Wait, That Wasn’t Sage? How to NOT Buy Psychoactive Drugs While Traveling

Trying to Sage
Nope, it’s most definitely NOT what you think.

Another day, another travel blunder. As they often do, this particular misstep involved the heady combination of my best intentions and poor Spanish language skills.

While I’ve mentioned the superlative beauty of Bariloche, in Argentina’s Lake District, what I haven’t mentioned was that the town packs a distinctly … OFF vibe. As in, not the best energy. To be sure, it’s no get-the-hell-outta-Dodge locale, but there’s something I can’t quite put my finger on in that town that’s left me feeling a little bit out of kilter.

Unfortunately, the odd energy also packs a punch in my apartment, where, as a digital nomad, I spend a helluva lotta time. Now, the building is new, the apartment large with killer views, but I kid you not, if I learned someone had been slayed in my bedroom, I wouldn’t raise an eyebrow. It would just explain SO much.

I admit, I tend to be sensitive to these types of circumstances, to experiences which some might say verge on the “woowoo.” Ayaz, my brilliant realist of a boyfriend, is not. So, when he piped up last week and straight up announced, “This apartment has bad energy,” I kicked into witchy woman gear.

I didn’t have to dig deep into my bag of woowoo tricks to decide we needed to sage the crap out of this joint.

Burning a bundle of dried sage, also known as a smudge stick, in many indigenous or Native American cultures is said to purify a space, to clear out any negative or dark energy. I wanted to smudge that bad mojo right outta my home, so Ayaz and I set off on our great international sage-buying mission.

As luck would have it, we live 3 blocks away from Namaste, a store selling all manner of crystals, mandalas and oils that seemed perfectly suited for doling out sage bundles. One small problem remained: I didn’t know the Spanish word for sage.

A quick stint on Google Translate armed me with a new vocabulary term, which I proudly showed off to the shopkeeper, asking in Spanish, if she sold sage. She promptly cracked up. I made motions like I was lighting a smudge stick and waving it around. She laughed harder. We eventually felt ridiculous and left.

“Why was that woman laughing at you?” asked Ayaz.

Well, I imagined it had to do with my smudging charade, right?

We continued wandering through town, came upon a religious relics store and peeked in the window. I saw that they also sold bundles of incense. Hey, that burns! Like sage! Seemed like a good lead.

We entered and I asked again, in my feeble Spanish for sage, and again, played my little charade. Again, the 2 women behind the counter started chuckling, but this time one of them left the counter, rooted around in a small cardboard box, and pulled out a clear plastic baggie filled with dried, crumbled green buds and little sticks.

It looked like a monster bag of weed. Naturally, I bought it.

For $1.60, I had a lump of crumbled sage. Crumbled sage that looked like weed.

Once outside, I opened the bag and took a sniff. It decidedly did not smell like sage. But it also didn’t smell like weed (I mean, what I imagine weed, er, smells like).

“Those women were laughing at me too, weren’t they?” Ayaz nodded sympathetically. “Dude. We’ve gotta Google this.”

And so it was that I Googled the Spanish word for sage, and learned that I had been asking some very lovely women in the very lovely mountain town of Bariloche, if they sold Salvia, also known as Diviner’s Sage, also illegal in a handful of U.S. states (though not, apparently, in Argentina).

Salvia, for the uninitiated, has psychoactive properties which induce visions and other hallucinatory experiences. And I was now the proud owner of a pretty sizable haul.

On the upshot, I also learned that Salvia is, in fact, part of the sage family. I made the executive decision that this was close enough. Burn baby, burn!

Smudge my apartment with sage I would, come hell, high water or hallucinations.

Well, it turns out that burning a loose pile of crumbly Salvia in a cereal bowl is pretty tough. The bits and pieces just wouldn’t light. And so I did what any innocent person would: I found a big old piece of paper, and rolled me a fatty. Of Salvia.

I lit that sucker, and let ‘er smoke.

Did it work? Well, I can tell you a few things definitively:

[ordered_list style=”decimal”]

  1. I had no visions of which to speak

  2. Salvia smoke smells … odd

  3. I make unusual faces when rolling a spliff of sage, and

  4. That night? I slept like a baby.