The best experiences in life usually come to you naturally when you least expect them and when you leave space for spontaneity.
In summer of 2014, on my first long travel experience. With a partner at the time, we had hitchhiked and Couchsurfed all the way across Canada and the west coast of the USA to arrive in Mexico.
Traveling on the long term is not quite like never ending holidays. It’s intense life while on the move. And since we are human, we are used to our freedom and our moments alone. This is why, even if you’re on the same wave length as your partner, from living 24/7 together, it is good to sometimes take little times to do our own things. It has been the case to my experience and to other travelers I have met. Actually I hope to soon write an article about the pros and cons of traveling alone or with someone.
There after I climbed the Pico de Orizaba, alone as it was something quite rough and not at all for my partner. She felt like having some chill time by the beach with the some girlfriends while I felt like continuing the adventure.
I hitchhiked from Mexico city to Queretaro, very funny and interesting first experiences hitchhiking in Mexico, not more than a month after we arrived in this incredible country.
And there I found the most welcoming Couchsurfing community. I organized a little crepe party as a classic French thing to do and make everybody happy.
And out of the discussions soon came this mesmerizing word “Peyote”.
I had no idea what it was. So they explained to me that it was a “magical” plant, that indigenous people use to communicate with their gods. It is sacred and has the reputation of being the best for introspection and deep meditation.
“Bro’ you have to do it!” They say.
So I put the idea in my head and let some time to think about it. I did some research and talked to more people who had experience with it.
It is not quite clear whether it’s considered a drug or if it’s legal or not. It is not known to have any negative effect on health or to be addictive ( what to think of alcohol, tobacco and medicine on that aspect?…)
When consumed, it does alter the feeling and behavior but when it is done consciously with the help of someone of experience, it is totally safe.
It has been abused in the 70’s by the hippies and when it is consumed not in the “right state of mind” the effect can be not very positive.
So overall it seemed like a great experience to live. It is supposed to make you look deep inside of yourself and help you answer some the questions that lie within you.
But it is recommended as a first experience to be shared.
So I waited to find people to go with.
Most of the new friends I had made were quite busy and it seemed like an expensive journey to them (transport, accommodation, shaman…)
So I decided to go alone.
The night before leaving I couldn’t sleep. It happens to me sometimes before important events. I think too much.
But early in the morning it was time to leave.
I only have a backpack with a tent, some water, little food and my camera.
I have more than 400km to hitchhike, it is crazy hot and just before I left I realized that I only had the equivalent of 20$ in my pocket.
A challenge on top of the challenge.
My first ride is incredibly nice. A truck driver. I only have a month of practicing Spanish, my vocabulary is extremely limited and I use gestures a lot to communicate.
And very surprisingly when there is the will to communicate, we find ways to understand each other.
And this one was very interested to communicate.
So I was very surprised and happy to see that we could have actual discussions. And it was very funny the way we managed to communicate.
I got to understand that in his family they always have some extra food for someone who would pass by their house and that they would be very welcome.
I feel in him the real heart of this nation.
A true heritage of kindness and hospitality.
Later we stop by a service station, he gives me some money and asks me to go get him a can of coke while also offering me to get one, which I kindly refused.
So I had left him with my bag and at this moment the thought came to me that he could leave me. Even I didn’t have much in my bag but my camera which has a bit more of a material value.
But I trusted him. And I was happy I did. Happy to see that I could trust a total stranger.
We continue on and after a while I have to leave him as we go different direction. I thank him with all my heart and keep going.
Sadly he had dropped in the worst spot for hitchhiking. It was a ring road where people where driving fast and there was no place to pull off. I saw a signed that indicated a toll after 11km. So in worst case I would have to walk.
So I started walking, under the sun while flicking my thumb out and smiling at people.
And after a while a big truck stopped
Kring krang kroung!
Imagine the scene of a big truck that breaks from full speed and pulls off to the dusty side of the road…
I run to get to the truck and meet my new driver.
He was very different. A bit of a grumpy look, always a cigaret in his mouth, much less interested in communicating. The little he spoke I struggled to understand because he spoke in his beard and wasn’t making any effort.
He had a television in front of him so there was not much exchange.
