Judith Cobbett looks through newspaper clippings in her Beaumont home. Cobbett was the first female dentist in Southeast Texas. Photo by Andy Coughlan

Judith Cobbett chose dentistry so she could travel and experience life to the fullest. Before opening her Beaumont practice, she had already traveled the world — from the Italian Alps to the Egyptian Pyramids and more.

But she didn’t just practice in Beaumont. In 1999, Judith and her then-partner Dean Tucker made their way to a village in Brazil, an experience she calls the most exciting place she practiced dentistry.

“I had heard about this place down in the Amazon and I wanted to go there for the year 2000,” she said. “We didn’t know from day-to-day how we were going to get there. We rode all kinds of ways. I realized where we’re gonna go was deep in the jungle — I mean way deep. It was a spiritual journey.”

A spiritual explorer, Sebastio Mota de Melo, established the community of Céu do Mapiá (which means “Heaven of the Mapiá (river)” in Portuguese) in 1983. The community of 700 is located in the Purus National Forest and is the headquarters of a branch of the Santo Daime religion. Cobbett said the Brazilian government gave Mota de Melo 50,000 acres in appreciation for what he was doing.

“They use ayahuasca, which is a drink that leads you into spiritual deep experiences,” she said. “It was a 10-hour canoe ride to get there, and the canoe had a little pole that stuck out the back with a little tiny propeller.

“That’s how we made it for 10 hours upstream going to this village. When we got there, it was pouring down rain. I didn’t know where to go because our guide had taken a different boat.”

Finally, Cobbett and Tucker were taken to a hut near the church.

“(The church) was huge,” Cobbett said. “Men were on one side, women on the other side, and they danced and sang and prayed for sometimes 12 hours straight.

“You would go up to a little window if you wanted to take the ayahuasca, and they would sing and pray, sing and pray for that many hours straight. I made some of the (services). Some of them I stayed in my cabin and I could hear the singing.”

The village had a small clinic with a doctor. Cobbett said she took her dental tools there on a whim.

“It was so isolated down there. I just felt they might need me,” Cobbett said. “There was no electricity, no way to use a drill. I could (treat) people that were having raging toothaches and needed extractions.”

The couple stayed for a month and saw in the millennium eve. Moto de Melo’s community attracted people from Germany and France and Switzerland for the big celebration.

“So, that’s what we chose to do, too,” Cobbett said. “Believe it or not, all these guests that had come in for the year 2000 had brought in flowers. Dean wanted to get married down there and I had taken a wedding dress down with me all the way down there to Brazil.

“(The villagers) draped me in scarves and all that kind of stuff — they felt it was not modest enough. They decided they would marry us right before all the midnight celebration started.”

When it came time to leave, Cobbett had gotten bitten by a bug on her leg.

“The doctor didn’t want me to leave, but I said no, I’ve got to get back home, I have patients waiting for me,” she said. “I left on the canoe like I came. I had to row with my leg propped up.”

Cobbett is not the sort of person to keep her feet up for long, and she returned to her practice with another set of stories under her belt.

This story originally ran in the March 27, 2022 edition of The Beaumont Enterprise.

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