January 7th. It was a Saturday. That day, all the planets stationed direct after being in retrograde motion- a good omen and an opportune time for movement. We woke up full of energy and decided it was time to move on. That feeling of attachment and stagnation was suddenly gone and we knew that we needed to align ourselves with this momentum and hit the road again. We scanned the town to say our goodbyes to whatever friends we saw along the way, and then we did it. We left San Pancho! It was an odd alchemy of emotions; there was this feeling of freedom to be back on the path of adventure and discovery but also a sort of sadness to be leaving a place that actually felt like home, a lot of gratitude for the memories and friendships we gained there, all sort of melded together with hope- that one day we would return, that it would stay the way we found it, and that we would be just as surprised and rewarded by the wonder that lay before us out in the unknown. Traveling like this, like nomads, is such a beautiful thing because we are truly so untethered. If we don't like a place, we have the mobility to move on. Yet if we do, we have the unique opportunity to stay and really get to know the culture and feeling of a place. Our curiosity had returned to us and we were eager to experience the rest of Mexico.
We decided to head inland. After five months of traveling south down the Pacific coast, we were kind of "beached out." I know that might sound crazy because, who gets sick of paradise, right? But the heat, the humidity, the itchy mosquito bites, the constant humming of the fan, and the sand everywhere- all the time- in our camper, was feeling a little old. We would miss the delicious fresh seafood but we were excited for a change of scenery.
And we got our wish! Only a couple hours inland, the landscape had already changed completely. No more were we enveloped in lush green jungle. Suddenly we were greeted with expansive views, rollings hills, citrine prairies, and lapis lazuli skies. The air was dry and crisp. We unpacked our wrinkled long-sleeved shirts and pants from the bottom of our backpacks. We felt like we had entered an alternate universe. Who knew? "I feel like I am in the mid-west," Mark commented. "I had no idea Mexico looked like this." But it does. Completely quaint and ancient and familiar all at the same time. Lots of agriculture, ranching, farmland. Roadside vendors selling produce. Miles and miles of sugarcane stretched out before us. Eventually the hills grew and began to take on the distinct look of shadowy volcanos, and every once in a while, the golden farmland was interrupted by black, hardened lava flow.
After camping out at a gorgeous natural Lake, Lago de Santa Maria del Oro, we decided to continue east to see the ruins of an ancient Mesoamerican civilization, called Ixtlán del Rio, which dates back to 300 bc. There we discovered a shaft tomb containing pottery and human bones. There were clay figurines, and a courtyard with the remains of several alters, ceremonial spaces, and support columns. Some were roped off, but others were accessible to climb on. Joey especially liked climbing them. Besides a few high-school aged locals sitting and drinking sodas a top one of the alters, we basically had the place to ourselves to roam around and picnic at our leisure. I prefer this so much to the massive crowds we will likely encounter when we visit Palenque and other, more well-known sites.
Shortly after Ixtlán, we entered the state of Jalisco. The elevation was increasing and the landscape was still refreshingly remote, offering lovely panoramic views of volcanic mountains and desolate valleys.
Due to the volcanic history of this region, with many areas still active, there are a vast number of hot springs around. We had heard good things about a thermal river nearby. The whole river is thermal, getting hotter the higher up you climb. It was pretty shallow in most areas but small pools were formed with the strategic placement of rocks. We camped here for one night, dipping all afternoon and again the following morning. The landowner was friendly and we chatted with him and his sons for a while, afterward noting how much our Spanish has improved and how nice it is to be able to easily converse with native speakers. A big improvement since our time in Baja, when we mostly sounded like cave-people with only the ability to demand food and inquire the location of the bathroom. Anywho, it felt so nice to be doing some wild camping again, especially cuddled up in our warmest blankets, with hot soup, and a thermal river!
We continued east and the following evening, we camped atop the Volcán de Tequila. Unfortunately, no, tequila did not flow from this picturesque volcano, scattered with enormous chunks of sharp, shiny, endlessly black obsidian. But it did overlook the magical town of Tequila, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and also the birthpace of the ubiquitous liquor. Blue agave plantations were countless and beautiful to behold.
