road! Air-conditioned minivans make the 5 hour trip from Oaxaca
through the mountains to Huautla
several times a day for 120 Pesos per passenger.
Of course, there
are other modes of transport that work too. The trip by burro is
less hectic, but your bum might be tired for a few days afterwards!
We found a hotel
quick enough after arrival. This is Hotel Santa Julia, on Calle
Cuauhtémoc. Price was 190 Pesos per night for our upstairs double room with ensuite bath,
hot water and views of the mountains. The room was reasonably clean
and the shower had good water pressure!
The view of
appealing peaceful mountains from our room, with a bit of the town below.
In the hotel lobby was
a photo of a group of people with the Dalai Llama. The picture caught our
eye and we began a
discussion with the man behind the desk about the local curandera.
This native healer works with mushrooms in her rituals.
The mushrooms themselves and the experience it brings are considered ’sacrado’
or holy, sacred.
This is serious
stuff here in Huautla.
The curandera must
be powerful, skilled or at least recognized for her work if the
Dalai Lama consented to having a photo taken with her.... We assumed
it was an endorsement of her healing path.
Before we knew
it, our hotel
concierge whisked us away to a humble stone and concrete home
belonging to Doña Julia Julieta Casimiro, a curandera
anciana just a few blocks away. This seemed like really quick
action to all of us. We hadn't even settled in from the motion
sickness of the long drive when we found ourselves face to face with
a healing legend of international renown!
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We had no idea
what we would encounter. Legend has it that for more than 40 years,
people around the world have come to Julieta for ceremony, healing,
and life guidance. She works with people who have AIDS, cancer,
emotional diseases, and psychological imbalances, and she cures
these diseases utilizing niños santos (the psilocybin
mushrooms) to those ends.
Up on the wall
of Doña Julieta's home was this poster of the International council
of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers. Doña Julieta is in this photo in
the first row, 3rd from the right. We apologize for the reflection
of the windows in this photo, but Billy snapped it quickly as Julieta entered the room.
without fanfare a short
indigenous woman with long hair walks in to where we were waiting. We began asking
her questions about her life, and how she learned her healing skills. On the wall were many photos of her excursions
taken all over
the world, and she brought out scrapbooks of her journeys to Rome
and the Vatican, as well as the photos of her and the Dalai Llama together.
Just as things were becoming tantalizing, she immediately closed down,
shut her scrapbooks and pointedly asked us what we wanted.
We didn't know!
interested to learn of her story and to find out what it is that she
does in her healing ceremonies, but we had no time to
adjust at all to this new situation. We hadn't even discussed the
matter fully between the four of us as to whether or not we - all, some or none
of us - wanted to take a mushroom trip. What were the consequences?
How long would the mushrooms last? Does she do groups? Who would 'stand
watch' in case something went wrong or to watch our belongings? And how much does this cost?
Needless to say,
we were unprepared for how quickly things were moving along.
stated simply and firmly that there would be no more discussion of
anything until we paid 800 Pesos each to do a velada, where
all participants partake of the psilocybin mushroom as a sacrament
to open the gates of the mind. The velada is seen as a
purification and as a communion with the sacred.
We blankly looked
at each other closed mouthed and then turned to her to thank her profusely for her
time. We would have to think about this a little bit more before we
jumped head on into opening the gates of our mind and communing
So we politely
excused ourselves and left.
Was it a sign
to go forward with this internal
venture or a warning not to?
slightly confused, we wandered around the town and up to a
schoolyard. On the side of the school wall was this mural,
portraying the potent significance and the total integration of the
psilocybin mushrooms into the Huautla culture.
We found out
later that Grandmother Julieta begins her healing sessions with
prayers and the lighting of 13 candles that symbolize the ancient
Aztec 13 realms of consciousness. She then guides her patients
through their healing sessions which can take up to seven hours. We
were told countless times by the locals that the mushrooms would
show us the truth.
was... the truth about what?!
And just as
importantly, were we able to handle that truth?
