While in Cucso, I took part in a San Pedro cactus ceremony through La Casa de La Gringa, which is run by Lesley Myburgh. She was recommended to me by friends in New York, so I knew that the whole experience would be very safe and positive.
San Pedro cactus contains a psychedelic substance (mescaline) that has been used ritually for at least two thousand years in South America, as a sacred drug and as a shamanic medicine. I have never tried any sort of mind altering substance before, so I was very intrigued.
We went to Lesley's beautiful home just outside of Cusco, further up into the mountains. There were 3 others taking part in the ceremony with our shaman Michael leading us through the whole day. I felt the effects of the San Pedro for at least 12 hours.
Beforehand, we each talked about our intentions while chewing coco leaves...I was looking to reflect on my own issue of keeping myself so closed off from others. Then we each drank a glass of the cactus (which was boiled for 10 hours) in a lovely little ceremony led by Michael and his mesa (cloth altar), sacred objects, and smoke. The taste wasn't bad, it was the slimey texture that made it unpleasant. Those are lemon candies on the tray for the aftertaste, and tissue in case someone threw up.
So how did people react? Well, one woman felt very nauseous and threw up multiple times after the 40-minute mark. (It took 40 minutes for it to be absorbed into your system) She felt nauseous the rest of the day and was still and silent, deep in her own thoughts. One man threw up once after a couple hours but otherwise felt fine, he was also quiet and very much in his own thoughts. Then the next woman in our group had no nausea or vomiting, and was much more active and talkative. Very upbeat. Finally, there was me. I vomited after an hour or so but otherwise felt wonderful! I spent long periods indulging in quiet personal reflection/meditation but I also spent much of the time connecting with the world/people around me.
And how did it feel for me? It was like looking at the world though Van Gogh's eyes where everything is radiating beauty: colors and light looked brighter and more vibrant, quite alive. I just wanted to be close to the earth: feel my whole body connecting with the ground, the sun on my skin, appreciatively hungrily looking at everything around me. I simply felt connected and in love with everything, everyone, every part of myself. It was wonderfully overwhelming.
A few hours in, Drina and I were in an exploratory/talkative mood while the other two attendees were seeking peaceful silence. So Michael led the two of us out into the countryside for a hike. I had never seen a landscape quite as beautiful!
In the evening we ate a homemade dinner together while watching the sun set...
No taxi would come give us a ride, so we walked all the way back into Cusco. Which was better, really.
I didn't sleep a wink that night, my mind and my heart were simply racing. (But it wasn't unpleasant in the slightest)
I shot some random video clips during the afternoon...