The Reluctant Curandero - Part 2

There’s a small town at the foot of the mountain that you take a bus to called Teotitlan del Camino, but you’re always too late for the last bus heading up into the Sierra Madres where the Mezateca dwell. So, you’ve got to spend the night and finish the last 2-3 hours of bus ride the following day. It’s not that much further, but it’s a narrow road that’s very twisty. The bus moves at a low-gear crawl, and because it’s a local 3rd-class bus, it’s stopping constantly to let indigenous folks on and off along the way. 

It’s an amazing journey though. The vistas from there are heavenly. You’ll be lost in a cloud with almost no visibility, trusting at least the driver can see well enough, and then you’ll come out of this thick cloud to another world of sub-tropical vegetation, waterfalls, and sprawls of farm crops defying gravity up the mountainside. Every now and then you’ll see a tiny old indigenous local with an impossible stack of firewood balanced on his or her back.

The bus goes all the way up to Huautla de Jimenez, where the mushroom priestess Maria Sabina lived, but I’d met some Mezatecas a couple of years prior to this trip and they live in a small community about 20 minutes before the bus reaches Huautla. I only know the place as “Puente de Fierro”, which means “iron bridge”. This is where you tell the bus driver you want off. As far as I know, that’s what the village is called. Or, more than likely there’s a Mezatec name and it’s easier to just call it by the actual location in Spanish. 

When you step off the bus, there’s there’s a drop to a crooked river down below that’s full of giant craggy borders. You’re sort of nestled between a couple of mountain peaks that are absolutely lush with green vegetation. There’s a dirt road that crosses the paved road. One way goes to some magnificent waterfalls and various caves. The other way goes to the village. 

This place will come up again in future accounts. Some of the most mystical experiences I’ve had in my life took place in this general area. 

One one side of the paved road there’s a small cocina, or kitchen. It’s basically a ramshackle wood hut that kind of teeters on the edge of the cliff with a small balcony to view the river below. On the other side of the road there’s a small tienda, or store where you can buy a few basic things like sodas, candy, bread, fruit, cerveza, etc. 

Grabbed a few items I knew I’d need like a gallon jug of drinking water, some candles, and some snack food. Continued down the dirt road to the village that ends up close to the river’s edge and looked for one of the Mezateca’s, Jaime, who I’d stayed with on the last trip. Didn’t take long since it’s not often that a gringo with a backpack comes lumbering down the old dirt road, but I have seen the occasional Mormon pair of chaps pushing their bikes up the mountain road before. 

Jaime greeting me with warmth and invited me into his home for a cup of atole. Atole is kind of a pasty and thick white drink… that’s usually served warm or hot. I believe it’s made from corn. You don’t really drink it so much, but more of a warm slurping. It’s not my favorite, but with a little chili and salt, it’s serviceable and takes the edge off if you haven’t eaten in a day or so. 

We caught up a bit and then he took me up the hill to a hut that was empty. Jaime said that he expected some others soon but for now it would be all mine. The interior had a wall made of adobe, but the outside walls were a combination of weaved sticks and impacted mud, with the rare bit of adobe brick. The roof was old stacked palm thatch with a few fresh ones stuffed in for leaks I suppose. There were strong enough cross beams to hang my hammock from, and a door made of lashed together sticks on a rope twine hinge. 

Amusingly, there was also a thin chain and padlock on the door… but it seemed more for show. Wouldn’t have taken much to get into this hut, but I guess it made you feel like your stuff was secure. Though, I don’t think theft is really ever much of an issue. Everyone knows each other and it’s a very tight community. However, I did get robbed once there by another backpacker who took some music cassettes to trade for liquor. 

The Derrumbe mushroom experience there is very strong. I don’t plan on being able to even walk much and stick close to the hammock in case my legs just completely give out and I’m laying and writhing on the dirt floor until I get back control of myself. It’s not the sort of thing you could do while taking a hike. They can be so powerful that you can’t move at all. You’re basically laid up traveling in this other spacial dimension. 

I typically would wait a day or two before taking part. I’ve been involved in the ceremony with the Mezatecas, but this time I was going solo. My Mezateca host will usually offer a guide to sit with me in case I had any trouble, and also cleanse me with the smoke of copal incense smoke while chanting a prayer. I’ll typically have a single bees wax candle, some calla lilies, and  a small picture of the Virgin with some copal incense smoldering  atop a campfire coal in a small stone mortar and pestle. 

I’m not sure what the significance of these items is, but it’s what the Mezatecas always have for a ceremony, so I figure “when in Rome” or Oaxaca… might as well respect the culture. 

