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“Only three things go fast in Jamaica: the cars, the runners, and your money”

Having just spent the last 10 weeks based in Treasure Beach, a rural area on the south coast of Jamaica, I can definitely agree with the above expression. I was working there in a number of roles with a magic mushroom retreat operator and though there was plenty to do, the pace of life was slow. The high heat and humidity was probably at least partly responsible for this, but even when pushing past that, any top speed was always kept down by frequently occurring periods of enforced waiting and delay. A few examples;

During the retreats – which warrant posts and memoirs of their own – the ‘schedule’ was loose and changing. When people asked each other what time a meet up would be for a meal, meeting, or departure; the scheduled time would be given, usually semi-jokingly followed by ‘Jamaican time’ – i.e. allow for tardiness.

meeting jamaica treasure beach

Morning meeting with the team – think this one actually ran on time

Between retreats, when trying to set up video interviews with the locals on the retreat team, I suggested a time and day, and got at most a tentative confirmation. When that time came the interviewee was either elsewhere or doing something else. When I caught up with them later…
‘OK, so can we get the video tomorrow?’
‘Yeah man we got plenty of time.’

I did finally get those interviews, the following week. Getting them online was impossible though, because of the – you guessed it – slow internet on site. Even just getting a few photos online wasn’t easy, a batch of 20 onto dropbox could take over 10 hours, when the internet was working.

Uploading…

Expectation Versus Reality

As someone who is high in conscientiousness, I like and expect things to run on time and to a schedule, especially when its work-related. Suffice to say, the time in Jamaica was at times difficult and frustrating. This is an example of a clash between expectation and reality – I expected things to run to my schedule and at my speed, and the reality was that they simply wouldn’t.

Trying to resist the inclination to get frustrated when things weren’t ‘how I liked them’, I tried to remain like any good traveller in a new place – flexible, adaptable, and open – and in my attempts to adjust to a new pace of life, I found some guidance from the locals and their language.

Switching To Jamaican Time

jamaica jamaican flag

“Soon come”

Guidebook wisdom

‘Soon come’ is one of the first Jamaican expressions you’ll learn after arriving on the island and is really all I needed to remind myself when I was becoming impatient. A perfect mantra for when things aren’t going as fast as you’d like, on or off a Caribbean island.

Considering Jamaica’s history from early slave rebellions through the anti-slavery movement – which was only able to make progress in its goals over a number of generations – its not surprising that ‘soon come’ is one of many Jamaican proverbs that counsel patience and forbearance…

One one coco full basket

This means that you’ll get a full basket by adding one coconut at a time, so take it easy and you’ll get there. For me, perhaps ‘one one photo full dropbox’ may have been more appropriate, but I got the message.

jamaica rasta dreads dreadlocks

Konga, patriarch of the house. Photo by Jason Anderson

Every mickle mek a muckle

One evening sat out on the veranda with Konga,  I asked him about the meaning of this expression. He pointed to the rolling paper I’d laid down in front of me and the weed in my hand that I’d slowly been tearing into small pieces. He told me it was like how I was making my spliff; little by little, slowly and steadily, we get there. Obviously I enjoyed learning about the meaning of a Jamaican expression through making a joint, and I think smoking it helped too.

I like this expression because it also applies to thriftiness, something worth cultivating when you consider that money translates to time and freedom. And especially when you’re in a place where cash goes as fast as the cars and runners.

Changed Man… ?

So did a couple months in Jamaica transform me into a slower and more laid-back guy? Not exactly. My inclination towards schedule and punctuality remains. I believe schedules are the most efficient way to get things done and my conscientiousness is a trait that I like in myself. However, this isn’t how everyone operates and, though I expect fewer outside of Jamaica, there will always be unforeseen delays popping up in life. But having now spent this time on the island, I hope that when I’m forced to wait or proceed with anything at a speed slower than desired, I’ll be able to tap into that Jamaican spirit, let go of that urge, and patiently tell myself ‘soon come’.

shroom magic mushroom tea

Eating magic mushrooms high up in the mountains of Oaxaca and enjoying the incredible views there remains one of my most treasured memories. If you’re travelling through Mexico and in search of some exploration via a psychedelic adventure, well good news, you’re in a country with an incredible legacy of psychedelic use that continues to the present day.

