Monarch Madness

Breakfast is another cheery occasion although all eight of us are a little worse for wear and 6 of us have had a terribly cold and sleepless night. Two of us (naming no names, because I refuse to gloat) had a very comfortable night kept warm by the dying embers of a glorious log fire,  and apart from the excess of wine drunk the previous evening are feeling perky and ready to go.

It soon becomes apparent that Anita and Kate, the two single women have spent their sleepless night preparing a plan of action that they now set in place. They are traveling in Mexico for 6 weeks and doing the entire trip on the little local buses that run everywhere. There is a pause in the conversation while they allow that to sink in. It does. They are from the Seattle area, which explains everything. They are not sure how they will get to the butterflies. Another pause, this one full of expectation.

We make the offer. They pretend to be surprised that we would come up with the idea of giving them a lift and graciously accept. We pretend that it was indeed our idea. We tell them we plan to leave at 9.30. They are standing by our car at 9.15. There is no way they are letting us go without them.

The drive takes about 20 minutes and we take the opportunity to learn more about each other. Actually Anita takes the opportunity to talk which she does the entire way and we learn more about them. We don’t get a word in. But they are bright and fun and we laugh a lot.

Monarch butterflies summer across the United States and southern Canada. In winter they converge on this tiny area around Angangueo.  No one quite knows why. Nor does anyone know how these butterflies find their way to the same wintering grounds every year, especially as it is never the same butterfly that returns the following year, it is in fact the great great grandchild of last year’s butterfly.

They average 100 miles a day and for some of them the trip is 3000 miles, one way. It is considered one of the longest, greatest migrations in the natural world. In March they all make the long trek back to where they came from

As little as twenty years ago the butterflies filled the town of Angangueo. The air was full of them.  They return every year, but every year they move a little higher up the mountain and a little further from the town.

There are four butterfly sanctuaries in the area. We are going to Chincua. To get there we drive a narrow winding potholed road up the mountain until we reach almost 10,000 feet. We are waved down by two fast talking young men who make Anita seem like an amateur at this talking business. They are offering their services as a guide. We know that a guide is not necessary but is highly recommended as we have to hike to the butterflies and they know the way. But neither of these young men speaks a word of English so we are not sure how much help they will be. They tell us their uncle speaks English and call Jorge over. He is 41, charming and speaks 10 words of English. Anita is smitten and desperately wants him for our guide.

Jorge tells us the walk will take about an hour through the mountains and that we can take horses if we like. We have been told that the walk there is mostly down hill but the walk back is uphill and at 10,000 feet it is a struggle. We ask if we can walk there and get the horses back.

Jorge calls over Luis, another nephew (I guess there is not much to do up in the mountains) who has horses. The horses are beautiful and well cared for, but Anita is far more interested in Luis, who is neither.  Anita is smitten again.

We are quickly learning that seeing the butterflies is not the only wild life adventure these two women have on their minds. We have learned that Anita never stops talking and has an amazing zest for life which includes seeing the bright side of absolutely everything even when there doesn’t appear to be one. It is a wonderful way to go through life, but it is very annoying for the people around her, which happens to be us. She tells us that everyone calls her Pollyanna. We pretend to look shocked.

Now dear readers I know you are fully aware of my lack of desire when it comes to hiking, but if needs must, so it shall be. It is a beautiful hike, along a narrow winding path. That is Anita in the background, beaming with happiness as always

There are  stunning views of the mountains and valleys shrouded in mist in the distance

either side of the path the mountain is covered with wild flowers the nectar of which is the main attraction for the butterflies.

The larvae feed only on the leaves of the white milkweed, a rather restricted diet but one which is amply catered for in these mountains.  As we get nearer we see the occasional butterfly. Anita is beside herself, thrilled at the sight of a single butterfly and starts taking photos, all the time telling us how thrilling this is and how wonderful it is that we decided to invite them along. See what I mean. Annoying.

This is what we hope to see

This is what we actually see

Jorge is smarter than he looks. He has waited till this moment to tell us that the butterflies hang from the trees in huge clumps and  don’t fly off to feed until they feel the strength of the sun on them which gives them energy. They cannot fly in temperatures under 55 degrees and actually become paralyzed if it gets much colder than that. The weather today is cold, grey and misty with not even a glimpse of sun.  The butterflies will stay in their clumps all day.

It is an amazing sight, but there is no sense of the wonderful colors of the monarchs. Anita tells Jorge that we are just thrilled to be here and have the opportunity of sharing this magical mountain with the butterflies and with Jorge. She might not make it back to our car.

We stand for almost two hours waiting for the sun and the butterflies. There are large signs pinned to the trees saying “silencia”.  It is a command that Anita is physically and mentally incapable of obeying. Now she is even annoying the butterflies.

Occasionally the sky gets brighter and a few of the bolder butterflies take flight

but they are the  foolhardy ones. It is not warm enough and they fall to the ground.

They stay there gasping for life, often getting trodden on by the hordes of tourists. However today there are no tourists. We have the mountain to ourselves, which as Anita tells us endlessly is wonderful. But it is because the other tourists are smarter than us and know this is not a good day to watch the butterflies

Luis is waiting for us just a little way down the mountain. His baseball cap is tilted at a jaunty angle and he has a huge smile on his face. Anita thinks he is lovely and the smile is just for her.

There are just four horses. How will Jorge and Luis get back? It seems that we will ride the horses while Luis and Jorge jog along beside us. That’s Anita once again beaming with happiness. It’s not a pose for the camera, it is how she always looks

I am embarrassed as it seems a little elitist for us to ride and for the Mexicans to walk, but as the path back gets steeper and steeper, I soon get over it.  I am sure the exercise is good for them. Jorge and Luis will make this journey twice a day or sometimes three times, if they are lucky.

The ride back takes well over half an hour. Anita wants photographs of her with the horse, of her with Luis, of her with Jorge, of her with Luis and Jorge, of her with us. On and on it goes, with Anita waxing lyrical about the entire day while a small crowd of guides gather round laughing. Finally she wants a photograph of Gordon and I with Jorge. By this time the other guides have built a small fire behind us, and as Anita points her camera they all fan the smoke in our direction.

They are in hysterics. Anita thinks it is wonderful that they are having so much fun at our expense.

Jorge invites us to have lunch at his wife’s small cantina nearby. It is hard to say no, although when we see the kitchen we wished we had

It has been a long and wonderful day. The disappointment of not seeing the butterflies at their best was tempered by sharing the experience with Anita and Kate. They are easy company. We laughed a lot.

We drop them off at the hotel and continue our journey.  We know we will miss them.




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1 Response to Monarch Madness

  1. Una says:

    Sounds and looks like u guys had fun. How lovely to travel with happy, positive people.

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