Things That Matter

This Firefly Forest Is A One Of A Kind Destination And It’s Just Outside Mexico City

MexicoSorprendente / Instagram

Have you ever travelled somewhere on the advice of someone else? No advertising, no nothing – just the idea of a great experience? Well, the little town of Nanacamilpa in Mexico has had so many tourists stop by, it’s stoppedadvertising its main tourist draw to try to slow the flow of people into the hamlet. And, do you know why there are so many people coming to Nanacamilpa? Fireflies.

There’s more to this story than just bugs.

Instagram / @mexicotravelchannel

What Nanacamilpa promises is more than just seeing some insects in action. Well okay, actually, that’s exactly what it promises. Past the farmland that borders Nanacamilpa is a blanket of forest – and that’s where the fireflies can be found. It’s hard using just words to bring justice to the event that is firefly viewing. But suffice to say that if it’s the middle of the night, and all you’ve got for light is the night sky above you, seeing these tiny critters seemingly suspended and glowing all around you is an otherworldly experience.

If you plan on visiting the fireflies, you’ll need to follow a few important rules.

Instagram / @axlrz

Generally speaking, there is an etiquette for viewing fireflies. No talking, and no use of lights. That’s right, you’re not to use your phone while you’re out chilling with the fireflies: no taking selfies for the clout. Whether visitors obey these rules is another story – they’re only really enforced by requests from the local tour guides that take groups out to see the fireflies. And while, for the moment, the presence of people haven’t seemed to bother the fireflies too much, it remains to be seen what the long term impacts of this environmental tourism will have on the Nanacamilpa firefly population. 

Where the locals are concerned, the fireflies have had quite a positive impact on the community.

Instagram / @mexicosorprendente

If you were to visit Nanacamilpa just five years ago, you would have found the place pretty much empty. The only people in the area would have been locals. Nowadays, roughly 100,000 tourists visit between mid-June to mid-August to catch a glimpse of the area’s friendly fireflies, which has served as a windfall for what was previously a chronically poor region. In just 2013 alone, 51,000 visitors came to Nanacamilpa. Two years later, that number jumped to 77,000 – and most visitors were coming through the July-August period.

Firefly tourism has completely changed the lives of nearby residents forever.

Instagram / @fido.travel

In fact, for a while there, the locals struggled to keep up with the influx of travelers. 2013 saw food shortages in the Nanacamilpa restaurants, and any accommodation in the area had been completely booked out. This was fixed pretty quickly, though – hotels began appearing around town, and even in the forest. And, registered tour operators burgeoned from the four existing in 2012 to 33 in 2019. Which is just as well – last year saw 91,000 visitors to the fireflies! They’ve now become the state’s second most important draw, behind cultural tourism. Needless to say, business is booming, and firefly tourism has changed the lives of Nanacamilpa locals for the better.

But, there is a downside to this influx of tourists. 

Instagram / @solracmarban

It’s never so cut and dry with these kinds of things. As much as it’s great that Nanacamilpa is seeing money come its way, environmental scientists have expressed concerns about the impact visitors might have on the fireflies. However, there’s so much that’s unknown about the fireflies, that it’s hard to make any concrete judgments about what’s best for the little glowing bugs. It’s yet to even be determined what kind of impact light and chemical pollution has on the fireflies – or if they have an effect on them, at all.

Sadly, with so many visitors, the firefly population is under threat.

Instagram / @enmodoavionmx

That being said, there is a major threat to the Nanacamilpa firefly population that everyone should know about: the female fireflies … can’t fly. We know – it’s in the name, firefly. Anyway, obviously both females and males are needed for the fireflies to continue populating the region with their glowing butts. The risk in the females being unable to fly is that it’s a lot easier for unsuspecting visitors to accidentally step on the tiny fireflies. Even worse – without the ability to fly, they don’t have the capacity to easily escape from harm.

It’s not all bad news, though. Firefly tourism has become important in other countries, such as Taiwan, Thailand, Japan and Malaysia. It’s entirely possible that, even though different variations of fireflies live there, they may have developed their own model for balancing conservation with tourism. Let’s just hope that something more substantial can be implemented in Nanacamilpa to protect the fireflies, before it’s too late.

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.