Arts + Culture

Mind–Altering Vacations

by Barbara Cleveland

PEYOTE IN MEXICO

The buzz: Occasional partiers looking for a carefree weekend tripping in the desert should stop reading now. Peyote is the final frontier of crazy intense psychotropics: We're talking 15-hour hallucinations and at least one bout of vomiting. But the hallucinations—which fueled the mad scribblings of Aldous Huxley, Hunter S. Thompson, and William S. Burroughs and has been described by many as "an encounter with God"—can bring you to a place of total harmony with yourself and the world around you. Or so we hear.

Where to score: The peyote cactus grows in the deserts and mountains surrounding Real de Catorce, a former silver mining town in central Mexico (and far from the drug conflicts that have been plaguing Mexican border towns). There are numerous unofficial guides who, for varying fees, will drive you out to the desert and help you find a plant, which is chopped into buttons and eaten. Workers tending to the numerous peyote-themed craft stalls in the central village square can point you in the direction of a guide. Be careful, though, and pay due respect: Even though peyote consumption has been decriminalized, harvesting the cactus is still illegal except for religious purposes. Make sure your guide is trustworthy and knows how to properly cut the peyote so that it won't destroy the plant, which is sacred to the native Huichol Indians.

Where to chill: Channel your inner Beat poet among the Joshua trees, cactus flowers, and gorgeous mountain views of the surrounding desert. Head east of town to the Cerro Quemado, the holy mountain and annual sacred meeting place of the Huichol Indians. But be prepared with a GPS and warm clothes to battle the evening chill in case you don't make it back before sunset.

Where to come down: The Mesón del Refugio, a boutique hotel housed in an 18th-century mansion in Real, has an enormous glass ceiling above the lounge, where you can soak up the twilight and gleaming stars after a long day in the desert.

Next: Better than the usual snake oil

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Information may have changed since date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.

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