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On the Toad Road

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On the Toad Road

We are way out in the boonies cruising on a muddy dirt track in the baking hot Sonoran Desert around midnight under a full moon. Eight of us are tightly crammed into a Mitsubishi SUV, and it reminds me of those gags in the circus when 20 clowns spill out of a Volkswagen bug. We’ve already gotten deeply stuck in the mud once tonight, had to get out and push and slide in the slogging muck, and if we are not careful it will happen many more times as we skirt very large puddles of inestimable depth. If you want to collect bufo toads, among the largest of American toad species, you must do so during the wet season when the amphibians come out at night in droves. That means mud, puddles and wet spots where the toads abound – chunkers and hoppers.

A while back we turned off of old Federal Highway 16 southeast of Hermosillo around Alonso, and we’re past Rancho Los Pozos, which could legitimately be described as in the middle of nowhere. The days have been scorching, around 110 degrees Fahrenheit. People like to say that silly thing, “At least it’s not humid,” as though that somehow mitigates the ceaseless broiling of the day. You could cook an egg on your forehead. The heat is deadly, humidity or no.

It’s our second night of collecting bufo toads and milking the glands on their backs and legs to obtain a gooey toxic secretion that offers powerful psychedelic effects when dried and smoked. We must be a comic sight, rolling along slowly and then stopping, dashing out of the SUV with flashlights piercing beams into the bushes and chasing hoppers in the night, catching one or two at a time. Smoking toad is not new. It has been popular for many years now, and much controversy swirls about the collection of bufo toads, how they are handled, and declining populations.  It’s why I’m here in this car packed with others, collecting toads in the night, to witness the process for myself, to take notes and shoot images and video.

We stop periodically near ditches and depressions where there is water, get out of the car, running about with flashlights, hunched over grasping at amphibians. We catch some, “milk” them, let them go, get back into the car and drive incrementally farther down the road. It’s catch and release. The sebaceous secretion of the toads is squirted onto the type of thick round glass plate common in microwave ovens. We do this again and again. The toads are funny. Some hop away immediately after being handled and milked and released, heading for the bushes, putting distance between themselves and us. Others just hang out close by watching us, very chill. They appear curious. What in the world are we doing? I wish I could explain it to them.

Maybe half a mile behind us a single light appears, little more than a pinpoint piercing through the black desert night and moving steadily in our direction. The light gains on us as we slowly roll along scanning for toads by the roadside. Eventually it is evident that a four wheeler is approaching, somewhat Mad Max with a camo paint job and a rack of extra bright headlights. There are three men on board; one on the front, one driving and one on the back. They pull alongside us, each holding a military-style assault rifle. They don’t look like narcos. They are holding their rifles pointed upward, which in my experience of encountering gunmen in various places in the world, is a good sign. If they were pointing their guns in our direction, it would be a different matter entirely. We stop and one of the men asks what we are doing out here. Are we lost? Gabriel Epis, who is driving, explains that we are looking for toads. Ivette Ramirez, who is somewhat obscured from view in the back seat, announces that she is in the car, and this changes everything.

“Ivette?” asks one of the gunmen.

“Yes, here with Martine and our baby.”

The gunmen nod and relax visibly. Everybody knows Ivette, the prominent and outspoken Seri indigenous woman who has worked with toad medicine for many years. Upon hearing that Ivette and her husband Martine are on board, the gunmen warmly invite us to follow them to their village. Ivette’s a bit of a legend in these parts, so by association we’ve gone from suspicious interlopers to welcome guests.  “Follow us. Our village is not so far ahead.” Just like that the situation has turned around.

