Auld Lang Syne, Part 4

As I mentioned in the previous post, there turned out to be a lot of portrait work to show from my early days as a photographer. Some of that upon which I haven’t yet touched came from a pivotal experience I had in the mountains of Oaxaca, and some of it came from, what else, women. But I’ll get to the latter at some yet to be determined date.

 old mixteca curandera (shaman) blessing a handful of magic mushrooms by candle light
Mazateca shaman Maria Sabina, blessing a handfull of psilocybin mushrooms during a ceremony.

So I might as well fess up. Those were my magic mushrooms Doña Maria Sabina was blessing and after she finished and snuffed out the candle, my perception of the world changed significantly. This woman was known around the world for her ability to cure using the psychedelic mushrooms that abound in the mountains of Oaxaca and she still has a cult-like following.

Naturally there are several interesting stories flowing forth from this experience but it’s getting late so I’ll just touch upon some basics.

A close friend in Mexico City was the Newsweek correspondent for Mexico and Central America. There was a lot of gossip coming out of the state of Oaxaca regarding the increasing numbers of young hippie types flocking to a small town known as Huaútla de Jimenez, situated way back in the mountains, to partake of the famous “magic” mushrooms. Lynne, my friend, sold the idea for a story of these goings-on to her editors, and she asked me if I would photograph it for her. Without hesitation I agreed to do it but with one condition. My strong advice to her was that if we were going to do this we should definitely partake in the ceremony for which Maria Sabina was famous. She assented, as did the third member of the party Uli, a reporter from the NY Times.

The problem was that I had heard that both the army and the local constabulary were getting a little bit paranoid by all the attention from the outside world and were beginning to greet visitors rather roughly, so it was with a bit of trepidation that we loaded up in my VW bus and headed for the mountains.

Two prisoners in the Teotitlan del Camino municipal jail (ca. 1972)

You might ask what was I doing taking pictures of prisoners in the local hoosegow? Well, I too was a prisoner in that jail and, believe it or not, allowed to keep my cameras! The story of how we got there is both interesting and amusing but we’ll just keep to the pictures for now. In any case, in a few days we were set free after smuggling out a note to a friend in high quarters in the Mexican government. The Feds came down on our captors with such force that not only were we released but given a letter of safe conduct that permitted us to do whatever we wanted.

My cellmate in the Teotitlan del Camino Jail (ca. 1972)
A street leading out of Huautla to Maria Sabina’s home

Here we began the hike up into the mountains to Maria’s humble dwelling, not knowing what we were getting into.

A man and his mule pose in Huautla de Jimenez, Oaxaca, Mexico
The great grandson of the famous Mazateca curandera Maria Sabina at her house in Huautla

It was a grand adventure all in all, although the getting busted part caused some temporary anxiety. I was not interested in spending even the smallest part of my life in a Oaxacan jail and, as it turned out, the several days there were more than sufficient. When I unpack from the move to Spokane we’re about to make, I hope to find the negatives for this escapade and revisit those days, so stay tuned.

Remember: You can click on the images to purchase prints!


This entry was published on May 10, 2022 at 2:33 pm. It’s filed under Mexico, native americans, People, photography, travel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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