The Ultimate Guide to Kambô
Kampo, Sapo, frog medicine
Phyllomedusa bicolor secretes a unique venom that has been used for centuries as a medicine by South American indigenous groups. The beautiful Amazonian frogs are captured, the kambô venom is scraped from their backs, and they are released back into the wild.
Applying kambô to small burns on the skin produces an unpleasant and unusual effect – mostly involving extreme nausea, dissociation, and discomfort. It is used traditionally as a treatment for various illnesses, and has antibiotic and antiparasitic properties.
Kambô is a relatively risky substance, and is arguably not a psychedelic. But it is a natural medicine with a long history of traditional use, and has an important chapter in the history of natural psychoactive substances.
This guide is intended for those who would like to experience kambô in a safe setting. It should be used for harm reduction and education purposes only.
Table of Contents
Who This Guide Is For
The Ultimate Guide to Kambô: A Seeker’s Companion was written for anyone who is interested in learning more about kambô.
Whether you’re new to kambô or a seasoned facilitator, this guide will teach you how to use this medicine safely and responsibly, as well as where to find a safe and responsible retreat.
The guide also includes materials for preparation for a powerful experience, facilitator advice, and information on how to incorporate a kambô ceremony into your daily life.
How To Use This Guide
This guide is divided into two parts:
- Kambô 101. This first section provides crucial background information about kambô and its history, ensuring that you, the seeker, have the cultural and scientific context necessary to fully grasp its applications.
- How to do Kambô. The second section provides specific details on what to expect from a kambô experience. Also included is an overview of some of the safety problems and risks associated with kambô, as well as harm reduction techniques. Finally, you'll discover how to search for a reputable kambô retreat center or facilitator.
Although kambô is a medicine not commonly sought out by psychedelic seekers, we feel that individuals who choose to use it should be thoroughly informed on how they can reduce risk while maximizing therapeutic potential.
We hope that by reading this guide, you will be able to make the best and safest decision possible concerning your individual journey.
This guide was created as a labor of love, from the depths of our hearts to you.
With So Much Love,
Lorna Liana & the EntheoNation Team
Kambô, also known as sapo, is the name for the secretion of the large, bright-green tree frog Phyllomedusa bicolor. This frog (also known as the giant leaf frog, or giant monkey frog) is native to the Amazonian rainforests, and is found in parts of Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, and Bolivia.
The venom is collected from Phyllomedusa bicolor by tying the frog down, stimulating it with sharp twigs so it secretes the venom from its back, then releasing it back into the wild.
Kambô is used by many indigenous peoples as a medicine and purgative. Kambô ceremonies involve applying the secretion directly to fresh burn wounds, allowing the compound to quickly enter the bloodstream. It causes nausea, vomiting, and defecation, and also has some psychoactive effects including dysphoria, confusion, and delirium.
Due to the presence of many toxins in kambô, regular use of the secretion is not recommended, and some deaths have been reported due to poor facilitation. Kambô dramatically raises heart rate and can significantly alter blood pressure, making it a potentially dangerous medicine for those with vascular conditions. As well as deaths from heart attack, fatalities have been reported due to hyponatremia: an imbalance in sodium levels caused by drinking too much water during and after the ceremony. Pregnant people should never take kambô: it has abortive properties.
Although Western psychonauts have limited interest in kambô, its psychoactive effects can certainly be explored for spiritual development, and some ayahuasca practitioners use kambô on their guests in the days leading up to the ceremony due to its purgative effects.
The History of Kambô
Kambô is named after an ancestral shaman known as Kampu, who was a member of the Kaxinawá tribe of Peru and Brazil.  According to legend, Kampu was in despair due to the widespread illness in his tribe, and went into the jungle to search for a solution. There, he found the tree frog, and he brought its venom back to his people to heal them.
Although we can’t be certain how far back kambô use goes in human history, it’s possible that it was used in Mayan times, considering they had a strong tradition of entheogenic practices, and some Mayan art depicts tree frogs. 
Indigenous peoples in South America have used kambô for centuries, most prevalently the Asháninka, Yaminawá, Matsés and Katukina groups. The Phyllomedusa bicolor frog lives in rainforests in parts of Peru, Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia and Bolivia, and is used by untold numbers of people throughout these countries.