Blue agave has been grown in this region since the pre-hispanic era and has long been used by the indigenous peoples here. After Spanish colonization, the agave was fermented, making what we now know as tequila. This small town is home to 15 of the largest distilleries, including Cuervo, Herradura, and Sauza. We walked around the Sauza distillery gardens and then had a fabulous breakfast at a local cafe, before we decided we better leave this delightful little town before we get into too much trouble with the dangerous elixer.
For two nights we camped beside Lago de Chapala, the largest lake in Mexico. Surrounding the lake was a very modest and traditional little town, lined with small churches and tiendas. We found a little campground that probably hasn't changed much since its creation in the 1980's, with soccer fields and a children's playground that resembled old carnival rides, and we did some bird watching. I love watching the full moon rise over a mountain lake.
The following evening, we visited the artesenal village of Tlaquepaque. In the town square, there was a lunar blessing by an indigenous group to honor the first full moon of the year. We were invited to hear the songs and prayers, and then smudged with the native copal. The prayer circle was a powerful invocation of protection and guidance by the sacred ancestors.
Afterward, there was a traditional performance by a traveling indiginous group from Vera Cruz. One man played the flute while five others climb up this tall pole with ropes in their hands, then they wind the ropes around the pole, finally falling backward attached only by the rope as they unwind like tiny puppets until they each reach the ground. It was fascinating.
This massive and astounding Italian Gothic Cathedral is in the modern and artistic city of Guadalajara. Often, walking around this city, I would totally forget I was in Mexico. It was so clean and innovative, so fashionable, it felt like any other big city in the states, full of international restaurants, rock-n-roll bars, large murals, and gorgeous architecture. Walking down, what appeared to be, the avenue of wedding shops, I was drooling over all of the delicate and feminine bridal gowns.
We had a few errands to run in the city, and lost track of time, under-estimating how dense traffic would be to exit the urban sprawl. The map indicated a large national park north east of Guadalaraja, so we decided to head that direction in search of a camp spot. Little did we know, there is an enormous gorge to the north of the city. We were quickly losing daylight and ended up on this lonely highway with a steep canyon to one side and massive cliffs on the other.
Finally we turned off toward what looked like a small village. Blink your eye and you'd miss it. (We try to avoid driving at night here, as we have been told it is too dangerous, for this is when a lot of drug trafficking takes place, and also, the roads can be shadowy and unpredictable, often with cattle or other animals in the road, or huge potholes... you just never know.) We saw the head lights of a pickup truck approaching us. It looked like a guy about our age, with about a half dozen barking dogs in the bed of his truck, and what appeared to be a child, sitting on the HOOD of his car. Yes, that's exactly what it was- a boy of about six years old, all smiles, going for a bumpy little ride down the cobble-stone mountain side on the hood of his papa's truck... The things you see in Mexico! I wish we had a photo of this!
Anyway, we stopped and talked to this guy, his name was Beto. We asked him if he knew of a place we could camp for the night, and with zero hesitation, he offered for us to camp on his land, giving us precise directions. A few kilometers down the road, past two cattle gates and to the left, we located his property. It was a cactus farm. Very safe and, we realized in the morning, very beautiful. God bless the Mexican people. They are helpful, hospitable, and extremely kind. Check out these awesome views!
From sugar cane to blue agave to cactus farms. We had a great week of overland adventure and as always, are intensely grateful for all of these unforgettable interactions and experiences in our travel. To be able to see the interior of this country, with all of its off-the-beaten path charm, is such a blessing. We feel truly priviledged to be able to do what we are doing. Only three more months on our Mexican visas! Next, we will discover the Pueblas Magicas of Michoacán.
Goodbye Jalisco and thank you, as always, for all the good times, the new friends, and the enchanting views along the way. Adios!!
In the last days of 2016, in San Pancho, we had an opportunity to participate in an indigenous medicine circle and become aquainted with an Amazonian “plant” medicine called Kambo. I say “plant” medicine because Kambo is often classified under the umbrella term of plant medicines although it actually is not plant-based, rather, it is literally the venomous wax that is secreted from a highly poisonous tree frog. The phyllomedusa bicolor, or giant monkey frog, to be exact. Rather than ingesting it, which can be fatal, it is administered via small burns on the surface of the skin. It has been in use in indigenous cultures of Columbia, Brazil, and Peru for thousands of years. Kambo is used to treat a broad range of illnesses and is also used prevantatively to remove toxins and boost the natural function of the immune system as well as strengthen the senses, reflexes, and endurance of the body, while also invigorating the spirit.
