30 May


During the late sixties a treacherous dirt road was built to the high mountain pueblo of Huautla de Jimenez in Mexico’s southern state of Oaxaca.

As soon as the road was completed, seekers and hippies began flooding into Huautla to eat magic mushrooms with Maria Sabina. I too had read a reprint of the article in Life Magazine by R Gordon Wasson about her amazing abilities and was eager to experience the magic.

I was traveling with an older guy from Texas and we had to pay off the local police in Teotitlan Del Camino at the bottom of the mountain to even get on the crowded bus, so we purposely sat in the back to avoid any unwanted attention. It took close to 8 hours for the second-class bus to navigate the deadly road in the pouring rain that already had numerous shrines to those that crashed and died on its most dangerous curves. Getting magic mushrooms in those days was no easy task.

We stopped in the small town along the way called Huehueteotl and a sweet old lady came to the bus window selling gigantic red and juicy strawberries that I just couldn’t resist. We hadn’t eaten all day and their taste was glorious. I offered one to my friend the Texan but he refused without explanation, so I continued to scarf them down. When he refused my offer a second time, I asked him why. Didn’t like strawberries? My Texan friend replied that he loved strawberries but the Mexicans grew them with “human fertilizer” that could give you a ferocious case of Montezuma’s revenge. “Gee, thanks for warning me,”  I mumbled to myself. Unfortunately, he was right and an hour later my guts began to twist with Montezuma’s nasty revenge.

Military police stopped the bus just before we reached the Pueblo. Heavily armed guards lead by their comandante, aka “Juan Bond,” looking comically out of place in a black trench coat. It turned out that by the time we arrived the situation in Huautla had gotten complete out of control and the army was expelling or arresting every outsider they could find. Apparently a naked hippie had bitten off a turkey’s head under the influence of the magic mushrooms,  frightening the  locals, who had already reached their limit with the “hippie invasion.”

While Juan Bond made his way through the crowded dark bus filled with people, chickens, and pigs, we tried unsuccessfully to vanish into the back seat. By the time he was about to reach us, the back door of the bus opened slightly and a boy signaled my friend and I to follow him. Just in the nick of time, we escaped arrest and took off with our young guide through the back alleys of Huautla behind tiny houses with very steep thatched roofs. The boy then took us to his mother’s small shack, and that was the first time I met Julieta.

In those days Julieta was not one of the 13 Indigenous Grandmothers as she is today, she was a petite young woman  with a big chipmunk smile. It didn’t take her long to figure out that I was sick as a dog and she made me peppermint tea to help calm my stomach, which felt like it was about to explode. Once I felt better I asked her for “hongos” or magic mushrooms. We gave her twenty-five pesos and she sent her son to get them. He returned with a shoebox full about a half an hour later.

Julieta’s velada ceremony consisted of purifying the mushrooms in copal smoke on a small altar with a candle. Upon the altar were also flowers and a picture of Mother Guadalupe, the patron saint of Huautla. So we watched as she did her ceremony, and then we both, the Texan and I, ate the mushrooms. I was very relieved when about twenty minutes later my stomach felt a whole lot better. These particular mushrooms were nowhere near as powerful as LSD, but they did have that “psychotropic twinkle” and I was grateful to be having the experience when most other outsiders had been herded onto police buses and taken off the mountain.

Right about then was when I noticed the truly magical effect of these mushrooms. A beautiful sparkling iridescent mandala had appeared on the floor next to me. I sat down to study its intricate beauty and marveled when another appeared after I got up. Then it hit me: the spirit of the mushrooms was giving us all a sign that I was somehow chosen. I looked up at Julieta and the Texan, seeking acknowledgement of how very special I was, but they both looked a bit confused as they eyeballed the sacred mandalas and then looked back at me.

It didn’t matter to me as I watched the signs continue to pop up like mushrooms all around me. Every time I sat down another incredible mandala appeared and there was no stopping my racing mind from convincing me how special I was. In fact my entire experience turned into a delightful acknowledgement of my own importance.

As I began to come down from the high I laid my head down on the floor next to one of the mandalas and caught a whiff of something strange. The Texan must have farted, I thought, because the smell was a bit like rotten eggs. But something told me to sniff the mandala again and that’s when it hit me. My “sign from god” was actually just a shit stain on the floor that had taken on some pretty amazing characteristics in my mind under the influence of the magic mushrooms. I had soiled my thin, white peasant pants after getting sick from the tainted strawberries and each time I sat down, I’d left a stain on Julieta’s floor.

I felt a wave of embarrassment that was overwhelming, but Julieta just smiled at me and quickly took control of the situation, cleaning the floor with soap and water. By morning’s light I didn’t feel so very special anymore, instead I felt like a total jerk. But when I tried to apologize to Julieta she just giggled and said that it didn’t matter, what was more important was that the mushrooms had made me feel better, and she was right.

The next morning the local police arrived and marched the Texan and me off to jail. What happened next was as curious and stinky as the story from the night before. (To be continued next week…..)