At first sight I thought Don Tomás was blind. He is old, maybe reaching his 80s, but moves fast and with care. Ernesto thinks he can see perfectly, despite his eyes being a densely cloudy white. As though they possess a mystical kind of sight. He is much older than he appears.
We spent the last 30 minutes carrying our backpacks through the small town of Wadley asking for him – he rents small rooms on his property for 50 pesos a night – it’s the cheapest and most laid back place to stay – no party and no tourism. Simple rooms. Ernesto only knew him by name and we followed local directions until we found a lady who knew his whereabouts. It’s dead, the town. No one is around except for dusty dogs resting under dusty roofs and old ladies chatting outside their convenience stores. It’s a one street town, old western train tracks running through the centre.
We get to the property, a high walled garage on the outskirts of the dirt road, but he isn’t there. We drop our bags down in the only free cement block room, four walls and a window painted white with sketches and symbols of peyotes left behind by previous travellers. There are messages in English and Spanish, Buddhist phrases and permanent marker sketches of mandalas and lunar cycles.
Tomás arrives outside and Ernesto gives him 50 pesos. They talk briefly and Tomás leaves again.
There’s a tree, an outdoor oven, some taps and a small outhouse around the corner. We check the bed for spiders – a new habit after finding one in our motel blankets in Pinal de Amoles.
Bone weary from the trek down the mountain of Real de Catorce via 1950 Jeep Wheelies we collapse into dreamless rest until night. There are only two corner stores open when we go out, tuna and salad crackers for dinner.
Ernesto wants to find the goat herder who took him to the oasis last time (a point far in the desert with a man-made watering hole and three massive trees). We ask the people around the corner stores about any goat herders in town. They mention a few names.
One that produces goat cheese?
That’s probably Santana around the corner from the telephone booth up ahead.
A small gathering of maybe 12 people are listening to norteña folk music and dancing in couples on a side street. There’s a small disco light and people are drinking beer – supposedly preparing for the rodeo festival starting in two days.
The only light in the next street is coming from Don Santana’s kitchen. He greets us outside with excitement. He remembers Ernesto from last time as well. Lots of travellers from the world travel through Wadley. Italy, Argentina, France. He remembers them all.
He seems happy, Ernesto says. We hear the sound of a child from inside. The last time Ernesto saw Don Santana he was lonely.
He’s telling us about the rodeo in Wadley this weekend and how it’s the biggest event in town all year. About how to walk to the oasis and how to look for peyotes nearby – only pendejos pick the small buttons because it takes years for them to develop – he tells us where to look for the biggest cactuses. Wait, he goes inside and retrieves one he found days ago, take it. He tells us to walk to the oasis tomorrow and he will look for some peyotes to give us when he arrives at 2pm with his goats.
We create an offering in our room that night with jewellery, stones, notes, we’ve carried with us. I wrap the peyote in my red bandana, it’s the size of my palm and the formation of the buttons is powerful.
This is going to be a powerful experience, very psychedelic, Ernesto says.
Again we sleep, deeply, until late afternoon and we’re behind schedule. Manzanita soda and gorditas, a hurried stop for supplies – water, eggs, tortillas, bananas, tomatoes, coffee, onions, crackers, beans. That’s everything. Now a seven kilometre walk into the middle of the desert. We can’t get lost, though everything appears the same.
We leave the highway and two stray dogs follow us. It’s beginning to get dark so Ernesto decides that we camp beside a tree tonight in an abandoned corn field.
We set up camp and casually start looking for peyotes. Ernesto shows me how and where to look – it takes time for the eyes to adjust. Meditate. Be patient. Ask for the plant to show itself. Soon I start seeing small families. Then bigger. Ernesto finds two and I find one large peyote. All up we have four, abnormally large peyote buttons.
Ernesto muses, it feels like a blessing, to find plants this size.
At night it starts to rain, pour. The plants and desert dwellers soak up every molecule and we give thanks to the skies. It’s cooled the desert and given it more life. One of the dogs leaves in the night and goes back to Wadley, the female, Cajeta, stays. She doesn’t come in the tent when we open it for her. We feel her push up against the outside wall between the tree.