Still it was ok. After a while we stopped in a service station. He got some laundry and some energy pills that he swallowed with an energy drink.
He mumbled something and I guessed it meant that he needed energy to drive a long way.
We went back to the road and after some time he stopped to pick up a very charming young indigenous looking girl and her two super cute daughters. I came down to be a gentleman and help them climb up inside the truck.
And then I had this very shy girl and her two little girls who were looking at me with their big bright eyes. She spoke very little with a very soft voice. And the little girls kept looking at me like the strangest of things. I guess they had never seen a foreigner.
And after we stopped to pick up another woman. Very different this one. I guess it would be fair to say that she had a bit of a vulgar look… but still I did the gentleman and helped the lady come up the truck.
She had a loud and raw voice. The other girls were being silent and it felt like this one voice taking all the space. I could understand that the level of discussion went very low. We started talking about geography and it was fun to place the locations in the world. Quite entertaining.
Our cute girls left us, I helped them out and gave them a hug. And then I was alone with that lady and my grumpy truck driver. Who then didn’t look so grumpy.
At a moment while I was looking her direction, I noticed that her top was going very low and it was now only hiding her tits… all the rest of her chest was out. I quickly looked away and as I did, I saw that my driver wasn’t looking at the road at all.
He had his eyes on the tits!
Then he flicked her top down and grabbed her boob. She grabbed them and started shaking them up and down!
They invited me to touch them.
I said “no, no gracias!”
They insisted and once again “no, no gracias!”
We all laughed. I guess they laughed at the fact that I was prudish. But I don’t think I need to justify that I had no will to touch her.
Soon after I helped her out. My driver explained that she was a prostitute. I came down later and that was already a fun experience I had lived.
My last ride to Real de Catorce was inside a pickup truck with a group of Mariachis. The traditional Mexican musicians. They had a bit of the Mexican gangsta look but were very friendly.
Real de Catorce is considered the most sacred place of Mexico by indigenous people and it has the strongest energy. It is a tiny village up a small mountain, that used to have a mine. And it is surrounded by this unique desert where the peyote can be found.
We arrived in real de Catorce where they met their family. I got surrounded by lots of kids who were asking me tons of questions. I did my best to answer. But came the moment that they had to leave and I was on my own.
There I was on the main square where I could see two groups of people.
One was a group of “Caballeros”. Old Mexican men with cowboy hats and horses who live there and take the occasional tourists around. And another group. The first thing I could notice is that there was a lot of love coming from them. There were some couples, they were kissing each other. They were young and with a mix of origins. Mostly Latino with “roots/hippie” kind of look. And a white girl. They were “artesaños” people who live a simple life and make all sorts of arts that they sell to tourists. Bracelets, necklaces, sculptures, “macramé”, earrings…
I explained that I was looking for a place to pitch my tent. They told me that they were waiting for a friend and his mother who is a shaman and that were then heading to the desert for a Peyote ritual. And they invited to join them!
I couldn’t believe it. The best thing that could have happened fell onto me. I didn’t have to make any research to make the experience happen in an authentic way. It just came to me.
And most of all, I couldn’t believe that they could trust me to share this very intense experience without even knowing me. Soon after I was surrounded by 13 persons inside a pickup truck, heading for the desert.
There was a couple with a guy from Argentina and a girl from Spain. Another couple with a guy from Mexico and a girl from Quebec who had lived here for a while. Two other Mexican couples, two little girls and the shaman lady.
We arrived in a natural hot spring where we would spend the afternoon. I took a night to catch up from the sleepless night and already intense day. By the end of the afternoon we walked inside the desert. We got blessed by a magnificent sunset and the first Peyote came to us.
It is not something that you find while searching. It comes to you when you are ready for it and in the right state of mind. And the first one that comes to you, you never take it. We give it various offering (ojos de Dios, bracelets, water…), thank it and the shaman said a few things in relation to the spirits. And usually once that one Peyote has come to you, more will come.
We find a kind of a whole which would the spot where we would spend the night and do the ritual. Some stay there with the kids, others go encounter Peyote and others go find wood.
