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My Near-Death Experience

Plaza of the Pyramid of the Moon, Teotihuacan

by Dr David, Editor / Publisher

Disney makes cute feature length cartoons about the Day of the Dead. Kids bite the skulls off candy skeletons. Women wear high fashion catrina qqq costumes. People try to sweeten Mexico's attitude towards death. But the reality is stark.

A thousand years before the Aztecs got into the game, the mysterious lords of Teotihuacan were sacrificing human captives and throwing their corpses down the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent. Now, six hundred years after the indigenous savagery of the New World was eclipsed by Old World imports, today's narcos reign as Mexico's kings of butchery.

When it comes to slaughter, the Western world has its own, global cross to bear. I'm not letting the United States off the hook for its frequent and ongoing atrocities. I understand that I may be prejudiced by my yet unacclimatized northern sensibilities towards the subject, but it seems that here in Mexico there is a more overt fatalism. Death here is more bloody and commonplace, more casual and chaotic.

Popocatépetl Volcano, Mexico City

I recently returned from a week-long visit to Mexico City, dog sitting for a friend of Vero's. Driving there was like navigating the Mayan underworld. It was as if the city were imbued with some monstrous pre-Columbian spirit; as if something dark were about to erupt, like the bar in Tarantino's From Dusk till Dawn, or like Popocatépetl towering above, already impregnating the atmosphere with subterranean, volcanic gases. The whole place seemed a swirl of disruptive, cthonic forces, unstable, the perfect setting for an earthquake. New York, my big city reference, is order and harmony by comparison.

These per-Columbian impressions were heightened by a day trip we took to the temple complex of Teotihaucan, 50 minutes to the north. I've seen the pyramids at Tulum, Palenque and Chichén Itzá, as well as our own at Cañada de la Virgen, but none of that prepared me for the enormity of the Pyramid of the Sun. It really is mountainous in scale, there alongside the Avenue of the Dead, a processional that stretches from the merely monumental Pyramid of the Moon to the much older Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent.

Pyramid of the Sun, Teotihuacan

Recently, following a newly appeared sinkhole, a branching tunnel was discovered under the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent, a tunnel which had been sealed for 2000 years. Inside were magical objects arranged in a sacred manner, the array configured to propitiate the gods in charge of what is taking place in our day lit world.

Above ground at Teotihuacan the crowd starts dispersing at 3pm. We lingered, circumambulating the backside of the big pyramid, until after 4:00. Strolling back through the now largely empty site, the quiet allowed us to feel the spirit of the place unmolested.

In its day, the dull bare stones one sees now were all covered with stucco, itself painted and adorned with sculptures often marked by semi-precious stones, including jade, whose nearest source is 900 miles away in Guatemala.

A trace of the former adornments of Teotihuacan

There in the quiet, one could almost feel that all that was still in place, the stones still fully decorated, the occult dynamo still generating under the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent, strange Moon Rites and sacrifices still occurring above. A thousand years of rituals permeates a place. There, as in Mexico City, other invisible layers still resonate with the echoes of rites performed to fickle, blood-thirsty gods in prehistoric splendor.

Our last full day, we drove an hour south of the City to Cuernavaca. The "Land of Eternal Spring" is green and lovely, at least as revealed on our drive and in the forest surrounding our host's house, on the outskirts, way, way up Camino de la Montaña.

Our hosts were a Chilean artist, exiled during the military coupe, and his girlfriend, 50 years his junior, also an artist, both of whom I met last Day of the Dead at an exhibition of his at the Fabrica de la Aurora. That day they came over my house. I fed them my famous spaghetti sauce and made him a present of some peyote which in a very few, very small doses has aided him medicinally.

The artist's garden

This trip, his girlfriend wanted to return the favor. Before dinner, she brought out some rappe, an Amazonian drug that is blown up one's nose. As a naturopathic doctor, I'm always curious about plants, especially medicinal plants. Veronica, who had tried it before, encouraged me, and almost before I knew it a rubber tube was lightly fitted in my nostril and the snuff blown in. Nothing much happened in the first 20 seconds and before those had passed, with great encouragement from both ladies, I consented to have another shot up my other nostril.

Altered consciousness has an attraction. Even little kids like to make themselves dizzy. At first, I was a happy traveler, but then things took a turn for the worse. Mentally, it was all very exhilarating. My mind was working in new, very ecstatic ways. But physically, I was losing it. After a while, I couldn't keep my head off the table. Then I lowered myself to sit on the floor.

Everyone was very concerned. Everyone except me. That was because they could see what I couldn't, that my face and hands were as white as a ghost, veins showing through my skin of my cheeks. The women were rubbing me down with an egg and a small bundle of herbs to revive me. The master of the house was performing Tibetan throat singing. Veronica kept asking if I was ok, and I kept responding in the affirmative. Later she told me that the one time I opened my eyes they did not focus and that once I lost consciousness for a few seconds.

The human swimming pool at the trout farm

After at least 20 minutes of this, the physical crisis passed. In another short while I was back sitting at the table, answering questions about my experience, which was the main source of entertainment for the evening. I recovered enough to make my Thai curry. While I was doing so, the Chilean artist took a phone call and, I suppose, in answer to the caller asking how things were, boisterously announced, "El gringo no se murio!" The gringo didn't die!

We spent the night, and the next morning, the whole episode served again as fodder for many humorous commentaries. When I suggested that I had almost died, no one laughed. Veronica quietly contradicted me. Our hosts maintained a pensive silence.

Upstream from the trout farm

After a light breakfast, we said our goodbyes and, traveling down the mountain a short distance, found a trout farm Veronica knew of, driving across a small stream to get there. In that green glen, a short sunny walk upstream from the fishponds we encountered a swimming pool for humans. Just being filled with water piped from the nearby stream, still early in the day, the water was quite cold. But needing something to fully resurrect me after my ordeal the night before, after the whole vacation, I dove in. The few hours we spent in that lushness were lovely, first waiting for the chef/owner to come back from town and then for our lunch to be caught and cooked.

The five-hour drive back to San Miguel was another matter, a continuation of my Mexican ordeal. As with the Mexican attitude towards death, I'm just not comfortable with the Mexican attitude towards highway driving. Again, maybe it's me, being a northerner or just getting old. Nothing happened, but the spirit of fatality was always hovering close, often less than a car width away.

The trout farm and restaurant

The day after returning, I searched rappe online to see how close to death I might actually have been. There was good news and bad. The good news is that it is just tobacco snuff. The bad news is that I am allergic to tobacco, not second-hand smoke, but when I take it internally. This I have done only one other time, then also unknowingly.

It was a serious matter. Death, even a near approach to it, is the most serious of matters. I went into shock, there on the master's floor in the forest of Cuernavaca, and came very close to exiting this middle world.

Now, back in San Miguel three days, I've been sleeping a lot. Somehow, the world doesn't same. It's at once much fuller and more confusing. Sometimes I feel like I have to sit down, like something very different and overpowering is about to happen. Sometimes it feels like it already has. They say that a near-death experience is part of shamanic initiation. I'm certainly not going that far, but I am open to having been reborn.

Finding the right size fish


Dr David and his merry band believe that the new expanded Lokkal will change the world, city by city.

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