On a recent mild weekend in Denmark I went to a psychedelic conference in the country’s coastal capital. Held in a sleek and modern building on the city’s metropolitan university campus, it turned out to be a hugely impressive event. Something that struck me early on was how well organised everything was – I guess a part of me was expecting stoned hippies in tie-dye shirts to be running the thing. Though I’m sure that would’ve been fun in its own way, that was absolutely not the case. It was an excellently organised and professional event put on by the psychedelic society of Denmark: clearly a smart and competent group of individuals that understand the value of these stigmatized substances.
The atmosphere around the building and in the main hall was of an almost tangible positivity and you could tell everyone was excited to be there. It was awesome to connect with others who share an interest in psychedelics and being around so many like-minded people made me feel that I’m part of something much bigger. A pretty good feeling.
There were workshops on tripsitting and integration on the Friday and the main conference was held over the weekend with two full days of presentations on subjects ranging from neuroscience to psychotherapy to social ecology.
Serious Work Is Being Done
There was a moment I enjoyed on the second morning when an older lady asked me if I was a scientist. I smiled and said “well, I do conduct experiments.” It turns out I’m not the only one. There are like, actual scientists doing (slightly more rigorous) experiments and clinical trials with these substances and writing papers and PHDs on them. And there are a lot of them.
Pharmacologist Jordi Riba
Nearly all of the presentations were done by scientists and researchers from a diverse range of fields and while the research into how psychedelics can be used to treat mental illness is currently getting the most attention, there is plenty more going on. I enjoyed one talk about how the type of hallucinogen present in a culture might influence its prevailing religious beliefs – especially thought-provoking when we consider today’s most popular drugs. There was another interesting one in which pharmacologist Jordi Riba presented his findings that suggest the alkaloids of the plant source of ayahuasca stimulate adult neurogenesis. I should mention that he did also note that aerobic exercise also does this, so if you fancy growing your brain and aren’t quite up for a massive psychedelic trip in the jungle, you can just go for a run. Slightly less intimidating.
Science Is Leading The Movement
Today science is a door to credibility. Open any statement with ‘well, studies have shown that…’ and you’re guaranteed to have your point considered more seriously. As psychedelics gain more attention its clear that many leaders within the movement know this. They don’t want to see mistakes made in the 60’s made again and are very conscious of public perception. Hence the amount of scientists and academics giving presentations. In a panel debate at the end of the first day, neuroscientist Robin Carhart-Harris used the word ‘hippies’ more than once and its clear that he doesn’t want to be labelled one. He wants the respect that comes with science and he’s not alone in wanting that respect to be extended to psychedelics.
I do think there should be room for non-science based discussion too though. On looking through the program ahead of the first day I saw a presentation with an intriguing title – ‘Psychedelic Pleasures: An effective understanding of the joys of tripping’. I read it to my friend and he smiled. “That’s more like it. All this science can miss the point.” The talk turned out to be steeped in science and methodology and disappointingly, not very fun at all.
Whilst all the scientific research is important to the wider perception of psychedelics, I think it’s important to remember that technical understanding has its limits. Sure, science has granted us incredible advancements in medicine and technology, but alone it doesn’t have all the answers. Technology has isolated people, globalisation has fragmented communities, and if we look at where all this technical, rational understanding has landed us today we see a world with increasing rates of mental illness in the midst of an ecological crisis. I think we can go a little too heavy on the science at times and there should be room for other types of understanding too.
Small Event In A Big Year
2017 has been a big year for the psychedelic movement with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration designating MDMA as a breakthrough therapy for PTSD in August, and much larger conferences like Psychedelic Science, Breaking Convention, and The International Transpersonal Conference taking place in California, London and Prague. Whilst the gathering in Copenhagen was a modest affair compared to those events, it still gave me a sense of how big the movement is and how fast its growing.
I appreciated the relatively small size as it meant that I had the opportunity to talk with some of those presenting. It was interesting to hear neuroscientist Mendel Kaelen (who you may be familiar with from this VICE article) talk about how he considers ‘hope’ to be a crucial aspect of music in a session, and speaking to Jordi Riba, I found out why I can drink cup after cup of ayahuasca without any real effect (turns out I’m not a beast of resistance, it’s more likely that my body just metabolizes certain enzymes very quickly). Whilst it’s possible to find out almost anything online, nothing replaces those in person connections.
Overall the conference was equal parts enjoyable and eye-opening and the cornerstone of an inspiring week in Copenhagen. I think I might make this an annual trip. See you at the next one.
With the sun overhead Pedro exhales a lungful of smoke, passes the pipe on, and goes back to checking the group’s food supplies in his bag. “I’m so high” Molly says amused as she gazes around at the empty village street we’re sat on the side of. I take the pipe on its way through, the sweet taste of Mexican ganja fills my lungs and I get excited about our imminent adventure; we’re heading into the desert in search of peyote – the small, spineless mescaline containing cactus that grows in this part of Mexico.