This evening though, I wasn’t quite ready. Decided to hold back and clear the mind for at least a night while I acclimated and felt ready. I’d hopped a pickup truck full of locals and headed up to the town of Huautla de Jimenez in the afternoon to get my altar supplies and a few more food items. 

That evening, sitting on a large stone outside of my hut under a night sky, I tended a small fire just in front of my entrance. I put a couple of hot coals in the stone mortar and pestle that Jaime had loaned me, and then a few pieces of copal incense on the hot coals to smolder. 

Copal is used for many spiritual practices and is often the incense you smell burning from the Catholic churches in Mexico. It looks like little crystal rock candy, but it’s hardened tree sap. In the market sometimes it’ll have more of an amber color, but the more clear ones are considered better. I’m not sure why, but I’d guess it has something to do with the age and how well it smolders with the coals. I just love the fragrance. 

As I sat watching the flames flicker and the copal smoke catch the heat of the flames and rise up, I began to think of my ol’ compadre Manny Gammage back in Texas. Wishing I was a medicine man or had some kind of shamanic power to lend him a hand with his cancer battle. My imagination wondered to how one receives that kind of medicine knowledge. Figured it likely just gets passed down over generations. 

I traveled backward generation after generation. With each transition I imagined an old medicine man or woman passing down the knowledge to the chosen younger recipients. 

Eventually I reached the end of the line… the very first medicine person. It dawned on me that there had to be the very first shaman and medicine person who didn’t have anyone to receive the knowledge. They had to go with intuition and more of a gut feeling I suppose. 

I wondered if I could just try making up my own spiritual intent. Figured it couldn’t hurt to at least try. 

Sat myself in a comfortable position by the fire so that my concentration wouldn’t be distracted, and I focussed on the fire flames flickering as I let my eyes go a bit out of focus. The copal smoke was strong now and swirling in with the flames and being carried upward. I closed my eyes and imagined myself blending with the smoke and sort of catching a weightless right up along with the copal smoke. 

(The Conclusion in the Next Post: The Reluctant Curandero - Part 3) 


Patreon is now fired up again! Some posts will be public and some will be for Patreon subscribers only. I'm also going to start posting a much larger mélange of artful expression here in addition to travel stuff from the road. Content like audio experiments, stories in short chapter form, video art, and maybe something called "Psychogeography" projects... more on that later. 

Please sign up to be one of my regular Patreon subscribers today!

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The Reluctant Curandero - Part 1

The day before I was to board a bus from Austin, Texas going South… deep into Mexico… I called up a local hatter who I’d done  some photographic work for, Manny Gammage, owner of Texas Hatters in Buda, Texas at the time. 

Manny had been around the block a time or two, pretty gruff, but  he also had a peaceful, monk-like demeanor. We chatted off and on about my Mexican backpacking adventures off the beaten path. Manny to let on too much, but you got the impression he was very familiar with the strange experiences one can have if they dive deep enough into the interior.

We hadn’t chatted in a good while, so I gave him a call to let him know I was once again wandering South. 

His daughter Joella answered the phone:

“Texas Hatters, how can I help you?”

“Oh hi Joella, it’s Skip, is Manny in?”

Joella’s was quiet for a few moments, then answered low:

“Skip… I guess you haven’t heard…”

“Heard what?”

“Manny was diagnosed with cancer a few months ago. Not doing well at all. They’re not even sure if he’ll make it through the week.”

You could tell she was fighting pretty hard to be strong and not get choked up, but she was mostly failing.

“Oh no! No… I hadn’t heard… I’m so sorry Joella. Where is he?”

“We’re just grateful for the time we’ve had to say our goodbyes. He’s down at the San Antonio VA hospital… you could try to call but today wouldn’t be a good day… he’s hurtin’ pretty bad.”

“I’m actually bussing it to Mexico early in the morning. I just wanted to call and let him know before I left. He always seemed to get a kick out of my Mexico adventures.

“Yes, he did… I’ll tell him you called.”

We said our goodbyes as Joella gave up trying to hold back breaking down. 

Before the call, I’d been elated to be about to embark on another adventure. After the call, I tried to get some of that back, but couldn’t get the sad news out of my head. I mean, there’s nothing I could do and we weren’t really close friends or anything. Just a couple of people who shared some similar interests and had enjoyed swapping stories a few afternoons over about a years time. 

The bus trip down was a little brutal. I’ve since learned it’s not worth it to knock out long distances in one shot. Much better to take little breaks along the way. Back then it was all about powering through all of the miles at once… then suffering the overwhelming fatigue for a day or so after you get there.

