In the Peyote Desert of Catorce Real

Chris King

Real de Catorce, the little ghost town beside the sacred mountain Wirikuta of the Huichol peyote pilgrimage is a charming little mountain town over 9000 feet which saw its heyday in a silver mine a couple of centuries ago dug into the mountain on which the town stands. To get there you either take the train from San Luis Potosi to a remote stop in the desert with no road and then go up the precipitous little stone horse track to the ghost town. The other way is from Mazatlan by a rural bus that has to get to the town literally through the mine tunnels from the other side of the mountain, a journey in itself underground through twisting mine galleries.

I went there to hunt peyote in the desert after a guy at my Native American church peyote meeting in Taos gave me a stone from the desert after he brought peyote back and said it would be a token to guide me there. I stayed in a chic little cheap hippie hotel and walked back down to the desert next day with instructions from the hotel proprietor how to head south one rail stop and then take a deserted track out into the desert.

Main street of Catorce

Access to the town is through the tunnels of the mine out to the other side of the mountain and Mazatlan

The Huichol plgrimage mountain of Wirikuta

The land was flat and parched and the valley extremely wide so the distances were deceptive, with the distant ranges blue on the horizon. I walked on and on alone into the desert gradually getting so far for the range of Wirikuta that it also began to become blue and distant. The land was littered with cacti and yuccas and the odd lizard. Huge barrel cacti, prickly pears and endless other varieties. The day was cloudy and extremely hot so I became seduced into stripping naked to my underwear, which was a huge mistake.

The peyote desert

A dust devil

When I had almost given up hope of finding peyote, having been told that the peyote would find me and I would just know I spied a distant group of dry shrubs and had this uncanny feeling they were drawing me to them and walked straight to them on a slight rise to the left and looking underneath them found lying flat almost submerged a raft of peyote plants green like water lilly leaves in a tropical pond. Not having a knife I realized I would have to wrench them out by the roots with my bare hands, as I have seen some Huichols carry them tied together in nets.

That evening I set about consuming one large peyote, hideously bitter in a thoroughly nastily bitter way. San Pedro is also bitter but this was bitter to the core. I had shacked up for the night in a derelict house full of hippies and as I became under the influence rolled a joint of some weed I had snuck in from the US inside a tube of toothpaste. As soon as I rolled it I became aware that the Mexican owner of the house was looking at me through slit eyes and I realized that, despite peyote lying around the house like some discarded food items, a joint here was a big time event. I could just see him sneaking off to tell the local fuzz they could catch me and make a small mint, so in a fit of paranoia, I scampered back to the little hotel incognito.

As the effects came on I went disconsolately for a walk on the sacred mountain, feeling more and more nauseous by sudden escalations. I turned and began to walk back to town from the cloudy mountain top wondering if I would make it and just as I came to a little bridge across to the town a woman walked up to me me and the very sight of her made me convulsively empty the entire contents of my stomach almost at her feet.

The little bridge

I staggered back to the comfort quietness and safety of the little hotel room and realized that I had a terrible case of sunburn, getting searingly stronger as the evening progressed.  I desperately plunged myself into a hot bath with my jaw convulsively shaking and the lamp above the bath arcing off into fractal copies of itself while a loud golden metallic jangling filled the air and turned my whole conscious field into a cacophony of echoing vibrations. I knew this was by far the strongest mescaline I had ever taken but at the same time was riveted with anxiety at the way I had turned myself into a fried crisp, visualizing my skin falling off leaving me in a terminal condition.

The hotel proprietor was very disappointed when I showed the remaining uprooted peyotes to him which made me feel guilty for years because he said they would have regenerated if I had just cut the tops off. I begged him to plant and grow the five or so I had left over and for years since have cultivated two strains of peyote, one I think from the North which grows alone and spreads easily by seed and one from the South which tends to grow many heads and flower much less often. Ironically the plant I did cut off never did regenerate properly. Neither are they anywhere remotely as strong and bitter as those old peyotes form the desert of Wirikuta.

The hotel courtyard