There’s six of us in total, I met the others the day before, and they are exactly the sort you might expect to be making this journey; Pollo and Lalo, a pair of Mexican gypsy punks – complete with mandala face tattoos, mohawks and bongo; Molly and Lily, two young blonde English girls who’ve been hitchhiking around North America for the last 18 months, and whose main interests include astrology and beat literature; and Pedro, a long-haired pothead from Mexico City, half-hippy-half-city boy, and our crew’s desert guide.
We’ve actually already eaten some peyote for breakfast that morning – I’d acquired six heads from a Jewish priest in town the day before (another story) – and we now finish off the last of the disgustingly bitter green flesh. We haven’t eaten a whole lot, but already I begin to feel a giddy and energetic wakefulness as we set off.
We walk past the last small houses and out the edge of town, following a dust track that leads us out into the desert, literally walking out of civilization and straight into nature.
The panorama is undeniable; the landscape is flat for what must be hundreds of miles ahead of us before our view is eventually cut off by mountains that are probably months away on foot. The earth is pale and dry but there is life in small single shrubs that are scattered around everywhere. We see hanging clouds showering an area way off to our right, and looking back I see the huge shadows and outlines of another set of clouds hanging over the mountains we left behind this morning. It’s hard to fathom what the distances might be, but the vast wilderness has a calming effect. It’s peaceful in a humbling way.
The area of desert close to town has practically no peyote – already ravaged dry from decades of visits by seekers and peyoteros – so Pedro is leading us to what he calls the ‘hikuri zone’, an area he knows of that’s deep into the desert and rich with the cactus.
Stepping through a gap between shrubs Pedro turns to us; “Remember that we are in nature, so just watch where you step” he says, apparently referring to snakes. The area we’re headed to is a good few hours away so Pedro sets a steady pace and the group splits by native language; Pedro leading the way with the punks up ahead whilst I fall behind with the girls.
My 5 liter water bottle swings by my side and sweat trickles down my brow. The further we go into the desert, the more different I feel; disentangled from the world and society’s trappings, somehow elevated from it, and still giddy. The girls are getting silly and Lily is giggling at the fact that “everything looks so green on peyote”.
With Pedro’s warning in mind we begin discussing about what to do if we encounter a snake and the girls agree that Lily will pretend to be a snake so that Molly can demonstrate to us the appropriate response. Lily crouches and makes a hissing winding path towards Molly, who standing her ground just looks at Lily and says, totally deadpan, “fuck off”. Somehow the scene is absolutely hilarious and I slam the water bottle to the ground as I double over cracking up; I’ve hit a hysterical level somewhere between the peyote, the heat and the pipe.
Something’s Out There
After a short but welcome water break a couple hours in – in which it’s clear that everyone is a bit spaced out and weary from walking in the heat – Pedro leads us on. The town is now a distant memory and the silence and isolation of the desert amplified. Molly and I fall to the back of the group and she asks me if I believe in aliens – the area is a hot spot for appearances and other strange occurrences. I think for a moment – I don’t really know my own answer – and she warns me “Be careful what you say… because they are listening to you” Her response makes me uneasy and I tell her “I don’t really know”. “Ooh, he’s on the fence, get him!” she says as though she is actually speaking to the aliens herself, and the possibility that they are out there and will now be on their way to visit me out in the desert tonight suddenly seems very real. Something about the boundless open landscape makes palpable the feeling that anything – including an encounter – is possible, because it shows me how unfathomably massive the world really is; that exist huge swathes of the earth’s surface that I’ve never seen and never will, whole fields of experience that are so far removed from my own and will forever elude me. It all reminds me of how little I really, truly know. Awe and mystery of the unknown are in fact the reason I’m there trampling through the desert – what drives that innate and irrepressible urge to discover, explore, and experience – and Molly’s hint at a potential encounter leaves me unnerved in a weirdly thrilling way.
Little Green Jewels
Spotting a pair of yuca trees which mark our turn, Pedro leads us on a new course and we’re told to keep our eyes peeled as we enter peyote territory. One of the girls spots one, poking its small head above the earth with its leathery green skin. I can tell Pedro wants to pull it out to start building our stash, but being our first find its not to be picked – its our guide – and he observes the ritual of making an offering to maintain some authenticity as our Mexican desert guide. Bending down he sprinkles a few lentils by the plant and we split off as the search begins.
Lalo pumps his bongo as he goes and his beat provides the soundtrack for what is like a bizarre psychedelic easter egg hunt. I wander gazing around the desert floor. I walk past Pollo sitting on the ground in front of a find, ‘gracias pachamama’ he says, offering thanks to the spirit of the earth, kissing his hand and placing it on the earth, kissing it again and placing it on his forehead. Lalo’s beat suddenly stops and he lets off a squeal of excitement; he’s found his first one too.
I spot one, and bending down I’m taken back by its appearance. The skin glows, its shade of green shifts; its somehow radiating life. The soft small head seems unnatural here amongst the dry earth, something about it is alien and mysterious. It has a rare beauty, so I leave this one be. I stand back up and walking away see another, then another. They all seem incredibly precious, like elegant jewels hidden scattered around the desert, and gazing at their beauty I don’t really want to take them out from the earth. It seems wrong, as though its killing something special and sacred and pure. I walk over to some of the others and before I’ve said anything Molly gushes the exact same sentiment “but they’re so beauuutiful”. “Yes, but remember, they are here to help us” Pedro insists, probably annoyed that we’re wasting time when we should be picking for the evening ahead. He does however, have a point, and I didn’t walk for hours through the desert just to admire their appearance, so I start collecting heads.
