San Jose del Pacifico – Magic Mushrooms in Mexico
We made one last pitstop in the Oaxaca valley before the van started up switchbacks into the mountains towards San Jose del Pacifico. We were in a colectivo, a passenger van shared by whoever is headed in the same direction. The inside air was stale, with a scent of gas fumes that I recognized as a sign of low octane fuel. All this combined to create a nauseating feeling throughout my whole body. Out of the desert mesquite we soon entered areas of smooth-bark Mexican pines, with their flowing, whispy needles, alongside giant Mexican cyprus, old and towering above all. Odd-seeming in the conifer forest and perhaps survivors from a different age, giant agave 8 feet across were scattered throughout the forest, some sending red or yellow flowers more than 25 feet into the sky. The mountains were lush, green, and steep – landslide country or “derrumbes” in Spanish.
San Jose del Pacifico is a quiet little village high in the mountains in Oaxaca state, Mexico. Nestled on a steep, south-facing hillside, the towns emerges out of nowhere. Only a few of the places to stay in this place had online presences, so we arrived early to try to search for a decent accommodation. There were only two streets in town, both steeper than anything I had hiked since my injury. The popular accommodations in San Jose are “cabañas”, a fancy way to say shacks built for tourists without a permit. Most buildings have a central concrete block structure that is expanded whimsically with wooden decks and third and fourth floors. All the wood work was the local cedars/cyprus, left to weather and grey, finishing the shack-like vibe.
Signs are in weird places or non-existent, but who cares. The first try for a bedroom had space, but no one to check us in. I waited an hour while Carrie went to do a quick hike to a view point. When she returned, we decided to try someplace else. The next spot had a much higher price, and seemed a bit like a party place. We asked next door and settled on a bed in a room for 250 pesos where we had to walk through a construction site to enter. A lot of the town was under construction, a slow continuous building process that in common in Latin America. Always building but somehow never finished. I think you can avoid property taxes this way.
Past hungry, we went to one of the only places around that had good reviews. It also happened to be a veggie place. Because of the high altitude of 8000ft (2200 meters) we were burning in the sun and cold in the shade. The clouds began to rise from beneath us, eventually surrounding with the sun still peaking through. Lunch took forever, but we soon were able to relax into the local way of life. No one was in too much of a hurry to do anything so why should we be? We eavesdropped on grimy gringo backpackers as we waited, weird but familiar to be back on this Trans-American traveler trail again. The food arrived and was fantastic as expected! We ate as they built a deck over our heads, hoping any dropping sawdust would fall elsewhere. Every plate of food bought was funding parts of new boards, expansion, new creative inspiration put directly into action. “La espera vale la pena” – worth the wait.
Heading back to our room, we checked out the shops and whatever else was happening along the main road. One bar, couple restaurants, some artisan shops. Nothing “upscale” but more of the same worn cedar. No one is trying to sell you anything, but they are there if you need anything. Mexican mountain towns are weird places in general, but this one took the top prize because of the main attraction of the region – mushrooms containing the powerful psychoactive psilocybin.
Recently these little mushrooms have been gaining in popularity in western cultures because of many studies showing them to have a great affect in treating depression, anxiety, PTSD, OCD, addiction, and many other causes. The clinical trials are especially promising in providing lasting positive results, particularly for veterans and also for those in end-of-life care. The benefits come with far less risk than most pharmaceuticals, and I am always a fan of something from the ground that can outdo a chemical. They are non-addictive or habit forming, because if you take them too often they won’t even work.
With the mushrooms becoming decriminalized or legalized recently in several places across the United States, science is finally allowed to catch up on 50 years of lost research due to a failed drug war. The war on drugs was nothing more than a class war, targeted at minority groups. The irony is that the current USA has more problems with drugs than ever, these drugs are in the suburbs, and everywhere else, and were produced legally on US soil by billionaire pharmaceutical industries who’s owners dine at Mar-a-lago and make donations to save the rainforests. The CDC has been collecting information on overdose deaths in the States for 20 years now, and more than 1 million people have suffered this fate, with numbers increasing to more than 110,000 deaths in 2022. I doubt many in this country haven’t been affected, with this darkness hiding within many families.
Today I celebrate 4 years since my last drink of alcohol. I would quit for awhile, then restart, always thinking that I was healed. Willing to try anything along my journey of recovery, I have had several experiences with the mushrooms. The healing they provide is profound. With the mushrooms I was able to look inside and see myself for who I was, without judgement or resentments, and then integrate what I learned into my normal life. I didn’t feel the need to drink anymore. I could stay with life without feeling the need to escape. I felt real healing, like I had recovered and things would be better than before. I saw a renewed beauty in the world that was real, and I felt a connection to something.
And this is why people come from all over the world to San Jose del Pacifico. During the months of June, July, and August, the “hongos” grows abundantly thanks to summer rains. Several types grow in the area, but people come for the “derrumbes”, a potent species that spring from the disturbed dirt near landslides. During the summer they are served fresh and also put directly into honey to store them for the winter months. While technically illegal in Mexico, SJDP has no police and functions as a kind of autonomous zone. Overall, the town is maybe the most peaceful place that we have been in Mexico. There are many people eating the mushrooms, snd you see them just walking the streets having deep conversations, staring at the trees, or sometimes in minor fits of giggles. Comparing the social vibe of SJDP to anywhere with lots of people drinking alcohol, there is a profound difference in the behaviors. While alcohol makes people loud, rash, over-confident, and disconnected, the mushrooms make people calm, introspective, happy, and connected.
Anyhow, this is my story. If it’s different than yours, that’s ok. There are many paths to healing and this is just something I incorporated that worked for me. I wasn’t feeling the need for a huge, introspective healing session while in SJDP. We each took half the recommended dosage, spending the day laughing and playing on swings. For me, it’s not a feeling of being high, but instead an intense connection to the earth and people around me. The real work comes after the experience, however, when you have to integrate what you have learned into your normal life.
We enjoyed San Jose! For all its quirks and shortcomings, it was just about perfect. But after two nights we had done all there was to do, so we boarded an early morning “colectivo” for the coast. It was time for a little beach time because winter isn’t fun when you’re injured and the cold coconuts don’t drink themselves!
There is not a ton of information online about San Jose del Pacifico and the magic mushrooms that come from there. I suggest just showing up! If you have any questions, send us a message as we are happy to help!