Oaxaca, Saturday 07/03/15

I have thoroughly warmed to Mexico now and that’s not just down to the Margaritas and Mezcal. 

Mazatlan is relatively user-friendly, with little stores selling a large variety of fresh foods, large supermarkets, a long beach and attractive buildings in the old quarter.

It’s very spread out, though, and hard to work out the buses, particularly as the bus stops are hardly identified. I have a limited time in Mexico, so moved on to Guadalajara. 

The coaches in Mexico are great. You don’t need to book, as there are very regular services going practically everywhere. This is a good thing, as the coach companies do not except payment by foreign credit cards so I could not book online. Public toilets are clean and well equipped, though you do have to pay. Also, many of them have floor to ceiling turnstiles, which entails contortions on my part when carrying my backpack and daypack. 

For me, Guadalajara won’t do. Again, some beautiful buildings.

I enjoyed the sculptures and some of the art work. Though  some of it is very dark, some is fun.

There’s a lively night life, families strolled the streets and I even watched some fireworks from outside the faded beauty of my hostel. Still, it lacked something for me and I was happy to proceed to Mexico City. 

Coming in to Mexico City from the West, you pass over a high flyover and get a good view of the many different districts. When I arrived, however, I wasn’t feeling so good. I have developed a sore throat that still hasn’t gone, over a week later. I took a day of rest, but there was still something I really wanted to do and time was running out.  

Since Tucson I had met people talking about the Monarch Butterfly and their hopes of being able to visit them while they are still amassed in their winter residence in Mexico. I had checked this out and discovered that there are very few places where you can go to see them in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Michoacan, North-West of Mexico City. Literally millions of them arrive there annually in November and the females depart again after mating in late March. A chance of circumstance not to be missed, so I bought a bus ticket, booked a bed at one of the three hotels in Angangueo mentioned on the Internet and set off just after midday. 

I arrived four and a half hours later- there was a demonstration in the city, (there is always a demo somewhere), which caused a traffic jam. Also the bus doubled for the school run, so let children off every five minutes along the final part of the journey. I asked a local for the hotel and was told to take a little bus, which was free. 

People on the bus told me where to get off and I expectantly looked around for someone to check me in. When I found someone to come to Reception and gave her details of my booking, she said she had no record of it and there was no room for me. Well, she spoke no English and I speak no Spanish, but it was clear what she meant. I showed her the confirmation email from Booking.com, but she said that as I had no confirmation directly from them, this did not count. So I was in a very remote part of Mexico, with no bed for the night and no bus back to the city.

To cut a long story short, after discovering there was a room, but they wanted to charge me much more for it, I started a half hour walk uphill through the village to another hotel, carrying my backpack and daypack on a very hot day. I had almost arrived when a car drew up beside me. Inside was a local guide, Oscar, and the woman from Reception. As I had been writing the name and number of the other hotel, she had noticed his name in my little gold notebook. She had tried to call him earlier, while I was with her, but only got hold of him after I had gone. He sorted the whole thing out for me, got me the room at a reasonable price and agreed to take me to see the butterflies the following morning. He would even drop me off at the bus stop on the main road to catch my ride back. 

After I eventually installed my bags in the room and had taken a cold shower and changed, I was offered a glass of wine by the couple in the next room, which we took out on the veranda. Disaster averted and it turned out well in the end. 

There are differing estimates of the altitude of the El Rosario butterfly reserve, but it is around 3,000m above sea level. Oscar drove me up a winding mountain road to a lookout point.

Though it would have been possible to visit El Rosario without Oscar, I was glad of his help and his company. He is a kind and sensitive man and we talked easily. When you get to the reserve entrance there is a small fee to pay and you have to be accompanied by one of the official “guides”, who are really there to ensure you do not disturb the insects and keep to the regulations.Then there is a steep climb up to where the Monarchs gather. It takes about 45 minutes, but I admit I had to stop several times to catch my breath, because of the altitude. At least I wasn’t the most affected, though. 

On the way we stopped at a flower-filled glade and watched butterflies and humming birds flitting here and there. As you approach the sanctuary, you start to walk among the butterflies and see them dropping to the ground as they mate. 

There were only about twenty people at the top and they ask everyone to keep quiet, which is a relief. I spent about one and a half to two hours just watching the millions of Monarchs. They hang in clumps that resemble wasps nests and as the sunlight reaches them through the trees they begin to fly. Early in the morning I was able to watch whole clusters suddenly break away and the air is simply filled with thousands of the little creatures all at once. My mind just drifted away and I stood entranced.

So many tiny lives, yet each has made an incredible journey and each fragile spirit is there for a purpose. 

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