With about 20 heads collected between us, we meet by a tree to set up the tents. We get a fire going just as the sun’s setting and sit round. Snacking on more heads as the surrounding desert fades into darkness, we hear coyotes howling off in the distance. The altered space peyote has taken me to is different to what I expected; it has left me feeling wired but somehow zoned out. Despite eating more, my trip plateaus and I lie restless yet exhausted. The view overhead is pristine, and looking up at millions of stars, I reflect on what has been a long, hot, bizarre day.
When I’d first read about peyote about 7 years before, it seemed almost mythological; an exotic psychoactive plant that grows in the North American desert, consumed by natives and indigenous peoples over thousands of years for ceremonial and spiritual purposes. To my younger self it was a fairy tale, something of another world, some exciting legend that you come across in obscure books and cult films. It sparked my imagination and curiosity of the world, gave me a hunger for experience – but I never seriously considered it would be part of a journey that I’d actually undertake. To be lying there, many years later, under the stars out in the desert, is something surreal and life affirming. Even without an alien encounter, the desert trip has shown me something; anything is possible.
But the night isn’t quite over, there’s one more surprise.
One Last Journey
Pedro pulls out the pipe and loads it up again. “You should know, there is changa in there” he says with a mischievous smirk on his face. Changa is a smoking blend that contains DMT – “the spirit molecule” – possibly the most powerful psychedelic known to man. In other words, a complete mind-blower.
What happens next seems to happen very quickly; the pipe makes its way round the circle; Pedro, Pollo – who offers thanks to pachamama again- Lalo, Lily… everyone taking a deep hit from the pipe and passing it on, closing their eyes and sitting silently, off in whatever universe they’ve gone to. Before I know it the pipe is passed and in my hand. Really I’m nowhere like as mentally prepared as I’d like to be – five minutes before I wasn’t even considering that I’d be smoking changa – but at the same time there’s no way I’m going to pass up on this. Holding the pipe in front of me I pause to take a deep breath. I see Molly – who’s opted out of the multi-verse roulette due to a traumatic changa experience days prior – crouched behind Pollo, peering at me over his shoulder, and I can see the fear in her eyes at what I’m about to do. I light the end and the mix glows orange as I pull. It tastes horrible as I feel the smoke make its way down my throat and into my lungs where I hold it in.
I exhale, and my vision begins to morph, the small stones in the circle around the fire become warped, growing to the size of boulders and shrinking back again, my vision zooms in strange ways as I’m being pulled in. I look around and see the others around the fire. They all have their eyes closed. Of course, that’s what I need to do. I close my eyes and enter a spectrum of flowing colours. Luminous oranges and pinks meld into bizzare multi-layered forms as they fly through me, or I’m flying through them – I have no idea. The colours I see are from outside the spectrum of usually visible light, they are dazzling and the forms they carry approach from in front and pass through my eyes, flowing through and out the back of my head. I anchor to my breath for a reference point, some ground amidst the chaos, and I’m able to sit back passive to the kaleidoscopic whirlwind. The flight is intense, but as quick as it came on, the experience fades away. The brilliant colours gradually fade and I’m left in darkness, with a weird empty feeling – like something inside me has been wiped clean.
Last to smoke, I’m last to come round, and as I reopen my eyes everyone is just sitting quietly round the fire in their own space – apart from Pedro who has already got up and has his hand on Lily’s shoulder in what looks like an inappropriate attempt to forge a bond.
‘Man, that changa is something else’ I say finally, looking over at him. He rips into laughter. He’s laughing at the truth of what I say, the ridiculousness and outrageousness of it all. Sometimes things are just so inconceivable or so weird that you can’t help but laugh. And this was one of those times.
Sketch by ‘Lily’ (Lucy Porter) depicting the changa trip round the fire.
https://mapsofthemind.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/12-lilys-changa-art.jpg1200932John Robertsonhttps://mapsofthemind.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/MAPS-MIND-LOGO-29.pngJohn Robertson2017-05-20 09:21:252021-07-10 11:26:04Desert Bound: A Meeting With Peyote
Peyote is a small spineless psychedelic cactus native to Mexico and southwestern Texas – scientific name Lophophora williamsii. Peyote contains psychoactive alkaloids, and like the San Pedro cactus, the main one is mescaline.
Peyote cactus, known as ‘hikuri’ to the Huichol people of Mexico
Spiritual Tool? Healing Agent?
Peyote has a long history of ritualistic and medicinal use by indigenous Americans and continues to be used as an entheogen by people worldwide today. It is reportedly capable of triggering states of deep introspection and insight that have been described as being of a metaphysical or spiritual nature. In addition to psychoactive use, some Native American tribes use the plant for its curative properties; to treat all kinds of ailments, from various types of physical pain to fever and skin diseases. More commonly, ointments for pain are made with peyote and sold on the streets of Mexico.
An peyote ointment for pain, sold in Mexico.