Traditionally, kambô is used as a treatment for a number of conditions, to “strengthen the body’s natural defenses” and to exorcize negative energies known as panema. It is also reported to boost hunting skills, by improving the senses and making the scent of the hunter less noticeable to prey.  There are also reports of people using kambô for divination, such as finding out the father of a baby – or even for shamanic shapeshifting, for the purpose of luring animals into traps. 
Kambô was introduced to the Global North first in the 1920s, when French missionary Constantin Tastevin observed its use among the Kaxinawá.  In the 1980s, kambô was identified by biochemists for the first time,  and its popularity started to grow among Western entheogenic enthusiasts.
In a response to a request from the Katukina to protect the cultural roots of the kambô medicine, the Brazilian government prohibited advertising of the benefits of kambô in 2004.  This would theoretically allow for a select, government-approved group of Brazilian scientists to research its benefits, and prevent other nations from patenting kambô and profiting off their cultural heritage. 
Kambô is legal everywhere in the world, except for the UK, where it technically falls under the Psychoactive Substances Act. In Brazil it is illegal to advertise its medicinal effects, and its use by outsiders is condemned by the government. 
The Pharmacology of Kambô
Phyllomedusa bicolor venom contains a large number of peptides, many of them toxic. Peptides are chains of amino acids, and the ones found in kambô are fairly large; although they are smaller than proteins.
Some of the most prevalent and important peptides in kambô are phyllokinin, phyllomedusin, phyllocaerulein, and sauvagine. These peptides have effects on the stomach, the cardiovascular system, blood pressure, and hormone levels. 
The kambô peptides phyllocaerulein and phyllomedusin both affect the stomach, by increasing bile production and causing vomiting and defecation. Phyllomedusin also decreases blood pressure, while phyllocaerulein has some painkilling effects, in addition to their gastric properties. 
The peptides sauvigine and phillokinin affect the cardiovascular system, increasing the heart rate and blood flow, and causing a drop in blood pressure. Sauvignine also increases some hormone levels, such as adrenaline. 
In addition to these main peptides, some components of kambô have antibiotic properties. Peptides in the dermaseptin family, even in small quantities, can effectively kill harmful bacteria, suggesting that this is part of the medicinal value of kambô. 
As well as these non-toxic peptides, there are also toxins present in the kambô secretion that probably have damaging effects on the kidneys, pancreas, and liver; so frequent use is not recommended. 
The active dose of kambô is hard to define precisely. Typically, a low dose is an application of the venom on 1-3 small circular burn marks on the skin (dots), and anything greater than 4 dots is considered a high dose. Anthropologist Peter Gorman states that above 5 dots, people are highly likely to lose consciousness very quickly. 
The effects of the venom begin after only a few seconds or minutes, and can last up to an hour. Washing the venom from the burn wounds can help to stop the effects – and leaving the venom on the wounds will prolong the experience. 
The pharmacology of kambô presents unique risks; since it increases heart rate, decreases blood pressure, and induces intense nausea (as well as having liver toxicity), a large number of medical conditions would preclude you from taking kambô. Additionally, any medication that significantly affects the heart, blood pressure, liver, kidneys, pancreas, immune system or hormone levels should not be mixed with kambô.
Kambô alters the sodium balance in your body, and drinking too much water during and after the ceremony can lead to hyponatremia (a potentially fatal condition).
Kambô is an abortive, so pregnant people should not take it unless they are looking for a painful and unpleasant termination of pregnancy. 
There is a large catalogue of injury and death resulting from kambô usage,  and this is not a substance to take lightly. See our section on the risks of kambô to understand how to minimize them.
Read more about the Antimicrobial and Antiviral Properties of Kambô.
Healing with Kambô
Although kambô has been used for centuries as a medicine, its healing effects have not been conclusively shown within Western medicine. However, the antibiotic effects of some components of the venom, alongside the purgative effects (which have been shown to have antiparasitic benefits in other natural plant medicines), likely have protective or healing effects on the body – so long as you aren’t too physically vulnerable to begin with.
Many people describe the kambô experience as being like a “refresh” for the body – and feeling like the shock of the venom has been helpful for their immune system and general vitality. Other anecdotal reports suggest that kambô could be used to treat addiction. 
