NOTE: This is a factual blog post about an intense but wonderful drug experience I had three days ago. If you feel this may be upsetting for you (mom) please either don´t read it or try to hold your tongue.
Echinopsis Pachanoi, commonly referred to as San Pedro, is the oldest cactus on our planet. It dates back 20,000 years and has been used by many civilizations, including the Incans here in Cusco. It was banned by the FDA in the US in 1970, but is perfectly legal here in Peru. Many tourists will come and pay a lot of money (sometimes several hundred dollars) to have a Shaman help them with the experience of San Pedro. What these people don´t know is that you can do San Pedro all by yourself, safely and cheaply, without a Shaman trying to put restrictions on your experience. And that is precisely what Laura, Nebraska and I did. What follows is a picture heavy (since the trip was so visual) post about the wonderful and bizarre experience we had on San Pedro, from start to finish.
In order to prepare, we fasted for about 12 hours. Some websites suggested fasting for longer, but we all love eating too much to quit for very long. San Pedro is for sale at the San Pedro Market (how convenient). We read several websites about the best ways to take the drug, and had resolved to buy the actual cactus itself and cook it, since that was what we were told was most effective, and we thought that the cactus was the only thing for sale. After asking several vendors in the market where we could find San Pedro, we stumbled upon apparently the only booth that sells the stuff. Here´s a picture of the booth and the girl, about 17 years old I would guess, who sold us the goods.
The girl had everything. Full cacti, pre-mixed beverages that only required heating up, and she even offered us an Yauasca cigarette, which is a much more intense drug that I´ve heard should only be used with a Shaman. Though we had heard that the tastiest way to consume SP was to use actual whole cactus, we couldn´t resist the dried up San Pedro powder she offered. While all other forms of preperation took several hours, all we had to do was put the powder in hot water like tea and drink up. Then, she claimed, about a half an hour later we would begin to trip, and it would last for 4 hours.
Each bag of powder, enough for 1 person, cost 5 soles, which is currently $1.58. So for $4.72 the three of us were able to have the most intense and fun trip that we´ve had. I´ve only done mushrooms, but my two companions have done more, and still said this trumped it. But, before the fun starts, you have to work a little bit.
San Pedro is notorious for tasting awful. We knew that it would probably be a little harder to drink the stuff like tea, so we bought some lemons and honey to help us get it down.
We began to ingest it, and the taste was WAY WORSE than expected. The horrible bitterness stuck to the back of your throat like glue. The concoction itself looked like green phlegm, and the worst part was, in order to get the proper dosage we each had to drink four mugs of it.
It took about an hour and 15 minutes before we were all done. Laura puked halfway through her ingestion, which is not all that surprising, most people vomit at some point (we all did as you´ll read).
Since the woman at the booth said it would only take a half an hour to set in, we were all feeling a little strange (and Nebraska and I slightly queasy since we had yet to purge) and decided to get outside as fast as possible. We had read that San Pedro is like mushrooms in that nature, and sunlight in particular are exquisite while high.
Unfortunately it was a kind of rainy day, which disappointed me at first. We all agreed to take a taxi to La Templa De La Luna, an old Incan temple (to the moon) that is free because it is not as intricate as the other ruins nearby. However, the Temple of the Moon is a giant rock in a valley with cliffs on either side, forests surrounding it, an expansive view of the valleys and fields of flowers on either side, and all of the steps, animals and caverns made by the Incans were carved into the side of a massive, natural boulder. Sounds pretty ideal.
On the cab ride up the cab driver insisted on telling me over and over that it was raining, and asking was I sure I wanted to go to the temple of the moon. The last thing I wanted to do at that time was talk in a language other than my first, but I was polite enough, and in retrospect I think the conversation helped me stop myself from vomiting in the cab. It was an overcast day the entire time, and though sunlight was supposed to be exquisite, the massive, fast moving clouds, cool droplets of rain, shifting breeze and most importantly loud and vibrating thunderstorm that happened that day made up for the lack of sun.