In Danger of Extinction
Peyote’s Natureserve conservation status is a G3, meaning that as a species it’s vulnerable on the global level. This is because, despite not being used that commonly worldwide, it’s extremely slow growing and the number of people on the planet consuming peyote exceeds the species’ ability to regenerate. It should be taken VERY sparingly and because it is a sacrament for native Americans and an endangered species, many people believe that their use should be reserved only for these peoples. If you consume peyote, you should consider how you can contribute to their conservation.
A couple of baby peyotes
The main problem is not that people are picking peyote, but how they are picking it. If the entire plant is pulled from the earth then the roots come with it and that’s the end of the plant’s life cycle. For the cactus to live on, only the head (the green part that grows above ground) should be removed. This leaves the roots intact in the earth which can then form a callus and grow back. The head is actually the valuable part – that contains all the mescaline – so there isn’t really any need to take the root too.
A paper containing information on the proper harvesting of peyote cactus – found in a house near to the desert in San Luis Potosí, Mexico.
How To Pick Peyote
If you’re planning to pick peyote, here is a method which leaves the roots intact, allowing the peyote to regenerate and grow back. You’ll need a piece of string, nothing more. Any type of string will do so long as its thick enough that it won’t snap too easily – think shoelace. [If you have a knife – check this video]
1. Firstly, you’ll need find a peyote. In Mexico it typically grows in the shade of this shrub. Can you spot the peyote in the first picture below?
2. Found it? Nice. Now clear the earth around it, making what is like a small moat.
3. Loop the string around it at ground level, as if you’re going to choke it.
4. Pull the string tightly from either side so the string cuts through the flesh, beheading the cactus. This will leave the root intact, and you with the head.
5. Cover the remaining root with some earth, and sprinkle a few drops of water on top.
6. Enjoy your peyote, happy in the knowledge it will grow back and someone else may discover it one day!
Reminder – It’s Illegal
I don’t like to end the post with this but unfortunately possession of peyote can land you in a lot of trouble. If you are caught by the police with peyote heads in Mexico you will probably go to jail. I imagine the same is the case in the States. For this reason I’d recommend eating peyote in the desert and not bringing any back with you after. Luckily police don’t generally hang out in the desert, so you can have your peyote journey there with no worries. Anyway, I think the desert is a fantastic setting for a peyote experience 🙂
Have you ever tried peyote?
What was the setting? How was your experience? I’d love to hear about it, so please leave a comment below.
My experience of drinking San Pedro in the Sacred Valley was an incredibly powerful, humbling and beautiful experience. I would seriously recommend it to anyone inclined to such experiences. It was a highlight of months of travel in South America and so in the spirit of sharing information, I’ve written this guide to taking San Pedro in Peru.
What is San Pedro?
San Pedro is a species of psychedelic cactus native to the Andes – scientific name Echinopsis pachanoi. Also known as Wachuma, the cactus contains the psychedelic compound mescaline, also found in the peyote cactus and the source of inspiration for Aldous Huxley’s classic ‘The Doors Of Perception’. The Spanish name San Pedro (Saint Peter) came after the Spanish conquest and refers to the disciple from the bible who holds the key to heaven – the cactus named after him as it’s believed to allow users to reach heaven whilst still on earth.
Echinopsis Pachanoi AKA San Pedro
Why in Peru?
If you’re interested in taking San Pedro, Peru is a great country to do it. The cactus has a history of use in Andean traditional medicine going back thousands of years and is a part of the native culture. Like ayahuasca, it is not viewed as a ‘drug’ in the same way that it is in the west, but rather as a plant medicine, an ally, or a teacher. The same stigma doesn’t exist around it as in western countries and this makes it a great place to do it; where it is an honoured and proud part of the culture. For this reason San Pedro is completely legal, and therefore openly and readily available.
Where Can I Buy San Pedro?
Head to Calle San Pedro
You can find San Pedro in the medicines aisle of Mercado San Pedro, Calle San Pedro in Cusco (San Pedro Market, San Pedro Street – should be fairly easy to remember). It is sold in powder form, after the cactus has been dried and ground. I’m sure there are many others places to get it seeing as it’s legal, but this is where I got it and buying it at the market was as easy as anything. It was very cheap and excellent quality. Just go to the medicines aisle and ask around for San Pedro. You can buy in batches of 33g – one standard dose. Cost
When I went one standard 33g dose cost 10 soles ($3 / £2)
Head to Seccion Hierbas Medicinales
1 standard dose is 33 grams. The general advice is to start by taking one dose and if you don’t feel anything after 2 hours, then drink more. If you are going to have a strong trip, typically you will start to feel effects before the two hour mark. Be sensible with your dosage!
Three bagged doses – 33g in each
One you have the dust, all you need to do is mix it in water and then drink it. No special preparation or boiling needed. It’s bitter as hell and not the easiest thing to get down, but then you weren’t drinking it for the taste were you?
N.B. My advice would be to drink on an empty stomach. This will help with the absorption of the San Pedro into your body, and will also lessen nausea, a common side effect of the cactus.