However, since the experience does not produce a typical psychedelic trip, its capacity to heal spiritual or mental issues is probably somewhat limited. Since the healing power of most psychedelics has been linked by research to their capacity to cause a mystical experience,  kambô may not be ideal for psychonauts searching for spiritual development.
Additionally, those with heart problems, blood pressure problems, liver/kidney problems, anxiety disorders such as PTSD, or those who are pregnant, are at a much greater risk from a kambô experience than others, and would be less likely to encounter healing effects. The kambô trip involves a skyrocketing heart rate, plunging blood pressure, and intense nausea – and that’s in the best case scenario.
Is Kambô Ethical?
Most natural medicines don’t require the potential torturing of animals to obtain. So is it unreasonable for people to search for kambô experiences, if it requires catching a wild animal, stressing it to the point of producing venom, then releasing it – possibly back to somewhere that’s not where you caught it?
The answer to the question of ethics will depend on your personal morality.
Phyllomedusa bicolor is not an endangered species, and keeping them in captivity is not an option as they stop producing the kambô secretion. Therefore it may not necessarily be immoral to harvest the venom from wild frogs, if they are returned to the same area they were found in (it can be disruptive to move them to a new habitat).
However, there’s really no way of knowing how traumatic the harvesting process is to the frogs, and they only release their venom when stressed. We recommend considering other psychedelics that don’t involve the direct distress of living creatures.
It’s also important to consider the impact of kambô tourism or non-indigenous kambô ceremonies on indigenous tribes. Ideally, all kambô use should practice sacred reciprocity, and give back to the communities who own the kambô heritage.
At the very least, users of kambô should think about donating to rainforest conservation and regeneration projects, such as those supported by the International Association of Kambô Practitioners - see our Resources section for more info.
Whatever your motive for wanting to experience kambô, it's critical that you engage with this medicine thoughtfully, safely, and respectfully.
If you are worried about the well-being of the frogs, we advise that you seek out kambô ceremonies where the venom was sourced with respect and care.
Furthermore, because kambô has some adverse effects to be aware of, the circle or ceremony you take part in should be led by someone with sufficient knowledge and experience.
Here are some pointers on how to get ready for a safe kambô experience.
Choosing the Ideal Kambô Retreat
The first thing you must do is decide where and how you’d like to experience the kambô medicine.
Most indigenous groups that use kambô would recommend seeking out an indigenous practitioner. However, the Brazilian government, for one, frowns upon outsiders coming to Brazil to experience kambô.
Although some people choose to take kambô on their own, without a facilitator or sitter, we don’t recommend doing this. The kambô experience can be intensely unpleasant, and it’s always best to at least have one person present who hasn’t taken the medicine – and preferably an experienced facilitator.
There are many places where you can experience kambô in a guided setting. Depending on the location and your budget, the level of luxury will vary from one retreat center to the next. Here are the top things to consider when looking for a kambô retreat:
- Location. How easy is it to get to the retreat? Will you have to travel far, perhaps abroad by plane? Consider how long of a journey you’re willing to make.
- The Space. Would you prefer to be outside in nature or inside? Consider whether you’d like to be in a place like a comfy yoga studio, or outside with the elements.
- The Practitioners. Do you want your provider to be a licensed Western facilitator? Or would you prefer an indigenous practitioner? Perhaps you’d like both to be present.
- Group Activities. If you’d rather minimize interactions and activities with others during the retreat, enquire about this with the organizers, as some retreats may ask you to complete group tasks.
- Amenities. Will you have access to lodging at the retreat? What kind of food do they provide? You might also be open to some additional services or activities, like massages or workshops. Think about your desired comfort level and make sure it aligns with what the retreat has on offer.
- Cost. How much you’re willing to spend will generally correlate with the luxury level of the retreat. So consider what your budget is, but also remember that experienced facilitators don’t come cheap!
- Restrictions. Some retreats will require you to follow a diet, or practice meditation before the ceremony. If this isn’t for you, check to make sure what the retreat policy is beforehand. Most retreats will require you to pass a medical screening to check for risky medication interactions or prior health conditions.
- Purpose. Why are you attending a retreat? If it’s for therapeutic purposes for a serious condition, consider the safety of the retreat. Is there a medic at the retreat? Do they have an emergency plan? Will this retreat center offer you the best chance of finding what you’re looking for?