All of us were feeling pretty strange by the time we got there, but I thought it only felt like being on a little bit of pot and slightly tipsy. I was able to walk, but it felt strange to do so. Laura and I hiked around a bit while Nebraska resolved to stay on top of the temple. Shortly after we set down the temple and into one of the ravines carved into the bottom, I burped and tasted San Pedro. Almost immediately I started vomiting.
I have never puked like this before. It wasn´t painful, though it was unpleasant to taste. However, it felt like something was coming out of me from somewhere other than my stomach. It´s tough to describe, but I have read of other accounts of strange vomiting. While both Laura and Nebraska´s vomit was clear, my was a hateful, dark green. Shamans say that when this kind of thing comes out of you, it means you are letting out something that has been wounding you or keeping you down. Let´s hope they´re right.
After I finished vomiting the real trip set in. What followed was 8 hours (not 4 like the girl claimed) of the most lucid, beautiful and moving drug experience I have had to date. I hesitate to compare it to mushrooms, but the appreciation and awe I had for nature was similar to how I feel when I have taken magic shrooms, except much more calming and powerful. It also had little to no paranoia, and also held some other sort of calming, lucid quality that mushrooms lack. The trip also turned out to be multifaceted, and was constantly changing. I experienced everything from extreme happiness, personal insight, a serious feeling of connection to Pachamama (mother earth), vibrations through my body, and towards the end of the trip, visualized various figures and dances in smoke from a stick of incense. It was fun, but I do have to say that every so often a wave of nausea would rise up, I would think I was going to vomit again, but then it would disappear. I´m going to post pictures that I took while tripping, to show you what kind of a place I was in.
We ended up staying for a few coca-colas, which are delightfully more fizzy at this altitude. Though the man running the tienda seemed a little cold at first, he eventually came out to talk to us. I hope we didn´t sound too much like idiots; oddly my Spanish seemed to be coming out easier. The first thing the guy did is come out and point at the rock that made up the wall behind where I was sitting. Then he explained in Spanish that the rock behind me used to be a sacrificial altar for the Incans. It was carved there because the rock where the tienda now stood used to resemble the crown of a head. Weird.
The man behind the counter also eventually pulled out a bottle of clear liquid, which we later determined was fermented sugar cane, and offered us each some. We accepted once he told us it was good for headaches and stomachaches. We all were pretty hungry and still slightly woozy from the SP. It tasted like very strong wine, and I swear I could feel every little drop of it warming my throat and stomach. It was glorious.
We made our way down into the city, which was overwhelming. I have a friend down here who did San Pedro before going to a crowded bar, and that sounds terrible to me. San Pedro is a drug meant to be done in the most naturally beautiful place you can get your hands on.
We finally made it to an Indian restaurant, and though we were all able to put away a lot of food, it did almost nothing to end the trip. We made our way home, lit some incense and watched shapes appear in the blue smoke. By that time we were all ready for the trip to end, and luckily Laura made the discovery that a hot shower cut the feelings of San Pedro severely. After we all were showered, we took a moment to collect ourselves and then we left to get me my first tattoo.
I made the decision while in the Eucalyptus forest that I wanted to get the mountains that run behind cusco tatooed between my shoulder. I have been wanting a tattoo for a while, and always telling myself that there is nothing I like enough to get permanently put on my skin. But then I came to the conclusion that I could say that forever, and that I ought to jump at the first pretty idea I had that didn´t seem like a fad. Unless a mountain kills my family, I think I´ll always have respect for the Andes of Cusco, especially after they showed me such wonderful things that day.
And that´s my interpretation of San Pedro. I recommend it to people who have some experience tripping, and who don´t mind suffering a bit to get to the high. I probably won´t ever do SP again, but I am extremely happy I did.
Things are coming to a close here in Peru. I leave Monday for a new adventure in Buenos Aires! Stay tuned.