Pisac, a town about one hour from Cusco, has grown into something of a magnet for the hippie/alternative crowd, unsurprising considering the many ayahuasca and San Pedro retreats and ceremonies available there or in surrounding areas. I arrived into town the day before my trip and had passed all sorts of interesting characters and places as I walked through the narrow streets – there’s even an ayahuasca art cafe.
Where and How To Take It?
This is really up to you, but here are a few options as to where and in what manner you take San Pedro. Scroll down for more info on each one.
Option 1: Go to nature
Option 2: Find a guide or facilitator
Option 3: Organise your own gathering / hike / ceremony
Option 1: Go To Nature
This was the option I went for and in many ways the most straightforward. I wanted to be alone and in nature so it was perfect. Peru is abound with incredible nature so finding a place should be easy. Staying in Pisac, I just left town and went out into nature, through woods and by a river. Ifyou are going alone, pay careful attention to where you are going and be prepared. When deciding where I would go I asked a friend who I was staying with for suggestions. He’d been living in the area a little while and had done some organised Wachuma hikes there. He advised me an area of woods and told me to stay by the river. That was important advice as when heading back the woods were like a maze and appeared identical in all directions. Luckily, I was able to locate myself in relation to the river and follow it back towards town.
What to take?
Basically the normal stuff you’d take for a typical day out – water, shades, suncream etc. Here are some other specifics I’d recommend:
Clothes suitable for heat and cold
On my trip the temperature varied massively depending on the shadow of clouds – it was scorching under direct sunlight, then pretty damn chilly under the shadow of a large passing cloud. I changed clothes, switching between jeans and shorts, putting on and removing layers, a few times throughout the trip. Ideally find a spot in shade.
Something to lie on [e.g. sleeping/yoga mat, sleeping bag, picnic blanket]
During your trip you may well want to lie down. I took a sleeping mat for my trip and certainly made use of it, lying on it for a good 6 hours. You can of course just lie on the ground but I think its nice to have something to lie on. Depending on where you are it may or may not be easy to find a comfortable spot. I highly value physical comfort during a psychedelic experience and think it can make a big difference to the experience itself.
Water & Food
It may well be the case that you’re not hungry at all, but I think it’s best to be prepared, especially as you’ve just fasted, and also just in case you get lost and it takes you longer than anticipated to make it back. On my trip I took some snacks and ended up not eating anything. I had plenty of energy and was OK to walk into town before I finally ate a meal at a restaurant in the evening – around 24 hours since I’d last eaten, and 12 since drinking the San Pedro. Even then I wasn’t hungry but felt it would be a good idea to eat some nourishing food. Indeed it’s common that people have plenty of energy purely from the cactus.
Anything else is optional and additional. If you are in nature I don’t think there is much you will be left wanting; you will have the trees, the mountains and the sky!
What else you take depends entirely on you and what you would like with you. Here are some suggestions;
Pad & Pen – Personally I like to take a pen and pad with me and wrote a lot throughout my wachuma trip. At times I found writing in it was like talking to a friend, giving me a sense of company.
Music & Headphones/Speaker – I didn’t actually listen to anything but imagine it could be pretty awesome.
Marijuana – The nausea can be quite bad and weed can certainly help this. I smoked one joint as the nausea started to come on, about an hour after drinking, and felt immediately relieved. The nausea came back again a couple hours later – I smoked another small joint, and that was the end of the nausea for the entire trip!
Final note:Drink early
I think it’s a decent idea to make your way back out of nature before sundown – the cold will set in and the dark will make finding your way harder. Drinking early will mean you peak earlier in the day and then be ‘down’ to consensual reality earlier, making the return trip easier. Also I think it’s nice to have the whole day and trip in the sun. Another option would be to camp out in nature.
If you’re not with a friend and don’t fancy being alone, consider options 2 and 3.
Option 2: Find a Guide or Facilitator
There are plenty of guides and facilitators around the town of Pisac offering Wachuma hikes and different types of ceremony. Just google search ‘San Pedro Pisac’, check the facebook group Spirit Events Sacred Valley, or ask around when you arrive to Pisac. There are all kinds of events – from hikes in nature to ceremonies with mantras and sacred songs. If you do this you will be paying a fee and the price will include the san pedro so you don’t need to worry about buying any beforehand – you can just show up and your facilitator will give you the dose. If you go this route you should speak with your facilitator and clear up any queries you may have beforehand – procedure/schedule/dose etc. If you find shamanic or new age ceremonial type things to be a bit cringe or just not to your tastes, a hike would surely be preferable, or…
Option 3: Organise Your Own Gathering / Hike / Ceremony
Another option is finding some others and organising your own ceremony. This is more easy than it sounds. Many travellers’ and spiritual seekers can be found in Pisac and when I was there I met others who were just getting together and doing their own ceremonies (often ‘ceremony’ might be as simple as drinking a cactus mix sat around a campfire). The day after my own experience I was invited by an Argentinian to join a ceremony she was organising with her friends a few days later. Some others were also organising trips to Machu Picchu with a San Pedro stop en route. Needless to say you should feel comfortable with everyone who you plan on doing this with.
