Huaraz, Peru

There are two main groups of people who come to visit Hatun Machay:
1. Climbers
2. Druggies

They come here for the same reason: to be among the weirdly-shaped rocks of Hatun Machay.

Hatun Machay Rocks

Here in Hatun Machay, hundres of rock formations jut out seemingly out of nowhere – as if Dr. Seuss got together with Tim Burton, get drunk on chuchuhuasi*, and scribble a blueprint of what would be Hatun Machay on a napkin.

*A potent and nasty-tasting liquor made from chuchuhuasi tree bark doused in rum (or aguardiente). Supposedly good for all sorts of ailment. Also for getting a group of 20 climbers completely pissed within 10 minutes.

It’s an ancient place, this rock forest.

Climbing in Hatun Machay

The rumor has it, if you listen carefully, the rocks will talk to you. They’ll tell you stories and provide a window into their lives.

This rumor, I have a suspicion, was possibly started by someone after consuming a quantity of San Pedro.

What is San Pedro?

In short: it’s a cactus. If you boil certain part of it then drink it – you’ll go on a trip.

San Pedro Cactus Peru

One night, Andre brought with him some fresh San Pedro cactus and we helped prepare the concoction. It turned out to be quite an tedious process all that spine-cutting, slicing, and chopping. Not to mention the 8 hour boiling time.

Preparing San Pedro Cactus

I guess I should mention here that San Pedro is legal in Peru. You can even buy it in any market: raw, dried, or powdered form.

Some people were due to go on a big ‘trip’ the next day and the conversation revolved around all of these ‘life lessons’ one supposedly can learn from going on a San Pedro powered journey.

“Good, ancient energy abound. It’s very concentrated among these rocks. It’s a special place.” – said Andre, the owner of the climbing lodge we were in.

“It’s the best place to do San Pedro”, he added.

It all sounded a little ‘new age-y’ to me. But never having been on any hallucinogenic induced trip before (only wanderlust induced, unfortunately), I held my tongue and just listened.

People have come back from the trip talking about petting rocks that have fur and whispering voices coming from the rocks themselves. Words such as ‘spiritual journey’, ‘emotional healing’ were thrown around, but mostly everyone agreed it’s a journey that’s hard to describe and one has to undertake himself to understand.

It sounds all fascinating. I’d be lying if we weren’t just a tad curious – but not curious to join the more adventurous ‘travellers’ the next day. Especially – especially – after seeing the swamp-thing look alike ‘gloop’ that one has to drink.

Plus the fact that our ‘shaman’, Andre, who was supposed to come backed out. He seemed to be already on his way to another chuchuwasi-induced stupor. And it was raining outside.

And did I mention the thing smelled awful?

Drinking San Pedro juice

The next afternoon we wished these different breed of travelers a safe a trip as they walked into the middle of the rock forest. There they to remain for the night, to sleep among the rocks, to learn whatever life lessons there were to learn, and to pet some furry rocks.

We went climbing instead.

Really.

Tell us

What is your opinion about these ‘healing plants’ such as San Pedro and Ayahuasca that has become a sort of tourist destination of its own?


How to get to Hatun Machay: transport can be arranged from Andean Kingdom – a travel agency in downtown Huaraz. It leaves daily in the morning at 8 am.
Cost: 30 soles per person for a dorm bed. 20 soles per person for camping. 5 soles for day use. Half of the fee goes the community the land belongs to.
Food matter: Hatun Machay is in the middle of nowhere. Bring all the food you’ll eat.
San Pedro: 50 soles if you buy it from Andre. You can bring your own.

