We like to say things like "where do you think we'll be in a year?" When we're feeling uncreative, the answer is basically, "who knows?" When we've got more time to think about it, the answers become more interesting and more inventive. I think we use this practice as a verbal brainstorm to see what catches on, and we never rule out any possibility until something really seems like the right idea.
Last year we spent Thanksgiving in Death Valley and the Mojave with a bunch of really great friends. I'm sure we were telling them all about our India travel plans around the campfire. Planning isn't always linear. We'll still make it to India eventually, but might have few more ideas to see through first.
This year for the holiday we took another road trip, this time to explore some areas of Mexico that Spencer found after doing a bit of research. Our criteria was this: beautiful, not too hot or cold, people under the age of 75 (love ya SMA, but really, we needed the variety), and plenty of outdoor activities. This led us to several spots including Colima, Comala, and Ajijic on Lake Chapala, which each deserve their own explanation. But this story will be about the Monarch Butterfly Reserve in Michoacan and the small village of Macheros.
On our first day, we walked down the road to see more of the area. The scenery was stunning, we'd driven near mountains like these on our first day in Mexico, but had never been so close before. I took this picture because I wanted to remember this one place - we counted five houses, one outhouse, no electricity, and a huge garden on this property where all of the family is living near one another. You can't see from the photo, but four children were lying side by side in the grass all in a line. One of them shouted out and they all rolled down the hill together - a steam roller in unison. Then they all got up, ran to their starting point, and repeated the game again and again - it continued as we walked away. I hope they are playing right now.
We came here to see the butterflies. Every year, depending on the conditions (the supply of milkweed), up to 1 billion monarch butterflies will migrate from the Great Lakes in Northern Michigan to this one specific village in Mexico. The monarchs who make the journey are not returning to this place; they were not born here and have never been before but they somehow know the spot. They'll fly 4,000 miles and arrive between mid-October and mid-November. Although there have been several years of dwindling monarchs due to pesticides killing the milkweed population along their route, this year their numbers increased again. This is partially because the wet weather supported the milkweed growth and partially because there has been more education and support for the monarchs in the past year. An estimated 500 million monarchs arrived in the mountains above Macheros just five days before we did.
In order to access the monarch butterfly reserve you must hire a guide (a good practice that promotes local tourism and helps to protect the area) and hike up or go by horse. I was really excited about riding a horse to the butterflies. We haven't ridden horses in Mexico yet, and it's one thing I'd been silently hoping for up to this point. So when the opportunity presented itself, I jumped for it. Spencer preferred hiking, but agreed to indulge me in the dream of trotting up a mountain trail into the clouds to find the monarchs.
There were four of us on the tour. The guide asked if anyone had experience on a horse and I raised my hand like half way, not wanting to brag but you know, I've been on a horse a few times. I've even bounced around in the saddle trying to keep up with Carmela and Joe on trails in Arizona, waking up with a truly authentic and well deserved sore backside. Because of or in spite of my "experience" (I'll never know) they put me up front. I was very encouraged at that point. The leader! Then I saw the guide in front of me holding a rope. And I saw that rope was attached to my horse. And all I had to do was hold onto the horn and occasionally lift up my camera to take a picture. Like a real pro.
Spencer got to ride a horse fit for a short person and was almost able to touch his feet to the ground. After a few hours on horses walking up steep terrain we hit the dismount spot and hiked the last kilometer ourselves. This was a steep trek up to the trees where the monarchs were hanging (quite literally). Once we got there we just stood and watched for I'm not sure how long. Spencer took 400 photos. The monarchs were all huddled together in the trees and occasionally a small group would flutter off together. Until this happened.
I mean. Whoa. Mexico. You are so much more than I expected. All this frantic beauty that is completely out of our control. It's kind of cool knowing that we have no way of knowing why these little flutter-ers all show up here every year. But I could definitely see that if a bunch of your spastic orange friends described it just perfectly, you might be persuaded to make the trek.
Also, Spencer decided to walk down. Too much bouncing on the way up and not enough padding. At the B&B we had no wifi for three whole days and it was amazing. I read books. As in, plural. And we played chess and ate tortilla soup and walked around with Monet. It was a really good time.
Listen, before Spencer and I ended up in Mexico we were planning to travel through Indian and I spent a lot - a lot of time researching what to wear. This wasn't for vanity purposes (although I will freely admit I couldn't wait to wear some bag shaped dresses and loose fitting elephant print pants for an extended period of time, even if owning nothing with a zipper is a terrible idea when you're traveling in a place where the food is divine) - this research was based on every account from women who had traveled in the area. Dress code was talked about in depth because of it's importance in the culture, specifically, how to avoid sticking out and worse, constant harassment.
So for India, I had it down - coverage, I was all about that. But when we started planning out Mexico, I had a different idea. I thought "beach!" and "cosmopolitan city!" and "expat haven!" Which translated to a packing list full of shorts, and beach dresses. If I had actually talked to people, and done the research that I should have, I would have realized that although, yes, Mexico City is very cosmo and the beaches are forgiving when you're walking around in a sundress, the majority of Mexico does not operate that way. And we are living in the majority of Mexico this year. This is a conservative, religious country and to ignore that when deciding what to wear is at best flighty and ignorant, at worst, disrespectful and uncomfortable.
All of the gals here wear pants or long skirts. I wasn't expecting that. Most women don't wear tank tops. Although the dress code here doesn't seem to be formal (like it was in Nicaragua), it's still very uncommon to show leg above the knee. In other words, I've gotten a lot of wear out of these pants featured below. Much more wear than Spencer would like, but whatever, when paired with a lovely scarf and a pair of durable sandals you've got a super fashion-forward outfit that you can wear out any day, anywhere.
Several years ago I was making a gift for a friend who was turning 30. The gift was a time capsule box in which friends and family would put pictures and memories. We had a lot of good stuff in there. On the outside of the box I drew a timeline from the year my friend was born to the present year and included all of the major events that happened each year. In doing this I went back through 30 years of history and realized something that I should have already been aware of - we've been fighting the same war for my entire lifetime. Or at least, some version of the same war over the same religions and the same resources. It was a moment of Orwellian recognition. "Crap," I thought. "This sucks." But the world is huge! So maybe it's best to ignore what is listed on Wikipedia and focus on the beauty and the happiness that can be found in humanity versus the fear.
But the thing is...it feels like there have been more attacks in the last five years that ever before. Attacks in cities, at concerts, in public, attacks at schools. So this is becoming a new normal and we're stretched to find the empathy to process it as it occurs so frequently. Malcolm Gladwell writes an excellent, albeit terrifying piece on the normalization of violence in a recent New Yorker article.
I don't know...there are so many people living in this world. And everyone is cooking something different for dinner, scoffing at those pants their friend is wearing, hugging their crush in the park, running away from home, running back home, fighting with a friend, praying inside a building or outside in front of the old wall of a temple, wishing, feeding a dog in the street, calling their parents. We're all just human. But hearing about the attacks in Paris yesterday, remembering attacks in Spain, all over the US, in so many places, it feels like that humanity is being taken away. Removed layer by layer until there is an exposed core that wants to protect itself above all else. My greatest goal in life is to avoid becoming cynical. Man, that's tough sometimes..