Journey to Mexico
As the 20th anniversary of the IBBA approached, we decided it was time to plan a trip to see the overwintering monarchs in Mexico, an item on the bucket list of many members. For over a year I looked forward to January 27th, the day I would leave for Mexico.
Our travelers departed from all over North America as we had members coming from California, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Florida and more. Our group started gathering in small clusters in Houston and flew on to Morelia together.
Our hotel looked like an old castle, it was beautiful, and very old. After a tasty dinner we were off to bed to get ready for a day of exploration. Across the street was a cathedral built in the 1500’s with bell towers chiming on the hour.
Gathering for dinner and beverages after a long journey.
A tour of the city was in order the next day before we departed to our next destination, Rancho San Cayetano, outside of Zitacuaro. We traveled in 2 buses with our guides Carlos and Alfredo. We wound around the mountains winding one way then the other, up and down and around. We lost track of the number of speed bumps that we slowed to a crawl to go over. They were used for traffic control instead of traffic signals and stop signs.
We stopped for lunch at a local restaurant in Tialpujahua on the way. We were greeted with a sight that few of us have ever seen, guards armed with machine guns.
We don’t know what they were protecting, but we knew that we were far from home at this point. After lunch we traveled on to Rancho San Cayetano.
After checking into our rooms we gathered in the dining room and enjoyed a delicious meal prepared by Evite and her staff. It was a feast complete with a wonderful wine selection. We all enjoyed the warmth from the cozy fireplaces in our rooms that night as it was the first of many chilly nights.
We awoke to a sumptuous breakfast the next morning. Fresh tropical fruit, muffins, delicious breads. And several of our group were already sick in their rooms with Montezuma’s’ revenge.
The rest of us boarded the buses and we also acquired a van, and we caravanned through the mountains to our first sanctuary, Sierra Chincua Butterfly Reserve.
We mounted our horses and up the mountain we went. It was an adventure to say the least and a taste of what was to come. We hiked through the woods on narrow paths filled with boulders going up and down and around. Then we saw it, an Oyamel fir tree covered with monarchs. We were in awe at the wonder of seeing such a marvelous sight. It sent chills up your spine to your heart as you stood there and took it all in.
There were millions of butterflies and some flitting around us where we were precariously perched.
Another fine dinner at Rancho San Cayetano, then off to bed enjoying the warmth of our cozy fireplace. I left Ranch San Cayetano with tears in my eyes. It was so beautiful and serene. A sanctuary for those of us traveling. The owners, Lisette, Pablo and their son Paul were so gracious. I promised to return.
Back on the bus with our guides Carlos and Alfredo. They were part of our group now and we enjoyed their narrative of the towns we passed through as we wound our way up another mountain to El Rosario Butterfly Reserve.
Another horse ride was in store for us. However, this one was much longer than the first and the path was steep, and up the mountain we went. Our cowboys lead the horses up on foot.
It was an easy ride compared to what we had in store for us the next day. And once again, after a short walk we were surrounded by monarchs hanging in the trees. The sun had been shining on a dry river bed which brought down hundreds of monarchs. However, the ground was cold when the sun disappeared and I wonder what happened to the butterflies. Could they make it back up to the tree tops? We left before I found out. Giddy up, I’m ready to go back down.
We were all excited to get to JM Butterfly B & B because we came bearing gifts for the arborists employed by Butterflies and Their People, IBBA’s main conservation program. We had radios so the rangers could communicate while on the mountain, thermoses to keep their coffee hot on a cold, windy day, warm hiking socks, an excellent camera and all the equipment, and a monarch cape.
The mission of Butterflies and Their People is to preserve the monarch sanctuary at Cerro Pelon by creating jobs for local people in forest and monarch conservation. Ellen, co-owner of JM Butterfly B & B, told us about how the ranger program got started and what they needed to continue. The rangers earn $4,000 a year. And since the ranger program started the illegal logging has dropped by 87% at Cerro Pelon.
After a traditional Mexican dinner we were off to bed. No fireplaces, but nice heavy blankets that kept us warm.
Donations to Butterflies and Their People
The next morning I watched the school children going off to school in their neatly pressed uniforms. Every now and then a cowboy would come along leading a horse with another one just tagging along. The dogs were busy running back and forth, excited to be making the trip.
It was time to mount up once again and up the mountain we went. The climb was steep and the path was deeply rutted. Up and down and around on horseback is far harder than sitting on a bus. At last we reached a beautiful meadow and we disembarked after an hour and twenty minute ride. It was a cloudy brisk day and the monarchs stayed in the trees instead of coming to the meadow.
On your way up the mountain to see the butterflies
The walk to the Oyamel fir trees was short, and incredibly beautiful. Moss was growing over the ground, blue and red salvia was in bloom all along the trail and being visited by hummingbirds. It felt like we were the only people who had ever been there. And then we saw the monarchs. The trees were loaded and the branches were hanging from their weight. High in the trees where the sun was shining the monarchs were busy flying around. A few came down to where we were standing. We were in awe.
The photographers in the group were in their hay day. Even an amateur like me could get a good shot at this spot because we were so close to the butterflies. We returned to the meadow for lunch before mounting our horses for the ride down. I’ll just say this, when I heard that the horses didn’t want to fall down the mountain any more than we did, I felt reassured. However, I wondered if they could possibly stay on the trail with all the ruts and boulders. It was a greater thrill and more terrifying than any roller coaster ride. It is an adventure you don’t want to miss.
It was now time to make our way back to Morelia. We passed through or around Zitacuaro a few more times. We were sure our drivers were either lost or just trying to add to the trip. But it seemed that all roads led to Zitacuaro. We made a quick stop in a small town that was known for making glass Christmas ornaments. It was one of our few chances to spend some money.
My summary would not be complete without thanking Kathy Marshburn for all the hours she put into planning every aspect of the trip. She thought of everything and left no detail out of the plans that she made so that we could relax and enjoy our time together. Thank you, Kathy. It was truly amazing.
At last we arrived back in Morelia and we checked into the same rooms we stayed in before. We gathered once more for our final dinner and the last time that many of us would be together. There were hugs and tears as we said our good-byes. We shared something together that we would cherish forever…