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11 Responses to “Tripping on San Pedro in Hatun Machay”

  1. Amy

    I don't do drugs normally, but I tried ayahuaska (yage) while in Columbia. I had a terrific, devoted shaman who dedicated his life to the stuff and took it in a very safe place and it was accompanied by the shaman performing rituals, singing, chanting, dancing etc. It was intensely spiritual and transformative. I wish very much to find a retreat and take a weeklong journey whereby one takes it at night and meditates and writes by day to absorb the night's experiences. However I'm daunted by the watered-down, touristy, money-making operations that abound in Peru, where I'm headed in a few days. I can only hope to keep my ear to the ground and find a truly dedicated shaman who does it for love and healing and not for money. From my experience, if you are a stable person and you take it, it's highly therapeutic and the Yage Spirit works you through your demons systematically, gently, and lovingly. It shows you what you need to see, not what you want to see. The shaman called it The Healer and The Teacher and I agree-taken in the right circumstances with respect and an open mind and it will be these things. I think the people who seek it out just to trip are fools. I agree with an above comment that they need to stay home and take something like LSD. In fact, if you take it just to "try to trip" the Spirit may not show anything to you at all. Yes, it involves purging (though both ends), but you learn to enjoy it as a way of getting out the bad spirits and opening yourself up to the experiences that follow a purge. It's a completely natural substance and as far as I know there are no documented cases of anyone coming to any harm from it (as long as they take it without mixing it with other drugs or alcohol-there is one instance of a guy dying in Peru, but the details are fuzzy and I suspect foul play was involved). I don't think there is any set diet involved, but it helps greatly to fast and reduce fats and sugars from your diet in the days and hours before hand. This is what I know. Wish me luck finding a safe, authentic place to continue with my Yage journey. If anyone is looking for a true shaman in the Medellin, Colombia area let me know-I can help find him for you. Peace out!!!
    Amy recently posted..Gasping for Air on the Quilotoa Loop

  2. Dylan

    We had a blast climbing there last August. It can get cold! Highly recommend this for anyone visiting Peru.

  3. Mica

    I know about both San Pedro and Ayahuasca, but have not tried either while living in Peru. Having done my fair share of LSD while younger, I was not that curious about it. Ayahuasca is becoming popular with tourists, especially people looking to go to the jungles of Peru and 'trip out' and then come back with crazy stories. The reality is that most of the shamans that perform those ceremonies are just taking a shitload of money from people and giving them whatever dose of Ayahuasca they see fit, since the tourists don't really know the difference. Ayahuasca is supposed to be done when you 'feel' that it is right to do- not just because you want to trip out. I've been to Peru every year since 2007, lived in the jungle for 2 months last year and 2 months this year and not 'felt' like it was my time to take it yet. I know one day I will be ready to, and I know who I will do it with, but not yet.

    It should be performed by a shaman that is local to the area and the plant should be treated with respect. To take Ayahuasca you must also be on a special light diet with no fats or alcohol for at least 5 days (many people aim for 3 days before).

    I have met so many people that come to Cusco specifically looking for San Pedro or a ride to the jungles to take Ayahuasca (there are several places right outside of Cusco where you can take it as well) and it has sort of cheapened the real purpose of it, which the locals say is to be healed among other things. A shaman who is to perform Ayahuasca on someone must have done it at least 100 times or so himself. Ayahuasca and San Pedro are completely different in the effects- with Ayahuasca you vomit-you must vomit, I am told, to purge- and people often have the shits as well.

    If you want to trip go home and buy some acid or ecstasy. Or take San Pedro. My issue is with Ayahuasca. It is such a sacred thing. This is what I learned from living in the jungle- I am just repeating what my guide told me while I was living there. I witnessed people coming to the house we lived at just to take Ayahuasca and leave the next day, and not even follow the diet. Crazy stuff. But, to each his own right?

  4. jill

    Highly recommend it – it's a weird feeling to be walking among these rocks and most often than not, you'll have the place for yourself!

  5. Matthew Karsten

    I have experience with hallucinogens, and recommend them to people who are generally stable individuals with non-addictive personalities. It's an incredible experience. Too much of anything is bad though…

    It can be overwhelming at first; you need to start slow, and be with people you trust.

    I've been planning to try both San Pedro & Ayahuasca when I get down to South America, and will post all about it. :D

  6. Technosyncratic

    Soo…. I was reading this article. "Magic Mushrooms Can Make Lasting Personality Changes, Study Says." And I'm intrigued – apparently those who took Psilocybin ended up being more "open"… or something.