I first learned about Kambo in the summer of 2016, in Utah, from a close friend who told us about this strange and exotic medicine. I remember, at the time, that the phrase “poisonous frog venom,” really sounded extreme to me, especially following his description of “burning blisters,” and “intense swelling of the face and throat,” and a “violent purging.” I had never heard of anything quite like this before and like all things completely foreign and new, my first impression was a mixture of frightened and awe-struck. But like all ancient medicines, including Ayahuasca and San Pedro, they say that it will call to you when you are ready to know its mysterious teachings.
It was on November 13th, the night of the supermoon, that I first heard the call. We had been in San Pancho for only a couple of days, and late one night, I was restlessly stirring in bed. Maybe it was the moon, or the high tide of the roaring ocean, or the small gathering of dancing strangers, but I decided to get out of bed and walk to the beach. The air was the perfect temperature, the sky was clear, and in the distance, I could see the flickering amber glow of a bonfire and hear the faint musings of acoustic guitar. I sat down beside this group of ecelctic young people all sharing the warm glow of the flames and the beautiful songs sung in Spanish. This was my introduction to this romantic town and its welcoming people. After enjoying countless songs, laughter with these new friends, and a halo'ed view of the luminous moon, I decided to walk back to where we were camped for the night.
I strolled quietly over the cobble-stone streets when suddenly I heard a few plopping sounds and felt something suspiciously brush against one of my feet, and out from under my long skirt, jumped a big, fat frog! It was enormous, a dark murky algae color with a bumpy back resembling a nice crunchy pickle, and it croaked at me as I knelt down next to it! Now, if you know me, you know that I am a big believer in the spirits of animals, holding the whimsical opinion that when we cross paths with any wild thing, it surely contains a message for us. The frog has been associated with many cultures throughout the ages, and can be symbolic of many different things, ranging from earth magic to life changes to midwifery (and actually, the last time I felt really aligned with the frog spirit was when I was preparing for a homebirth with our son). But this time, the message I was getting was different. My first thought was purification.
Surely, I was in need of a detox, traveling for several months, enjoying many new foods, alcoholic concoctions made from mezcal, and even a few cervezas, which I rarely partake in, coupled with the fact that my yoga routine is out of shape, and we are traveling in a place where there is no regulation for auto emissions, etc etc... My body had been feeling exhausted and heavy from my lack of self-care and I knew it was time for me to do some clearing and return to a moderate level of discipline. Also, in numerology, 2016 is known as the Great Year of Purification, and as it was coming to an end, I knew that there was some energy I did not want to be carrying into the new year. Time for a cleanse!
Then, coincidentally, a few of our friends from home came to visit us in San Pancho in the following weeks and they shared more about their recent endeavors into the cleansing world of Kambo. This time, I was a lot more open to learning about what this exotic frog medicine was all about. I set the intention that I wanted to try it. And, low and behold, only a few days later, I met Andrea.
She was a vibrant and youthful Swiss woman backpacking through Mexico conducting plant medicine ceremonies. She spoke German, French, Spanish, and English. She had studied indigenous medicine for over 35 years, traveling to remote areas of the jungle, studying ceremonial medicina, and now sharing these practices with other Westerners. After many years of conducting Ayahuasca circles, she has now, for about five years, been including Kambo into her practice. I was interested in knowing how these treatments were performed, and had many questions before we embarked on this journey, mostly about her training and the authenticity of her work. She described her education, the setting in which the medicine is administered, and importance of adhering to the strict rituals she had learned in Amazonia. I was curious and excited! I have a deep respect for the practices of the ancients, and, after my experience doing Ayahuasca with two Shipibo shamans, I understand the power of the songs and instruments used in ceremony.
