Culture

What Is Pulque And Why Do People Either Love It Or Hate It?

Oscarlemuss / Instagram

Along with tequila and mezcal, pulque is the one of the most iconic Mexican alcoholic beverages. Its origins ago deep in history and speak of the indigenous past and present of the country.  This is what you need to know about this mythical drink that is making a comeback as a mainstream road to indulgence. 

So what exactly is pulque anyway?

 Pulque is beautiful in its simplicity. The drink is the fermented sap of the maguey or agave plant. It has a thick, gooey consistency that takes some time getting used to. It has a milky color in its pure state, but many pulquerias add fruit juices and honey to make it a curado or flavored pulque. This is how journalist Emily Sargent described pulque in The Times: “sweet, thick, syrupy agave juice served inexplicably in pint-jug portions”.

It was known as octli by the Aztecs and is surrounded by fascinating myths.

Credit: Instagram. @neomexicanismos

Pulque has been drunk for at least 1,000 years. The Aztecs believed that the liquid collected at the center of the succulent known as maguey was actually the blood of Mayahuel, the goddess of the maguey. It was also believed that if you got drunk on octli a rabbit would possess you. There were 400 rabbits known as Centzon Totochtin, and they were the children of Mayahuel.  Up to this day, some pulque drinkers spill some of their drink to the floor as an offering to Mother Earth. The word pulque is Mexican Spanish, dating in print to 1877. 

Pulque is a key element of Mexican popular culture.

Credit: Instagram. @celsotours

In particular, pulque is a constant in visual memories of the Mexican Revolution. Salud

There are even B-movies that honor pulque culture!

Credit: La Pulqueria / Videocine

In the 1970s and 1980s, low-quality films known as sexy-comedias-mexicanas showcased pulque culture in various films. The most famous is La Pulqueria, directed by Victor Manuel Castro and featuring la creme de la creme of Mexican comedians and the most famous boxer in Mexico’s history, Ruben Olivares. 

Pulque is now being consumed by Mexicans of all socioeconomic backgrounds.

Credit: Instagram. @neomexicanismos

For decades, pulque was associated with the lower classes, which speaks of the sad but inherent racism that permeates Mexican mestizo culture. For example, it was common to see homeless men drunk on pulque featured in Mexican cinema. The drink has made a huge comeback in the past 15 years, and pulquerias, traditional dens where people meet to drink pulque, are popular amongst city dwellers of all socioeconomic backgrounds. 

Pulque production is mostly artisanal and “organic.”

Credit: Instagram. @estampas_de_mexico1

Rather than being distilled as with tequila and mezcal, the elixir that emanates from the maguey is left to be fermented. First, the sap is extracted from the center of the maguey and then placed in 50-liter barrels called tinas. After than, mature pulque, known as seed pulque, is added to jump start the fermentation, which takes from one to two weeks. The pulque maker needs to consider factors such as the weather and the quality of the sap to determine the exact fermentation period that stops the pulque from turning sour and undrinkable. It is more art than science. 

Pulque is the product of a long, natural process.

Credit: Instagram. @cocinafacil

Pulque is a labor of love. Each maguey plants needs to mature for at least 12 years before the sap can be extracted. After that, it produces sap for only one year at the most. That is a long wait, but the benefits are worth it. 

And hey, it brings some health benefits too!

Credit: Instagram. @bandita_chilanga

Of course you need to drink it in moderation, but pulque does bring important nutritional benefits. An academic paper states that for some Mexicans “pulque was the third most important source of iron (non-heme form), ascorbic acid, riboflavin, and other B-vitamins”.  Carnales, it’s science! 

Pulquerias usually have creative names.

Credit: Instagram. @semahernandez

Great names include “My Office”, “Memories of the Future”, “Drink and Go”, “I’m Waiting for You Here at the Corner”, and  “The Recreation Center of Those Across the Street”. A true testament of Mexican everyday creativity and knack for humor.

The state of Hidalgo is pulque heaven.

Credit: Instagram. @mexico_desdeadentro

Even though pulque is produced across the country, particularly the areas surrounding Mexico City, the state of Hidalgo takes the crown as the most prolific. There are about 250 pulque haciendas in the state. 

In Tlaxcala, the state government has organized a tour called “la ruta del pulque.”

Credit: Instagram. @enriquenoriega

You can visit different production sites… and perhaps be possessed by a rabbit if you drink a bit too much!

There is no right or wrong way when it comes to pulque-drinking receptacles!

Credit: Instagram. @nilsbernstein

You know how people get snobbish when you drink white wine with a red wine glass? Well, that is not the case with pulque, which you can enjoy in basically anything that holds the nectar from the gods. Each pulqueria has its own style when it comes to serving methods. 

You can even drink it directly from the plant when it has been naturally fermented.