Ernesto feeds her some eggs in the morning from our pan and she eats greedily, searching for more, licking the dirt and pan.
The second part of the trek is more difficult. It’s rocky, uneven, spiky, dry. The sun is oppressive. Cajeta happily continues and drifts off occasionally, stopping with us when we take breaks for water and shade.
We see the trees in the distance, maybe another 30 minute walk away, so we take a shortcut that leads us through spikes, thorns, shrubs and barbed wire. The thorns dig into our ankles and palms as we force ourselves through the barrier.
Finally the area clears and it’s open grassy land, the waterhole is slightly green and stagnant but clear enough to wash our hands and faces. A young chavo is sitting on a tree stump. He’s got an old rifle and a big water bottle. He greets us and we sit talking for some while.
He’s a goat herder as well, though there’s none at the waterhole right now. They’re wandering in the distance eating. His herding dog Burbuja is wary of Cajeta.
The chavo’s name is Jose. Santana came by early yesterday and left us both a bag full of cactuses – he directs to the tree where they are stored. 10 or more large peyotes are inside. He’s been too generous, how are we going to finish all of these? This is way more than we had planned on taking.
Another couple, hippie types, arrive and greet us. Both were at the festival in Real de Catorce and are very chatty. He came down from Coahuila, she doesn’t say where she’s from. We leave to set up camp a bit further away and Jose leaves with Burbuja and his goats. We rarely hear the couple in the night and they are gone by mid-morning.
There’s a small man made stream the size of a pipeline that leads from the oasis up in the direction of the mountains, where it originates. We follow it to a clearing and set up, creating a circle around our space with rocks and gathering sticks, twigs, thorns to make fire.
The offering is set up and as the sun sets Ernesto tends the fire – not only for light and warmth but to keep coyotes away. Jose says he once encountered a coyote in a cave so hideous he became paralyzed with fear. Ernesto says there are lots in the area and he decides to keep the fire running the entire night.
Intentions and offerings set, with copal, lavender and ambar, we wash the buttons and begin with the cactus from Don Santana. The night sky is clear tonight, no rain will be passing today.
The intensity of the darkness, silence and brightness of the stars is magnified. The magnificent vastness and mystery of the desert is alive. I feel safe, tribal, enthralled and enraptured by the beauty of the sky, the desert, Ernesto, myself.
We begin our own internal journeys with the sunset, barely speaking except in small comments or questions. He tells me when he is going for walks for reconocimiento or for fire kindling.
I stay rooted on my rug by the fire. I feel more connected on the earth, touching the dirt with hands and feet. Cajeta sleeps against my side.
The feeling rises gently, the taste of the plant, bitter and drying my mouth, I nibble biscuits to mask the taste.
I feel calm, unafraid as I often do with other plants I’d taken. I look at the stars, peacefully, the mind wandering to reflect on family, lovers, old and new friends, grandparents and ancestors, enemies and lost ones. Passing through flitting memories and finding peace in all connections. Highlights of individual moments and encounters that the mind had stored away and hidden.
My focus stays rooted on the stars, the sky is exploding with the gravity of their presence. I haven’t seen this many stars before, aside from times in Australia. The Vía Láctea/ Milky Way is pulling me in. Transforming into Yoni, an Egyptian goddess, portals, into the Rainbow Serpent crossing the galactic horizon. The complexity of the cosmos overwhelms me, makes me understand in new forms, without words.
Animals start to take shape and forms within the constellations and begin moving across the dark canvas. Active, running, speaking to me. Bears, wolves, deer, owls, rabbits, eagles, coyotes, snakes. There is a profound Native Indian American spiritual presence above and around me.
Whenever I return to observe the fire I see fractals, mandalas, complex geometric structures glowing within the flames. It’s now in everything I see, the stones, plants lit up by the flames and changing colours and vibrating with energy and life. The desert is completely alive, moving, whispering to me, inviting me in. The plants grow bigger and the vines that reach upwards extend into the skies, like light beams.
When I hold Ernesto or Cajeta I pulsate waves of light and colour into their bodies through my hands. Creating warmth and passing my love, strength and energy into them. I see the light rise and spread through their veins, illuminating their bodies. Their eyes become Huichol, beaded fluroscent colours and patterns shining from under their lids.
