One day, waking up at Puerta Vieja hostel in San Cristobal de las Casa, small mountainous town in the Chiapas state of Mexico, a friend, Will, I made excitedly shared that they were participating in a ritual with a local shaman. They mentioned the words ‘kambo’ and ‘bufo’ but I literally had no idea what they were going on about and decided not to google it. I felt curious and inclined to participate (being on a whole spiritual ‘throw caution to the wind’ soul searching journey). So, I signed up with my word as my vow and prepared based off the message that Will relayed to the group of us that decided on going on this psychedelic experience.
- No food for 12 hours until ceremony.
- Drink as much water as you can the day before.
That was pretty much it…Didn’t seem that hard. I was feeling excited and curious but also had absolutely no idea what to expect from the next day.
The morning of, our crew of 5 gathered at the picnic tables in the backyard garden and felt sleepy eyed and quiet for the day ahead of us. We didn’t exchange much conversation and I was extremely introverted.
We got to a small house in a nondescript neighborhood and immediately walked down to the river that flowed on a hill beneath the house. Jose, our shaman, told us that we would be starting with Kambo, basically poisonous frog secretions (collected humanely by way of tying the frog on a stick and scraping off the venom from its back where its then released and left alone for 3 months for it to regenerate its protective mechanisms).
Only Will and I decided to participate, so Jose led us further into a clearing, away from the rest of the group. He had us sit on two opposite rocks as he prepared the kambo, reciting prayers, blessing the medicine and opening the ceremony. We watched as he scraped the dry white substance with a steak knife similar to the one my grandma had onto a bamboo stick, then mixed it with water to create a creamy paste. Jose looked to the ground to search for a twig and burnt one end of it with a torch.
I rolled up my left sleeve to expose my arm. Jose applied the burnt end of the twig onto my bicep, burning 5 shallow dots in a vertical line onto my skin, exposing the layer underneath. These dots made with the twig exposed skin, referred to as ‘gates’, the entrance points in which the kambo would be applied.
It wasn’t too painful but I’m also sure the adrenaline from the moment numbed the pain. This was turning out to be more hardcore than I was expected. But I guess once you’re in it, it’s too late to back out. I did say I wanted an adventure, didn’t I?
Then, he scraped the kambo from the bamboo spatula and applied it into the entrance points. Then he went to apply the same to Will. There were no additional instructions given and the rest of the ritual happened in silence. Pretty much, sit tight, hold on and embrace what’s coming.
After a few minutes, I felt the world go quiet. I couldn’t hear anything except the rushing waters of the river. I began sitting in an upright position on the rock and when the first wave of nausea began to set in, I felt myself slowly move from sitting on my original rock to falling onto my knees and bear hugging the lower one in front of me.
The effects of the kambo were taking place.
I managed to focus on my breath, breathing through the discomfort.
The first wave of vomit came up and I expelled into the water. Jose gently guided me to purge into the dirt, so I mustered the remaining conscious strength I had and squatted over the earth, releasing the two liters of water I consumed prior into the dark soil, allowing the earth to transmute the energies.
As I stayed in the squat position, eyes closed to prevent any additional stimulation to bring discomfort, I heard Jose approach me again. “I am going to add more,” he stated in his quiet voice. I protested internally, though made no effort in stopping him as he applied more frog poison onto the gates he burned into the gates on my arms.
I didn’t know how much more I could take. I could feel myself regret signing up for this experience. I knew there was going to be physical discomfort and vomiting. Overly ambitious and optimistic in the beginning, I began to realize that I was in the actual experience and there was no backing out. The only way out was through. I don’t know how much time passed but I soon stopped vomiting and was able to regain enough clarity and strength to return to the original rock I was sitting on.
Will was going through his own process. I glanced over. He was sitting on his rock still, his arms resting on his thighs and his head lowered between his knees. His eyes were red and his face swollen, yet he still mustered enough strength to ask me if I was okay. (Shoutout to you, Will. Thanks for that!) I could only nod, turning my gaze back onto the stream of water. I couldn’t even return the favor. The flowing water was only anchor I had to maintaining any sense of comfort.
