Juan administers a sting to the face of Robin Cleaver

The sting is the bee’s knees

Bee sting therapy has a confirmed group of followers in Puerto Escondido


It’s 10 am and the heat is already piping through my feet as I walk into Rafaela’s Garden Restaurant in Zicatela.

I am greeted by the smiling round face of Doña Rafaela herself, who hugs me and invites me to sit at the family table.

I have come today, however, for more than just breakfast.

Doña Rafaela leaves and returns moments later from her kitchen with both hands full. She places a fresh café de olla in front of me and an open honey pot at the far end of the table. She then takes her leave to attend to her slowly filling restaurant.

Meanwhile, I watch the pot with mixed emotions over the tip of my clay cup. The bees, it seems, have been quite literally waiting in the wings.

It takes less than the time needed for a couple of sips of my coffee before more than ten working bees zoom in from all directions to busy themselves around the open pot.

Doña Rafaela, now equally busy, eyes my table intermittently until she has a free moment. And when that moment comes she struts over to my table at a brisk pace, plucks a bee from the pot and sticks it with her agile fingers onto my waiting head.

She waits for the ensuing sting and a little squawk from yours truly and follows up with a cube of ice in a tea towel to dampen the eye-watering effect.

This dance is repeated a further five times.

Finally, Doña Rafaela adjusts her apron and I take my leave – her morning rolls on as if nothing out of the ordinary has ever taken place.

Doña Rafaela has been practising apitherapy for some years now and I am one of a number of followers who go to her for treatment regularly. But why would I subject my little English head to the discomfort of  bee stings on a Sunday morning in September?

Well as a last resort I am seeking relief for a twenty-year relationship with migraines!

Apitherapy is not in any way a new-fangled cure for migraines or any of the other many ailments it is believed to cure. Nor is it new in Puerto Escondido.

The Hotel Santa Fe, where I first saw the bees administered as a treatment for a friend’s facial paralysis, has also been working with apitherapy for some years.

Owner Robin Cleaver started trying bee stings when he fell at his finca some four years ago. It was the first of a string of occasions where apitherapy helped save Robin from expensive surgery. A friend of his, having just returned from an Ayuvedic conference where bee sting therapy had been headlined, told him to try the bees before anything else.

Robin — with nothing much to lose and unable to walk — immediately administered the treatment with the help of his own beekeeper, Juan “Abeja,” and received, in Robin’s words, instant relief.

“Bees changed my life!’’

Robin had suffered from arthritis for some years prior to the fall and with increased faith driven by such quick results he continued with the therapy. Today he gets up to 70 stings a week to keep his pains at bay.

Juan “Abejas” has his own stories too. A neighbor, Maria from the mountain town of San Rafael, suffered from a severe sinus infection for as many years as he had known her.

One day on her way home, groceries in hand, Maria was chased by a swarm of bees and stung hundreds of times all over her body.

After recovering from the shock she realized that her sinus problem had completely disappeared. Maria has called the event Santa Milagro since that dramatic day and continues to be free from sickness years later. It is a nice story, and perhaps it was the bees or perhaps it was the shock that cured her.

Robin himself, however, does not need convincing.

His family and staff have been using the bees for an array of ailments over the years. Anxious not to kill the bees after stinging, Robin has developed a special technique using tweezers, which enables the bee’s stinger to stay intact in the bee after stinging, which is fundamental to its survival.

He told me of back hernias – and fractured vertebrae – that rendered him unable to walk. Robin’s bees and beekeeper have cured him over and over again, defying doctors’ pleas for surgery each and every time.

So what is the science behind the sting?

When a bee stings you the venom — in which lies its healing potency — stimulates the adrenal glands to produce cortisol, a natural human hormone containing anti-inflammatory properties.

The venom then works on the immune system — like jump-starting it — and spurs the production of endorphins via the pituitary, hypothalamus and adrenal glands.

In short, the process works directly on the body’s natural pain killers.

Bee venom contains tons of antiviral and antibacterial properties and something really interesting called melittin, the number-one peptide in bee venom that helps block inflammatory genes that are bound to diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.

So in the bubbling pot of this remarkable remedy a whole bunch of ingredients reside.

What’s in there?

Well quite a lot actually: neuro transmitters such as peptide apamin, serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine.

Together they all facilitate the healing of disorders of the entire nervous system. The venom travels along the neural pathways, nobly repairing and restoring as it moves along the spine.

So what of my own experience?

Well, my migraines have gone!

Three trips to the bees and not an inkling remains of the pain I lived with for so long.

In my interviews with Robin and Doña Rafaela I heard of and witnessed many other cases where the bees worked their miracles — from facial acne, sinus relief and anti-aging to chronic back pain, rheumatoid arthritis and even alcoholism.

Bee venom has been used for thousands of years in hundreds of ways. Here in Puerto Escondido a firm belief in its value, fed by positive, life-changing results, is keeping this ancient tradition alive.

—Julianne Chadwick

This story previously appeared in print in Puerto Escondido magazine.

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    Juan "Abeja" looks after the bees
  • beesting-therapy-2
    Juan administers sting treatment to the writer
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    Applying a sing to a client's back
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    The source of the therapy
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    Beesting therapist Doña Rafaela of Puerto Escondido