And so, we began what was, for Mark and I, four ceremonies over the course of four weeks, each one progressing in the number and location of points on our bodies. I went first. In my first ceremony, I was initiated using only one point- or burn- in the front of my body, over my solar plexus. Other practitioners may do this diffently, but I liked Andrea's gentle approach, of starting with only one point so that your body is slowly introduced to this potent substance.
We began in a circle with five other participants. Andrea smudged us all with sage and invited us to share in the use of a liquid tobacco, which is inhaled in the nose, to open the ceremony. The tobacco opens the heart and mind to allow the medicine to work at a deeper level. She spoke of it being an instrument of truth, connecting us to Source and allowing open communication of our intentions. The intention is a very important part of this process, as Kambo can be used for many different purposes, it is helpful to voice and focus on your intentions, and this facilitates the medicine in delivering the desired effects. Andrea played the flute, and we were invited to meditate. Then, we went around in the circle, each introducing ourselves, discussing our intentions, and exploring how placing the points on different areas of the body can result in different effects.
For me, I was hoping to achieve a greater sense of balance, to cleanse energetic impurities, and “return to myself,” which is a difficult thing to explain, but what I can say is that in the past three years, and even more so, the past six months, I have undergone tremendous changes. And as these changes have aided me in furthering my own personal evolution, I was needing to call back some of my energy, ground and re-claim my own identity. I wanted to work with the chakra points, as these are what I am familiar with as a reiki practitioner and yoga teacher.
Each person had the Kambo administered one by one. Before you begin, you must consume 2 liters of water. Andrea uses a knife to scrape the wax off of a flat piece of wood, which it comes on. She has a number of pieces, packaged in some kind of jungle palm, which she has obtained directly from the Shamans of the Amazon. (The frogs are not harmed in the process of harvesting the wax. Rather, these Shamans wait until after a heavy rain and then they sing the songs of the tree frogs. When the frogs come out of the trees, the Shamans massage their toes, causing the venom to be released. They preserve it by allowing it to harden on these pieces of wood. It is a whitish, waxy substance. This ritual is done with enormous respect for the animals as they are considered to be sacred allies.) After deciding how many points you desire, she molds the wax into the corresponding number of balls. You can see this pictured below
Next, she uses a small stick to make the points. It is lit with a flame, resembling a smoking stick of incense. She quickly makes the burns on the surface of the skin. It is painful but very fast- less discomfort than a misquito bite. The skin from the blister is wiped off, revealing a small white dot on the dermis. This is where the ball of wax will sit atop the skin, quickly entering the body. Within a minute, you can feel the venom flushing through your system. For me, I first noticed a lot of heat. It started near the point and slowly spread all over my body. Then, there was a pulsing sensation. It seemed my heart was throbbing and pulsing rapidly, and soon I could feel this throbbing everywhere- my fingertips, my temples, my chest. My throat felt as though it was swelling, and my head began to “fill” with this swollen, pulsing sensation. Following was a feeling of nausea and a strong need to vomit. I had a bucket in front of me for this reason. The purging is an important part of this process. As the nausea set in, she reminded me to breathe, to be open to these sensations, and try to embrace the discomfort. She burned sage all around me and told me to focus on my intentions.
Then, she took out a drum and began to sing. The drumming is so powerful, it aids in this process of collecting whatever energy no longer serves us, so it can be released with the purge. The songs are ancient and mysterious, in a language I couldn't make out. She used a rattle to really break up this dense, toxic energy. Panema, is what the ancients call it. The dark negativity that clouds the aura. With every purge, I could feel myself getting lighter and going deeper into the sensations of the medicine. And then, after about 10 minutes of sweating and vomiting, I started to feel “complete.” There was nothing left to purge away. The discomfort was dissipating, and the nausea subsided. I was instructed to lay on my left side.
