floor far below. There grows a lush tropical forest, with ancient banyan trees growing everywhere except the lake which glistens off to the right, and the inner cone which is off in the center of the crater, spouting molten rock and lava-throwing it high into the air in a dreamy red-orange slow motion eruption, then dying down to a smoky glow—and the ground begins to shake and rumble, as the thunder reaches us. “Bom Shankar, Bom Bom" Voices calling a name of Shiva. A chillum stuffed with a mix of Himalayan hash and tobacco is ignited. “Bom Shiva Shambo..." RUMBLE.
Bungle in the Jungle
An Australian lady friend invites me to stay at her place halfway up Gunung Agung. It's a small house in a bandjar—an extended family compound of thatch-roofed huts, milling houses, and household temples—patriarched by one i Gusti Putu Togog, folk mycologist, herbalist, tuak-tapper, rice farmer, mill owner, gangoonge-player and -maker, plus assorted other trades and skills.
The bandjar is far off the beaten path and few are inclined to come here. There is no electric. You draw your water from a deep well. Entertainment is a jungle walk, or a performance by the local group of gamelon (Xylophone) musicians, dancers, and chorus. One is usually in bed within a few hours after sunset, serenaded to sleep by the multi-sensual symphony of the jungle.
Fresh exotic fruits abound: sala, the cobra-skinned tropical apple; durian, the magical aphrodisiac; jackfruit; mangosteen; breadfruit; white mango; chelooring; bling-bling; passion fruit; coconuts; papaya and multitudinous varieties of bananas. Rice is the staple. Vegetables are prepared as "gado-gado" (raw) and cooked in fried rice. "Gado-gado" is salad made with, among other things, steamed rice cakes that are called "tea pot" in Indonesian and soya sauce, which the Balinese call "ketchup." (Naturally, these last lead to some confusion on the part of British and American travelers—abundant in Bali—who expect Western comforts.)
Small quantities of the Wong Sapi magic mushroom are added to fried rice and served to the entire family, young and old alike. The Balinese believe that this psilocybin mushroom, taken in small amounts, rejuvenates the body and elevates the spirit, like ginseng. It has other uses. If a person in Bali is considered to be insane, Wong Sapi is collected and a hundred or thereabouts are pounded with mortar and pestal and made into a drink by mixing with water, straining and serving it up as a beverage. This, combined with care, is said to cure the afflicted person.
Besides Wong Sapi, the Balinese have an assortment of good eating mushrooms which are either semi-cultivated or foraged in the wild: Wong Bulan, the moon mushroom; Wong Kakak, the older brother; Wong Kuping Tikus, the mouse-eared mushroom; the Shitake mushroom, called "Wong Bingin" here, because it grows commonly on the Bingin or Banyan tree.
Togog and I are out hunting mushrooms one day in the jungle behind a stand of sawgrass, which he explains is used as thatch, when we come upon this huge spiderweb on a small tree. A very large spider is in the center. Togog tugs at the edge of the heavy web, scaring both me and the spider, while explaining how his family weaves this web together with cotton to make an especially strong cloth. He then quickly grabs the spider, holds it to his other hand and lets it bite him. “Tidak Sakit”—doesn't make you sick—says Togog, in the language the explorer-hero of the original King Kong spoke to the natives of legendary (nearby) Skull Island. Kong was king there. Wong is king here.
Other names are Wong Sampi, Wong Sapi, Wong Padi (Bali), Blue Meanies (Australia), and Teonanacatl (Mesoamerica).
Cap: 1-3 cm broad, fragile, bell shaped to conic-campulate. Colored a watery translucent yellow to grey-blue. Glabrous. Slippery when wet. Margin in rolled and appendiculate. Staining blue to violet-black when bruised.
Flesh: Thin, fairly even, same color as cap.
Taste: Mildly radish-like or earthen taste.
Odor: Mild earthen odor.
Stem: Thin, wavy, 2-15 cm long, 1/16 to 1/8" wide. Whitish, staining blue indigo or violet-black when bruised. Under the protection of the cap at the top of the stem are white flocculi, sometimes extending far down the stem. These are apparently washed away by rains.
Gills: Salt and peppery grey-black. One adnate, with shorter ones reaching near and midway to the stem from the margin.
Spores: Black, lemon-shaped.
Habitat: Grows in cow dung or on well-manured fields in warm rainy weather.