Category Archives: Mexico


old morphineIboga is derived from the bark of a Central African shrub’s roots (ibogaine is the purified and measurable form of iboga).

Some Africans in the iboga habitat area chew the root for the psychoactive effects. It’s used in high doses in ritualistic settings and at low doses it can maintain alertness while hunting.

Iboga has gotten traction in the West for supposedly reversing addiction to recreational drugs, especially opiates. It’s illegal in the US because it’s a psychoactive compound and hasn’t been researched enough.

It’s not illegal in Mexico. There’re at least two independent “clinics” in my town of around 2,500. Addicts travel here to be treated. The treatment involves an ibogaine induced nightlong experience of insightful self-reflection and coming out of the experience with no cravings for the addictive substance.

I’ve talked to a few people who’ve been treated.

They all said it worked. But I wouldn’t say the ones I spoke to, or saw hanging around after treatment, were drug-free, because they still drank alcohol, smoked pot, or maybe other more secretive indulgences.

Maybe I’m just more familiar with the abstinence model, so my perspective is off. There still seems to be a hole that these former users were trying to fill with pretty heavy partying.

From what I could tell, there isn’t much follow-up after a couple of weeks. And as far as statistics were concerned it just seemed like word-of-mouth. The big addiction was addressed but the underlying issues that led to the addiction didn’t get much attention.

The whole iboga subculture always seemed incomplete. My ideas are only from talking to a few people. Other clinics may be much more thorough with follow-up and addressing underlying and unresolved psychological needs.

Here’re some ideas that I took away from an article in the Atlantic magazine  that shed a little light on the iboga treatment:

Physical dependence is only part of addiction. Above all, it’s a psychiatric problem. Drug addiction is defined as the compulsive use of drugs despite negative consequences. 

After an ibogaine trip, a user’s insights may figure prominently in the recovery story, but  about 10 percent of addicts are basically ready to quit at any given time and will respond to whatever they try.

Addiction can be framed as a developmental disorder. Fewer than 10 percent of addicts develop their habits after their early 20s, when the cortex finishes developing and introduces an adult aversion to risk.

…addicts are usually dealing with some other mental health problem or trauma that makes them vulnerable. And contrary to popular belief, most opiate addictions are not lifelong. They are resolved within five years, a little longer for heroin. The real task is mostly a matter of keeping addicts alive and otherwise healthy until they can age out of addiction.

The best way to do that is well established. Methadone and other long-term maintenance treatments cut mortality in half. They create physical dependence but not addiction, and they form a foundation for a stable life.

Ibogaine has its appeal among drug users, who often gravitate to underground culture anyway.

There’re other reasons an addict might shy away from mainstream programs, though. Eighty percent of treatment programs, including court-ordered treatments, are based on the 12-step process requiring surrender to a higher power.

The official policy is that addiction is a ‘biopsychosocial-spiritual’ disorder. How are they going to convince people it’s a health problem when you throw ‘spiritual’ into it? They’d never use the word ‘spiritual’ for something like depression.

A disease with prayer as an answer is a contradiction

It’s no wonder addicts are turning to other sorts of unearthly experiences that are less infantilizing.

History shows that for the most part, adults don’t want to be addicted to things. At the turn of the century, heroin was an ingredient in many over-the-counter products. When FDA labeling came into effect, consumption of those products plummeted.  

If ibogaine is the only treatment someone will accept, it may be a useful option to keep on the table, but maintenance treatments are by far the better and safer course.

Spanish makes sense

baby lucheIn Spanish you read and pronounce words as they’re written, it’s very clear. So clear that there’re no spelling bees in Spanish because words are spelled like they sound.

In English on the other hand, we have 26 letters but can make 50 possible sounds when speaking. And, there aren’t always easy rules to follow when trying to read out loud.

These are things native English speakers don’t know about, because they don’t need to. We grew up surrounded by English, like fish that aren’t aware they’re surrounded by water. We just picked up English from listening to the people around us.

