Turns out that apart from being another one of Jim’s proteges stationed on their path to spike their progress (acccording to Sandy), Huascar was also quite a live wire in his own right. Once he discovered how reluctant the krew were to return to La Paz and guessed the reasons why, Huascar volunteered to ferry them on to the next stage of their tour and chose the destination himself.
“I suggest you travel to Rurrenabaque. That’s where my father, Don Solon lives. I’m sure he’d love to meet you and I expect as close friends of Jim’s, he’ll have a couple of surprises in store for you,” he explained to Sandy. What he didn’t say was that Don Solon was a practising yatiri or curandero and his surprises tended to be quite startling. But as the son of the resident witch-doctor it amused Huascar to keep quiet about his father’s games. Nor did he bother to mention, until challenged by Koff brandishing his map of Bolivia, the distances involved in reaching Rurennabaque, particularly if they had to avoid La Paz.
Rurennabaque lay many miles to the north-east of the Lake, in almost lowland jungle territory. “No problem,” boasted Huascar, “we can fly there.” As well as his guide duties, Huascar shared with his Dad a tour agency which ran flights from La Paz airport to Rurennabaque for rich tourists keen to avoid the tortuous 24-hour bus journey. How improbably convenient, considered Sandy.
“No problem. I’ll check, but I’m fairly certain there’ll be some vacancies on one of the flights so early in the year. We can divert the plane to Copacabana. There’s a landing strip just outside the town and I bet that not one of tourists will notice the difference,” Sandy translated, while Geordie and Koff swung between bemusement and awe at the skill and recourses available to this generous new friend. “Of course, I’ll be accompanying you to ensure you make contact with Don Solon.”
Now, why did this sound suspicious to the krew? Able but overly pushy was the verdict on young Huascar. Once again, they lamented the absence of any contact with Jim, if only to check on Huascar’s credentials and intentions.
So it was early next morning they found themselves boarding a half-deserted Lear jet on a levelled landing strip just outside Copacabana, and a mere hour and a half later landing amidst the sultry humidity of a jungle runway.
A battered jeep, driven by Don Solon himself, picked them up and took them to the curandero’s rambling house. A series of mini-courtyards spilled off from the main patio in a pattern that convinced the krew of some subconscious meaning if only they could grasp it. In and around the maze of corridors, until a double-door was held open to reveal Don Solon’s inner sanctum, a vast laboratory whence drifted a series of intriguing aromas. Involuntarily they breathed in the herbal scents touched with a tang of danger and the curandero’s voice already sounded distant and distorted. “Let’s get out of here,” whispered Koff. Sandy squeezed his hand in agreement but Geordie blustered, “Probably too late.”
Solon was mixing liquids that were brewing in various pitchers. “Don’t be afraid. Our mutual friend Jaime has asked me to prepare a portion of ayahuascar for you, which is what I’m doing now.” Geordie quivered, Koff blanched, but Sandy spoke out. “ I tried this stuff one time before in Mexico. Ayahuascar - yage – it’s a beautiful, magic trip I can assure you. Don’t be scared, boys. So, who’s going to be our guide?” Don Solon was already handing the stoppered phial of smoky green solution to Huascar. “My son will give instructions and watch over you. No fear. Let go. Happy trails.” Then he had disappeared.
. Koff was still apprehensive but Geordie was all for it. Nobody had eaten anything since that morning, and Huascar insisted they continue fasting. Then he picked up a machete and followed him down to the river-bank where they took a canoe over to the other side. Through the dense undergrowth Huascar hacked a zig-zag path until they reached a clearing where they rested on round boulders. Then Huascar gathered scraps of dry wood and started a bonfire as dusk quickly fell. Suddenly it was night. They listened in silence to the jungle sounds, birds hooting and screaming, beasts scavenging, termites burying treasures in their mounds. Magic, as Sandy had claimed, and they had yet to ingest the potion. Tension built.
As dawn approached, Huascar gave them each half a cup of the bitter ayahuascar liquid and pushed them back onto the canoe, proceeding downriver until he reached a whirlpool near a couple of enormous rocks with snakes carved on them. Huascar skilfully glided the canoe to a sandy bank and they followed a path that he cleared with the machete. Must have been an hour and still no noticeable effects, but they were certainly lost. Suddenly Huascar halts and points into the mist ahead.
“Behold, Cathedral Rock.”
At first they could distinguish no shapes, but soon they are trudging up a steep track, stumbling over obstacles. Then the cathedral shaped rock comes into view solidly, daunting and ominous, though seemingly within easy reach. What a delusion. No sooner has the goal become manifest than the full impact of the drug hits the krew, a sudden whirlwind envelopes them and, to cap it all, Huascar has vanished. Koff collapses in panic. They have to rely on Sandy, the experienced hiker, to rescue them on this horrendous trek, which she does with some aplomb until, that is, the panthers emerge, whereupon Geordie’s courage dissolves. Fortunately, right on cue Don Solon materializes (where did he come from?) and commences to charm the savage cats with his flute. They slink away.
Now the krew are on the summit, a warm breeze clears the air and they realize that the choice of freedom has always been theirs. A telepathic vision unites them to Jim. They see this pair of Khazari horsemen galloping towards the White Fortress. ’So that’s where those dreams of mine come from,‘ thinks Koff, relieved, but still quaking. Geordie plays down his fears, and Sandy whoops, ‘How weird!’ as they re-emerge after several lifetimes in Solon’s perilous, intricate patios.