The Toad

It’s August 2023, the end of the rainy season in the Sonoran Desert. I’m on a field research project documenting the bufo toad-derived psychedelic, generally simply called toad, which is legal in Mexico from its collection to administration. The dried toxic glandular secretion of the semi-aquatic Sonoran Bufo incilius alvarius toad contains the profoundly potent psychedelic agent 5-MeO-DMT, plus 5-MO-DMT and a cocktail of poisons including cardiotoxic bufogenin and bufotoxin, plus tryptophan, o-methylbufotenine, bufoviridine, L-aminoacid decarboxylase, 5-hydroxytryptophol, 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid, 5-methoxytryptophol and numerous other compounds. It’s worth noting that a few people have died smoking toad according to the New Yorker, due to the toxicity of the cardiac glycosides. In other words, it is not a free ride. You really need to know what you are doing.  After all, toad secretion is a poison. You don’t just load up a bunch of toad into a pipe and start huffing.

Many dozens of additional agents have been discovered and reported in the scientific literature. The sebaceous base material of bufo secretion is largely cholesterol and cholesteryl palmitate. The complex poisonous secretion is protective for toads, squirted from parotid glands located on the sides of the neck, femoral glands on the outsides of the hind legs, tibial glands between the knees and thighs and small glands on the forearms, when the toads are threatened by potential predators. Muy toxico, amigo. Lick one of these toads and you’ll wind up in a hospital emergency room, or deceased. I wonder if the toads ever suspected that people would collect their toxic exudate to trip? Maybe the toads have a legend about it.

Many people mistakenly call bufo toad 5-MeO-DMT, but this is like calling coffee caffeine, disregarding its several hundred other bioactive compounds. 5-MeO-DMT has tremendous cred and is often referred to as the God Molecule for its capacity to promote powerful mystical experiences. Just a few milligrams will launch you into a full-blown trip. But the toxic secretion produced by the toads is a highly-evolved, ingenious symphonic concoction of natural chemicals, not a single molecule. In various publications the material is described as a venom, which is incorrect. A venom is injected into prey via stinging or biting. Toad secretion is a toxin that is ingested or inhaled.  Bufo alvarius, uniquely among all other known bufo species, contains an extremely powerful psychedelic agent. When dried and smoked the secretion delivers a rapid and intense psychedelic experience that typically lasts for about 20- 30 minutes. This almost singly proves the point that people will do pretty much anything to get high. Who first figured this out? Did some early nomad toss a dead bufo toad into a fire and inhale the smoke? Maybe around five hundred years ago the indigenous Sonoran Hohokam people were huddling over fires tossing in dead dried bufo toads they’d collected over time, tripping mad under the stars with wolves howling in the wild desert night. I’d like to think so.

Almost anybody who is anybody in the psychedelic scene has smoked toad. It’s pretty much a de rigeur rite of passage, a slammer of a trip that many liken to being strapped to a rocket. The popularity of bufo toad medicine has been greatly enhanced by various celebrities, including boxers Mike Tyson and Kid Dynamite, popular talk show host Joe Rogan, Hunter Biden, and TV personality Christina Haack, who all claim positive life changes as a result of smoking the medicine. Octavio Rettig, a Mexican doctor who the New Yorker has dubbed “The Pied Piper of Psychedelic Toads,” claims to have turned on thousands, while spinning a fantastic yarn about personally resurrecting ancient Mesoamerican toad rituals. Well known psychedelic aficionado Rak Razam promotes toad medicine as an agent of samadhi, divine-illumined bliss. There has been a World Bufo Alvarius Congress. EntheoNation offers a detailed online “Seeker’s Guide to Bufo alvarius.” Bufo events, gatherings, workshops and retreats abound. Dozens of booklets and books tout the enlightening activity of toad. Most of the big magazines have covered bufo toad, only causing the parade of would-be toad trippers to swell exponentially. Virtually every psychedelic luminary of any cred has smoked toad. Competition for a prominent piece of the toad medicine playground currently runs at a fever pitch. The big claim for toad medicine is that it is an agent of illumination, ushering in a new era of higher consciousness.