An example of how tricky English can be. When there’s a “t” is between two vowels Americans will say it as a soft “d,”  water is “wa-der,” computer is “com-pu-der,” or butter becomes “bud-er.” It happens between words too -“get up” sounds like “ged up.” It’s tough to constantly remember what’s happening in English, but it’s easy to listen for.

The rules for the sounds in spoken English would give most students headaches and really slow their speaking while they tried to sort through rules, if they could even remember them.

Lately I’ve been working with a Mexican woman who speaks English pretty well. But for her work, she wants to improve her pronunciation.

So I try to get her to be aware of the patterns in English she hears and why words often sounds different than the way it’s spelled.

Most students can’t recall every rule that needs to be evaluated, it’d slow down any speaking they might do. By using a smaller list of concepts, rather than checking a large number of rules there’s much less to consider. Just keep an awareness of the concept in mind and let the speaking move along. 

We have a limited amount of decision making we can do in a day. That’s why President Obama has his suits and meals arranged for him. He has so many decisions to make daily that he doesn’t want to waste his allocated amount of decisions on mundane choices.

Stressing some concepts about what’s happening in spoken English, gives the student a flashlight to shine an explanatory light on sometimes confusing sounding pronunciations. That usually helps in recognizing and explaining situations they run into when they hear native English speakers talking.

The concept is this: Here’s why it is that way, but don’t sweat it, just be aware that there’re reasons English is often  spoken differently than the way it’s written. Instead of pronouncing English the way you imagine it to be, try to pick up English pronunciation by listening the way we did as kids.

The Telephone Game

phone swapThe Mexicans all called him Domingo.

His name was Sandy. He’d introduced himself  to a couple of Mexicans when he first moved to Mexico.

One of the Mexicans had encountered a little bit of English somewhere in his life. And to his ear, Sandy sounded quite a bit like Sunday. In Spanish, the word for Sunday is Domingo.

Sandy had encountered a little bit of Spanish somewhere in his life and tried to use it. The Mexicans liked that he  tried speaking their language and tried to be inclusive with him.

So the Mexicans that Sandy met always called him Domingo.

Dwindling Monarchs

ElRosario_aerialIn December we visited the wintering spot for monarch butterflies.Last week, I blogged about the butterflies we saw. It was impressive but apparently there should have been many more butterflies than we saw according to an article in the NYT yesterday about the dwindling number of the butterflies over the last five years.

The aerial picture here gives you an idea of the number of butterflies in one spot in Mexico, the orange-colored trees look that way because there are so many orange monarch butterflies clinging to each tree!

Below is a shortened excerpt of the NYT article:

Mexico is the southern terminus of an age-old migration widely called one of the world’s great natural spectacles in which monarch butterflies shuttle back and forth between  summertime havens in Canada and a single winter home in Mexico’s Sierra Madre mountains,. It is now in danger of effectively vanishing.

An internal compass guides the butterflies each fall to a small cluster of mountains where ideal temperatures and humidity allow them to rest, clinging to trees by the millions like brilliant orange capes. Then in March they set out on the 2,500-mile-plus trip north, breeding and dying along the way. It’s their descendants that actually complete the migration.

At their peak in 1996, the monarchs occupied nearly 45 acres of forest. …the span of forest inhabited by the overwintering monarchs shrank last month to less than two acres. Not only was that a record low, but it was just 56 percent of last year’s total, which was itself a record low. This is the third straight year of steep declines…

Over time, the number of butterflies has varied from year to year, sometimes wildly, but the decrease in the size of the migration in the last decade has been steep and generally steady.

The latest drop is best explained by a two-year stretch of bad weather. But the loss of habitat is a far more daunting problem. Monarchs lay their eggs only on milkweed which has rapidly disappeared from the Great Plains over the last decade.

As corn prices have risen, farmers have planted tens of millions of acres of idle land along the monarchs’ path and increased use of herbicides on fields of herbicide resistant corn all but wiping out milkweed that once sprouted between rows of corn and soybean.