Credit: Instagram. @neomexicanismos

Yes, even a used Coke bottle will do! Just look at this pulque master!

Or you can also drink it straight from a maguey leaf.

Credit: Instagram. @oscarlemuss

Can you think of a more Instagrammable way of doing this? We can’t!

Tourists Are Flocking To This Tiny Mountain Village For A Trip On Mexico’s Magic Mushrooms

Culture

Tourists Are Flocking To This Tiny Mountain Village For A Trip On Mexico’s Magic Mushrooms

For almost 70 years, since Maria Sabina, also known as Santa Sabina, spread the culture around the ritualistic consumption of magic mushrooms in the Oaxaca highlands, the world has been fascinated by these special fungi. The region near Huautla de Jimenez, particularly places like San Jose del Pacifico, has since been swarmed with tourists in the months between July and October, both from inner Mexico and from overseas, who want to experienced the altered states of consciousness brought by one of nature’s most powerful secrets. 

So any story about Oaxacan magic mushrooms has to start with the legendary Maria Sabina, the godmother of all things trippy.

Credit: Giphy. @Hamiltons

Maria Sabina was a Mazatec curandera, or witchdoctor. She was well versed in the ancient arts of magic mushrooms and introduced the Western world to their consumption. She soon became a magnet for the rich and powerful who wanted to taste her psilocybin mushrooms. She was born in 1894 and died in 1985, so she saw the world change dramatically during her lifetime. 

She allowed foreigners into her healing evenings, known as veladas.

Credit: YouTube / Vice

She became legendary, as City A.M. reported in 2018: “It was here that, in 1955, R Gordon Wasson, a vice-president of JP Morgan and amateur ethnomycologist, consumed psilocybin mushrooms in a ceremony presided over by the healer Maria Sabina. The article Wasson subsequently wrote up for Life magazine – ‘Seeking the Magic Mushroom’ – transformed Sabina into a reluctant icon and caught the attention of scientists including Harvard psychologist Timothy Leary”. What followed is an enduring cult following of the plant. 

Mushroom tourism got a boost in the 1960s due to the high profile of some of Sabina’s visitors, who included The Beatles.

As EFE News Service reported back in 2007: “In the 1960s, the ‘high priestess of the mushrooms’ popularized this corner of Mexico located between the capital and Oaxaca city, a place visited by the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Jim Morrison and Bob Dylan at the height of the psychedelic era”. We mean, the place has basically been a Hall of Fame! 

Consuming magic mushrooms is an ancient, ritualistic indigenous tradition that remains officially illegal.

Credit: High Times

Spanish friars first reported the use of psychedelic mushrooms in the region. Though magic mushrooms are illegal today, the authorities tend to turn a blind eye. This is due to the centrality to the customs and traditions of the Zapotecs, the area’s dominant indigenous group. Children as young as six participate in the ritualistic ingestion of shrooms.

However, tourism disrupts this long lasting understanding and ritual has turned into business.

Credit: YouTube. Vice

If you decide to try them for yourself, beware as the region is now swarmed with fake magic mushrooms offered by scammers. Anyway, San Jose del Pacifico is a natural joyita in itself, and you might get high just by taking in the landscape!

The state induced by the mushrooms is supposed to get you in touch with nature: with the soil below your feet and the celestial bodies above your head.

Credit: Giphy. Anonymous. 

According to man named Andres Garcia, he was introduced to the ritual ingestion of mushrooms by his grandfather. Just outside of Huautla, the man experienced mushrooms several times. He told High Times: “The first time I tried mushrooms I was 7 years old. And each time after that was different; each time there were messages and messages. Communication with the earth, the universe, the moon, especially the energy of the moon. The mushroom shows you everything—about your errors, your problems, all the good you’ve done, all the bad you’ve done. It’s something personal.”

Even though mushrooms are widely available in Oaxaca they are not for everyone, specially not for those who disrespect the ritual and want to do mushrooms just for some mindless fun.

Credit: Musrooms-in-Oaxaca. Digital image. Own Mexico

The magic mushroom tourism industry has brought an steady income to Huautla de Jimenez, the original stomping grounds of Maria Sabina. As reported by Juan Ramon Peña in EFE News Services, “visitors are greeted when they get off the bus by boys who offer to help them found the hallucinogenic fungi”. The wide availability of mushrooms is un secreto a voces. However, each person’s brain chemistry is different and you need to have an experienced guide to help you on a mushroom-induced trip. 

And tourism has put the sustainability of the species at stake.

Credit: User comment on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G_XnzIYmUYw

The lack of regulation translates into indiscriminate picking. Of course, traditional owners of the land are affected and that is just not fair. 

Magic mushrooms have a good rep, but they are also unpredictable.

Credit: 2037. Digital image. The Guardian.