While many lavish on about the potentially transformative experience of smoking toad, wildlife biologists and animal welfare specialists express grave concerns over inhumane handling of the toads, which is a real issue, and possible declining populations of this amphibian. The collection of toads is not always a high minded affair. Sometimes huge numbers of bufo toads are captured, taken away to another area, repeatedly milked, and let go in unfamiliar terrain in which there is inadequate water and they may not be able to survive. Some toad entrepreneurs are breeding toads in large quantities in captivity. These kinds of harmful practices have justifiably given toad medicine a bad name, setting off alarm bells among wildlife preservation groups. One of the most vociferous opponents of bufo collection is Tucson Herpetological Society president Robert Villa, who warns that the popularity of bufo toad medicine could lead to precipitous population decline of the toads. To sully the ecstatic scene, members of the Jalisco and Sinaloa and Caborca cartels have gotten into the collection act, as there is money to be made in bufo. Whether you consider toad medicine to be the lotus petals of Govinda or a way to get ripping high very fast, toad medicine commerce is the drug trade and it fits neatly into the modus operandi of these large and very dangerous criminal groups.  It’s not the Rainbow Gathering any more.

To investigate the purported sustainable and humane collection of Bufo alvarius toads by Mexico’s indigenous Seri people, the milking of their glands, and the drying and administration of the resulting psychedelic material, I teamed up with Gabriel Epis of Xanga Guru, which offers toad medicine sessions in Playa del Carmen and Tulum in Mexico’s Yucatan. In June I contacted Gabriel, as his toad ceremonies in the Yucatan sounded interesting to me. Despite my fifty-six years of deep personal involvement with LSD, ayahuasca, magic mushrooms, peyote, San Pedro and more, I’d somewhat remarkably never experienced toad. It just seemed way overdue. I wanted to do so to understand it, instead of only hearing tales from others. Otherwise, how could I possibly know the thing? I take a go big or go home approach to psychedelics, and bufo toad was a blank territory in my experience. Gabriel and I spoke about me heading to Tulum to do some ceremonies, and when he checked my web site and my ethnobotanical field work around the world, he invited me to head to the west coast of Mexico with him and into the Sonoran Desert to document an upcoming toad medicine collection trip he had put together with some indigenous Seri people. For me that was the best possible situation, a field to finish project.

Bufo alvarius may have been used ritually by early Mesoamerican people, but this has not been established. Much of the patter on the internet detailing ancient ceremonial use is, at this point, quixotic speculation. Indigenous people worldwide are famous for discovering and employing a broad range of psychoactive agents in pre-history. But we don’t know if that has been the case with bufo. Toxins and skin of numerous toad species have been used in traditional medicine and the ligand compounds, and indole alkaloids deriving from these agents remain in clinical use, most notably in Asia. It is entirely possible that farther back than we currently have evidence to verify, people were busting their conks on toad medicine.

Seri people I interviewed on this project claim that tribal ancestors burned the dried secretion in sea shells and inhaled the vapors. One young Seri man named Luis Barnett told me that his great grandfather, Luis Barnett the elder, had gotten the Seri people involved with Bufo alvarius medicine. In any case, the Barnett name is widely and famously associated with bufo medicine among the Seri, and the family enjoys major toad cred.

In 1959, 5-MeO-DMT was isolated as a key psychoactive ingredient in the seeds of Adenanthera peregrina, which are used in the preparation of the traditional South American psychedelic Yopo snuff. This discovery paved the way for further consideration of 5-MeO-DMT and its occurrence in various other plants. The discovery of 5-MeO-DMT in Bufo alvarius was first reported in 1965 in an exhaustively detailed analytical study of bufo skin compounds entitled “5-Methoxy- and 5-Hydroxy-Indolealkylamines in the Skin of Bufo alvarius,” by Vittorio Erspamer and colleagues, in the journal Experientia. It was the first time that a psychedelic agent was reported to derive from an animal, but the authors of the study made no connection between the prior identification of 5-MeO-DMT as a psychoactive agent in 1959 and its presence in the skin of the bufo toad.

