Migrating millions, Monarch mariposa - Michoacan, Mexico

Sat, Jan 19, 2008 4-minute read

As we left Morelia, it quickly became evident that we were heading in just one direction - up. Destination: Zitacuaro at an altitude of around 2000m. The bus takes about 1.5 hours, but that’s largely due to it being a bus in the more traditional sense of the term, that is, it stopped at moreorless every lamppost on the way to pick up all and sundry. But at 100 pesos (about 4.5 quid), we weren’t complaining. Zitacuaro turned out to be a much condensed version of Mexico City - vibrant and active during the day with a seemingly neverending market - but at night there was little to do. Indeed, when we asked the owner of our hotel where we could get some good Mexican grub and maybe a few beers, we felt sure it was our dodgy Spanish that was indicating there were neither bars nor restaurants. As it turned out, there were no restaurants and only one bar, which, touted as a video bar, which was little more than a room with a TV in. Nevertheless, a few Coronas and a great deal of complimentary popcorn later, we were reasonably fulfilled.

The absence of tourism in some of the places I have visited can make for some unusual reactions. In many places you feel like the tourist attraction as a couple of gringos walking around a town, you inevitably attract the eyes and interest of the locals. Naturally, most see you as a walking wallet, but some are fascinated by the style of dress or hair, a handful enjoy the chance to practice their English or tell you about the region and the kids just tend to smile and laugh at you. But I haven’t yet felt unsafe or insecure which is testament to the friendliness and hospitality of the Mexican people.

Monarch butterflies

From Zitacuaro we bid a hasty exit, continuing our ascent of the region to Angangueo. I say hasty since earlier in the day we had been forced to abandon our breakfast order after it took nearly an hour to just bring the coffee. We weren’t prepared to find out how long enchiladas and a club sndwich were going to take. Angangueo (altitude: 2500m) is a sleepy village on the side of the mountain and serves as one of the more popular destinations from which to visit the butterflies.

The region is the holiday destination (i.e. wintering ground) of choice for the Monarch butterfly (see Flickr photo.) As many as 100 million per colony make the trip from Canada and the northern US to enjoy the warm climate and quiet valleys for their reproductive wonts. It is still unknown why they choose this specific area to migrate to but nevertheless it forms an integral part of their lifecycle. We visited two sanctuaries - Sierra Cinchua and El Rosario, both at an occasionally dizzying altitude of 3400m - where at first you would be forgiven for wondering why you’ve many many miles to witness a few thousand butterflies floating about in the air. It’s only when you look more closely at the trees and specifically what you thought were branches covered in dead leaves, that you realise said leaves are in fact hordes of butterflies huddled together inall manners of embrace. Better still, however, is when the sun comes out as masses take to the sky. Despite the overactive beeping and clicking of tourist cameras, the sound of 20,000,000 butterfly wings is beautiful and mesmerising. It’s an awesome thing to experience. Interesting fact: after the male Monarch butterfly mates, he dies. Fingers crossed it was worth it.

From Angangueo we returned to Mexico City with a one night pitstop in Toluca, Mexico’s highest city (2680m.) Geek note: in Angangueo and Toluca, quite remote places that were unable to provide some basic commodities (marmite, Earl Grey, decent KFC to name a few) all the PCs in the Internet cafes were running Windows Vista, which to me, was a more peculiar phenomenon than the ice rink in Mexico City.)

A further couple of nights in the capital and I’d decided enough was enough: it was high time to get back the beach and the Pacific coast waters of Puerto Escondido.


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