García, who was born here in Huautla in 1888 and died in 1985, was the first
contemporary Mexican curandera. She was the one who, in the mid
1950's allowed Westerners to participate in the velada
healing vigil, and this basically changed her world and our Western
one as well.
began seeking out Sabina and the "holy children" as early as 1962,
and in the years that followed, thousands of counterculture mushroom
seekers, scientists, and others arrived in the Sierra Mazateca,
and many saw her. It is rumored that important 60s celebrities visited María Sabina, including music
such as Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Mick Jagger,
and Peter Townsend. They came
to "trip out" on the local magical mushrooms in the 1970s.
This town school wall
mural celebrates the indigenous culture
of taking mushrooms for a direct experience of God.
The Adventurer's Guide to the Pacific Coast of Mexico
The mystery of "the little saints" that was a secret for 500 years
under Spanish rule had been split wide open and taken to the world at
large. The other local curanderas and tribes people were very
upset about this "traitorous" act and as a result - giving the secrets of the
"little saints" to outsiders - Maria Sabina's son was murdered and her house
burned to the ground. The villagers then banished her to live up in
the hills on the outskirts of the town.
No wonder Doña Julieta
had been cautious as to how much she told us!
No matter where
we looked, we saw how integrated the mushrooms were to this
culture. For instance, this is a sign for a tortilla factory. The little red
mushrooms with the tiny white dots were a boon and a protector to
Huautla and all her people.
I don't know what
we expected, but we were a bit mystified and taken aback by the
whole possibility of coming face-to-face with God and the Eternal -
at least according to Mazatec legend and values. So we
stopped off at a local bar to discuss our options.
The owner of the
bar - pictured here - was wearing a tee shirt
with the likeness of Maria Sabina smoking a marijuana cigarette on
the front. Many of these tee shirts are sold in markets throughout
Mexico, and the Mexican counterculture has an affinity for Sabina,
calling her un símbolo de la sabiduría y el amor (a symbol of
wisdom and love).
We continued to
ponder the situation and what we wanted to do about it over a beer on this
The heat of the
day slipped by without us making any definitive decision so we
wandered through the town, looking for an ice cream cone. A local
man takes a break from the direct sun and from his working day by holding the wall up here at this
seemed friendly and welcoming enough. These local women are chatting
next to bags of carbon - or charcoal as we know it - while a young boy looks on.
The carbon is a mainstay in these rural Mexican communities for
Life is simple
here. People carry their loads in creative ways and are willing to
smile to strangers. Everyone goes about their daily business as
usual. No one looked 'drug crazed' to us... or should we say
'mushroom crazed'? Maybe this is what happens when God is so
piles of Nopali
cactus for sale in the market. The cactus stickers are scraped off, then
the leaves are cut into thin strips and boiled. They are then eaten in
vinaigrette salads with onions and tomatoes or with melted cheese in a fondue type of dish
with freshly made corn tortillas or with pork or
beef in a type of Mexican stew.
Here we are at
Huautla's marketplace. Even in this remote location in the mountains there is a Coca
Cola vending machine.
The next day while waiting for
our bus to arrive, we see a wedding procession pass by.
Family and friends all accompany the bride and groom (who do not exactly look happy,
if you notice) up the hill to celebrate their union.
Transport posted a bus
schedule for the route between Oaxaca and Huautla. Transportation is
organized these days!
Our previous van driver
called earlier in the day to say they were hung up in traffic and
were being searched by the police for their transport papers. This
caused a real backup in traffic, so we found another company to take
us back to Oaxaca. We enjoyed the remarkable
desert scenery on the winding road back home.
The hills were
catching the setting sunlight and reflecting all their colors. The
ride home was much easier and our driver chose to eventually take
the toll road to avoid being stopped to show his ownership papers
for the van he was driving.
The enchanting river
ways and peaceful mountains continue to hold their mysteries. We'll
never know if we missed our one opportunity to do these sacred
mushrooms or if we made the best decision of our lives!