Once you’ve found a retreat that looks like a good fit, you can start assessing how trustworthy and safety-conscious the retreat and its facilitators are.
The effects of kambô can be extremely overpowering, and require the presence of someone who knows how to reassure and look after someone experiencing intense physical discomfort. Make sure your facilitators know what they’re doing.
This means doing thorough research on the retreat’s track record. You can do this by:
- Google the retreat and the names of its practitioners. You might also want to search the names alongside keywords like “fraud” or “scam” to see if anything concerning comes up. Look through a few of the results pages to make sure you don’t miss any hidden results.
- Look up online forums and Facebook groups for the same names and search terms.
- Connect with past participants and ask them about their experience. Remember to ask about any concerns or worrying moments they had during the retreat.
- Check out review sites that rate kambô ceremonies and retreat centers. Have a look at our Resources section for more information on how to do this.
Any good kambô facilitator should be a purely supportive presence while you’re under the medicine’s effects, with the only times they interact with you during the experience being to keep you out of harm’s way.
At a very basic level, your facilitator must ask about your medical history, and be aware of any health conditions that could make kambô especially dangerous for you. They must know the risks, and have a plan for medical emergencies.
Ask your prospective facilitator how they would handle an emergency, and how they screen out unsuitable participants. A facilitator without a screening process or an emergency procedure may not be trustworthy.
Check that your practitioner will be doing a test point on you, will limit your water consumption following the application of kambô, and will monitor you throughout the ceremony. Have a high standard while researching facilitators – there are many out there, and if a practitioner does not fulfil all of these requirements then they don’t deserve to be working with the medicine.
Western or Indigenous Facilitator?
Many Western facilitators seem to have little or no indigenous training, and instead rely on intuition or overconfidence. Even modern qualifications, such as those offered by the IAKP, do not confer trustworthiness with a medicine we know so little about.
This is one reason why it may be preferable to choose an indigenous facilitator. Although they may not have the same perspective of medicine and health, they are likely to understand how to guide people through the kambô experience in some depth, and will probably have a better anticipation of what dose is appropriate for you.
A Western facilitator, while they may lack the wisdom and experience of an indigenous facilitator, may have the benefit of knowing more about contraindicated medications and health conditions.
In the end, a safe facilitator has to be someone who is willing to answer your questions, and who you feel comfortable with. They should take your wellbeing as a priority, and be honest with you about the risks and how they will work to minimize them.
Learn our in-depth article about How to Select a Safe Kambo Facilitator.
Taking Kambô Outside a Retreat
If you’re experienced with kambô, or perhaps have done a self-application course, you might be considering taking kambô outside of a supervised environment.
We recommend having someone else there who can help you with things like going to the toilet or removing the medicine if necessary.
Anyone who is sitting for you should:
- Know the space. Know where the bathroom is and where to get more water or anything that might be necessary during the experience.
- Know the medicine. Know what kind of effects the person will experience after applying the kambô, and how long they tend to last.
- Know how to keep the person safe. Kambô can have intense effects — vomiting, defecation, and a greatly heightened heart rate are common reactions. It’s important that the environment is accommodating to the person’s needs. They shouldn’t drink more than two liters of water during or after the ceremony.
- Know why the person has chosen to take kambô and what they might need during the experience, as well as their desired boundaries around physical contact.
- Be a gentle presence. There’s no need to try to guide the person in a certain direction. The sitter is there to keep them safe and support them through what can be an arduous and physically demanding process.
Some basic tips for setting up an at-home kambô experience are:
- Prepare the space. Make sure you have a comfortable spot to sit while you go through the experience and remove any sharp or potentially dangerous objects. Make sure no one will interrupt you, and, if you’re doing it outside, ensure you’re in a place you know well with no hazards or obstacles.
- Practice fire safety! You will be making a burn, so be careful with open flames. Remember that the burns you make will scar you, so mindfully choose where you make them.
- Prepare in the same way that you would for a retreat. For example, by sticking to a particular diet beforehand and readying yourself mentally. See the section below for further details.
See our Resources section for training courses that qualify people to administer kambô safely.
Preparing for Kambô
Whether you’re attending a retreat, or tripping in your own home, it’s advisable to do some preparation for the experience.
Although kambô is not a typical psychedelic experience, you can still undertake spiritual preparations such as meditation, yoga, breathwork, journaling, and mindfulness.
