San Jose del Pacifico was magnificent! It appealed to my soul with its high perched village, misty mountain tops and deep lush valleys far off in the distance. There is a peace and a quiet there that is palpable, as if you were closer to God. My stay there will also be one of my most cherished memories because of the beautiful experiences Dub, Sheila and I shared together.
From Oaxaca to the Pacific Ocean, you have to drive up to drive down. Mex. 175 leads straight to Puerto Angel but it is a long, convoluted mountain road, thankfully very well paved and with stunning panoramas. My friends Dudley and Sheila were ahead of me and had talked me into joining them in the little town of San Jose del Pacifico. I had no idea it actually was on the way and by the time I arrived I was ready to stop.
When you reach San Jose del Pacifico, at 2500 metres you are almost at the top of thick, green and misty mountain ranges that one would expect to find in Guatemala or Peru (Mexico keeps surprising me in its wide variety). The energy there was mystical with the mist descending from the mountain and settling in the little town every evening.
San Jose was made famous for its hallucinogenic mushrooms ceremonies when In 1955, banker R. Gordon Wasson, an amateur connoisseur of mushrooms, was introduced by the Mazatec shaman María Sabina to the ancient teonanácatl — the Psilocybe mushroom, called ‘nti-ši-tho in Mazatec, and wrote about it.
Everywhere you go in San Jose, there is a mushroom theme. Hand-knitted virgin wool ponchos with mushroom ties, mushrooms wall murals, mushroom sculptures… they sure have found their niche.
The shopping was lovely but sparse compared to Oaxaca and if you don’t like mushrooms – too bad!
We were told that the sought after mushrooms were not in season and that the dried ones they give tourists at this time of year give you cramps and no trips. After Maria Sabina shared her knowledge with gringos, the locals became upset that she betrayed the secrets of their ways. Although the whole town is benefitting from the fame that her actions brought and the boom in the economy of this otherwise sleepy little town, it is not looked upon favorably to ask for mushrooms to the locals.You will surely be approached at some point.
Dub, Sheila and I were getting out of the vehicle to go on a hike in the forest, when an elderly lady carrying a big garbage bag stopped up. She pulled out beautiful knitted articles and Sheila ended up buying a gorgeous wool sweater, we also bought a few knitted mushrooms keychain fobs for fun. She then dug deeper into her bag and lowering her voice significantly she pulled out a jar containing mushrooms preserved in honey, enough for 5 trips she told us. After much debating and bargaining we bought the jar. Perfect, we thought, we will meditate in the woods, take the mushrooms and hike up for a wonderful experience in the tree tops!
I was a bit nervous because I never take drugs or hallucigens and I am in fact quite against it. I had no idea how I was going to react and was afraid that I would have a bad reaction, forcing my friends to carry me down the mountain. The path was also a concern as it was poorly marked, dilapidated and dangerous in some areas. I was concerned about the timing too. The mist had started to fall, announcing pending darkness. How will we come down with impaired vision, in the dark and on a poor and dangerous path? This was no paranoia, just plain good sense. As fate would have it, none of us experienced much and we decided to turn back before we reached the top. There was no trip, but no cramps either.
Our next objective was to find the best Temazcal in town.
We went for a lovely evening walk in the forest and decided to search for the best Temazcal in town.
Temazcal are sweat lodges. There were some that were more like “spas” for the tourists and there were others that were the original ceremonial lodges passed down from generation to generation. We wanted to find out which one was best for us. By asking the locals and tourists alike we got 3 names that were highly recommended. The first one was actually right across from our hotel and harangued us as we were walking by. Temazcal? He asked. “Si” we answered in unison. We climbed the steep path to his house perched on the side of the mountain with a splendid view of the valley below us. His lodge was inside his house. It was a small round clay structure. He had a shower and change room area in front of the door. In the adjacent room was the fire pit flush against the wall of the lodge. Jorge told us that he had been trained by his grandmother and this lodge was Aztec in tradition. He brought down his price from $200p to $150p per person. I liked his energy, but his eyes were not very clear.
On we went in our search and again by happenstance came upon contestant number 2 : Israeli.
