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Memorial Day in Mexico: Connecting, Magic, and Mushrooms

As Memorial Day weekend approaches, many of us here in the US are planning some alcohol and BBQ fueled down time with friends and family. I, however, am whisked back to a fond memory of how I spent Memorial Day last year, south of the border in Mexico with two of my best friends. So why did I go to Mexico? Well the answer is long but here is the condensed version: My cousin Tank and I decided to take our friend/little homie/mentee, Reck, to La Mision, just south of Rosarito as a present for completing his Masters degree from USC. We figured a few days of Mexican sunsets, wine country exploration, and debauchery on the streets of Tijuana would be good for all of us, but especially Reck.

We booked a large 3-bedroom condo on a cliffside in La Mision and left LA on a Thursday morning. The drive into Mexico was simple enough. Take the 5 to the border, cross over, and remember that things like traffic signals, traffic lanes, and stop signs are merely suggestions. Our condo was sick. High ceilings, three bathrooms, three bedrooms two parking spaces, and a view of the Pacific with a large patio to drink beer and BBQ on. This is exactly what I imagined adulting to look like when I was suffering through statistics and economics in grad school. This is living. We took an ounce of weed and an ounce of psilocybin mushrooms for the journey. Our plan for the weekend was to have fun, drink a little, explore the local area, but also explore the inner workings of our minds.

Our first morning in Mexico had arrived. We rolled some joints and took off to Puerto Nuevo for some lobster breakfast. We found ourselves on the patio of Angel Del Mar in Puerto Nuevo ordering buckets of Pacificos and Modelos and smoking some quality California sativa. The wait staff didn’t mind and even offered up lighters and ashtrays. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Are you allowed to do that?” My answer, “Who knows?” We tip well and collectively operate under the ethos thatit is better to ask for forgiveness than permission. This and a little common sense/street smarts will make for a way more interesting experience. The view was amazing, overcast morning skies and nothing but ocean as far as the eye can see. Our bounty of food arrived, lobster tails, rice, beans, tortillas and all the necessary accoutrements to ensure a delicious culinary experience. We must have been the only people in the restaurant for at least an hour. This was pretty awesome, we relished the moment, we got to smoke and eat like kings on our “private” patio until other guests arrived. My guess is this is what being Wiz Khalifa or Curren$y must feel like.

We drove Tank’s Silverado which we jokingly dubbed the “Narco Truck” as we felt it would do better than my BMW on the dirt roads in the Valle de Guadalupe. Now I want you to close your eyes for a second and imagine what wine country in Argentina, Spain, or California might look like. Mexico’s Valle de Guadalupe is as pretty as any of those places and less expensive. It is easy to forget that this is even Mexico. This place could be Europe, it could be Mendoza, it could be Santa Ynez but its Mexico. We found our first winery stop and decided to skip the bullshit wine tastings and just order some food and bottles. We lit up, poured up some reds, and destroyed our first round of appetizers. The scenery was beautiful, we were surrounded by lush vineyards. Chill music was playing in the background as we sat, drank, and chatted. There were even a few tables of beautiful girls near us sipping wine and enjoying brunch. Upper class Mexico is vastly different than the images portrayed of Mexico by Fox News. These people looked and sounded like folks in Malibu despite being Mexican.

We hit a few more wineries, shot a ton of photo, smoked a few joints, drank some amazing wine, and ate all sorts of delicious meats and cheeses. It turned out that our neighbor in the condo was Yasiel Puig’s personal chef and he gave us the 411 on the Valle. According to him most the of the kitchens in the winery area are led by top chefs in Mexico and Southern California. The cuisine is diverse, charcuteries with a fusion of Mexican flavors. Pastas, meat dishes – you name it, they have it, and its done incredibly well. We hit the jackpot. Our chef connect, David Fuerte, suggested a few places including El Cielo, Finca, and Dona Estela. We made sure to take note and visit these places. El Cielo had a horse ranch on the property.  We got to hang with some horses for a little while before making our way to the dining area. We petted these majestic animals. We spoke to them. They understood us. At one point a horse walked clear across the grazing area straight toward me. I gazed into its eyes as it approached, doing my best to project strength as he sniffed around my groin. I was terrified to make any sudden movements – horses may look cute and shit but up close that beautiful bastard’s head was the size of my torso, one snap of those jaws and my junk would be gone.