Now the monarchs must travel farther and use more energy to find places to lay their eggs. With their body fat depleted, the butterflies lay fewer eggs, or die before they have a chance to reproduce.

The monarchs are the most visible victims of the habitat loss. A wide variety of pollinators and other insects, including many beneficial to farmers, are also disappearing along with the predators that feed on them.

Sometimes it’s good not to be #1

collapsed fat ladyI heard this week that the US has been knocked off its perch as the fattest country in the world. Who’s the fattest now? Mexico.

Mexico’s ascendance to the top spot doesn’t come as a surprise to me. I’ve lived in Mexico long enough to see how most of the people eat and witnessing some young people ballooning up after puberty and youthful activities stop. Especially if they’ve had a baby, which like many rural areas happens pretty young sometimes.

It’s easier to see obesity happening in young people as they mature, but of course it isn’t just young people. There’re plenty of heavy Mexicans in every stage of life.

Lots of soft drinks, sweet fruit drinks, and industrially processed foods are wreaking havoc here just as they are in the US. The education system here is generally lacking, so I’m guessing most people think that because something is being sold in a store it must be okay to eat, when it’s not.

Sometimes it’s good not to be #1.


It’s a Bar

imagesThere’s a bar in our small Mexican town owned by a sweet young gringo couple.

The bar struggles a bit. It’s in a pretty good location on main street, but it’s several blocks from the beach. There seem to be some “regulars.” And because the couple is well liked some other, non-regular, people pop by from time to time. Everyone in the bar is a local.

Here’s the thing I don’t understand. There isn’t much signage. Even the name of the bar isn’t easily seen. And more important than that, I think, is that there’s not a sign with the word”Bar” anywhere to be seen. And it is a bar. It’s very mysterious to me.

Everyone who drives or walks into town has to pass by the bar. It can’t be registering as a bar to visitors to town. People on vacation generally like to go out at night. I think vacationers would make a mental note of a bar as they passed by it, especially in a town with very few bars. And later, they’d return to where they saw a sign for a “bar.”

People don’t like unsolicited advice most of the time, but maybe I should work it into the conversation next time I’m there. It seems like a good idea to point to a bar if you want people who like bars to stop in.


Cobblestone roads are the norm in our Mexican town. We also have regular concrete sidewalks, but I prefer walking on the uneven surfaces of the cobblestone streets.

I’ve been doing it for years, you get used to it quickly. Walking on the cobblestones feels good with or without shoes, and I think it probably strengthens my feet and lower legs.

About ten years ago, I started noticing shoes for sale that had thick rocker soles – to mimic the uneven surfaces the Masai people of Africa walked on. The shoe makers claimed it created a healthier way to walk, just look at all the lean and fit Masai, they said.

Also, tradition Chinese medicine apparently has recommended, for many years, walking on cobblestone paths solely for the health benefits. I’ve read about lots of paths in China, constructed of river stones set into concrete, that are there to walk on just for health reasons (as opposed to trying to get somewhere).

I think it’s common to have these paths in the public spaces of large Chinese cities for folks to use. It’s sort of like gravity assisted accupressure massage for feet. Claims are made of lowering blood pressure, helping balance, and reducing frailty in the seniors.

Some people are pretty serious about walking on uneven surfaces. I stumbled upon a company selling cobblestone mats you can roll up and put away after your “workout.”

It’s hard to say how beneficial walking on uneven surfaces is, but I think there’s something to it.



Some Mail

I just got a birthday card, arriving the day after Halloween for my birthday that was in mid July. It was a postcard of NYC from a friend there.

My NYC friend has visited a couple of times and knows there’s no official mail delivery, but I’m guessing he wanted to try.

Normally I don’t get any mail in Mexico. Our town of  about 2,500 doesn’t have regular mail delivery, and that’s ok by most folks here.