As well as peyote to be found in the desert and salvia to be chewed with Mazatec shamans, there are plenty of mushies to be munched.

If its shrooms that you’re after, I wrote this for you.

mushrooms shrooms psilocybin

Where Can I Find Shrooms?

The state of Oaxaca. There are two towns in Oaxaca where you can source shrooms; Huautla de Jimenéz and San Jose Del Pacifico. Huautla de Jimenéz is where Maria Sabina lived and famously gave Gordon Watson his historic first dose that ended up turning on the West. I’ve heard there are many shamans in Huautla and that people might even be greeting you as you get off the bus. I haven’t been myself so I can’t give advice. Here’s a link to an interesting blog post from someone who has been.

San Jose Del Pacifico

San jose del pacifico oaxaca

San Jose Del Pacifico is a small village nestled up in the mountains between the city of Oaxaca and the pacific coast. The views from this village are sublime and watching the sun set over the mountains after a trip is something out of a fairy tale.

There is a tradition of ‘hongos’ – mushrooms in Spanish – in San Jose and they are easy to find and buy. Just ask around once you arrive, a basic level of Spanish will suffice.

san jose del pacifico mexico sunset

Cost

The cost will depend on the season. If you go during the rainy season, July to October, when the shrooms are sprouting, you can find them for as little as 50 pesos ($3) for a pre-packaged dose. The rest of the year, you might pay up to around 300-400 pesos ($15-20) for the same amount, depending on your source.

Would you like to take your psychedelic use to the next level?
I’m currently creating a deep dive course on psychedelics for intermediate users to be launched later this year. If you are interested in taking part, please let me know your answers to a few questions you can find here. Thank you!

Dosage

Speak with your seller. They will typically sell you per dosage. Or tell how many doses what they’ve sold you has.

shrooms magic mushrooms mexico

Serving

You can get them served in a tea, dry, or preserved in honey. Depends where you get them from. However you take them, I’d recommend taking them on an empty stomach – to make the most of your dose and to lessen any nausea.

shroom magic mushroom tea

Mushroom tea

shrooms magic mushrooms honey

Preserved in honey

How & Where?

This is of course up to you, but here are a few options. Scroll down for more info on each one.

  1. Go to the woods
  2. Journey in a private accommodation
  3. Find a temazcal ceremony

1. Go To The Woods

woods nature trip mexico

Classic nature trip option. Head up the hill and into the woods. Or off the main road to find a quiet spot. This was my MO every time during my visits mainly because even though I had a private room with a nice view where I was staying, it was kinda noisy cause of the other guests.

If you’re heading out to nature, be prepared: It can be roasting hot in the sun during the day, and very cold in the mornings and evenings. And pay attention to your route, you really don’t wanna get lost in the woods. I wouldn’t fancy an unplanned night out there.

Things to take:

  • Clothes suitable for heat and cold – Like I said, climate can vary wildly.
  • Something to lie on – Though nature is nice, so is being comfortable. Think sleep/yoga mat or blanket.
  • Water and food – Common sense. Nuts and fruit are always a good option.
  • Music – Come on, you’re gonna be tripping.
  • Pen and paper – For drawing or writing.
  • Pre-rolled joints – I wouldn’t recommend if its your first time tripping, but if you’re partial to a smoke, the hash in San Jose is really nice. Your tripping self will thank you for the pre-rolleds later. A highlight of my time in San Jose was gazing at the clouds whilst enjoying a hash joint and listening to JJ Cale. That guy could seriously play.
woods forest nature

My spot for an afternoon

2. Journey In a Private Accommodation

If your own accommodation is relatively quiet and away from distractions, this would be a good option. If it’s with a view over the mountains, even better.

Here I’ll direct you to a post on warrior.do about creating your own mushroom retreat – the post is about doing one in Bali but the advice is excellent and still applies. On the page scroll down to where it says “How To Hold a Mushroom Retreat”.

