Saturday, 23 February 2013

The Magic (Mushrooms) of San Jose del Pacifico

The magical village of San Jose del Pacifico, otherwise known as Mushroom Town, is nestled in the mountainous region of the Sierra Madre del Sur between Oaxaca and the Pacific Ocean. It is said that on a clear day, the glint of the Pacific Ocean can be seen from the village. This otherworldly place emanates the magic aura of the mushrooms for which it is famous. Psylocibin mushrooms (Magic Mushrooms), or Hongos as they are known in Mexico, grow prolifically in the forest that surrounds the village. Buildings are adorned in psychedelic murals, and painted mushrooms with happy faces add to the village’s trippy allure.
Hongos have been a key feature in native indigenous religious ceremonies for centuries, particularly revered by the Aztecs. The Mazatec Shaman, Maria Sabina, claims ‘‘it is they, the sacred mushrooms, that speak in a way I can understand. I ask them and they answer me. When I return from the trip that I have taken with them, I tell what they have told me and what they have shown me.” This reveals the plant’s power as a clarifying and enlightening force which enables sacred truths from nature to be applied to everyday life.
Most guests to the village have heard about it through word of mouth recommendations and the usual advice given to those wishing to partake in this tribal tradition is the illusive: ‘Ask for Catalina’. She is an old Spanish woman, well into her seventies who runs a modest hostel with a hippy vibe housing travelers from all over the world. Her talents as a musician, artist, card-reader and her fabulous hosting skills are well acknowledged by all who have the pleasure of meeting her. Most visitors stay a few days but many end up enraptured by Catalina and the magic of the village and end up staying much longer. The walls of the living room are covered with mushroom related artwork, the visuals of countless individual’s journeys etched into the woodwork.
Although many travelers pass through San Jose, the atmosphere has resisted becoming touristy and apart from a few shops selling mushroom paraphernalia, the village seems unspoiled by the low-key tourism. The forest above the village is home to exotic flora and fauna where giant agave cactuses and tropical flowers grow amongst the mountain pine trees. Due to the altitude, temperatures change dramatically from below freezing during the night to baking heat in the day. The sky above the village is a key feature in itself due to its extreme periodic changes. The whole village can be enveloped in a misty haze of cloud for the duration of the day and then clear completely to reveal a dramatic orange sunset.
You hike through the forest behind the village and it opens out into a steep clearing with a view across the tree line below. Nestled amongst the trees is a basic wooden hut with an old head-scarfed woman herding turkeys at the front. You knock on the door and are given a jar of grey spindly mushrooms preserved in honey. You eat the mushroom honey mixture with a plastic spoon, and it has a simultaneously slimy and gritty texture that gets stuck in your teeth.

A blissful exhaustion enters your body and gradually you re-enter a childlike state of innocence. You frolic aimlessly amongst the trees with the warm sun beating down as trees take on a pixilated geometric form and intertwine almost hugging each other. You feel an intense connection with nature connecting with insects, plants and your human companions all receiving energy from the same sun. The already breathtaking views take on Eden-like beauty and the colours, smells and sights of the forest become even more vivid making the features of the forest stretch out to exaggerated proportions.
Your awareness is heightened to the immediate present so much so that all weight is lifted from your mind and body and you laugh and laugh until you have tears streaming down your cheeks. Everything becomes an adventure in which your only mission is to fully engage with and enjoy your natural surroundings.
It is clear why the Psylocibin mushroom is a sacred plant for the Indigenous tribes in Mexico who worship Mother Nature as a goddess as it heightens connections already present. The sense of belonging to the earth as the creatures of Mother Nature is a sensation that brings benefits to the individual long after the effects of the mushrooms have faded. I think that there is much to be learned from freeing oneself from inhibitions and connecting whole heartedly with the natural world – with or without mushrooms.

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