Dieting may be a good idea, if you want to complement the purgative properties of the experience. Additionally, it’s traditional to drink large quantities of liquid immediately before a ceremony to aid with the purge – however don’t drink more than a couple of liters during or after the ceremony, as more than that could be dangerous. 
Although setting an intention is something that is done for more typical psychedelic experiences, it could be helpful for a kambô experience too. Developing a clear goal for what you are hoping to encounter during your experience will increase the likelihood of taking something positive from it.
The Risks of Kambô
Kambô is not a safe substance. It contains a number of toxins, and its non-toxic components will drastically affect your bodily functions. Several deaths and injuries have been reported following kambô use,  so don’t approach this medicine without knowing about the risks.
If you have a heart condition, or difficulties with your blood pressure, avoid kambô. It can raise your heart rate up to 190bpm, and can significantly reduce your blood pressure. Heart or blood pressure medications can be dangerous if combined with kambô.
If you have an anxiety disorder, kambô could induce a panic attack, or make you revisit past trauma. Check with your healthcare provider if unsure.
Pregnant people are at a high risk from the abortive properties of kambô. It is used traditionally to end pregnancies. 
According to the International Association of Kambô Practitioners, you should also avoid kambô if you have Addison’s disease, suffer from severe epilepsy, or take immuno-suppressants.
There is a risk of hyponatremia with kambô; an imbalance in sodium levels that can be fatal. Do not drink more than two liters of water over the course of a ceremony. Alternatively, some facilitators provide electrolyte drinks, such as the manioc-based drink Caiçuma.
To minimize the physical risks, you should make sure you are in good health before your experience, and only trip with facilitators who you have researched and who you trust to take your safety as a priority. Be honest with your facilitator about any health conditions you have.
It’s also important to remember that the kambo experience involves being burned on your skin. These burns are painful, and will scar. Make sure you trust your facilitator, and don’t mind having permanent marks on your body.
A good kambô facilitator who is aware of the risks of kambô should:
If a facilitator does not do these things, you should find one who does.
The Kambô Experience
The venom of the kambô frog will usually be extracted in front of you, if you are participating in a traditional ceremony. The frog will have its limbs tied to four posts, and its sides will be prodded with twigs to induce it to secrete its venom. The venom is scraped off its back, as a whitish gel.
Small burns will be made on your skin, in the shape of dots, with a burning stick. Your facilitator may gently remove the burned layer of skin with their fingers. The venom will then be applied to the burned dots of skin. 1-3 dots is considered a light or moderate dose, with any more considered heavy. Ideally, a facilitator will perform a test dot to check for allergic reactions, before administering the full dose.
You will start to feel the effects within a few seconds or minutes. The experience can last up to an hour, but can be shortened by washing the venom off your burns. The first feelings are described as a rising nausea, mixed with an opioid-like dissociation. Your heart rate will gradually rise, you will start to feel hotter, and the nausea will increase until you are likely to vomit or defecate.
Following the purge, you will continue to feel nausea, accompanied by dissociation, dizziness, a dream-like consciousness, and possibly stomach pain. Other physical sensations may include dry throat and mouth, blurred vision, difficulty moving, and numbness in the lips and tongue.
People often feel exhausted after the experience, as if their body needs to rest. Afterwards, some people report renewed vigor – feeling as if they have been given a physical boost.
Read more about the kambô experience in our article Kambô Frog Medicine: An Unconventional Path to Healing.
As of now, kambô is legal or unregulated in all countries. The only exception is Brazil, which has restricted the commercialization of kambô in 2004.
Integration with Kambô
Although kambô is not a psychedelic experience, if you’ve sought it out for healing, it may make sense to make an attempt to integrate what you’ve gone through into your life.
Some ceremony or retreat facilitators will make sure to check in with you after the session to talk through your experience.
You might experience deep insights and shifts during and after your kambô experience, so it’s important that you have some kind of support network around you in the days and weeks following the ceremony. Putting the lessons you learned into words can often help you turn them into meaningful changes.
It’s also advisable to continue any spiritual practices you maintained prior to the ceremony in the days and weeks afterward, such as meditation and journaling. By carrying on with these practices, you open the door for more clarity to arise and for the insights to continue to unfold.