I remember leaving Austin, a layover in San Antonio where I was once again reminded of Manny’s lousy luck, then a bus change with all the border hassles, long layover in the Monterrey, Mexico station… even longer layover in the Mexico City station… then an all-nighter on a rough 3rd-class bus, just to get to the foot of the mountain below Huautla de Jimenez, Oaxaca. 

Huautla de Jimenez, Oaxaca is known for a strange indigenous practice of consuming a particular hallucinogenic mushroom that only grows at high altitudes. There’s a name the Mezatec Indians call the mushroom, that roughly translates to “God’s Meat”, but most just call the mushrooms Derrumbe, or “Mud Slide” which is where they grow. They have very powerful psychoactive effects and the Mezatecas believe that consuming them allows them to commune with God. Even the little children eat them on certain birthdays, with a guide, as a rite of passage. 

The main mushroom priestess Maria Sabina was visited by a fellow  named Gordon Wasson who was doing research on the drug referred to as “Soma” by the ancient Indus people (their texts are what Hinduism is based upon). Nobody knows what Soma actually was, but it was allegedly brought here from the heavens by Vishnu. It was supposed to make the poor man feel rich, and the sick man feel well, etc. Many speculate this Soma substance, depicted in Vedic texts as a tree shape, was possibly a psychoactive mushroom instead.  

The Indus people dwelled in the mountains, and the Derrumbe mushrooms only grow at high altitudes. The idea that the drug Soma was possibly a mushroom, and possibly the same species that was imbibed by a Oaxacan, Mexico indigenous mushroom cult was also speculated by Gordon Wasson.

After Mr. Wasson had journeyed up into the mountains to verify this mushroom cult real did exist, and partake in ceremonies with Maria Sabina, he had several of his papers published by a friend who was the head editor at Time magazine. This was round the late 60’s and early 70’s I believe… right around the time that the article would inspire many hippies of the day to make a bee line for this mystical mushroom cult in the mountains of Oaxaca. 

Many popular celebrities in the late 60’s like Donovan, Bob Dylan, Timothy Leary, and even the Beatles… all visited this mushroom priestess named Maria Sabina as well. And then even more hippies flooded in. The trouble was, that this was a spiritual ceremony involving a fungus the Mezatecas believed to be God’s meat… given to them in order to commune with the great creator. Unfortunately, the hippies didn’t get that memo and all hell broke loose, with deranged young people fighting each other, running around naked, and… well, you can imagine what else! And, that it didn’t go over so well with the Mezatecas. 

There’s more to tell of this incredibly exotic and magical place… and I’ll tell you more about it too, but this is just to let you know what some of the backstory of the place I was headed to.

(To be continued...  Next Post: The Reluctant Curandero - Part 2) 


Patreon is now fired up again! Some posts will be public and some will be for Patreon subscribers only. I'm also going to start posting a much larger mélange of artful expression here in addition to travel stuff from the road. Content like audio experiments, stories in short chapter form, video art, and maybe something called "Psychogeography" projects... more on that later. 

Please sign up to be one of my regular Patreon subscribers today!

You can always unsubscribe if you want to take a break, then hop back on later. :)

Uncertain, Texas Audio Journal

Uncertain, Texas

I really need to do these little travel/journal recordings more often. It's so cool to listen to how you sounded at a given point in time, especially while you're traveling. Adds so much to have the actual ambient sounds with the recording as well. I can almost feel the mosquitos biting me! ;)

Some personal creative notes while camping in Uncertain, Texas in May of 2014

Face in the moon easier to see with the naked eye?

Desire to find faces, or making order from chaos?

In telephotos of the full moon, it's difficult to see a face of any sort. But, it can be seen clearly by the naked eye. Do you suppose it has more to do with the way our brains process abstract shadows looking for faces? Or, the attempt to find order in chaos? Not sure, but listen to the speculation in this video. 

The video is two parts. First part is some wondering speculation at the beginning of the journey, and the second part is the "diving into" the rest of the trip. There wasn't any specific purpose for this, other than to test some consumer-grade Nikon D5300 dSLR filmmaking gear, along with a GoPro for travel and to see if the combination could be used to get a decent image for some future short film stuff.

The music under the narration is Rumba and Liza Subbotina from the album "Wandering Soul" by Mark Subbotin

The music in the second half is A ESTHER FORERO - Jan Y Su Son Latino from the album "Homenaje a Esthercita Forero. La Novia de Barranquilla" by Jan y Su Son Latino

If your system and connection can support it, make sure you click through to YouTube and select the HD1080 setting to view for maximum resolution.