San Pedro can have powerful effects on the taker so I wouldn’t recommend taking the decision to drink lightly. However, if you do decide to you may well be in for an ineffably beautiful and potentially life-changing experience. I am still awed at what I experienced, and would absolutely drink again when the right opportunity arises. I’d love to hear how your journey with San Pedro is, so if you journey, please share in the comments. Safe travels!
https://mapsofthemind.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/cusco-s.jpg8001200John Robertsonhttps://mapsofthemind.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/MAPS-MIND-LOGO-29.pngJohn Robertson2017-02-19 20:44:212023-02-17 17:03:01Explorer’s Guide: Taking San Pedro in Peru
It’s eight o’clock in the morning and the panorama of a bend in the Peruvian sacred valley of the Incas is majestic under the days early rays. From the patch of grass outside our mountainside room I can see Pisac off in the distance down below: a Peruvian village an hour or so from Cusco and situated on the Willkanuta river, now something of a draw for spiritual seekers due to the local plant medicine scene. The thick bitty lime green liquid I’m choking down for breakfast is bitter as hell, but then I’m not drinking it for the taste. The mixture has two ingredients; water, and powdered San Pedro – a hallucinogenic cactus native to the Andes and the chemical key to my adventure today.
I force down the mix in the company of two friends; Chris, an old school buddy with me for the Peru leg of my American tour, and our host, Vik, a Danish friend who I’d met in Buenos Aires a couple months earlier who’d introduced himself by telling me he was in the continent to drink ayahuasca- we subsequently hit it off and became good friends, exploring the cultured capital together amidst discussions of all things psychedelic.
My mix contains 33g of the mescaline containing cactus, one full dose, and I’ll take that again in an hour or so once I reach the eucalyptus trees down below. Vik seems to obtain a perverse pleasure from watching me struggle to get it down – he’s had his share in the weeks prior and despite being a fan of the cactus’ psychoactive effects and therapeutic qualities, knew just how bitter and stomach wrenching it was. So much is his aversion to the taste he’s actually trying to figure out a different way of ingesting the substance for future journeys.
Three bagged doses
My venture today is a solo one. After finally getting the mix down as fast as my gag reflex will allow- a good 15 minutes of interspersed gulps- I say adios to the boys, and head down the rugged mountainside on a jagged path to the base of the valley. I cross a small road, heading away from town and into nature. I pass through a field towards the river and the woods of eucalyptus trees.
As I make my way upstream I pass an old gringo with a white whispy beard in full Bolivian patterned wear. He merely looks grumpy in response to my cheery greeting and it throws me off, his bad vibes make me feel a little uneasy. I second guess my decision and consider that it maybe not be the perfect situation and surrounding for me to be undertaking this journey. But then I also think that if you’re continually waiting for the ‘perfect’ opportunity to do something, it may never come. Sometimes you just have to take the chance and go for it. Today will be a good judge. Anyway, I’ve already choked down a full dose, so it’s a bit late for second guesses now.
After a few minutes of walking through the woods I veer off the path and settle down in what seems to be a good spot; a flat area just set back from where the river is noisily crashing over rocks in a mini-waterfall. I set down my stuff, unroll my sleeping mat, and pull out another 33g bagged dose of the powdered cactus, mixing it in a bottle of water and chugging it down.
Within ten minutes nausea starts setting in. I’m prepared for this and pull out the joint I’ve pre-rolled that morning. It works a treat and the nausea disappears as I slip into a more dazed feeling. I lie on my mat and begin writing in my pad which eases my nerves and soon I feel pretty good – I’m in the Sacred Valley! Feeling settled by writing, I set a timer for a 5 minute meditation, and lie back, closing my eyes.
The meditation relaxes me further and I roll onto my front, gazing up at the mountain across the river. The rocky surface is luminescent orange under the sun’s unchecked rays and as I’m gazing up the whole thing gently shimmers. It’s as if the image of the mountain is being projected onto a huge sheet and something has just shaken the top, making the whole thing and all of its details ripple. ‘It’s starting’ I excitedly think to myself as I lie back to enjoy the view.
About an hour and a half after the joint, nausea creeps back. I can’t believe I don’t have another J ready to go; by now I really should know to have a handful pre-rolled and ready for my convenience- but due to slack preparation I’ve failed to show up with anymore. I muster focus and steady hands, and I craft another. It works wonders and the nausea disappears again, this time for the remainder of the trip, giving me the all-clear to strap myself in for what’s to come.
The Spirit Arrives
Lying on my back, gazing up at the trees and sky, I slip into a more contemplative state and start questioning why I am actually there, drinking ground-up hallucinogenic cactus on my own in the woods of a third world country… what am I searching for?! Thoughts begin to build steam and I feel like a receiver rather than the originator of thoughts that appear in my mind.
The contemplation leads to thoughts of my life. I see it as if it were complete in that moment with nothing more to add. Thoughts of death come to me, about dying there that day, that very spot in the valley where I lie. The morbid thoughts become dark and intensify and I feel increasingly fearful. I sense this episode as a kind of game of thoughts; I perceive it as a playful action from somewhere outside me – as if some demonic spirit is messing with me and sending me these thoughts to spook me.
