I can’t say for certain where we are heading, other than on the map it’s marked as the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, no major towns near by, is probably 100km West of Mexico City. From Morelia we take the smaller roads East, driving is slow as we keep climbing, not only in altitude but over dozens of topes too. We’re headed for the winter hibernation grounds of the Monarch Butterflies. Every Autumn they migrate from Canada & the USA, riding the wind currents all the way to the heart of Mexico.
Following the GPS, we wind through yet another mountain village, only this one is a little different. The houses are tiny, with tiny windows and doors, laundry strung out under the eves, like something you’d see illustrated in a children’s story book. Each is maybe 300 sq ft, built shoulder to shoulder into the side of the hill. I wonder if the furniture is small too… It looks like life here would be difficult, the people must be strong and physically fit as there isn’t a flat piece of land to be found. The village is approximately 3,000 meters up, the streets are exhaustingly steep. Passing through, it looks like they work just to survive. I wish now I had snapped some photos as we didn’t return the same way. Doh!
It’s cold and raining, the streets are slippery, but Bruce climbs on without problem. We’re still in the trees, the air is thin, cloudy and wet. Our plan is to camp the night in the carpark and go see the butterflies in the morning, but I’m worried as I’ve read that the butterflies will not come out in the cold, they need the warmth of the sun to dry their wings so they can fly.
The top of the road opened out into an awkwardly oriented off camber parking lot and not really suitable for sleeping on, the only flat area of ground we could find was up on the grassy knoll, so we set up camp there, nobody said anything, and it turned out to be perfect for the night. Cows moved in grazing around us till night fall when they disappeared completely. They headed for the cover of the trees probably knowing the rains were coming, it poured heavily all night, then in the wee hours a fierce lightening and thunder storm had us concerned as we were parked right next to a tall metal tower…. The temperature plummeted over night, we were up early, our breath frosty, it must be -5’C. I was making hot oatmeal for breakfast when a guide came over, we manage to work out that he too thinks its too cold for the butterflies, but we could go for a horse ride up the trail. Seems a shame to have come all this way for nothing, so we quickly got ready and headed out. We didn’t buy the park entry fee as we were just going for a trail ride, and not going to see the Monarchs, but the horsemen, unaware, just took us to the trail head and told us they’d wait an hour for us. We figured we’d go take a look, not expecting to see much. Roughly 200 meters along the hill side trail we came to a small opening, must be where people sit and watch. There, hanging in the trees was a truly unbelievable sight, there must been millions upon millions of sleeping Monarchs. We sat & watched in amazement at this natural phenomenon. Hanging in masses from the branches of the trees, big brown clumps of them. Then, slowly one by one, as the sun crept over the hill top radiating a little heat, wings begin to open adding a hint of orange. We stayed 40 mins longer than we should have, but having come this far, we way weren’t about to leave just as they began to stir.
Alas, the kids were getting growing impatient and keen to get back to the horses, they ran ahead as I reluctantly got ready to leave. Jaxon had been asking to ride a horse for as long as I can remember, so that was understandably more fun for them. They each had their own pony, and fearlessly climbed on, these horses walk the same trail all day long and quietly follow along in line. The ride must have been 1.5km round trip and cost 200 pesos per horse + tip. Worth every penny.
We’re back to the truck by 11am, and decide to head back down the other side of the mountain in the direction of CDMX. Too far to make the drive in one day, I found a campground with a zoo, to spend the night in. It was a large recreation park with camping, again its deserted. Our camp fee for the night included entry to the zoo. We’re travelling in the off season so everywhere is deserted. The next morning before hitting the road we walked through the zoo, all the animals looked healthy and well cared for. The kids wee excited to have seen 4 black jaguars, lions, wolves, falcons, bison etc. again we were the only people there.
Next stop, the largest city in the world, the home of over 40 million people and a couple of gringos driving an oversized truck, this will be interesting.