Modern use of bufo toad medicine is widely credited to the 1983 publication of Bufo Alvarius: The Psychedelic Toad Of The Sonoran Desert, by Texas artist Ken Nelson under the pseudonym Albert Most. This account remains one of the most detailed and informative of all to this day. Nelson read the study by Erspamer et al and decided to give the material in the toad’s glands a try, deducing that vaporizing the dried exudate could potentially deliver a psychedelic experience. He caught some bufo toads, squeezed their glands, dried the material on the windshield of his van and smoked the resulting amber material. His daring and potentially foolhardy experiments led to the current method of smoking toad, in a glass vaporizing pipe heated by a small torch. Nelson’s publication is easily found and downloaded free from the internet. Or you can spend over $200 on a special hand stitched edition of the same publication. 

In 1992 Andrew Weil and Wade Davis published the article “Identity Of A New World Psychoactive Toad” in the Journal Mesoamerica. In the article they described experiencing profound psychoactive effects from smoking toad secretion. The two traveled to Mexico where, in the company of an avid toad practitioner named White Dog, they experienced bufo and blew their lids. Adding fuel to the burning fire of psychedelic desire, the 1994 publication of the persuasive and detailed “Bufo alvarius: a potent hallucinogen of animal origin,” also by Weil and Davis, in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, further broadened awareness and demand for toad medicine. Weil and Davis are big stars in ethnobotany and they attracted a lot of attention with their reporting. Floodgates opened wide. People began to find and smoke toad in greater numbers. Since that time numerous publications and studies have dived even more into bufo toad medicine, spawning an entire field of study and re-invigorating interest in other toad medicines employed throughout time.

“Inhalation of vapor from dried toad secretion is related to sustained enhancement of satisfaction with life, mindfulness-related capacities, and a reduction of psychopathological symptoms.” according to Uthaug et al in  the journal Psychopharmacology from September, 2019.

A Ceremony

When I fly into Cancun, Gabriel meets me at the airport. “I’ve just finished a retreat that I was leading for the last few days,” he shares. With a small group of people the retreat featured a veritable psychedelic buffet that included ayahuasca, magic mushrooms, peyote and bufo toad for the grand finale. It sounded like quite a lavish romp through the wilds of the mind. After much futzing around with a rental car that did not work right, we drive south to the Playa del Carmen bus station. I like Gabriel right away, and throughout our entire trip we get on easily and well. “I’m supposed to do a ceremony for a woman who’s coming in from Cancun by bus with her boyfriend,” he tells me. “So we’ll go pick them up.” As we drive, Gabriel describes to me four phases of his life: his first ten years in Panama, then equally many in Italy, then years in the U.S., and then in South America. As a pan-cultural man he speaks English, Spanish and Italian well. He conducts psychedelic ceremonies, organizes travel tours, and more recently trades in container loads of bananas. A man for all seasons. 

We hang out for a while at the bus station in Playa, and eventually a Colombian woman and her U.S. boyfriend arrive and meet us. Call them Anita and Guy. They met online. Guy is a big, cheerful black U.S. Army veteran, Anita an indigenous woman with striking native facial features and Salma Hayek curves. They speak no common language at all, and have arranged to stay in Cancun in an Airbnb for several months until her visa clears, after which they plan to move to Chicago and a bright future. He appears enthralled, while she appears tentative. She wants to experience a toad ceremony, and he wants to be there for her without doing so himself. The situation seems a bit tenuous.  

We drive to an apartment building in Playa del Carmen, where we meet an ebullient and lavishly tatted woman named Augustina, with whom Gabriel often conducts ceremonies. She gives us a warm welcome, and we all head inside to a cozy apartment with a pretty space tricked out for toad journeys. A mat and pillows are set up, and around the room are noise making instruments of different kinds, including Tibetan singing bowls, rattles and small drums. Soft cosmic music plays on speakers in the background. It seems a lovely spot to take a deep dive into a psychedelic experience, definitely a good setting.