I had never been to the Valle de Guadalupe before despite hearing about it in the past. I was too immature on my previous trips to Tijuana to even care about wine tasting, but I am glad we did this. We decided to explore the area a bit and ended up wandering through a Mexican cemetery overlooking the valley. Tank stayed in the truck. Reck and I wandered. I love cemeteries. They are peaceful. Sometimes there are amazing statues and artwork. This place did not disappoint. The view was gorgeous. Beautiful rolling hills of green grass down below with interesting statues and memorials to deceased loved ones near us. This town is rural and it was interesting to see how people in rural Mexico memorialize the dead. Wreaths were laid in some places, notes and flowers in others. One guy had a large horse head statue on his grave marker. Reck and I lit up a joint and talked about how we got here. He is a former gang banger turned social worker. He had just finished his MSW at USC and was on the job hunt.

I am a former fuck up turned entrepreneur/adventurer. Our paths crossed as a result of Reck and Tank’s relationship in a gang. Such a beautiful set of friendships emerged from a traditionally terrible place, LA gang life. We stared at an empty gravesite and wondered who that might be for. We talked a lot about the choices we have all made, good and bad, and how we are lucky to be here on Earth, alive today and not 100 years ago. Our generation is the luckiest. We have never known real pain. We know what it is to have leisure time. We can travel. We can extend adolescence. We are living our version of the American dream. We are also sitting in the middle of a Mexican graveyard smoking weed and taking in the view. Life is good. Reck and I talked about the future. His plans for his life. My plans for my life. The serenity of the graveyard. I know this all sounds weird but it made total sense at the time. Life wanted us there.

La Mision is a small village situated next to the main highway and the beach. There isn’t much there other than good surf breaks, a gated community, some beachfront mansions, and a small area with shops and a restaurant. We ate breakfast in La Mision on Saturday. During breakfast, we decided to divide some mushrooms and spend the day exploring the “spirit world” at the beach. We had an unexpected guest at breakfast, a handsome rooster. This fucking guy just hopped on to an empty seat at our table and quietly watched us talk and eat. We all felt it was a good sign and decided now would be the best time to eat the mushrooms. I had my journal, my camera, and a bottle of water. I was ready to enter the “spirit world.”

The weather was lovely. The temperature couldn’t have been more than 75 degrees, a light breeze grazed our skin here and there, and the skies were blue and free of clouds. I typically take mushrooms on a quarterly basis for therapeutic purposes and I have always wanted to photograph the experience. This was as good a time as any but I must confess that I was a little nervous.  I feared my occasional clumsiness might lead me to ruin my camera gear by dropping an unprotected lens in the sand or water. Luckily that didn’t happen. What happened instead was magic. I have taken mushrooms with Tank and Reck many times before. We have shroomed with various friends and family members and it is amazing for the soul. Imagine taking 3 years of psychotherapy and condensing that into a few hours over the course of an afternoon at the beach. When you are done you feel like the stress and weight of the world, of adult life, are lifted. You have a renewed sense of being and purpose. The sun is more radiant than before. The rays of sunshine are warmer, so much so that they warm your soul as much as your skin. The air is fresher than ever before. Your lungs expand with joy and gratitude after each breath. Your mind allows you to love again. Your heart beats full of blood and love for one another. Strangers, mom, dad, bullies, your soul mate. You love them all without judgement. This is what taking mushrooms in a therapeutic fashion has brought into my life and I assume into the lives of Tank and Reck.

We each felt the tickle of the mushrooms and began to walk around the sand. I dug my toes deep into the cold part of the sand. This felt amazing. Tank did cartwheels before heading into the water, I pulled out my camera and shot photos. There is something comical about a 240 pound man named Tank doing cartwheels on the beach. Its even funnier when this man is covered in tattoos and lacks the grace of a tumbler. Big scary guys aren’t supposed to do this but I am glad he did. As I was shooting photos of Tank I began to witness something amazing unfold nearby. About 30 minutes earlier we had walked by a used tire on the beach on our way to finding an area to claim as our own for the day. I recall seeing this tire and thinking it was an eyesore on such a beautiful stretch of sand. After we settled in and the trip started I glanced away from my camera and noticed a young boy and his father playing with the used tire. This tire was junk to me a few moments ago but had suddenly come to life and magically gave this boy and his father a lasting memory of fun at the beach. They found another young boy to play with and now this tire had spread its love and magic from one boy to another. The three of them played with the tire, rolling it into the water, wheelbarrowing the boy as he tried to maintain balance with his hands on the tire. This went on for hours. I was amazed. I wondered about the stories this tire could tell. How did it even get to this beach? I never knew my dad. He abandoned my mom when I was in utero. This brought a bunch of memories and feelings to the surface. I confronted my pain. I momentarily felt guilty for dismissing the tire as an eyesore and appreciated it for the joy it brought those people and the joy I felt through witnessing their happiness. I basked in the glowing love of the sun, and the father and his son. Maybe one day I will be in the position to create a memory like this for my future son or a complete stranger. In that moment, I found peace with a piece of my past.