I consider that perhaps this is what others have called the spirit of Wachuma and in that very moment, I see it in the top reaches of the tree growing up beside me, in the faintest but seemingly deliberate movements of the uppermost leaves and branches. They twinkle lightly, playfully, as they’re tickled delicately by the breeze.
My sense of gravity has flipped and it’s as if I’m staring down rather than up, the trees and plants around me hanging by their roots, the top branches reaching as if out and down to a sky below. Loosened and open, I’m struck by the beauty of what I see before me, my attention is drawn to the top of the tree which has its roots closest to me.
The scene is rich in texture and colour, layer upon layer of detail is revealed in the magnificent tree and its surroundings. I observe in awe as the tree bobs and weaves with the breeze, gently making circles in my view. I become aware of the most utterly minuscule movements – of every pore of every leaf of every branch – of intense and unspeakable subtlety.
The movements of the tree are the epitome of effortless grace, the embodiment of the Taoist principle of wu-wei – what we admire in world-class performers, whether musicians, sportsmen, or dancers; in the zone with zero contrivance, totally tuned in, in the moment. Overcome by awesome beauty, euphoria sweeps over me.
A simple reflection comes to me; nature is incredible. When you simply watch it as it is, not just seeing, but actually watching – just pure simple nature is magic.
The scene subtly begins to transform, the details merging and forming intricate patterns within a vast multitude of colours above. I lie spellbound, I can hardly believe that I’m looking at a tree. Inside the patterns are small shifting movements that appear like alien insects crawling around a fluorescent ants nest. The subtle shifts in the scene are flowing and smooth, but – also like an ants nest – mechanical in some way. The colourful movements are slow and continuous.
The whole thing appears otherworldly. The range of what I’ve seen within the tree is so ridiculous that I genuinely begin to wonder if its going to show me my life.
I’m compelled to roll over and write some notes in an attempt to document and bring some of this magic back with me. This proves to be fairly challenging as the act of holding the pen steady requires a serious effort of concentration and composure but, though a little tricky, I’m able to hold the experience at arm’s length sufficiently to get some words down.
It’s like when trying to stay awake despite being so tired that you could fall asleep in a second- you can resist, but only for so long before the inevitable pulls you under. The inevitable here as altered and surreal as the land of dreams. I feel the action of mental resistance mirrored within my body, a tense tightness throughout, as if every cell is waiting and willing me to release myself back into the experience – the cactus gently tugging at me, pulling me back in. With some notes scribbled, I drop the pen with relief and roll back over onto my back.
Surrendering myself to the experience, my consciousness continues to shift and I fall deeper into an increasingly immersive trip, continually spellbound, rolling through ever-novel experience and widened perception.
From time to time I’m struck by the incredulity of what I’m experiencing and decide I must make more notes – it seems crucial that I document such an experience. Each time I do this the physical feeling of my body synchronises with my mental action; resistance – heavy and burdensome, or surrender – light and relaxed. Each time I roll over and pick up the pen, I feel like that same heaviness pulling me back, as if telling me that I’m not allowed to leave mescaline land for too long.
Time increasingly dilates and experience is intense throughout, even when I ‘pull myself out’ to make notes. Anticipating how much deeper I’m going to be pulled under, I wonder whether that double dose was a good idea – I might be in for more than I bargained for! I take it in good spirits and smile to myself, relishing the adventure that I’ve undertaken. I know the best thing to do is to relax, and again I consciously surrender, once more losing myself in the utter beauty of the trees and the clouds and the sky. I’m falling, falling, just floating in endless beauty.
Dropping Physical Worries
A high-pitched whistling sound pulls me out of my beatific awe, it’s some cheery trekker in the vicinity making a tune with their lips. It triggers a touch of paranoia and some niggling worries resurface. Who is it? What if they come over and start speaking to me? What will they think of me here sprawled on my back?
I catch myself worrying, made aware of it by the accompanying physical discomfort. This constant mirroring of the physical and mental is making a point – the two are inextricably intertwined. Science has proven this, but now I’m not reading about some research study, I’m comprehending the truth through direct experience. I see that expressions like ‘just drop it’ and ‘mental baggage’ aren’t simply metaphorical. Resistance, clinging, craving, worrying – all can be understood as physical sickness too.
I realize there is no use in me carrying the worry about the stranger and compose myself to willingly drop it. But even with the knowledge that it doesn’t serve me, I feel a reluctance to let go – a strange resistance to let go of resistance. I’m now aware of the usually subconscious urge to cling to what I know, feeling it as physical weight. If I can just stop worrying I can be totally light, but I hesitate. It’s like so many things in life – like ending an amicable but ultimately unsuitable relationship, or jumping into cool water on a hot day – the transition is what unnerves us even when we know the change needs to be made.
Telling myself to let go, it’s like I’m hanging on to the edge of a cliff, bracing myself to drop into the unknown. I forcefully peel my own fingers off the ridge, finally dropping myself off to fall…
Lightness… I’m falling, falling, falling, and then… still falling. There is no bottom – no crush, no death, no oblivion – the experience is just continuous falling. Ever-unfolding experience without grasping. I sense a wonderful liberation. I’ve dropped myself off only to find that I’m still there. That weight, those worries and stress – I carry it all in an unconscious effort to retain my sense of self, out of fear of losing myself – but it’s not who I am, and when it’s all dropped, the awareness continues, without the physical weight. Perpetual, changing, naked existence.