I watch Gabriel prepare a dose of the toad medicine, which looks like a translucent light amber wax. Gabriel has a whole kit with glass pipes, various little baggies of toad medicine, a small blow torch, a scale. He carefully selects what he considers the right dose of the dried secretion, around the size of a match head. As he does so, he explains that getting the dose right is a matter of experience and intuition. Sitting with Anita, Gabriel gives some instructions on breathing and taking in the medicine fully. When Anita affirms that she is ready, Gabriel fires up a strange glass and aluminum pipe containing the medicine and Anita takes a large hit, holding it in. When she exhales, she lies down on her back, and that’s when both Gabriel and Augustina go to work, shaking rattles, playing singing bowls, creating an evocative and moody acoustic landscape. They work together with a light touch and great care, apparently very familiar with doing so. Anita appears gone someplace else entirely, while Guy stands nearby leaning against a door jamb, video recording the entire event with an iPhone.

From beginning to end, I photograph or shoot video of everything, including Gabriel’s pre-ceremony explanation to Anita, the ceremony, the woman’s journey, and the eventual after-ceremony discussion. Whatever Anita has experienced, she keeps much of it close to the vest. She says that her experience was good and peaceful, but her impassive face suggests that still waters run deep within her and there is much more to the story that we will not know. “I think that she was unable to truly let go, that some deep resistance held her back,” Gabriel comments later. For a time we leave her and Guy alone in the apartment, while we hang outside in the shade surrounded by bougainvillea. Eventually we drive the two back to the Playa del Carmen bus station and send them on their way with smiles and waves, wondering what will become of them, if their Chicago plan will hold.

Blessings and Gratitude

The next day I experience toad for the first time, at a rustic jungle lodge called Cavelands near Tulum, where I had stayed the night before. At the back of the expansive property, a large screened ceremonial space has mats and all the accoutrements required or desired for tripping. There are candles and incense, hand instruments of all types, drinking water, and lovely verdant outdoor surroundings with buzzing insects, chirping birds and scurrying lizards. There Gabriel explains to me the basics, to draw in a steady inhalation of the smoke, to hold it in for a few seconds and then to let go. With that, he lights the pipe with a small torch. The chamber of the pipe fills with churning smoke, and I take in a large draw. I cough immediately at the acrid taste, but then draw in more and hold it. Upon releasing my breath I feel rapidly expanded and I lie down. From that point Gabriel takes up various instruments including a shaker and a singing bowl, enhancing the mood.

My body dissolves as I lie on the mat, atomizing in all directions, boundaries gone. For many minutes following, the numerous people who have blessed and inspired me in my life come to mind, one after another – family, friends, yogis, lamas, shamans, my wife Zoe – a loving parade. I am awestruck with wonder and gratitude for the blessings, the love and care that have aided me and propelled me forward on my path. Each person has left an indelible stamp of goodness upon my heart. Through the exposition of all that grace I feel present in a most magnificent and beatific way, aware of where I am and what is happening, while thoroughly immersed in deep appreciation for these kind and loving beings. I feel luminous, buoyant, grandly enlarged in joy. After about twenty-five minutes or so the experience softens and I am gliding down the back side, descending from high altitude, coming in for a smooth landing. I eventually touch down, open my eyes, sit up slowly. The world looks brighter and I feel expanded, deeply cleansed.

While I am still very mareado from my wonderfully heart-opening toad medicine immersion, Gabriel offers me a cup of water, which at first I mistake for some unidentified fluid. “What is this?” I ask, pointing to the strange liquid.

