I can go twice as hiiiiiighhhh!!! Take a look. It’s in my blog. It’s Everywhere Maaaan! We visit the Sierra Chincua Monarch Butterfly Preserve in Michoacan. Much frolicking ensues.
In case that intro was confusing to you:
Wednesday, January 3rd
Happy Birthday, Enrique! This was undoubtedly an unexpected way to begin his new year. He hit the road fairly early, as his girlfriend was already back in Queretaro waiting for him. I hope he didn’t get in too much trouble for joining me on this brief excursion.
The route for the day:
I finished a bit of computer work before taking off and heading to the Sierra Chincua Monarch Preserve. There are a few different ones in the area, but this one seemed like it was the least touristy. This is always a priority for me. I had about an hour ride to get to the preserve. The last part was a steep climb from the city of Angangueo.
After paying a few pesos to the parking attendant, the pavement ends and it is a rough dusty path to the parking area.
I had a little confusion right at the beginning about whether I needed a guide and if so, where I would get one. After paying (about $3), I kind of just kept on walking through the gate and passed the shops. Nobody said anything to me, so I’m guessing it is not required.
Early on, I had a decision to make: To hike or to horse. Physically speaking, I think I have a pretty sturdy constitution. There are very few circumstances that really throw me off of my game. However, altitude is one of those things and I was now at 11,500 ft. of elevation. Over two miles above sea level. Plus, I’m in really poor aerobic shape right now. I knew the hike wasn’t super far, so I decided to continue on foot. The horse renting people were not super pushy and soon I found myself going up a steep incline following butterfly signs.
Once I passed a group of middle aged women hiking in designer boots, I knew I would probably be OK. 🙂
The hike was a breeze and as I neared the viewing area, I saw my first monarch. At that moment, I knew I was going to really enjoy myself.
I guess now is probably time for a disclaimer: I do not have any great pictures. I tried for a little bit, but eventually just tried to be fully present in the moment. Oftentimes, experiencing something and documenting something are at odds with each other. I saw plenty of people with howlitzer sized lenses that barely took the camera away from your faces. There are times when I place a value on good pictures, this was not one of them.
That said, I tried to take a few.
There was something quite peaceful about being up there, even though it was fairly crowded. Additionally it is kind of inspiring to think about these diminutive creatures taking such an epic journey. Other migrating animals, like a Sandhills Crane or Wildebeest, sort of look the part; they are built efficiently and capable of covering large distances. But the monarch? Not so much. It seems like a rare occurrence to even see them fly in a straight line.
Without getting too philosophical, I guess there’s a lesson here, right? The migration of the monarchs is more about perseverance than power. It was a good reminder for me to continue to take this trip one flap at a time.
On the way back down I noticed an interesting cultural thing with Mexicans and greetings. When I would say “Buenas tardes” (Good afternoon) to someon, they were really serious about responding in kind; even if it took two breaths (Buenas *deep inhale* tardes *deep inhale*)
Now that it was afternoon, the horsemen all gathered at the top of the trail to take people down.
Again they weren’t too pushy. The hike down the mountain was a breeze. At the bottom of the trail there were kids with brushes offering to clean your boots. If this journey didn’t need to be so budget conscious, I would probably pay for more things like this, if for no other reason than to support the locals.
It seems like there is still a lot of potential for butterfly tourism to be more of an economic boon to the area. Of all the people I saw, there were maybe only 8-10 gringos and zero Asians. I don’t mean that to sound racist, but when you pull up to an area and see Asian people pouring out of a tour bus, you know you are somewhere pretty cool.
What a nice detour! The way down was fun once again.
I would have a little more adventure on the day: Finding a place for the night. Though there are always plenty of hotels around, I am still at the stage where I like to have something set up beforehand. I want to know the price and the facilities (specifically relating to parking) before I arrive. I think I could waste a lot of time going from hotel to hotel and still not find the best spot.
But planning ahead does not ensure everything will go smooth. I had found a “hospedaje” in the community of Senguio. I’m still learning what the word “hospedaje” means, but I think it generally means you get a room to yourself. Maybe “Inn” would be the best translation?” Anyway, I plugged the place into my phone and navigated towards it.
When I arrived at the destination it was a place of rest, but it was generally more suited to those on the other side of the ground: The town cemetary. I decided to ask somebody and I came upon a group of gentlemen drinking beer and tequila in a lean-to adjacent to a little store.
“Well…this should be interesting.”
They were all very helpful and friendly, so much so that they all tried to help me at the same time and I couldn’t understand the mixture of directions. Eventually, one of them walked out and pointed me in the right direction. He told me to go to the pharmacy which was right next to the church in the town square. They invited me for some drinks, but I told them I would like to find my place first.
At the pharmacy, the lady behind the desk said that the hospedaje was “aqui” (here) and got me checked in. It turns out it was right next door. The price was about $13 and it was a private room in a gated courtyard. Perfect.
After getting settled, I bought a couple of bags of chips and walked across town (maybe 1/4 mile) to reunite with my drinking buddies. They had all dispersed by this time, so I ate the chips myself while sitting in the town square.
I had a nice, safe, productive evening and night.
Thursday, January 4th
This would be a fairly long travel day. My goal was to get all the way over to the city of Puebla.
Doing so would mean being on toll roads most of the day, but the toll route cut off over 3 hours of travel time from the free version. Even though it cost almost 200 pesos ($10), I guess that’s fair.
I had made the decision to skip Mexico City. Nearly everyone I have been in contact with has said that visiting the city is a “must do” while in Mexico. However, I felt that my time in Mexico had already been too “city-centric” for my taste. Accordingly, I bypassed it.
I made a quick stop shortly outside of town in a Pemex (gas station) parking lot. Without thinking about it, I put my helmet on the ground and began getting things situated before entering the toll road. Soon, a lady wearing riding apparel approached me asking if I needed some help.
They informed me that putting your helmet on the pavement is a sign to other riders that you are in need of assistance. I’ve never heard of this before, but I was glad to find it out. I may need to be both a giver and a receiver of help during my time here.
(I just realized I totally forgot their names) The gentleman rode to Argentina a few years ago, so we had plenty to talk about. They also advised me to head east for a while on the free road before hopping onto the toll route. What nice people!
Their route advice gave me a little nice riding to begin my day.
The normal drudgery of a four line highway was mitigated by the scenery. The route passes around and by many mountains and was actually fairly painless. There’s usually always something interesting to see on Mexican roads.
I haven’t talked too much about Mexican food in this account so far. It seems like taking pictures of meals is almost a requirement for a trip like this. I’m trying to limit these photo-ops to special circumstances.
That said, I think I’ve found my favorite thing about Mexican food.
Yes, these long sleeves of “Japanese peanuts” that only cost about 50 cents. Ridiculous efficiency. They seem to be a little crunchier and tastier than normal peanuts. You can buy them at any Oxxo store, which are pretty ubiquitous in Mexico. In case your having trouble finding one, here is my three step method for finding an Oxxo:
Step 1: Find an Oxxo store.
Step 2: Look across the street. There, you should see an Oxxo store.
Step 3: If there’s not one across the street just go to the one that you found in Step 1.
Some see toll booths as obstacles, others see them as selling opportunities.
I made it to Puebla with no problems.
Not much else to say. A couple of regular irregular days. 🙂
Keep flappin’, everybody.
Realtime update: I’m in Oaxaca City. I’ll be here for at least two more nights. Tomorrow I’m planning to visit my first archaeological ruins of the trip at Monte Alban. I’m not sure why I’m a little behind, but I’ll try to get mostly caught up before I head to the Oaxaca coast.