How To Have A Magic Mushroom Retreat – warrior.do

3. Find a Temazcal Ceremony

I’ve heard that some of the local temazcals (sweat lodges) offer mushrooms as part of a ceremony. I didn’t take part in one of these so can’t comment but it might be worth investigating if you’re interested. If you have experience or information, please post in the comments below.

san jose del pacifico sunset

Safe Travels!

jamaica mycomeditations sea landscape shrooms

At the end of last year I went to Jamaica to work at a psychedelic specialists psilocybin mushroom retreat. In case you’re wondering if you read that right, I’ll repeat. Psychedelic specialists. Magic mushroom retreat. In Jamaica. Yes, I know. My life sucks.

jamaica myco meditations treasure beach

Put on by Myco Meditations, the 10-day retreat was on the south coast of the island and had plenty going on outside of the 4 psilocybin sessions – there were group activities like art integration and guided meditations, presentations on psilocybin and session prep, and optional day trips to local areas. Comedian Shane Mauss did some of his ‘A Good Trip’ standup on psychedelics and a talk on DMT, and psilocybin researcher Katherine Maclean gave talks and acted as a facilitator for the sessions. Frankly speaking it was as awesome as it sounds and definitely a highlight of a what was personally an unpredictable roller coaster of a year.

myco meditations jamaica psilocybin retreat

shane mauss poi lights trippy psychedelic

How Did I End Up There?

A question I asked myself a few times. The short answer: by following my passions. The longer version is that I came across Myco Meditations online some time last year and after a brief email exchange with founder Eric Osborne we set up a skype call. Over the next couple of months we continued to connect and the next thing I know I’m booking a flight to Jamaica to film at the event.

eric myco meditations mycomeditations jamaica shrooms

Eric – a man who is happy whenever around mushrooms

Filming & Integration

I was there primarily to film some videos for the MycoMeds website and youtube and the filming interestingly merged into psychedelic integration, an emerging field I’m becoming increasingly interested in and one I think will develop rapidly in the coming years.

I sat down and did interviews with those on the retreat, asking them about their experience of it – the group dynamic, the facilitators, Jamaica – and more specifically their experiences during the psilocybin sessions. Doing these interviews was rewarding in itself and as people opened up I was reminded how important and powerful this work is. It really got me, and during one interview as someone talked to me about family troubles and how they’d come up in one of his high dose sessions, I was struck deeply with compassion. People were gaining new perspectives and the ability to see things in a more positive light. Good to know the mushies were working their magic.

jamaica beach landscape

The interviews gave me ideas for a type of video integration – where people can speak about their experiences and have the videos to help reconnect them to their experience and their new perspective, and continue to work with the insights they’ve gained. If you have any further ideas on how this might be developed, contact me.

Sitting

As well as filming I was also a sitter/facilitator for half of the sessions. Being entrusted in this role to be there for people during their psychedelic experiences is an absolute honour and privilege. Truly humbling. There is a lot to get into here and too much for this post so I’ll just say that sitting really is a skill and something which I learn more about with each experience – this was no different and I learned things which will inform my approach next time. Until then, my basic advice as a sitter to a tripper would be: if you encounter difficult emotions, relax, go towards and into them, and explore them with curiosity.

Let your guard down and walk naked into the fire.
(Metaphorically speaking. Please don’t actually walk into a fire.)

The Importance Of Vulnerability

The retreat made me realise that this willingness to vulnerability isn’t just important in the psychedelic experience – it’s important as a part of life. The group on this retreat bonded as the week progressed and conversations became deeper as we started opening up to each other more and more. I was reminded, yet again, that we’re all human and all have our troubles and struggles in life. Something that’s surprisingly easy to forget.

This is something that should be acknowledged because ignoring problems is never a good long term game plan. Whilst I don’t think it’s healthy to focus too heavily on problems – of course we should take time to count our blessings and enjoy life as it is – I do believe that the areas of our life we struggle with should be looked at honestly and strategically. If problems are left without inspection they may grow into a beast that is hard to even look at, let alone begin to decide how to take down. Naturally, looking at our problems isn’t comfortable, sharing them with others less so, and that’s exactly why it takes courage to be vulnerable. It seems natural to think of vulnerability as a weakness but the truth is the opposite. The ability to be vulnerable is a strength.

deep conversation mycomeditations jamaica

Having a group setting where you can sincerely share your problems is powerful. Talking about your problems or fears can give you the chance to say out loud things that have never been truly acknowledged. This can lead to a new understanding of your own feelings and opinions on things. Having someone patiently and sympathetically listen to you reinforces that its OK and normal to have problems and that we don’t need to hide from them. Once they are acknowledged then we can start to formulate a plan to tackle them. By talking with others we can receive support and advice on how to do this. If it is something out of our control, we can begin to learn acceptance.