In a few minutes, I returned to feeling somewhat “normal.” I could stand up, I could talk, I was feeling hungry from fasting all morning. The difference was that I could still feel this venom pumping in my veins. I noticed that all the colors around me were brighter. The sounds of the jungle were more distinct. The leaves on the tree all quivered rhythmically and I felt as though I could sense all of it, every single leaf. On every single tree. It was all connected to me. The breeze tickled against my skin and I felt more alive. I observed these changes throughout the day, and that night, I fell into a very deep sleep. My dreams were intense and vivid. By the next day, the changes were even more intense. I felt amazing! I had boundless energy. My appetite was lessened. My spirits were high. All of my senses seems to be heightened. Food tasted better. Sex felt better (hell yeah!). My feelings and emotions seemed to flow with so much ease and Mark and I felt more connected than ever. I could chase our two-year-old around endlessly and I did it with so much pleasure. I had a lot of gratitude for all the experiences in my life, good and bad, and I could see how everything led me to be the person that I am today, standing exactly where I am. My understanding of my life and my place in the world was so clear. I knew I wanted to do another ceremony and keep unveiling more and more of myelf. So I prepared to do another Kambo session with Andrea.
Mark and I did four ceremonies in all. In each, we did a progressing number of points in different areas of our body. Adding more points definitely ups the intensity of the experience, but each time, I felt I was able to cope a little bit better. It became easier to just surrender and focus on my intention instead of the discomfort. In the second ceremony, I chose to give more support to my root chakra, doing three points over my tailbone. Mark did three points to connect his throat chakra to his heart chakra, allowing him to speak more in a more heart-centered way. For our third ceremony, I did five points connecting all of my lower chakras, and Mark did four points over his solar plexus. And on our last ceremony, we did ear points. Within the ear, every system of the body is represented. I chose three ear points, and two heart points, one over the spiritual heart connecting me to Source and one over the physical heart grounding me. Mark did five points, all in his ears, pictured below. He liked the ears the best!
It has been two weeks since our last ceremony and we are feeling very happy with the results. I have noticed that my anxiety has been pretty much eradicated. I am feeling grounded and vital. Physically, I feel about as healthy as ever. I have a lot of energy and physical endurance. My dreams have been vivid, my cravings for alcohol and tobacco have subsided, my monthly moon cycle has been easier, and I am feeling present and clear. The best part is that many of the benefits of Kambo, like other healing modalities, are experienced in the long term, so I am excited to see what other surprises are in store for me as a result of this medicine. Time will tell.
Why am I sharing this with the world? Well, because many people have never heard of such a thing. Because western medicine doesn't work for everyone, and because Kambo has such a wide range of uses, from infertility, inflamation, arthritis, cancer, malaria, snake bites, etc. It is one of the strongest natural antibiotics and anesthetics in the world. It can help support emotional issues and mental health problems alike and is especially effective at treating fear-based illnesses, like anxiety, paranoia, and phobias. In fact, it is believed that because these frogs have no predators, they also have no fear, and becoming allies with the frog can help conquer fear on any level. With all of this being said, you must use caution with this substance, like any other shamanic healing modality. To find a trusted practitioner, you should reference the International Association of Kambo Practitioners, or IAKP.com
Hope you enjoyed hearing about my experience with Kambo.
Thank you for reading~
Love and Light,
After Mazatlan, we continued south down the coast, making a few stops here and there, until eventually we discovered a tiny Riviera Nayarit gem, known as San Pancho. A town filled with so much do-it-yourself originality, art, culture, and accessibility. There is such a beautiful alchemy of magic in this town that quickly we fell under its spell, and without even realizing it, ended up staying for nine weeks- nine weeks which could have easily been a lifetime, as we considered maybe never leaving. A colorful mix of grassroots local culture, Mexican nationals, indiginous lineage, and conscious international expats makes this place unique to say the least, and a fantastic place for families, with lots of activities to enrich both children and adults alike. We SO enjoyed our time here, getting sucked into the vortex of good vibes, taking in the amazing sunsets, making wonderful friends that we will not soon forget, and feeling how truly wonderful it can be to be embraced by community.
Our introduction to San Pancho of course included watching our first mesmerizing sunset on the beach. Soon we learned that this is one of the towns sweet-but-simple traditions; gathering together at sundown to watch el dia slip dazzlingly into la noche. Every evening, as the sun gets lower in the sky, you begin to see more and more foot traffic as the village's population prepares for this evening ritual. Many small businesses close down and families and friends all congregate together in the sand to watch the massive waves break powerfully on the shore as the sun sets. We loved this tradition and looked forward to it each day.