Packed for one more motorcycle gear shake-out trip!

Just have the bike all packed up for another short 5-day trip. Readjusted my gear, packing, added some stuff I was missing, and got a new travel camera to test out. Heading to Galveston for a couple nights, then camp a couple nights on the way back heading Southwest to possibly Lake Texana, but not certain yet. After this one, I think I'll have it all dialed in to head out toward New Mexico for a longer adventure. Will partly be concentrating on what to do with the rest of my life while just letting inspiration flow-in from the road experience.

In the past I've tried to finance my travel by publishing books, did a Kickstarter/Indigogo, and had a private and exclusive blog for contributors. A little help from product sponsors as well. My next longer trip, I think I'll just simplify it. This time I'll keep a special trip blog that anyone can follow along with, but I'll add a PayPal "tip jar". Those who like what I do from the road, and have the means to "tip" me for my efforts, will have an easy way to do so. Those who love my work but are light in the pocket book at the moment, will be able to follow along as well. 

Thinking I'll offer a discounted pre-ordered print deal that includes some extra supporter dispatches from the road. These will be additional images and some text to go with each image, but not the multiple page offerings I've done in the past. I've found there's just so much stuff out there that it's better to just get to the point and only share the very best stuff. At some point I may do another photo book of the trip, but it won't be a supporter offering/option on the next trip. 

For the most part, I'll be focussing more on the trip... making new images... and some concise (hopefully compelling) dispatches... and won't spend time publishing print or promoting from the road. I've found all the publishing, promoting, etc. that I've done from the road in the past, tends to take me too far out of the actual travel experience.

Will drop a note before I leave for New Mexico with the options, but the trip tomorrow is just to see if I've got all my gear and packing as efficient as I can get it. :)

They're not scared of you. They're scared of what you represent to 'em.

George Hanson: Ya know, this used to be a helluva good country. Can’t understand what’s gone wrong with it.
Billy: Man, everybody got chicken, that’s what happened. Hey, we can’t even get into like, a second-rate hotel, I mean, a second-rate motel, you dig? They think we’re gonna cut their throat or somethin’. They’re scared, man.
George Hanson: They’re not scared of you. They’re scared of what you represent to ‘em.
Billy: Hey, man. All we represent to them, man, is somebody who needs a haircut.
George Hanson: Oh, no. What you represent to them is freedom.
Billy: What the hell is wrong with freedom? That’s what it’s all about.
George Hanson: Oh, yeah, that’s right. That’s what’s it’s all about, all right. But talkin’ about it and bein’ it, that’s two different things. I mean, it’s real hard to be free when you are bought and sold in the marketplace. Of course, don’t ever tell anybody that they’re not free, ‘cause then they’re gonna get real busy killin’ and maimin’ to prove to you that they are. Oh, yeah, they’re gonna talk to you, and talk to you, and talk to you about individual freedom. But they see a free individual, it’s gonna scare ‘em.

Just heading out for 5 days or so, but packed for a month+ trip to see if I was going to be able to pack everything without the need of side bags. I've got still & video gear including GoPro Hero 3. iPad & Bluetooth keyboard for travel blogging. Minimal tools, slime compressor & tire repair kit, tent, hammock, all the clothes I need even if the temps dip down to 32F. Book to read, shower stuff, potable solar panel, water heating coil & 22oz collapsible cap with lid & plenty of instant starbucks pouches, 5 days worth of food and even a liter bag of red wine!

The vino is in a refillable 1L Platypus beverage bag. I'm sure it'll be easy to fine more to refill it with I'm using the platypus because its lighter & packs easier than a bottle. Plus, it holds an extra 250ML and can be used to carry water as well.

On top is an Alps ultralight tent, water sandals & a yoga Matt to sleep on. I likely will just sleep in my hammock but packed the tent in case the temps drop or I get a lot of rain.

Since I'm in Texas so I don't really need the warm clothes. Where I'm going it'll be 80F in the say and low 50's at night. But in the next couple of weeks or so I'll head out for a longer trip that may take me to higher altitude & lower nighttime temps in New Mexico & Colorado. Just wanted to pack for a longer trip to make sure everything would fit, see how the bike handles with more weight & how much the gas mileage is effected.

The front compartment on this bike is very useful. In the front storage I've got rain gear, map, compact camera, tablepod/monopod, slime compressor, map, wallet, first aid kit, sunscreen & repellent, chain lube & basic tools, and shower cap seat cover for the sheepskin pad in case it rains. 