There’s a woman here who delivers the electric company bills, usually late, to people she knows and she gets tipped for it. But most people know when their bills are due. And lots of us do online bill paying so the bill’s been paid long before you get one, if you do get one.

A couple of days ago, a neighbor told me he thought there was a postcard meant for me at his house. When I popped by later, there it was, so unusual it could have been a message in bottle.

Some mail is better than no mail. And even if it’s four months old, mail is still fun to get.

What’s Mescal?

We just returned from Oaxaca City in southern Mexico. Coincidentally, a friend is living there while he’s starting a mescal export business. We visited with him a few times and learned a bit about mescal.

Mescal is a broad category for liquors distilled from the agave plant. The mescal most people know is tequila, but there’re lots more mescals throughout Mexico.

Because I live in Mexico, I’d been thinking about writing a post about my favorite tequila. But mescal is a more interesting story than my favorite tequila (I buy Centenario Repasado most often which, I guess, makes it my favorite).

Different types of agave plants are found pretty much all over Mexico. Agaves have been used as a beverage base for thousands of years here. Probably the original agave drink was pulque, sort of like an agave beer.

After the Spanish showed up and introduced distillation, various local Peoples began producing a drink called mescal using agave plants.

The world of mescal shares some similarities with the wine world. The agave plant comes in many forms and grows in many different soils and climate with each combination providing different taste characteristics for the mescal.

Just as champagne can only be made from certain grapes and only in the Champagne region of France, tequila can only be made from a certain agave plant and only in the Tequila region of Mexico.

Like wine, mescals can can be consumed when they’re young or they can be aged. Young clear mescal, called joven, seems to be considered the way to go.

The agave plants can also be harvested in the wild where they grow naturally, or they can be cultivated and harvested more easily. Each style of the resulting mescal has it’s following.

Again like wine, the pricing is often based on scarcity. And mescal drinkers use similar adjectives for describing the, often subtle, taste differences between different mescals.

There’s even some overlap with scotches; the most common adjective I heard for describing a mescal’s taste was “smokey.”

There’s a thriving mescal subculture, especially in Oaxaca, that’s worth investigating if you’re even slightly interested in it.


Are you an Unracer?

One of the few things I miss, living in a small Mexican town, is bike riding. The roads in our town are cobbled, so the riding is bumpy and jostling.

There’s one street here without cobblestones. All the others make for slow, bumpy biking. I have an old beater bike and its chain gets rattled off the sprocket regularly while riding on the cobblestones. Cycling on cobblestones is unpleasant enough that most folks in town don’t ride bikes much. Go to other towns in Mexico without cobbled streets, and there’re plenty of bikers.

I’ve been thinking about biking because I’m reading Just Ride by Grant Petersen,  who’s been biking a lot, for years. He’s in the bike business too, making non-trendy bikes for an enthusiastic niche market of people he calls unracers, which is what most people really are.

Petersen advocates just riding your bike. Like you did as a kid. Don’t concern yourself with bike racing culture and its sway over biking culture and unracers, who share almost nothing in common with race culture.

The bike business: bikes, parts, clothes, magazines, fitness and nutrition is all seen through the lens of bike racing. And that’s become an off-putting but seductive problem for most of the non racing bikers. It’s especially distracting for non bikers who might want to try biking a little bit but are intimidated by the dominating world of bike racers and wanna-be-racers.

Before the sixties unracers and racers had more in common. Those racers had little support during races so their bikes were sturdier and more practical.

Now, pro racers are supported throughout races. And they have multiple, specialized, not-built-for-the-long-haul bikes which are given to them new each year by their sponsors.

What racers need isn’t what unracers need. Petersen makes the case for a common sense approach to biking. A super light bike made of exotic materials, specialized pedals and shoes, biking clothes, or a bike sized for a 21-year-old pro racer aren’t what most people need. Petersen thinks you shouldn’t need to “get ready” to bike. The easier you make riding, the more likely you are to use a bike. Most of the racer culture gear inhibit you from just riding your bike. Make it easy and fun, and you’ll do it.