He lived in the village itself, his home was humble, with a garden and chickens scurrying about. Behind the house was the typical round clay lodge. Israeli was a young man of twenty years I guessed. He had a keen and intelligent presence with bright and perfectly clear eyes that really appealed to me. However the setting was not to our liking. Even though Israeli would do the 4 traditional rounds and use the local sacred herbs, there would be no singing. We were not too enthusiastic about changing in the dirt with the chickens and under the watchful eyes of the neighbors either.
And so now you guessed it, our third visit was the winner. Actually Dub and Sheila had already tried to reach Paco the day before but turned around because the path leading to his house was so bad. A second time, with me in tow, they drove down the steep, convoluted, eroded path, that even their 4X4 was struggling to navigate. I thought to myself: The best things are often hard to get to, this is worth the effort. We finally arrived to a humble farm in the middle of nowhere. Paco’s lodge was a bare wood frame that would eventually be covered with tarps and blankets for the ceremony. It had a central fire pit to carry hot stones in. This was exactly like the setup of the Cree sweat lodges I am accustomed to in Alberta. I told him so and Paco asked if the lodges I had attended were Lakotas? I was not surprised, after all people migrate and so their traditions. Paco’s lodge was of Mexhica heritage. He himself is originally from the Hidalgo region in Mexico and he too was trained by his grandmother. This made me wonder, all these men doing sweat lodges, trained by their grandmothers – where are the lodges led by women? Are they still being held and only reserved to natives? I have yet to experience a ceremony led by a woman. May be this is something that I will experience in my travels. And wouldn’t it be wonderful to seek out local ceremonies wherever I go? After all, I know in my bones that this journey I am on is deeply sacramental; a pilgrimage of sorts and meeting Paco helped remind me it.
After talking to Paco, we decided to brave the path one more time the next morning to attend his lodge at 10 am.
We arrived before 10 am and were worried to find that the fire was not even started (it takes about 2 hours to heat up the rocks). Paco explained that the night had been too cold and the morning was still cool that he hadn’t come around making fire yet. That was true, the previous night’s temperatures had been close to freezing. We were not worried and actually I told my companions that participating in the preparations leading to the ceremony was part of the experience and that they would certainly enjoy it.
As fire was being made, a tall young man came down the mountain to join us. We found out that he was originally from Italy and has been searching for a connection all his life, having done all kinds of drugs, been with the Hare Krishna group for a while and travelled the world to find himself at Paco’s door.
Oh my God, I thought worried, what kind of scattered, negative and potentially dangerous energy is this man bringing in to the lodge? I also didn’t know Paco nor his lodge. Was he legitimate? Were we to experience a ceremony or a touristic spa? I decided to go off on my own and meditate a bit. I realized that my fears would negatively influence the lodge, that my journey has been so blessed, so divinely guided up to now, why should I question anything at this point? Didn’t I myself have much emotional baggage when I started doing ceremonies and was accepted with open arms and no judgment? Surely this would be so for this young man on his journey. Who am I to judge?
I rejoined the group feeling better. We helped Paco and his attendant (?) cover the lodge and Paco started to set up his altar. He prepared himself and told us to get ready. We then gathered around the altar and as soon as he started calling in the directions, I knew he was the real thing. I felt a wave of emotions come over me, as if I had come home after a long absence and the tears started to flow.
Three local young men joined us so that there were 9 of us in the lodge. Paco spoke in Spanish, his songs were mostly in Spanish and some in his native tongue. It got really hot in there and Paco would literally dowse us with “holly” water. We drank sweet chamomile tea between rounds. I particularly liked the way we were to each in turn come out of the womb of the lodge. In total darkness Paco would throw cold water at us, startling us back to reality while we would say something to the effect that we would now be reborn into the light. The flap would open to let each person emerge into the stark bright light, drenched and startled, just like a newborn! The flap would close behind each initiate until everyone was “reborn”. It was particularly powerful.
I think that my Cree elder, Alvin Manitopyes would have enjoyed this lodge and appreciated the similarities and the dissimilitude between the two traditions.
The young Italian man came out with bright sparkling eyes and a softer energy field– reborn into the light.
I am glad that my friends experienced a beautiful and sacred ceremony for their first lodge and that we shared it together. Our bond keeps getting stronger and stronger. This is no coincidence that our paths crossed weeks ago in San Miguel de Allende. Each day spent together reinforces the connection between us. Our paths might take us apart but we will always be together energetically and I am sure, we will meet again at some point along the road.
Until next time my new road amigos!
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Au plaisir de la route!