“Water,” replies Gabriel. I stare at the cup waiting for something to happen. It’s a funny moment. After a minute or so I drink some water and signal that all is copacetic. Gabriel leaves me to sit for a while and collect myself and walk back through the jungle to the main building at Cavelands when I feel up for it. I eventually enjoy a luminous stroll back, as sunlight glistens upon green leaves and lizards scamper about. Later on in the day I ask Gabriel how much of the toad medicine he had given me. “I gave you a heroic dose,” he replied, “based on your psychedelic experience.” Aha. Go big or go home.

See Also

Toad Hacienda

Later on that day, Gabriel and I fly from Playa del Carmen in the Yucatan to Hermosillo on Mexico’s west coast. We reserved Viva Air, something I pledge never to do again. The airline overbooked the flight by about two dozen seats, which is explained to waiting passengers with utter indifference. Those who would be left behind are encouraged to seek alternate means to cross the country. We leave a passel of angry stranded travelers behind as we are the last two passengers to board the flight. 

Once in Hermosillo we collect the Mitsubishi SUV rental that will take us on nightly toad forays, and head to a hacienda that Gabriel has rented through Airbnb. Built in 1918, the big house features tile floors, a large kitchen and dining area, a big living area, four bedrooms, high ceilings with fans, and major sewage construction only feet away from the front door. A covered rooftop deck area adds extra space, though does nothing to diminish the searing heat.

Lono, one of the three guests joining us for toad collection, is already at the hacienda. A toad medicine practitioner for several years, he has already settled in and is somewhat familiar with the local area, which he has cruised in his rental car. He’s a generally quiet guy and blends his toad practice with a long daily meditation. Our group will be completed the following day with the arrival of Justice and Ina, two women from Raleigh-Durham. Gabriel and I head to a local grocery store and shop for the week, covering as many food interests as we can conjure, from breakfasts to dinners. We are blissfully unaware that the Carolina women are vegans and will choose daily takeout and forays to local vegan restaurants rather than much of the fare we have acquired. It’s always something.

Our first arrivals at Toad Hacienda are Ivette and Martine Ramirez and their one year old daughter Nirvana, who will accompany us everywhere while we are in the general Hermosillo area. Gabriel had previously explained to me that Ivette is widely known throughout the 1500 or so Seri indigenous people who live in Sonora, mostly in the coastal villages of Punta Chueca and El Desemboque on the Sea of Cortez. Outspoken, smart and full of drive, Ivette has a palpable force field. She has been deeply involved in bufo toad medicine for several years and has championed the involvement of Seri people in its collection and administration. Martine seems consistently even tempered and good humored, kind and attentive to both Ivette and Nirvana, who alternates from a napping baby to an inquisitive new walker with boundless curiosity to get into things. Nothing within reach is safe from Nirvana’s grasping fingers. Ivette and Martine are immediately welcoming, and I will find them wonderful to be around.

For our time in western Mexico we have planned three nights of toad collection in the Sonoran Desert, authorized by Moises Romero, Governor of Sonora’s eight indigenous groups. Ivette, who occupies a high position in the scene, will be with us for all collection. That first evening we make some food and enjoy a late group meal prior to hunting for toads around midnight. I imagine that we will cruise out into the still desert with coyotes yipping in the night. Instead we drive across town to the other side of Hermosillo, near a stadium. There along a long and lonely but well-lit paved road, we stop and make camp for the night’s collection. Ivette produces a round glass plate from a microwave and sets it at an angle against the curb. This is the entirety of the collection laboratory.

For not quite two hours we chase chunkers in the night, illuminating ditches and bushes  with our flashlights and capturing big fat bufo toads. We deliver the toads in ones and twos to Ivette and Martine, who alternately squeeze secretion from the glands of the toads in such a manner that it squirts onto the glass, fatty and glistening. While the toads do not appear to be in pain in any way, they clearly would not have chosen the treatment. Gabriel conjectures, “It’s a lot like shearing sheep for wool. They don’t especially like it, but it doesn’t hurt them if it’s done carefully.” That appears to be so. Could carefully milking toads for a gooey psychedelic medicine truly compare with shearing sheep for wool?