Where and how do you go to forge a new dream?

Think I lost my dream somewhere along the way. Or, perhaps I never really had one to begin with.

You get these ideas in your head at given points in time of what it is you think you want and then everything gets sorta put on autopilot. Could have sworn I had one, but somehow it either evaporated away, or was just an idea of the essence of "dream" without any details.

One day... you ask yourself what you really want out of life and what your "dream come true" would look like. Trouble is, I don't have a clear and solid answer for that. Drawing a blank.

I wander where one wonders to find a brand spankin' new dream? Or, is it just ok to be comfortable with whatever is happening in the now without the slightest concern for any particular "dream" or goal to be working towards?

Great Spirit ~ Wirikuta, Mexico +   LithoFusion Collection

Great Spirit ~ Wirikuta, Mexico + LithoFusion Collection

Suspicious in Matehuala

Don't want to get all dramatic & paranoid, but something has definitely changed in this town just in the last year.

I've been passing through Matehuala for nearly 2 decades now, but this rustic country outpost never changes much. Not until now & just since I was here just a year ago.

It looks like someone spent a lot of money giving all the public spaces a major rennovation. There are a lot more police here & not your average police either. These guys are heavily armed with full body armor & black combat helmets. They cruise around in police trucks that have huge machine guns mounted on the roofs & they have a new building that looks expensive & modern.

When I was walking into town earlier from the bus station I saw these dudes with their heads shaved prison-style but they were driving big black & shiny SUVs. Sorta creeped me out a little.

There's never really been much graffiti in this town, but now it looks like every other building has gang tags.

I just got my hair cut by the old fellow I like to visit every time I pass through. I mentioned the changes & new observations. He said, with a very serious look, that there is BIG money here & that I should watch my back & be very careful. I asked him about all the new wealth & hardcore police & he said it's all narcotraficante & cartels all over the area. I asked if it was safer out in the desert pueblos. He said it's even more dangerous out there where I'm going because all the police are all in town.

He might be exaggerating or watching too much TV, but I think I'll keep my head down & a low profile until I get more info. Wouldn't want to be mistaken for a journalist or anything. Yikes! I'm sitting here with a camera tapping away all this writing to post. That's likely not wise. Think I'll wrap it up & keep movin' while I'm ahead. ;)

Most likely just too much TV & that I was sitting in a plaza near a new club watching women who looked like prostitutes walk by with young folks dressed in hard core gang-style clothing on a Saturday night. Maybe it's just the style & Matehuala has enjoyed some recent economic prosperity, but something seems suspicious & doesn't quite fit. Will get more info in the desert & update in a few days when I get access again.

Time to head out to the desert & get back to work on my story:

Wish me suerte! (luck)


When one man's singular obsession leads him to the brink of death

CHUPACABRA: A True Story © 2012 Skip Hunt | Audiob  ook

CHUPACABRA: A True Story © 2012 Skip Hunt | Audiobook

There's a true tale I've been telling for over 13 years now. My obsession with writing down a screenplay in Mexico very nearly cost me my life. I tell the story most often as a warning to others, but the response I most frequently get is that my true story may be better than what I was writing at the time. The last person I told this story to late at night, out in the desert of the Wirikuta region of Mexico was an Argentinian juggler. We didn't particularly hit it off, but we both found ourselves killing time late at night in the middle of a full-moon night and too wired to sleep.  

This fellow was game for listening first to my entire true tale of obsession and then the entire story I was trying to write at the time. His assessment was that the true story was his preference. He very much loved both, but he believed the true story actually happened exactly as I told it, and this gave it more appeal.

I decided to finally record this story that I've told for so many years by desert camp fires, jungle treks, and caffeine-fueled late-night cafe chats. I'm not certain what I'm going to do with it, but I broke it down into chapter notes in pieces that I felt I could get through a recording in one take. It was recorded in the same room I used in the desert 13 years ago.

"This is an absolutely incredible, riveting story! I do agree that THIS is the story that should be the screenplay!" ~ E. Davie
"I could visualize the scene of the 'Ladie's Bar' through a fish eye lens sort of in the style of Twin Peaks. Truly an odd trip with some weird encounters." ~ Y. Buckley

SAMPLE TEASER: Chapter ONE: Ladies Bar | 8:13

UPDATE: This audiobook is just the beginning. My intention is to evolve this into more complex pieces and maybe even a feature-length film. Stay-tuned!

(Will play on anything that supports iTunes standard audiobook file type)

Seven Chapters | Running Time 1:45:32 

Also available HERE

Chupacabra Audiobook