What I’ve released was a part of the sense of a separate self – ego, role, identity – all a great trick. Both science and Buddhism are right – it’s no more than illusion and hallucination. I am the universe. ‘I’ is consciousness. I think how strange a physical sense of self is, how bizarre bodies are! I feel as if I’m undergoing purification, floating weightless with all excess parts stripped away.
Feelings of humility arrive to fill the void I’ve opened up, and I lie awed and humbled to my very core. I see myself from above, my body lying there on the ground, and then I float up and away from myself, up over the valley. As I go up into the clouds I lose sight of myself beneath the trees. My vision of myself shrinks, I see myself and my place as the trees and river. It’s a visual representation to what I’m feeling – my ego and self-importance shrinking away as I see the bigger picture and my place in the universe. I understand that the significance of my existence is nothing, and with that I experience a deep and unstirring peace.
Waves Of Gratitude
The calm humility morphs, and I feel sweeping waves of energy flowing and crashing through me, rinsing my insides with an essence of gratitude. I see detailed kaleidoscopic close-eyed visuals, but they are only a symptom and sideshow of the experience; the significance is in the sense of total and utter gratitude, in the deep and resonant waves reverberating throughout my being. The waves are blissful and euphoric, the antithesis to every feeling of heaviness or worry. I am truly, profoundly, and utterly grateful.
There’s nothing in particular that I feel grateful for; I don’t think about family, friends, my health, or anything else. It’s a bizarre sense of gratitude, gratitude with no object, just for it’s own sake. I am not a receiver of it; simply, I am gratitude.
Be grateful. This is the teaching of today, learnt from experience, direct from the source. I’m again reminded why psychedelic experiences are so esoteric. Words could never explain this.
I lie, bathing in feelings of gratitude, euphoria and bliss, coated and entirely submerged in them, soaking them in.
Return To Reality
Sometime later, my alarm rings. It’s signifying that I should be making my return trip out of the woods. I’ve set the alarm for roughly an hour before sunset to give myself a decent amount of time to make it back in daylight and avoid a tricky and likely very confusing walk back through the woods in darkness. The problem is that I’m still exceptionally high and hardly feel in my body. Of course, euphoria and beauty wouldn’t typically be considered a problem, but I’m conscious of the real world responsibility to look after myself and get back to town, and this is hardly the ideal frame of mind to be organising my stuff and figuring out the route. I know I’m inappropriately high to be making the journey, but compose myself; one step at a time, I tell myself. Easily, gently, one step at a time.
Rising to my feet, I stagger around as I gather my things, pack my bag, and roll up my sleeping mat. Everything stuffed inside and ready, the zip decides to break in that moment. Perfect. I laugh to myself at the timing of this. I sling it round to my front and hold it closed with my hand, looking up to assess my surroundings and figure my way back out of the woods. As I look around, every direction looks exactly the same. Of course it does – it’s the woods. My flights through consciousness have done nothing for my sense of direction, I don’t recognize anything. A few steps in any direction makes me worry I’m going the wrong way and that I’ll only have to backtrack later, losing what are now precious minutes of daylight.
I remember something Vik said to me on the mountainside that morning: ‘Stay by the river’. Now I know exactly why. Following the sound of running water, I find my way back to the mini-waterfall and regain my sense of direction. I can’t walk alongside the river as there is no path and the terrain is clustered rocks and trees, so I head away, but with an idea of the direction I should be going and aim to stay as close as I can whilst still heading downstream.
Nothing looks familiar, of course, even though I must’ve come this way in the morning. ‘Trust your gut’ – a nice expression, but right now my gut doesn’t trust anything. In every direction, it tells me ‘this doesn’t seem familiar, it can’t be the right way’. I stick to logic, a trusty friend that’s gotten me out of a few tight spots in altered states, and cling to the knowledge of where I’ve just seen the river, and steadily push on on the basis of that. I come upon some houses, half expecting some local to come out yelling something to the tune of ‘get out of my garden’ in Quechua, and walk quickly on, heading back towards where I calculate the river should be.
Sure enough, I see running water and recognize where I am from my walk in the morning – I’m less than five minutes from the road. I have just enough time to breathe a sigh of relief before I hear a faint call just about audible over the gushing water. I turn around and recognize Vik and his friend Kelsey a way back up the path. It’s a welcome and charming surprise, and they head over, having been meditating in the woods.
‘I am really high’ I confess, and they take me under their wing and back into town where we spend the remainder of the evening. Though lingering effects from the cactus are with me late into the evening – experiencing Pisac lit by night as a world of wonder – the real trip and adventure ended as I left the woods, and no more stark revelations or powerful sensations will come. Until the next time.
https://mapsofthemind.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/tree.png894901John Robertsonhttps://mapsofthemind.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/MAPS-MIND-LOGO-29.pngJohn Robertson2017-02-19 19:56:552023-03-10 12:01:51My Awesome San Pedro Experience: Mystical Cactus In The Sacred Valley Of The Incas
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