The other side – hearing other people’s problems – is also helpful. We usually get so caught up in our own worlds that it’s easy to forget that everyone else is fighting their own battles too. But when someone is sat in front of you telling you they struggle with a difficult relationship, social anxiety, depression, direction in life, or whatever it is – you can’t ignore it. It shatters the facade of the world that deceives us through advertising – that everyone is supposed to be happy all the time – and hearing it directly from someone else gives you a very real reminder that you’re certainly not alone in your struggles. This can be empowering; a shared burden feels lighter and you can share with each other things that have helped you.

The Necessity Of Retreats

Most people don’t really take the time to properly reassess their position and direction. Too busy distracted. Or trying to earn or spend more money. Because apparently that’ll make us happy. But we know that really this isn’t true and instead of chasing the next hit of fleeting pleasure we should just stop for a second (or a week, or a month). We should take the time to see where we are and where we’re going, otherwise we’ll unwittingly end up somewhere we never wanted to be – ‘somewhere’ being the type of person we are and the life we’re living.

reflection retreat jamaica

Retreats by their nature offer us that opportunity to stop, reflect, have those important conversations, and realign ourselves. They give us the distance from our normal lives that is needed to get some perspective, and after we can go back into the world with our priorities in order. Combine this with psychedelics and a deeper mental reset and you have a powerful combo. But even without psychedelics I think that making time for this type of self-assessment is important. This is my way of saying; take time for yourself where you can really look at your life without distractions. Find your own retreat or ‘workation’, however it might take shape, where the work isn’t job-related but is work on yourself. Then take an actual break after, because if you’ve been working hard, you’ll need it!

Final Trip, 7.5g

Back to Jamaica, I figure I’ll finish where we did – the fourth and final trip. After facilitating for the second and third, I took part in this session as a tripper. The first three were in the evening but the final trip was to start in the afternoon so that there could be an outside and daylight option for those that wanted it. As well as the outdoor which would be a more sociable setting, there was an indoor option for those who wanted to do more internal personal work. I went for the indoor.

There was around 7 of us in the room, most people with doses of at least 5g, some going up to 9. We all lay down on and mats and music was played through a speaker. I can’t really comment on the music as I opted for headphones and put on a playlist by Mendel Kaelen – a psychedelic neuroscientist whose job it is to select music for people on psilocybin. I figured it should be fairly appropriate.

psilocybin capsules magic shrooms

I was allowed to choose my own dose and went for 7.5 grams. I know that might sound like a lot but I have a really high tolerance to psilocybin and I’d guess that 7.5g for me is probably what 3g would be for the average person. After knocking back the capsules I went for the classic therapeutic procedure –  sleep mask and headphones – and tried to relax myself as much as possible.

About 2 hours in the vivid sight of a family member on their deathbed came to me. I could see them so clearly that I could see the lines on their face. I felt sadness and fear at their imminent passing and started to cry. I tried to cry quietly to not disturb the others in the room, but at the same time to let it go. As I cried, I felt a hand softly rubbing me on my back. It was one of the facilitators, their touch told me “It’s ok for you to feel that sadness, it’s OK for you to cry. You are OK here”. After probably 10, 15 (?) minutes the sadness and accompanying tears eased up. I dried my eyes, blew my nose, and lay waiting to see if there was more to come. After a short time I could feel there was no more – the chapter had ended and the sadness had passed. And I kinda needed a pee.

