A Psychedelic Trip to Timothy Leary’s Catalina Resort in Mexico

Their Mexican neighbors were bemused. The Zihuatanejo historian Rodrigo Campus Aburto, a young teen in the 1960s, recalls that the community thought the mostly American trippers were lunatics. He also remembers older teens sometimes attending parties that IFIF hosted on the beach. “Moon, fire and beer,” is how he describes the parties. Some smoked marijuana (Guerrero state was then, and still is, a major marijuana producing area), but “the sacrament,” as the IFIF people called their LSD, was not shared with the locals.

It was decades before the rise of narco-trafficking that has wreaked murderous violence and havoc on Mexico. The one rule of IFIF was that people on LSD were not to leave the compound, and by all available accounts, that seems to have been followed.

One or two individuals did wind up in Mexico City hospitals with breakdowns, according to a Saturday Evening Post article published in the fall of 1963, titled “Mind-Distorting Drugs: The Weird Saga of LSD.”

On June 13, 1963, the Mexican government formally gave the group 20 days to leave the country. It’s unclear exactly what prompted the expulsion. “They were breaking the law,” Mr. Aburto said. The Saturday Evening Post reported Leary got the group deported after he read a paper on LSD at the National Autonomous University of Mexico’s Institute of Biomedical Research, as it is now known. The scandalized director deemed his talk “absurd, confused, valueless,” and protested to the Mexican government.

Besides the Mexican federales, the group faced a more primeval challenge. The group was 60 percent male, and Dr. Downing, the California psychiatrist and ever the empirical observer, dryly noted that “marital instability characterized many.”

Mr. Weil, the psychologist, brought his wife to the community and was among the few participants whose marriage survived. “I do remember a kind of loosening of sexual bounds,” he said. “It was like a love fest.”

Did the Zihuatanejo Project achieve its goals? Mr. Weil isn’t sure. “The intent, as I reflect now, was to form a more concentrated network, a more concentrated group who could carry on the work. How naive we were in terms of our belief that we could change the world overnight! ”

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