Often at sunset, we were able to witness the release of baby sea turtles back to the ocean. Since the early 1990's, the conservation efforts in San Pancho have resulted in the collection, incubation, and release of over 1 million previously-endangered sea turtles. Watching them crawl into the sea merely hours after hatching from their eggs is a really special experience, particluarly with a spectacular sunset and a crowd of people cheering.
Another San Pancho original is Circo de los Niños, the circus school for children, that was created by the artistic director of Cirque du Solei. It is a huge state-of-the-art gymnasium with equiptment of all kinds, and a programming specifically designed for children and young adults, to increase their confidence, motor skills, and performance ability. To raise money and interest, the students perform annually in the town's Plaza del Sol before an audience of 800 spectators. We put José into the Saturday morning program for children ages 2-4. It was an energetic mixture of acro yoga, hula hoops, somersaults, trampoline, balance beam, tight rope, aeriel silks, and trapese, plus songs and dances. He loved being able to release some of his boundless energy in this highly physical environment.
We spent a ton of time at Entreamigos. A huge reason San Pancho is so special is because there is a thriving not-for-profit community center that was created by the locals, served mostly by volunteers and funded by private donations. It is a cluster of re-purposed warehouses that provide a wide-range of services, from a children's library, playground, hands-on play area, technology center, recycling center, event center, community garden, indoor soccer field, and thrift store. There was always something interesting happening here, from children's art classes, adult language classes, re-purposing household items, and lots of festivities for the whole family. A lot of these programs are hard-to-come by in Mexico, like recycling, for instance. But the residents here recognize a need for this kind of programming and have created this place from the ground up, with very little but an ambitously minimal grass-roots approach. This, I think, is the real spirit of San Pancho: see what happens when everyone comes together with the resources they have and the commitment to community, resulting in some really progressive, d-i-y magic
If art is your thing, you will find vibrant expressions all over town, from the extensive street art, murals, and installations, often made from recycled and re-purposed materials.
I recieved personal instruction on making dreamcatchers out of locally-sourced jungle vines from one of San Pancho's finest craftsman, Freddie "the dreamcatcher guy." My massive feather collection came to good use and I was also able to re-purpose various random forget-me-nots from our travels.
The town was small enough to walk pretty much anywhere, but borrowing a rickshaw proved to be faster, and more fun! PS: Real men ride tricycles.
Lots of friendly neighbors offered Joey toys to borrow and return. This laidback attitude and warm generosity was much appreciated. He learned how to ride a scooter, a tricycle, and a skateboard in San Pancho, all lent lovingly to him by new friends.
We also befriended a few of the non-human residents of San Pancho.
Celebrating the Mexican Revolution with a festive parade honoring the countries independance.
We sampled nearly all of the diverse local offerings, ranging from the delicious street tacos abound, to the poke bowls at Organik, the Pacific Island cuisine of Lovo, the homemade ice-cream y paletas from Naturals, rich raw cacao truffles from Mexicolate, fancy teas from Darjeeling, maracuya and mezcal libations from Baracuda, and probably more smoothies than we can count. There were many options to satisfy a health foodie or a vegetarian, and a wide range of budgets.
So impressed with this funky little village, we wanted to share it with some friends from back home. We received a very special visit from afar when our friends Jayme and Bryan arrived for ten days of fun. We spent some quality time entertaining the three monkeys (18-month-old twins Seraphina and Persephone and our own 27-month-old Joseph) and also enjoying a taste of home and conjuring up all kinds of bliss with sunsets, beach days, bellydance, raw cacao, live music, market wanderings, jungle trailblazing, and more.
Every week, there is a colorful market with food, live music, and artesanas. We fell in love with this adorable handmade, hand-dyed childrens clothing from Oxaca and Chiapas.
We also had a blast saying adios to 2016...ringing in the New Year with a lantern on the beach.
We had some amazing adventures in this charming little town. We made friends from all over the world and all over Mexico. We couldn't walk down the street without seeing familiar faces and friendly strangers. We shared birthdays and memorable meals, stories and kindred laughter. We felt that we were a part of something here. And no matter where we end up in the world, San Pancho will always be in our hearts.