I feel the weight of love inside me become overbearing, I cry silently and feel it press into my chest, shortening my breath. A love so powerful and innate that it creates pain within me. I acknowledge it, embrace it, this heavy force until I feel liberated and I can breathe again. I become aware, as I always have, that my greatest strength is my ability to love. Visions of childbirth, lovemaking, embracing others fill my thoughts. I feel relief. I feel entirely powerful in my feminine being, ready again to share my love to others and to Ernesto.
I am reminded of my connection to Cajeta wedged beside me, head hidden in her legs. I know she’s pregnant and waves of love for her flood me. I see her and I as one. As females, creator beings, animals of the land, surviving, nourishing, loving, existing. She is powerful, a defender of her young and us, she lifts her head, ears wide with any sound in the night. She walks around the camp every so often and returns to lay beside me.
Peyote has pulled my attention to focus on animals tonight and I spend the evening seeing them come to me in every form, calling my reverence, respect and understanding.
Looking back to the skies and stars, closing my eyes, the animals of Wirikuta come alive. Colourful deer, wolves, rabbits, snakes. All moving and swirling and changing colours. Moving with the animals of the constellations. They are telling me their stories. All animals appear in the skies, behind my eyes, within the fire, on the land.
Ernesto tells me he is leaving for a walk and takes a torch with him. He left the fire with plenty to last. The alien phosphorescent light drifts off into the distance until it becomes dark again. Cajeta stays with me always. I change my position and begin to focus on the mountains, still eating peyote buttons sporadically when it calls me to.
There is a small light visible in the mountains, a fire? A small town? I have no concept of perspective or scale. I only faintly see the line of the mountains until a gigantic spider made of fire crawls over the mountains from behind. It scales the landscape. It surprises me but I don’t feel scared. I think it must be the size of a small mountain, a small plane, it is so clearly visible to me. And it dances between the lights of the towns or small fires, overlapping and passing them.
I then become distracted by a green fluorescent light originating from the other side of the stream, an intensely dark side which I still had not investigated, by day or night.
From the light I see two panthers, both an acidic bright green. Like an Ayahuasca vision they are fluorescent glowing spirits. They see me and Cajeta by the fire and begin to stalk in our direction, their light occasionally disappearing behind shrubs and plants. I feel nervous and a little frightened, I try to sit up and look for Ernesto, ready to yell. A gentle panic slowly rises in my chest which wakes Cajeta. Yet almost instantly Ernesto appears again from the darkness and the lights fade again.
Sometimes we smile to eachother or make eye contact but mostly he comes back to maintain the fire and simply sit by my side on the rug, only touching each other lightly.
The entire time eating more buttons, I continue asking, sending intentions and my energy for a spirit to communicate with me, in the literal sense. I reflect on life, death, my spirituality and future, my past, time passes though I have no sense of it.
At some point in the night I do begin to hear a voice, feel another spirit in my conscious mind. It’s an old man, a don, like Santana I visualize him. His voice is deep and heavy, it sounds like a grandfather. I try to phrase questions in my mind but he rejects them, he won’t answer them. He tells me that I already know them and they don’t need to be asked. They are clear in front of me.
What have you learnt tonight? Tell me. What did you want to understand?
He tells me that now is time for me to rest, sleep, remember. His voice is gentle but forceful. I feel like his child, obedient to what he tells me.
He calls to all of the animals, the constellations in the sky, the animals of wirikuta and indians and swirling images of insects and reptiles that crawl across my vision behind closed eyes.
An enormous hikuri, peyote, the cactus given to us by Don Santana, appears in the sky. It takes over the form the the Milky Way galaxy, it covers the entire horizon. He calls the animals to leave me to rest, give me peace. And they begin to return to the centre, the flower of the peyote in the sky.
My body begins to tire, spirit weary. I crawl into the tent and Ernesto and I hold each other close. I pass my body heat but feel my own fading, convulsing in the cold. I relax to the vibration of his breathing, the pattern of his exhales and it calms me. Closing my eyes I still see visions, but softer. Colorful snakes, ants and twisting patterns occasionally pass through the subconscious until they no longer distract me and I drift into the unconscious world until the sun rises bright again.