Ivette Ramirez milks bufo toad. Photo by Chris Kilham.

This is my first insight into the actual treatment of the toads, at least as carefully practiced and taught by Ivette and Martine. As mentioned previously, some toads can’t distance themselves from us quickly enough upon release, while others just stay and hang out watching us. In a matter of minutes Ivette’s and Martine’s hands are covered with slippery toad goo, very much like the way hands get creamy when you milk a cow. Wipes and hand washing water are important accoutrements of the activity. I mostly stay on camera to record the collection and milking, but go out and bring in a few of the hoppers just for the experience. Almost all of the toads pee on our hands. Prior to squeezing their glands both Ivette and Martine hold the collected toads in such a manner that they are firmly in place without being held too tightly. In some instances I observe the toads relaxing in their grasp. There is very little squirming of any sort during milking.

When milked correctly each bufo toad yields as much as 0.5 grams of secretion when dried. This quantity of secretion can contain as much as 75 milligrams of 5-MeO-DMT. It only takes 3 – 5 milligrams of this psychedelic to produce a full toad experience. So on average, half a gram of dried material can send around fifteen people to the moon.

After collecting about sixty toads and obtaining their secretion, we head back to the hacienda and call it a night. The round glass from the microwave is thoroughly covered in goo. “This will dry overnight,” Gabriel tells me. “Tonight was a very good start.” The next day Gabriel moves the glass plate of toad secretion outside in the hot morning sun and lets it sit for about an hour for final drying. After that he brings the plate back inside. Handling a razor, he describes to me the next steps of collection. “I scrape this off and you will see that it is quite brittle. We have many grams of medicine here.” With great care he leverages the razor under the dried secretion, scraping hard enough to pry it off of the plate, yet not so hard that flecks of it fly all over. The process takes about half an hour and Gabriel seems satisfied with the amount. “I hope that when we are finished with our nights of collection, we will have one hundred grams,” he tells me.

Later that morning we receive a visit from Moises Romero, governor of Sonora’s eight indigenous groups, and Luis Barnett, a young Seri and a toad practitioner. Of the various indigenous groups in Sonora, the Seri are most associated with toad medicine. Luis wears a small medicine bag around his neck, which he opens to proudly show us a wad of toad medicine in a little ziploc bag. Moises remains behind impenetrable dark glasses, and he reminds me of a native Roy Orbison. The two are here to speak with us about toad medicine and their hopes for a better future for the Seri people. They have come a long way to see us, more than an hour and a half along the burning desert. Ivette had informed them that we were influential in the greater psychedelic community, and that the trip to Hermosillo would be worthwhile. Perhaps we could help to spread the word. “We need people who can help to promote what we are offering,” Moises tells us. “If we can reach more people then we hope that our community can do better.”

Moises shares with us that the Seri are poor and have few prospects for earning a living. He envisions that toad medicine and eco-tourism could help to change that. We’ll be traveling to the Seri village of Punta Chueca two days from then, to see and experience for ourselves what is possible. Our journey will include a boat trip from the village to Isla Tiburon in the Sea of Cortez, and toad ceremonies there. I ask who would be conducting the ceremonies. “I will,” said Luis.

That afternoon Gabriel and I pick up Justice and Ina at the Hermosillo airport. They are excited about finally arriving and going out to collect toads, and have waited with eager anticipation to be part of it all. The two have paid, along with Lono, for a small package tour that Gabriel has arranged. If they collect toads at night, do two toad ceremonies apiece and each pay the Seri people eight hundred dollars, they will receive certificates as toad medicine practitioners. They are cheerful and chatty, a positive contribution to the scene. Late that night we find ourselves way out in the desert chasing bufo toads, greeted by three men with assault rifles on a four-wheeler.

This is part one of a two-part series. For the conclusion of Chris Kilham’s “On the Toad Road,” click here.

Featured image of Bufo incilius alvarius by Chris Kilham.

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