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.