a while ago my buddy Kurt caught wind of a little expedition that myself and some pals undertook whilst travelling in South America last year.. The story stoked him out and he asked me to write it up, it ended up getting printed in Heelside as a sort of pseudoscientific report on subjective goodness, tricky at the best of times, but I love ranting (it was supposed to be 500 and i wrote 1700)… I shot a bunch of photos throughout the day and they’re all scattered down below. I shot the entire thing in a roll of kodak colourplus200 except for the night/very last photo (digital) .. Here is what i ended up sending, minus the editing/grammar/proofing, which I left to them….
so i’m 23 years old, i’ve done some things in my time, but I haven’t been on this earth for long and I don’t consider myself overly wise, or one to properly assess outcomes of decisions before i make them, but i’ve come this far (yew) and slowly my ability to consider consequences is catching up to my ability to get excited far too easily. I think it’s a good thing in the sense that i’ve still got plenty of breathing to do, touch wood, but I’m all about the fun times and it was the desire for fun times that sent me to south america last year. It was the fun times that saw me and my 2 travel buddies find our way to one of the smallest towns in the most isolated parts of south america, high up in the bolivian alti-plano, crafting mescaline with two relative strangers in a place that they claimed to be frequented only by lost goats.
Mescaline is a naturally occurring psychoactive chemical occurring in a variety plants, predominantly cacti, which grow natively throughout the world. For the most part mescaline, and the producing flora, have been outlawed by most countries however, because of it’s “sincere religious intent”, it is specifically exempt from regulation. Wherever the cacti can be found cultures have adopted mescaline into their lives as they believe the psychedelic effects are conducive to introspection and healing. For this rant I’m going to concentrate on one species of cactus (as all cacti containing mescaline present a vastly different experience), one part of the world and one set of beliefs as I’ve not the insight to provide for all.
The cactus I am concerned with is the San Pedro, a species native to the high altitudes of the Andes, spanning from ecuador to chile and argentina and is deeply tied to the beliefs of Pachamama, which has adopted it because it’s of value as a spiritual tool and as traditional medicine for both human and animals. Pachamama, or Mother Earth, is one of two benevolent deities that exist in Incan mythology. She is the goddess of the earth’s fertility and can be roughly translated to our Mother Nature, with less perceived maliciousness. In Incan Mythology, Pachamama is concerned with the constant cycle of life and death, specifically that everything came from the ground and everything will return to the ground.
Zoberto, part time shaman, full time rad dude.
I’m not an expert but could it be argued that these organised beliefs were a result of mescaline and the shamanistic past (and present) of South America? I say this because the various aspects pertaining to a San Pedro trip seem to lend themselves to the idea of Pachamama, most affirmatively being that shortly after consuming the broth you begin to feel ill in the stomach, very ill. So ill that you become overwhelmed with an emergency evac of your stomach’s contents via both routes, which to me seems very aligned with the idea that all things from the earth (the food that I’d eaten that morning) will return to the earth.
This particular journey started at a small town in a desert in the deep south of Bolivia. Myself and two buddies had travelled here to film a music video for Gold Coast band The Tijuana Cartel. We went there on a whim, chasing the gloriously cheap production cost that one can find in such depths. This town was chosen thanks to it’s grand canyon-esque sandstone terrain, proliferation of cacti, everyone in the village can ride a horse and my buddy had managed to contact some locals willing to partake in the clip and It was these 2 chaps that suggested the possibility of going deep into the sandstone to take some cactus after the filming was done.
We left the town around lunch time, we found ourselves a 3 hour walk from town, on a river bed at the base of 40 meter sandstone cliffs and began to walk upstream until we found one of their favourite zones, which they’ve been frequenting weekly for the last 25 years. One of these chaps, Zoberto, is a legitimised shaman, apparently he attended shaman-school, and it was not long after dumping our bags that he found an ideal candidate for consumption. We processed the plant in a ceremonious fashion that took us 3 hours to de-thorn, skin the plant, remove the goodies and boil them up into the most foul smelling liquid I’ve been unfortunate enough to sample. It tasted just as bad and fuelled all sorts of gag reflexes, my eyes were watering and my mouth was salivating (not due to my excitement to consume…) After we consumed we set off to the sensei, a monolithic spire that explodes from the stone, casting a silhouette of the most typical samurai outline one could imagine.