I got up and went to the bathroom. I still had the Kaelen playlist playing in my ears but the purging was done and I was in a different space – I had a real urge to listen to some dirty riffs and big ass pumping rock tunes. Time to go off playlist. I grabbed a lighter from the kitchen and then went out on to the back balcony where I remembered there was a half a joint that had been hanging out there for a couple of days. I didn’t realise it before but I knew it now: that joint was waiting for me. I pulled up a seat to get a view of the lush green landscape and interrupted a soft and soothing tune for some Japandroids – crunching garage punk rock with anthemic choruses. Cranking the volume as the intro began, I lit up that joint.

smoke

Ah man. Glorious. The sweet ganja washed over me with a warm fuzz that somehow fused with the gnarled distortion on the guitars, and in a crazy life-affirming haze of noise, I felt fucking great. I heard the detail of the tone on those guitars like I haven’t heard in a long time and I closed my eyes tight, feverishly bumping my head to a beat that was pumping me up with a fresh lust for life, simultaneously satisfying and whetting my appetite for adventure and exploration. Wild, ecstatic, euphoric. It was reminiscent of my first ever trips and again reminded me that all life is an adventure, the message echoed by the chorus flying through my headphones…

“It ain’t shit, it’s just kicks… And like the world I’m going on and on and on.”

Now I know that might sound like some cheap adolescent wisdom but it’s a message that is much needed when life starts to seem heavy and a little too serious – ultimately life is nothing, it’s just kicks… pressure’s off, don’t sweat it too much, go explore and have fun.

Message received, I jammed out to another stone-cold rocker on the balcony as the rest of the group did a final meditation inside. The closing of the meditation signalled the end of the formal session, and we headed for the beach to meet up with the outdoor group.

jamaica mycomeditations sea landscape shrooms

jamaica mycomeditations sea landscape shrooms

We arrived at the beach to find the others already there, some in the sea, some exploring the nearby terrain. I found a spot to lie on the sand and got comfortable. “Inspiration and beauty for the next half hour!” Eric said announcing the immediate schedule. As I looked out to the colours starting to appear over the horizon, I had to agree. I lay there smiling to myself until Kristjan, an Estonian retreater with a brilliant accent that I’d come to love over the course of the retreat, appeared from behind a mound of sand. He wandered over with a characteristic smile and typically perfectly rolled joint in hand. Holding it up, he asked “Wanna try some of this sweet hash?”

As advertised, it was sweet. As was pretty much everything else about that evening on the beach. I caught up with the others about their journeys as we bobbed on the waves, and shared joints over conversations about dreams and the world. After the sun had set we made it back inland for dinner where Shane let our table in on some more of his crazy brilliant ideas. Engaging and heartfelt conversation over dinner with good people, before stepping out to gaze up at the full moon. What else can I say? It was the perfect end to the retreat.

open road explore

OK, I’ll admit it. I’m hooked on travel. I think it’s awesome. There is just something about heading to new places that excites my soul and gets me giddy every time I start packing my bags or planning a trip. So much is my passion for travel that I want to give those that dream of exploring the world further nudging to make it happen. So I sat down and wrote this, to nudge you dreamers again. If you hear the call to travel and need more reason than to experience some of the incredible variety of the world and to explore the playground that is the earth (really?), here are some of the wonders to be found in travel.
open road explore

A Broader Perspective

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
Mark Twain

Experiencing different ways of life will only widen your perspective and meeting new people from different backgrounds and with totally different experiences of life hones your empathy and ability to understand others. Real world travel offers insights that go beyond historical facts you could learn in a book and you’ll probably even see your home country in a new light. ‘Travel broadens the mind’ – yes it’s a cliché, but like most there’s a truth there, and if you travel with an open mind and make an effort to put yourself out there, you can’t fail to see things in ways you’d never seen before.

Healthy Discomfort

Leaving your country and getting out of your bubble of familiarity will stretch you. Depending on where you go, you’ll be pushed in one way or another – maybe you won’t know how to speak or read, how to greet someone, or you won’t have a clue how to catch local transport. The point is that wherever you go there’ll be something unfamiliar to you in an honestly inconvenient way. And while this might not be the funnest aspect of travel, it will force you to be open to your new environment and use your mind to figure things out. Being adaptable to new situations and practising patience becomes second nature; two precious skills that serve beyond life on the road.