If you’re struggling with an aspect of the experience, it’s a wise idea to speak to an integration specialist, who can support you on your journey. There is a growing field of integration providers; whether coaches or licensed therapists, they can be found all over the world.
Take a look at our Resources section for more information.
Where does kambô come from?
Kambô is the venom secreted from the back of the Amazonian frog Phyllomedusa bicolor.
What is the difference between kambô vs bufo?
Although they are both venoms from similar amphibians, kambô and bufo are wildly different in their effects. Bufo is psychedelic, whereas kambô is not. Bufo can have profound spiritual effects, while kambô mostly works on the body. Bufo is smoked, and kambô is applied to small wounds in the skin.
Where to do kambô?
Kambo ceremonies are abundantly available throughout the Upper Amazon basin, and globally through numerous international practitioners. You can refer to our Resources section for links to retreat finder portals and the International Association of Kambô Practitioners.
Where to apply kambô?
Kambô is usually applied to the skin of the shoulder, leg, or foot of the receiver.
What does kambô feel like?
Kambô can cause a range of unpleasant effects. They include: dizziness, nausea, trouble swallowing, a stomachache, heart palpitations, swelling in various parts of the body, and incontinence.
How many kambô sessions do I need?
A single session should suffice for most people to connect with the medicine and the process; whether additional applications are needed can be established after the first session. It's often said that three sessions within a month should be done for the medicine to be truly effective, but there is no evidence for this.
How many dots are made?
This is usually up to the practitioner's judgment. Generally, between three and seven points are applied. Normally, sessions start with a single initial dot to see how the receiver reacts to the medicine.
Can kambô be dangerous?
Kambô is generally safe for healthy individuals. However, with the increasing prevalence of its use in Europe, certain negative reactions have been reported. One study details a case of a user who has developed toxic hepatitis as a result of kambô use.  The researchers state that multiple organ failure and death are a possible negative consequence of kambo use.
Can kambô be detected in a drug test?
It is highly unlikely that any standard drug test would screen for the chemicals in kambô.
Does kambô cause tolerance?
Yes it does, but users have reported that the tolerance increases and decreases in phases. Some users say that Sananga or Becchete eye drops, or iboga can help reduce tolerance to kambô.
How does kambô work?
Numerous compounds called peptides within the venom impact the body in various ways; some cause vomiting or defecation, others lower blood pressure, raise the heart rate and adrenaline, while some have antibiotic effects. You can learn more about kambô's effects on the body in the Pharmacology section of this guide.
Where to buy kambô?
We do not recommend anyone obtain kambô and apply it on themselves, without an experienced and ethical practitioner. If you are interested in purchasing the medicine, however, kambô sticks, which already contain the dried venom, can be found in select ethnobortanical shops online.
Can you do kambô and ayahuasca at the same retreat?
Yes, and many retreat centers offer kambô sessions to their guests as additional (optional) experiences. Kambô can be done before ayahuasca to get the purge going or after ayahuasca to clear out what the brew didn't.
Why do kambô?
The primary purpose of receiving kambô is to achieve a profound purge and eliminate toxins from the body.
Should I follow a diet before doing kambô?
It's advised to stick to a light and healthy diet before doing kambô, as well as to eliminate any stimulants, pharmaceuticals, or recreational drugs for at least a few days prior to the session. Basically, following the ayahuasca Dieta would be perfect.
How long does a kambô session last?
The sessions can last between two and four hours, with the medicine remaining on the skin usually between 20 and 40min.
Are kambô scars permanent?
Yes. Kambô scars do fade after a while, but they always stay with the receiver.
Can kambô cause psychological trauma?
Kambô is not psychedelic and is mildly, if at all, psychoactive. However, the purging is intense and can last for a long time; it has a potential to cause or trigger some trauma in receivers.
Can you die from kambô?
Kambô contains toxic chemicals which cause intense physiological reactions. It can be deadly if used improperly or if it's given to someone with an underlying condition or on medication which may interact negatively with the venom.
Can kambô frogs be kept as pets?
They can, but they do not produce the same kind of venom when they are not in their natural habitat.
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Additional Artist Credits
- Part 1 background image: Ruysen Flores Venancino
- Part 2 featured image: Boris Quinteros
- Part 3 background image: Amanda Sage
- Featured image: Nicolás Rosenfeld