After the vomiting and nausea passed, we sat quietly coming back to a more grounded state. Jose and Will went back to the group first as I sat a little longer with the river, integrating the intensity and craziness that had just happened.
We walked back to our expectant group of friends, their faces painted with curiosity. I was in no mood to chat and sat a little bit away from the group, breathing and feeling my strength come back.
At this point, Jose was beginning to set up the second half of the ceremony for bufo, venom collected from the Colorado River Toad, whose secretions contain 5-MeO-DMT “an extremely potent psychedelic that is four to six times stronger than its better-known relative DMT (or dimethyltryptamine)” (source).
Leaving Will and I towards the end, as we had just come back from a freaking insane kambo purge, Jose called members of the group one by one to receive the medicine. I watched as they stood, inhaling the smoke from the pipe, holding it in for as long as they could before exhaling.
Its effects were almost immediate. Eyes closed down. Jose stood behind them to catch them as their limbs begin to fall and laid them gently onto the ground. The experience went on for about 10 minutes each person. It was fast. The effects from my friends’ journeys varied but most of them came back absolutely shocked and terrified.
I honestly couldn’t remember anything about anyone else’s journey. I was still in a haze after kambo. But, eventually, it was my turn to meet the toad. I inhaled the smoke, held it, and exhaled just like all of the others. And then it went black. I went into a vortex of unity, oneness and connectivity with the universe.
Here are my notes from my phone that I wrote to capture the experience:
Connectivity. Unity. Pleasure. Bliss. Opened my eyes, head turned towards my left, licked my lips. Immediately said: I’m sorry I ruined it. Thoughts rushing back about hurting women/Mother/sisters? It was almost at pure love. Perhaps I stopped at romantic love and lust.
Woke up to shaman Jose playing rainbow warrior/soul song?
It was a beautiful journey. I loved it and felt sad it was over. I was ready to go back to the hostel, have a hot shower and meal and integrate this journey. But then Jose, with a sly smile on his face, turned to us and said, “okay time for the second round”.
Everyone reeled. A second round??? Some of us still aren’t even over the first attempt. There was a mixture of giddiness, fear, excitement and panic.
I felt like I was in the minority, feeling extremely excited. I had a lot of insightful and introspective information from my first trip and felt ready and more prepared for a second session. And I was so right. It was everything I could have wanted from my experience.
My notes read:
Everything dissolved. My understanding is that: everything is an illusion. Everything we experience is a creation of the mind. Belief powers everything. Remove a belief, remove its existence. Pure and automatic bliss. Had a thought that “I could be homeless. Happiness is right here. In this moment”. Money doesn’t matter. What if money didn’t exist?
Woke up to shaman Jose playing a song going “dance gypsy dance laugh at romance”.
Apparently, this second session, instead of falling down onto my back, I automatically ended up slowly lowering myself to the ground and sitting folding my legs into cross legged position before lowering into supta baddha konasana (reclining bound angle pose).
We all slowly gathered our thoughts and belongings before heading out. But not before the bizarre experience of receiving the news that the dog that belonged to the woman who lived in the house by the river had been hit by a car. Despite this horrible news, I felt like I had a deeper understanding of the cycles of life and death. That death on the physical plane doesn’t mean death of the soul or spirit. That attachment causes suffering (which the Buddhists might be onto something with this).
From one psychedelic journey of ‘death’ into realizing death happened on the physical plane. Jose told us to go on to get a meal and he would join us after consoling the woman. He suggested for us to go to Sarajevo Cafe Jardin (which happens to be my favorite cafe in San Cris) but we ended up going to Indian food at the behest of the group. Still very sad we didn’t go to Sarajevo, but if I go back to do this ceremony again, know for sure that that’s where I’m going.
Some of my key takeaways:
- Kambo is a great purging for your physical vessel. Don’t try to fight it. Surrender gently to the sensations.
- Bufo will teach you everything about yourself on a deep level. It’ll make you realize some existential truths about your existence and your reality.
A pic of the crew: strangers that turned into some of my closest friends and travel companions.
L to R: Jose, me, Jack, Erin, Will, Eli
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