Inspiration

stargazer stars inspiration

The world is an inspiring place but it can be incredibly hard to recognize that truth when you’re stuck in a rut or a predictable routine in what has become a banal and mundane environment. When you travel you’re getting out there, discovering new and previously unseen worlds. Travel will open you up to all kinds of new things – languages, lifestyles, social conventions – and these new experiences lead to new ideas and connections, capable of inspiring in many ways. Here are a couple…

On How To Live

Travel can inspire us to change things in our own lives that we weren’t previously aware were even an option. Through meeting people living alternatives, travel enabled me to see beyond norms and accepted truths of the culture I grew up in – like working 45 weeks a year until retirement, or needing to earn and spend lots of money to lead a fulfilling life – and inspired me to find and create a more appealing lifestyle that suited me.

If you feel like your life is becoming flat and dull, travel can open you up to countless possibilities for change – different jobs and career paths, places to live, how to structure your life, lifestyle philosophies, other ways that you can offer your gifts to the world. There really are innumerable paths, and in this way travel can show you how many options you really have.

Creativity

art on street

There’s something in the mental stimulation of new experiences that inspires and feeds creativity and the urge to do something creative. Exploring other cultures offers whole new schools of styles to spark your imagination. If you’re a musician, you’ll hear new rhythms and instruments; an artist, new styles and schools; a cook; new foods and flavours; photographers; new landscapes and architectures. Whatever your creative outlet, you won’t be pressed to find inspiration.

Know Yourself

Self discovery – yes another cliché but there’s truth in them! Coming out of the grooves of your normal life is a surefire way to learn more about yourself. The mix of continually being in new situations and spending a lot of time alone allows a traveler to see new sides of themselves. On the road you’ll see what aspects of your character naturally stick and which ones fall away, which ones are integral to your being and which were simply circumstantial to the life you were living. Maybe there are some things you discover about yourself that you’d like to change. Great, because now you are in the perfect situation to…

Reinvent Yourself
traveler mountains

The change travel brings represents an opportunity to start over and reinvent yourself. This is why we say we’re ‘making a fresh start’ when we move to a new city or country or make any big life change in which we’re leaving familiarity behind. By breaking old connections and making new ones, a traveler finds opportunity for growth, and for moving forward consciously.

If you recognize traits in yourself that you’d like to drop or have new habits you’d like to adopt, travel is a great opportunity to do this. People you meet won’t have the same pre-existing expectations of you and how you’ll behave and this liberates you from past versions of yourself, from detrimental habits or ways of thinking that you’d like to leave behind. Change brings change, and with travel you are literally moving forward, not remaining stagnant, and this can be reflected in your character too.

Find The Others (& Connection)

Modern western society has enabled us as individuals to be more independent than ever, liberating us from reliance on neighbours and the local community. Whilst this independence is beneficial in many ways, the greater sense of individualism that comes with it can leave us with a sense of disconnection and lack of belonging, often making the world seem like a lonely place.
group sunset

Naturally, it’s easier to connect with people you share a passion with. The problem is finding them. When you travel you can’t help but meet other travellers, and in this way those of us with an adventurous spirit or curiosity of the world are naturally drawn to each other. With like-minded people conversations more readily go beyond the superficial and onto deeper and more thought-provoking topics. This gives us a deeper appreciation of the world we live in by making those connections that we as humans crave. If you feel alone in your sense of adventure, surrounded by people who are uninspiring, unadventurous, being steamrolled by and into a life of drudgery and monotony, get out, hit the road, find the others!

If You Have The Travel Itch, Scratch It! (It Feels Good)

I think most people know deep down if they really want to travel or not. It’s like a longing deep within, an expression of the human urge to discover, relate, and understand. If you feel the call to travel and are currently finding reasons to suppress it, just know that there will never be a perfect time and there will always be reasons not to. So this is my message to you, don’t let circumstance dictate your life – make it happen and go explore!
travel road inspire

What have you found in travel? How has it shaped or altered your life? Have you gleaned any insight from your time on the road? Share your experiences in the comments below 🙂

 

changa art lily peyote desert

This was originally written for The Mainland Trading Post.

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.

peyote hikuri heads cactus

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.

desert peyote cactus

Desert Hysteria

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.

peyote desert

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.

Night Falls

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.

changa art peyote desert

Sketch by ‘Lily’ (Lucy Porter) depicting the changa trip round the fire.