The 20 minute walk to the sensei’s feet was filled with excitement as I was in one of the most beautiful places i’ve ever witnessed, I had a fantastic crew of buddies and a crystal quartz cave bed awaiting me, I was comfortable in this environment and I that was definitely key in the success of this mission. Upon ascension of the sensei, a steep, sandy and slippery wall, I began to feel ill, my stomach felt heavy and around the same time that I began to sweat (maybe due to the intense climbing whilst cocooned in my desert-nights approved llama poncho) I began to witness the major characteristic of the San Pedro fun.
Walking on feet and hands up this cliff I began to be intrigued by my depth perception, the distance between my eyes, my hands, my feet and the ground underneath me became irrelevant. I felt as if everything existed in the lens of my eye, my hands were seemingly gliding through the earth, my hands too. The illness became more incapacitating, my stomach was growing heavier but luckily the last 20 meters of ascent were but mere centimetres away! Eventually we reached the summit, which is actually the foot of the sensei, and began to flip out as to the beauty that lay before me, regardless of recent ingestion of a misc psychotropic. In the vista that lay before me I could enjoy the endless sandstone abyss that held us, the San Juan Del Oro river bed, beyond that the Andes, generally the Bolivian Altiplano and some very pleasant clouds, all at the tip of my nose in extreme high definition.
About 1 hour since the onset of the nausea I began to feel it recede and the contrast in feeling from being terribly ill to being EXTREMELY comfortable with absolutely is the point in which I began to feel this attachment to the earth that I’d been told of. The holistic sense of relativity to the earth and the environment is the major spiritualistic component to the drug, San Pedro is not psychedelic like psylicibin or LSD nor is it manipulative of your thought, aside from the connection with Pachamama and the depth perception intrigue, which to sum up is feeling good about the yourself by becoming perfectly comfortable with your minute existence within the massive scope of all things that exist. I felt lucky because I had not fallen victim to the vomiting and defecation that generally follows ingestion, I felt like I could have but Zoberto a few days earlier advised a strict precursor diet of bread, fruit and vegetables.
The sun was setting as we all overcame the nausea and we decided to head back to the cave for food before setting off on a night-time caving adventure.. I don’t know if confidence is a subsidiary affect or if it was due to our guides being such rad dudes but feeling our way down a 1 meter wide slit in the earth seemed pretty casual, or perhaps mumma earth had our backs. It was hard to concentrate on footing when glints of moonlight flickering through this prehistoric landmasses’ quartz encrusted stomach but we were moving slow/so stoked it casj. As we penetrated the depths of this 50 meter clump of sandy/rockey goodness it began to get colder, more damp and the thin strip of dirt that held our feet had given way to wet sand, an ideal contrast to the desert’s temperate fury we’d been sampling all day long.
The only point of concern was the moment (both of them) when I had to jump into the abyss over a waterfall in order to keep descending, not that the jumping itself was the problem but its pretty hard to climb back up waterfalls and say the next waterfall was of an un-jumpable height, we were pretty toast… but I figured these guys had walked down here before. As I popped out of this urethra of the earth into a gaping chasm, that seemingly began in a single point (the slit that we exited) and immediately opened up at 35º and 50 meters high. The change in space was a bit of a wig, everything seemed to quiet and, for the first time since we partook, far away. Quickly i readjusted and the sense of retina based existence was once again a situation.
I was very fortunate have been somewhat ceremoniously involved in a San Pedro adventure with 4 lovely people in some of the most idyllic surroundings I’ve be lucky enough to set foot in. I imagine taking this drug in your house would be extremely unrewarding due to the non-presence of Pachamama’s sweet bosom. I was experiencing San Pedro until I feel asleep eight or nine hours after we had began. When I woke, the effects of San Pedro were all but gone yet I’d gained an everlasting sense of connectedness with the stuff under my feet and when I cast a thought towards how ludicrously small I am amongst all of this, I feel content knowing that all of my bits will eventually return to Pachamama and she will, hopefully, cast me back out into the world as an eagle… We discussed it, I think it’s fine…
p.s. remember adventure, forget coffins.
our bedroom, this is the only digital image as hi-iso film stocks are not something bolivia do, ever, but thankfully Reuben had his camera on him.