Feeling energized, I go on a mission to get wood. But in the middle of the desert there is nothing but little branches. So I decide to return to where we were. I only have my headlight, and compass and no water. I look around and see that I would be going in this angle so I would only have to walk the opposite angle to find our campsite again.
Once I arrived at the “village” I noticed that the only places where I would find proper would were guarded by dogs, who were doing their job. So I failed in my mission. Then I had to return to the camp.
And I got totally lost!
In the desert that is a most hostile environment, with all sorts of things inside, in the dark…
I understood that it was a challenge from the desert that I had to pass. But I had made one tiny mistake. I was wearing my adventure sandals that I love because they are good for everything, but not for Mexican desert at night.
Because it is full of thorns.
There are the standard thorns that hurt a bit. Then the big thorns that go through the sandal and inside the heel.
And also the very stingy ball thorns that hurt a lot and that I can’t take off with my hand otherwise I get stung again.
I sometimes heard some movement in the bushes. I found some branches that could work for the fire so at least I was happy. I climbed on a giant yuka to get a higher view and hope to see a light in the desert. I shouted. But nothing. So I kept walking, doing my best to square the area and find where we were. I started feeling very thirsty but still I was assured that I would manage to find my friends.
And it’s only after more than 2 hours being lost that I saw a light!
I looked at my compass and went straight for it. No matter the bushes, the thorns and the funny noises. I wanted to reach the light.
When I found them, they were quite hesitant. They hadn’t noticed at all that I was lost. And when they heard me shouting they had thought it was the police or something…
Anyway we got to the camp, made the fire and were ready to start the ritual. They had encountered a sufficient amount of Peyote for all of us.
The Peyote is a tiny round and fairly flat plant, from the family of cactus I imagine. Since it is a sacred plant, the right way to take it off is by using a little wire and cutting under the plant to leave the root so that it can grow again. The Peyote can have a flower or some seeds in its center. You take these seeds off to plant them the next day.
I wasn’t ready at all… the challenge from the desert was physically and emotionally intense. Still the ritual started. The shaman shared a few words and they started chanting.
We would fast the whole night and be under the stars until the sun would rise again. We started sharing the first round of Peyote.
But I wasn’t ready and let this one pass as I wanted to make sure I would do it right. The second round came and I was ready. So I took a piece.
It has a green flesh and the taste is most disgusting. First it is supposed to cleanse us and release the impurity from us. This is why usually we puke. And this is what happened. Everybody puked and my turn came.
Everybody was sharing very intimate stories. So intimate that most would cry. I was surprised to realize that I could understand most of what they were saying but quite frustrated that I missed some and very frustrated that I couldn’t really express myself.
One of the things that touched me most is that they were considering me and sharing this very deep intimate feeling without knowing me. This pure trust was incredible.
Concerning the effect, it wasn’t anything crazy.
No euphoria, no hallucinations, no dizziness, no loss of control, no feeling of being disconnected. Quite the opposite actually.
I was only feeling more sensible. Feeling deeper of all my senses. Being very thoughtful and focused. Relaxed and in the mood to share compassion.
The night went on with more chanting around the fire. I was watching the stars, seeing many star trails and going through all the thoughts that were drop inside of me.
I cried of course. It feels like a very human things that we all have. We all have wounds inside of us, but with time we hide them from our lives. And sometimes it good to let them out, feel their presence to later let them go again.
A good part of my thoughts went towards my mum, who was quite sick at the time. I was afraid I would loose her.
She was sick from alcoholism and depression. A very tough sickness to which there is very little that can be done. The alcohol rots the brain and our brain is very complex. Then through time, alcohol rots the rest of the body and even if our body is extremely resistant, it fades through time.
Then my thoughts went towards all my relations. It feels like I only exist through the people that are important to me. My family, my friends.
And I got reminded that life was short and it was important to tell those people what they represent and how important they are to us. As often as possible.
So I told myself I would send few messages in the following days.
The light from the dusk arrived and soon the sun was rising.
We shared some water very consciously and ate some fruits. I savored such a delicious mango.
Then I saw a scorpion just by the rock where I was laying. Was this a sign? Since I am Scorpio. Luckily it didn’t do me any arm. Because even if I can’t tell if it was a deadly poisonous one, I doubt that being stung by any scorpion is pleasant.