We stayed on the beach talking and wandering for a few hours. I found a large blue sea shell about the size of my palm. It was smooth and beautiful to look at. It felt good to the touch. I held it tightly. I brought it back to our makeshift camp and kept it near me as I wrote in my journal. All of the feelings rushing through my body made their way to paper. I wrote and cried. All of the sadness just left my body. Tears of pain became tears of joy. I thought about my romantic life. Women who hurt me and those who I have hurt. I asked for forgiveness. May the heavens and the Earth know that I am sorry for being a child without guidance in matters of the heart. How could I know how to love when I had no one to teach me how to love? I know now. I shot more photos of Tank and Reck. I wanted them to have gifts from this trip. I watched them talk and pick up random rocks and shells on the beach. We talked about life, simulations, consciousness and perception. Most importantly though, we talked about how much we love one another. These two men are my brothers. I have a brother and I love these two the same way I love my biological brother. I have faced life and death and lived to tell the tales. The same can be said of both Tank and Reck. Life is short. Imagine going through life and never telling the people who mean the most to you that you love them. Love is a strange word. It’s not ok to tell your male friends you love them. But it is. Mushrooms taught me that its ok. Fuck society and its norms if we can’t express love and gratitude for the people who mean the most in life. We don’t say the word “love” as often as we should. Tank, Reck, and I have each stared at various versions of our respective deaths and coldly said, “Fuck it.” Nas said, “Life’s a bitch and then you die.” We used to feel that. We used to live that. We have each cheated death, maybe we are living on borrowed time. None of us ever expected to see 25 and yet there we were, each of us into our thirties on a beach in Mexico, shrooming balls telling each other how we feel. I told Reck and Tank how much I love and admire them and how happy I am to have them in my life. They told me how much they loved me. This moment was pure. This moment originated entirely from love. This moment was beautiful. Love is the source. Mushrooms taught me that love should guide my thoughts and actions fully.

Now I would not advise anyone under the age of 25 to take mushrooms but I would say that at some point we should all experience them under the supervision of experienced people. The breakthroughs are nothing short of amazing. The myths of losing control and jumping off a building are nothing more than propaganda. Nancy Reagan sold us on the notion that all perception altering substances are evil. This is a falsehood. Magic mushrooms are being used to treat soldiers returning from combat with PTSD and depression in clinical trials. Reindeer have been observed in the wild eating psychedelic mushrooms. We are simply self-medicating. This isn’t meth or crack. This medicine grows naturally on Earth and makes its way from the soil to the soul.

Once the mushrooms began to wear off we decided that it was time to eat and plan for the evening. We went back to the restaurant at La Mision, had some light lunch. Listened and watched a Mexican man do his best Rod Stewart covers for a small group of older American expats. We laughed our asses off. My Instagram stories were full of this guy singing terribly but giving it his all. He was so terrible that he was awesome. I am sure my friends and family in LA were wondering what the fuck was I doing? They usually do. We eventually cleaned up and decided to head to Tijuana for the night. We found a decent hotel and a place to watch live boxing. The three of us are fight fanatics. Reck was a two time college boxing champion and Tank boxed professionally at one point. I just love fights. Tank drove his Narco truck as he had to leave back to the US first thing in the morning. I drove my car as I did not want to leave right away. The mushrooms had mostly worn off but there was a little bit of a residual high going on. It wasn’t so much perception based as it was feelings based. Reck and I laughed a lot in the car on the way north from La Mision to Tijuana. For a brief moment I felt like Hunter S. Thompson driving with Oscar Zeta Acosta through the Nevada desert in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Most people wonder if Mexico is safe. Will my car get stolen, will I get robbed, etc. The answer is mostly yes. Mexico isn’t perfect but it also isn’t the land of “bad hombres” that the media portrays. We didn’t have any issues in Mexico with safety and our vehicles did not get fucked with. People out there have money. Many of them have more than I do. I’m not rich by any means but there are definitely people in Tijuana making a lot more than I do in the US. Tank’s Silverado and my BMW aren’t priorities. They aren’t impressed. And rightfully so. With that said, we parked in the hotel lot, checked in, bought some beer, and began to roll some more joints before heading out to the fights.