    Anyhow, drugs are interesting. The kind that burn holes in your brain are scary, but these psychedelic drugs seem less harmful. Though I still wouldn't want to spend the night outside communing with furry rocks.

    • jill

      Lol, really? Totally would've pinned you guys for the communing with furry rocks type :) Drugs are interesting – especially the ones that claim to teach you about yourselves if you take it kind of drug (like most healing plants). Part of the reason I'm hesitant about taking it – what if I don't like what I learn? Eh?

  7. Phil

    I have been working on a post on psychedelics for a while now, but I have been hesitant to post it. I want to make sure I express my thoughts accurately. I am a big proponent of moderate, every once-in-a-while, responsible, use of hallucinogens. I did san pedro in Peru. It was interesting and eye-opening but there are other substances I much prefer.

    Thanks for writing a level headed post about this topic. For most people, this is entirely off limits. Use of hallucinogens is variously considered stupid, wreckless, new agey, etc.. It's hard to really have an honest conversation with someone about it unless they've tried it.

    Without trying to describe the experience – and it's nearly impossible to describe anyway – let me say this, I think anyone who is mentally stable should trip, if only one time, just to see that it's possible to experience the world that way. For whatever reason, ingesting certain substances produces an experience of the world that is actually unimaginable. These substances should not be done casually or under the wrong circumstances, but at the right place and time, they can be life-changing, and I use that word despite the new-age, hippy, gimmicky connotations. I use that word in all seriousness.

    I had a friend who recently tried psilocybin for the first time after being skeptically curious for years. He was buzzing about it for a week afterward. He simply wouldn't shut up about it. This from a guy who is normally subdued and restrained in almost every one of his opinions.

    I don't necessarily believe I'm connecting with a higher power or another world when I'm tripping, but I do feel elevated in a way I can't describe and I know that there is something incredibly powerful about these substances. After a trip, I feel rejuvenated and the world looks new. At the same time, it's like putting my ego through the wash and I often feel enormous gratitude in the weeks after a trip.

    It's good to see that research with psychedelics is starting to become possible again, as it was demonized (and still is to an extent) for so long. I recently read this article on Salon about using hallucinogens in clinical therapy setting and I'm not surprised by the results at all:

    "This glowing report — based on a single dose of a naturally occurring, non-addictive, low-toxicity substance — sounds impossible. Surely one pill can’t succeed where months of traditional psychotherapy and antidepressants usually fail. According to science, that’s not how drugs work. It’s foreign to the model. But high success rates in ongoing concurrent studies at NYU and Johns Hopkins strongly suggest that Kossut’s psilocybin-assisted psychological rebound is no fluke. So do the findings of a pilot project conducted by Dr. Charles Grob at UCLA. Between 2004 and 2008, Grob administered psilocybin to 12 cancer patients suffering fear, anxiety and depression. His data, published last year in the Archives of General Psychiatry, showed long-term diminished anxiety and improved mood in every subject. The NYU and Johns Hopkins studies build on Grob’s pilot program with more subjects and higher doses. Midway through the research, their results are just as strong, signaling larger, multi-site trials to come."

    Story here: http://life.salon.com/2011/09/28/the_new_lsd_cure

    Thanks for writing about this! Sorry for the long comment – it's something I feel strongly about.

    • jill

      Thanks for the insightful comment, Phil.

      I've heard a lot of similar sentiments by those who've taken these healing plants. That the experience was hard to describe and it was life-changing, or at the very least, it made the partakers learn something about themselves and about the world. A particular story about a girl who took Ayahuasca and ended up crying for the whole the session stuck with me (heard that sometimes you'd be forced to deal with unpleasant memories or unpleasant aspects of your life during the trip).

      I guess if the right situation ever comes up, we'd be down with the experiment just to see, like you said, experience the world in a different way. But I personally am not going to go out of my way to seek it either. I guess that's how I know that the time is right. If that makes any sense at all.