We all left the desert and went to find some shade. Later I hitchhiked back to Real de Catorce and I found a very simple place to stay where my new friends were staying.
The next afternoon I went for a little running exploration of the surroundings, with my sandals of course. And actually this was a perfect place to run in sandals since they are inspired by the Taharumura who must be running in a similar type of landscape (you can read here why I choose to run and do almost everything in sandals)
But not really the competitive type of running where the idea is to reach a certain distance or time. But the enjoyable running where I just want to enjoy myself. Slow pace, short steps.
if it goes up too much and my heart says no more, I walk. If the view is nice, I stop admite the view and take a picture. If I cross someone who looks nice, I stop to say hello, exchange a smile, a look in the eyes, shake hands or maybe talk a little.
So this led me to the place where the indigenous people do their rituals, to the cemetery, inside the village and to an abandoned mine during sunset. Without counting the time or distance. But enjoying myself very much.
And the next day I decided to return to the desert. Alone.
And live the experience of Peyote on my own.
As it is one thing to share it with a group, it is another by yourself.
I knew how to do it right, I knew the procedure in respect of the tradition.
I had been told of another location where I may encounter Peyote. So early in the morning I left the village and went down the mountain to reach the village of Wadley, which is basically an abandoned train station and few houses. And from then I would walk straight in the desert. For 3 hours.
While I was coming down the mountain, a pickup truck from the police passed by me and stopped.
I didn’t know what to think. Would it be trouble? But no.
They made some signs that meant “jump at the back”.
And I got a ride with the police. We crossed a village and I was waving at people.
Then I reached Wadley and it was time to walk in the desert alone until it be isolated enough. This time I had learned my lesson and I was wearing shoes.
It was extremely windy that day in the desert. So much that I lost my hat a couple time. I like to have my hat when I’m on adventure. I don’t know how to explain it. But I feel protected and it puts me in an adventurous motion. I have to pins on my hat. One of the band Motörhead and the other of the general Sherman, the biggest tree on earth, found in California.
And once my hat flew, I lost my Motörhead’s pin. I couldn’t let this happen, as I was about to communicate with the spirits with a chance that things may not go perfectly and this would definitely not help. So I spent a good 15 minutes searching and finally found it.
Lemmy was with me, nothing could happen to me (he’s a symbolic god for people who like rock’n’roll)
Finally I had been walking straight for 3 hours. I was in the middle of the desert, alone. So I put my backpack down next to a funny looking yuka and started exploring the area. Looking for rocks and wood for the fire. And after around 20 minutes, my first Peyote appeared.
So I was super happy, I thanked it for being there, I cleaned it and gave it some water. And only few meters away, I found three beautiful Peyotes. I couldn’t believe it.
I had found some rocks for my fireplace, some wood for the night and now I had Peyote.
I just took one, took the seeds off and I was ready for the night. I lit the fire and spent the entire night leaning against my yuka next to the fire. All night I observed the clear sky with very bright stars and the fire. Same feeling from the Peyote. Nothing crazy. Just feeling deeply, having profound thoughts. And appreciating this unique scene of being all alone in the desert.
Plenitude in the solitude.
A feeling of making one with the universe.
This magic came to an end with a magnificent sunrise.
And I had a very long day ahead of me.
I had to walk the 3 hours out of the desert. Then hitchhike all the way around the tiny mountain. To finally hitchhike the 400km to reach Queretaro.
And I managed to arrive before it got dark. Amazing.
I found my Couchsurfing host and I had this whole story to tell her.
I had lived the most intense spiritual and human experience of my life. Full of spontaneity and magic.
Overall I would recommend this experience of Peyote in the desert to the adults who feel balanced in their lives and who are curious to see what can be hidden deep within them.
It is most natural and it respect a truly incredible ancient tradition. From what I’ve heard of other people’s experiences, it is unique to each person and most times people get the experience they wished.
Don’t make the assumption that other people know what they represent to you.
I would not consume it in any other way than directly from the desert. And I wouldn’t pay for it. It is sacred and has no price. It is a gift.
And it is unique to México.
Such a wonderful land.