We ate some more mushrooms in the room and took a few extra for the road in case we wanted to recharge the trip later in the evening. We summoned an Uber and it drove us through town. Remember that scene in the movie Belly where DMX is driving through Jamaica with Lennox while smoking a large blunt? Our experience was kinda like that. Our Uber driver was cool, he drove us around while we smoked and drank. We found the venue where the fights were held, a small gymnasium in the Colonia Independencia neighborhood. We paid $12 USD and had a front row seat for what seemed to be 20 fights. This shit was amazing. I bought a 32 ounce michelada and made my way to my seat before deciding to just walk up and stand next to the ring. I had my cell phone in hand taking video and photos from inside the ring. At one point the judges yelled at me to take my beer off the ring mat. They didn’t mind me standing with my arm in the ring shooting video and photo I just couldn’t have a beer on the ring. I fucking love Mexico. We watched a few guys get knocked out cold. Toward the end of our time there we watched a couple of fat has-beens beat the shit out of one another and decided that we could easily spend the night here watching cab drivers fight each other but would be better served heading into town for some night life action. We took the rest of the mushrooms, hailed a cab, lit a joint with the cabbie’s blessing, and made our way to Plaza Del Zapato.

Plaza Del Zapato was bad ass. Away from the tourists. We were the only Americans in the large  complex of bars and gastropubs. This place is a maze of interconnected rooms each with its own vibe. The crowd was good and the alcohol was cheap. We went hard and started ordering mezcal. I don’t know why. The night became a blur. The soundtrack was a mix of Spanish rock and American hip hop. Future, Drake, Mana, it all blended together after a while. We made friends with the locals and the common question was “How did you find this place?” It’s as if this spot was a secret for the youth of Tijuana and folks were scared that gringos were coming with us. I had been here once, years before when my cousin Hansel was stationed at a Navy base in San Diego. It was fun back then and I assumed it would be now. I was right. The people we met were mostly cool. A couple of stuck up people here and there but we were accepted by those we chatted with. Safety didn’t seem to be a concern. The crowd was there for fun. It seemed to be comprised of middle class party goers from Tijuana as well as people vacationing from other parts of Mexico. We wandered in and out of the complex. Lit up some more reefer, drank more mezcal, the mushrooms were in full effect. The spirituality of this moment was there only it had manifested itself differently. Rather than getting sucked into my feelings and searching for answers and healing, the mushrooms led us to fun. After all, laughter is the best medicine. I abandoned the pain and suffering and sprinted toward the warm embrace of a good time with my friends. My endorphins were in full swing.

Street tacos at 4 AM are a thing in Mexico. Tijuana is probably my favorite place for this. Tank split back to the hotel. He had an early commute to Arizona but Reck and I decided that we should probably stay out and explore more. We walked the streets of Tijuana. Stopping often for tacos and beer. I lost my shirt in the process. I literally left it in Tijuana. That was one of my favorite tank tops, it had been with me all over Europe the summer before. I bought it at a second hand store in 2012 and I felt like it lived a good life with me, I wore it when I ran with the bulls in Pamplona, I wore it when I was hiking through the jungles of Cambodia and Vietnam, I wore it all over Los Angeles. This tank top lived a good life with me but I recognized that it needed to stay in Mexico. Hopefully it would bring its next owner as much utility as it brought me. Hopefully the magic of my experiences in that shirt would carry over much like the magic of the tire for the young boy and his father. Reck and a shirtless Dave wandered Tijuana sampling the best al pastor and carne asada tacos the streets had to offer. Life wanted us here. We felt it. The locals we encountered were way cool. They joked with us and it seemed like everyone had a good presence about them. The energy was right.

Cultural immersion. Getting in touch with what is real and important. Be a traveler not a tourist. Find joy and beauty in all things big and small. Take nothing for granted. Life can always be worse. Love is the source. These are the gifts that travel has given me over and over. These are the gifts that we received from Mexico and from one another on this trip. I was happy that Tank and I could share these ideas and this experience with Reck. In the end, I feel like this sort of experience was worth it for all of us. We got to cut loose, bond, and try new things. We met many locals across various economic and social lines and maybe had our perceptions about them and their homeland changed as much as they of us. Did we do some wild shit? Absolutely. Were we responsible? Mostly. Was this a lifelong memory worth sharing? No question about it. I gave Reck and Tank a couple of photos from the trip. These mementos now occupy their respective spaces and I bet they pause from time to time and escape the daily grind if even for a few moments to remember. I certainly do.