Monthly Archives: January 2014

Mucho Mucho Butterflies

I remember watching a National Geographic episode a few years ago called “Great Migrations”. One of the images that really stuck in my mind was the pine trees sagging with the weight of thousands of monarch butterflies at their overwintering spot in Mexico. At the time, we were living in England and I never really imagined that I would see this with my own eyes. But here we are.

We drove the long and winding roads up to the El Rosario Butterfly Reserve in the afternoon and set up for another chilly mountain night in the carpark. A few local kids crowded around the van and corrected our broken Spanish while we chatted.  As the sun set over the mountains we had our fingers crossed for a clear and sunny morning, the best conditions for viewing the butterflies.

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The morning broke cool and clear and the frosty ground crunched under our feet, as we followed our guide up the forested trail to one of the biggest butterfly colonies.

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We had our eyes peeled for signs of butterflies but didn’t see any until finally we rounded a bend and noticed that the tress looked a little different.  As if they had fat, heavy orange leaves instead of green pine needles.

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But they aren’t leaves at all, they’re butterflies.  When the weather is cool they all cluster together on the south side of the trees, completely covering the leaves, branches and trunks. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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When the sun hits them, they open their wings to soak up the heat and then take to the air.  We stood around for about an hour in the chilly morning air just taking it all in. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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It was truly incredible to see them in such great numbers. Who would have thought that the boring old orange butterfly that you see everywhere was actually so amazing. Every year, they travel from Canada all the way down to central Mexico.  These little things manage to complete that trip in less time than we did. And the most incredible thing is that the journey is far longer than the lifespan of any individual.  They actually breed a few times along the way, so the ones that return to the north in the summer are actually the great-great-grandkids of the ones that left there the year before.  I wonder if our great-great-grandkids will one day retrace our path across half the world.

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The path back to the car park is lined with little clapboard restaurant shacks.  On the advice of our guide we chose Augustina’s Cocina and had one of the best breakfasts ever.  I’d go back just for the food.

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Puttering in Patzcuaro

We had heard a lot about Patzcuaro, from both the salt crusted surfers and the retired RV’ers. It seemed like a good place to spend a few days. With the cold weather wrapped around us, we spent the evenings by the fire reading, TV’ing and cooking in our “cabin”, the little casita at our RV park that we completely took over.

Making Mexi Lentils

Making Mexi Lentils

Apple Sauce

Apple Sauce

On the advice from fellow tourists we headed out across the lake to Isla Janitzo. It was a nice relaxing half day trip as we wandered through the traditional village and admired the views.

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For me though, the city of Patzcuaro itself had much more to offer. When I say much more to offer, I mean FOOD. We had an awesome street side breakfast for about $6 in total for the three of us. Then we wandered through the best market I’ve been to so far.

Buffet breaky Mexi style

Buffet breaky Mexi style

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Giggles

Giggles

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Backseat BlissBackseat Bliss

Next stop….butterflies!

Searching for Volcanoes

Although it was tempting to stay on the coast, we decided to head inland in search of volcanoes. I was missing the mountains, and hiking, and sweaters (jumpers for the Aussies). 

“I can see my breath” Mugsie laughed, “In Mexico. This is weird.” The temperature dropped dramatically as we climbed in elevation. Our first stop was Laguna La Maria, in the state of Colima, where we camped for the night.

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We had heard that hiking up Nevado de Colima was the best way to get a look at Volcan de Fuego, the neighbouring active volcano. As it turns out, the best view we got was out the window.

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Getting directions is Mexico can be pretty hilarious. A simple question often has a long excited answer, especially if you drive a VW van. Everyone is willing to help and the van definitely helps with the street cred. It is amazing how long you can chat to someone, even when you barely speak the same language. Mugsie is a big help though, her Spanish is “muy bien”. Finding Nevado de Colima turned out to be a long and convoluted process. We were about to give up, when we finally stumbled across signs for the park entrance. The climb up to the campground was the longest in Oscar’s history. Once again he made us proud, depsite some difficulties with the lack of oxygen.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAre we back in Canada?

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We hiked up the road, hoping that the clouds might clear and we’d catch a glimpse of Volcan de Fuego. We couldn’t summit the peak though, because of all the snow this year. The further we climbed, the less we could see. It was fun though, seeing all the Mexicans rugged up, having snowball fights and lighting fires in the carpark to keep warm. 

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Interior Mexico feels like a totally different world to the coast. People in the small villages dress in a more traditional fashion, and they often speak in different dialects.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPicking up tortillas.

We stumbled across a parade in one little town. It was quite the event. Most of these festivities seem to be dedicated to a specific catholic saint.

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We learnt some useful information about emergency camping in Mexico. Apparently you can park at a PEMEX station, no problem. Kind of like Walmart in the States. This saved the day when we were caught out driving in Michoacan in the dark.

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Our next Volcano stop was Angahuan and the volcano Paricutin. This erupted in the 1940’s. There were no casualties as the lava oozed out slow and steady. Two neighbouring villages were buried and a single church is all that’s left to mark the place.

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The hunt continues for impressive volcano views.