Several recent studies indicate that magic mushrooms could have medical benefits in people suffering from mental health issues. As reported by The Guardian earlier this year in relation to a study conducted at Imperial College London: “Magic mushrooms may effectively ‘reset’ the activity of key brain circuits known to play a role in depression, the latest study to highlight the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics suggests”. However, this study was done in a controlled environment. Doing mushrooms can have unpredictable effects that some people have described as a “bad trip”

Note: the consumptions of magic mushrooms is illegal throughout Mexico and only specific Indigenous groups can consume them for spiritual purposes. We do not condone the consumption of illegal substances. This article is for informational purposes only.

Amelio Robles Ávila Was Mexico’s First Trans Soldier And A Revolutionary Hero, More Than 100 Years Ago

Culture

Amelio Robles Ávila Was Mexico’s First Trans Soldier And A Revolutionary Hero, More Than 100 Years Ago

Today is Mexico’s Independence Day! After a war that lasted over 11 years, Mexico achieved independence from Spanish rule and would begin a path toward self-determination. On September 16, 1810, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a Catholic priest, launched the Mexican War of Independence. Yes, decolonize! 

To celebrate Mexican history, we’ll be focusing on one hero today, not of the Mexican War of Independence but of the Mexican Revolution. Colonel Amelio Robles Ávila is recognized as the first trans soldier in the Mexican military’s history. A decorated colonel, Ávila lived as a man from the age of roughly 22 or 24 until the day he died at 95 years old. 

While some believe it was Ávila’s wealthy family that allowed him to live life as his truest self, it certainly may have helped, but his courage in battle and in life must be honored and celebrated. Ávila’s identity was not always met with kindness, but the soldier was well-equipped to deal with challenges to his gender. The pistol-whipping colonel was a ladies man, skilled marksmen, and hero. This is the story of Colonel Amelio Robles Ávila. 

Amelio Robles Ávila

Amelio Robles Ávila was born to a wealthy family on November 3, 1889, in Xochipala, Guerrero. In his youth, Ávila attended a Catholic school for little girls where he was taught to cook, clean, and sew. However, at a young age, he began to express his gender identity. He showed an aptitude for things that were, at the time perceived to be, masculine like handling weapons, taming horses, and marksmanship. 

Perhaps, it was a natural response, if not the only response, to being pressured to conform to a gender identity that isn’t yours —  Ávila was perceived as stubborn, rebellious, and too much to handle for the school nuns. But it would be his tenacity and obstinance that served him in the long run. 

In 1911, when Ávila was arranged to be married to a man, he enlisted as a revolutionary instead. 

Not a woman dressed as a man, just a man.

To force the resignation of President Porfirio Dîaz and later, to ensure a social justice-centered government, Mexico needed to engage much of its population in warfare. This meant that eventually women were welcomed with many limitations. Soldaderas were able to tend to wounded soldiers or provide food for the militia but were prohibited from combat and could not have official titles. 

Ávila legally changed his first name from Amelia to Amelio, cut his hair, and became one of Mexico’s most valuable and regarded revolutionaries. 

“To appear physically male, Robles Ávila deliberately chose shirts with large chest pockets, common in rural areas, and assumed the mannerisms common among men at the time,” according to History.com

While he was not the only person assigned female to adopt a male persona to join the war, unlike many others Ávila kept his name and lived as a man until the day he died. 

“After the war was over, their part in it was dissolved along with whatever rank they held during the fight, and they were expected to return to subservient roles. Some did,” writes Alex Velasquez of Into. “Others, like Amelio Robles Ávila, lived the rest of their lives under the male identities they had adopted during the war.”

You come at the king, you best not miss.

Ávila fought courageously in the war until its end. Becoming a Colonel with his own command, he was decorated with three stars by revolutionary general Emiliano Zapata. He led and won multiple pivotal battles where his identity and contributions were respected. 

However, that respect was sometimes earned through empathy other times through the whip of his pistol. Ávila was a man and anyone who chose to ignore this fact would be taught by force. On one occasion, when a group of men tried to “expose” him by tearing off his clothes, Ávila shot and killed two of the men in self-defense. 

Colonel Amelio Robles Ávila

Unsurprisingly, Ávila was a bit of a ladies man, though he finally settled down with Angela Torres and together they adopted their daughter Regula Robles Torres. In 1970, he was recognized by the Mexican Secretary of National Defense as a veterano as opposed to a veterana of the Mexican Revolution, thus Colonel Amelio Robles Ávila is considered the first trans soldier documented in Mexican military history. The swag is infinite! 

After the war, Ávila was able to live comfortably as a man where he devoted his life to agriculture. He lived a life, that still for so many trans people around the world seems unfathomable. Colonel Ávila lived to be 95 years old and the rest  — no all of it — is history.