Yet another endangered species–peyote. For a little change of pace and educational purposes for the curious, I have determined to post a bit about what I have learned of this incredible plant from conversations with knowledgeable others.
San Luis Potosí is the state with a capitol city of the same name immediately to the north and east of the state in which I live. That state is home to the indigenous Huichol people. Peyote is sacred in the Huichol culture. Their word for it is hicuri, which sounds very much like the English word “hickory.” The Huichol eat massive quantities of the plant in connection with their spiritual ceremonies.
But let me not take up space here when this 2007 article from signonsandiego.com summarizes the current peyote situation far better than I could. The scenario described in this 2007 piece continues apace today, abated only a bit by norteamericano fear of coming into Mexico at all.
The state of San Luis Potosí is the scene of the most extraordinary experiences that I have had in Mexico to date. So consider this entry a rare one along the lines of “my most excellent Mexican adventure,” the type of entry I try to keep to a minimum now.
Last year I had the pleasure of camping out for several days in the Valle del Salado below the sacred mountain of Cerro del Quemado mentioned in the article. That is peyote country for sure.
Searching for peyote in the chaparral there is very much akin to searching for mushrooms. The plant is very difficult to see, growing as it does at the base of woody scrub. Peyote grows at ground level. The plants take ten years and more to mature to the point where they become interesting to human beings.
Harvesting one is properly done by digging around the head of the plant and cutting it off, leaving the roots to regenerate another plant. Fishing line is a good tool for this. Therein lies the problem with people simply ripping the whole plant out of the ground. (My preservationist statement of the day.)
Technically speaking, the privilege of harvesting the peyote plant is reserved to the Huichol people. There is no enforcement of that restriction in San Luis Potosí for the reason that peyote tourists contribute so much to the economy up there. Furthermore, it is of course true that the Mexican attitude toward mind-altering substances is a bit more laissez faire than up north.
It is a more serious proposition, however, to harvest peyote and attempt to haul it out of the state of San Luis Potosí. My advice on that is simply do not get caught. I myself hit a roadblock on the way out of the area and went through the obligatory search of my person and the truck, probably because of my hair and general goofy appearance. But just try bitching about profiling to a Mexican federale and see how far that gets you.
Now, that remark requires me to digress for a moment in all fairness. I have met people who have driven all over Mexico and never hit a check point. I cannot explain that. I hit them all the time. It might be the army. I hit an army check point within 30 minutes after crossing the border back when. It might be the federales. It might be local law enforcement, which is by far the worst. I have had no problem with the army. Frankly, my experience with the federales has been great.
In this particular case, when I assured the federales that I did not have any peyote shoved up my ass, we had a great laugh and chatted for awhile. One assured me that they had no intention of searching me that thoroughly. They were only interested in whether I was armed.
Where were we here? Ah, yes.
Then it was the back mountain road to the old Spanish mining town of Real de Catorce, a place not for everyone but certainly a place for me.
Real de Catorce’s Hotel San Francisco had a communal shower for the guests. How do I say that without conveying the wrong impression? This half ghost town was our staging place for our ascent of Cerro del Quemado.
In this photo taken atop Quemado, the Valle del Salado where we initially camped is in the background. One has to pay off the Huichol in order to climb up there, a few pesos well worth it. They hold an annual pilgrimage for Huichol only to the top of the mountain and then sit around in convocation while they fill themselves to the brim with peyote.
Here is what it looks like after harvesting. By the way, none of these photos are mine. I was able to secure these pictures from a Belgian backpacker.
One has to remove the black seeds from the plant, seeds formerly located where the gouge marks are on the heads in the middle photo. You can take out a tooth with one of those seeds.
Then one sections it up into edible portions. Or make tea with it. I am told that it is not quite as bitter as the article cited may suggest.
I compared the search for peyote above to the search for mushrooms, but I think it would be fair to say that the plant is a far more powerful psychedelic than are magic mushrooms. I am sure every individuals reaction would be different, however.