TONALÁ, MEXICO — We arrive at noon and take our numbers. The more motivated, having traveled from all over Mexico, began showing up at 3 a.m. About half of the 80 people ahead of us sit in the long waiting room on benches that line the walls, while others stand clustered outside or kill the long hours wandering around Tonalá, a suburb of Guadalajara known for its artisans, its streets edged with handmade furniture, vases as tall as men, mushrooms constructed of shiny tiles. Rafael, the healer, has been receiving one visitor after another since 5. That's what he does every day except Sunday, every week of his life.
To see Rafael, you pay one peso to get your number and then 20 more pesos once you make it into his room. That's roughly $1.25 — a good deal, compared with a $200 reiki session in Manhattan.
Working in central Mexico this year, I've met many healers and shamans: the one who runs sweat lodges in his front yard, the one who can detect water underground with sticks, the one who swung a pendulum in front of me and announced that I only 45 percent love myself.
I watched one shaman give another shaman a hairless puppy in a cardboard box. I met one who is celibate and another who prayed for three wives and another who's romantically involved with his therapist and another who cures illness with bees.
One looked at my palm and told me that my heart was broken. I've watched several wrap red cloth around their heads and cough out bad spirits. I've smelled a lot of burning sage. I've heard assessments of my aura. Once, when I had a bad cold, a shaman snapped my picture with his iPhone and showed me the dark entity hovering over my shoulder.
But none of those people are pilgrimage destinations. Only Rafael, according to his regulars, sees 8,000 to 12,000 people a month.