Dwindling The monarchs are in trouble because the US is killing all the Milkweed to grow crops such as corn, and with it, it is killing the monarchs. Milkweed is the only plant the monarch larva eats: no Milkweed, no babies, no monarchs. The 2013/2014 migration has seen the lowest number of monarchs since the early 1990s, when tracking started. Only 3 million monarchs made it to Mexico this year, vs 40 in 1996. We are in México to see them before they are extinct. (You can help by planting Milkweek! Buy Milkweed seeds here).
Goodbye Traveling It is not often that we can declare a trip to México a learning experience. But yes, during this trip, we make two major discoveries. We are not talking about Monarch butterflies — we knew of the plight of the monarchs before arriving — these are discoveries of a personal nature. First is that every trip should be bookended by stays at a Four Seasons. The pampering that comes with the Four Seasons is only out-done by the pampering that comes with the return visit to one, especially when Julie (our amazing agent) has a hand in the reservations. Our favorite dish no longer on the menu? “No problem! The chef will make it for you.” Not remembering the name, address, or anything about our favorite restaurant except that it was amazing, and had a step at the entrance? “No problem! We have made reservations for you!” You get the point.
Our second realization is that when we are old and unable to plan trips, or travel on our own, we better be ready to kiss traveling good bye because there is a snowball’s chance in hell that we can deal with tours and everything that comes with them. OMFG. And don't get us wrong: as far as tours are concerned, this one was a well-organized, with a relatively speaking well-behaved crowd. Nonetheless, we can’t decide which is worse: being cooped up in a bus, or being subjected to Chatty McChattersons for two hours. Or perhaps it was the sheer amount of time spent just standing around waiting for Matthew to herd the crowd. Poor Matthew. Our only reprieve is that we have our own car and can escape the bus!
Toll, Tolls, and More Tolls The drive from México DF to Tlalpujahua — pronounced Tlal-pooo-ha-wah — is an easy 3 hour drive, with about a dozen toll booths! Seriously! We stop to pay once every 20-30km (albeit it added to only forty bucks)! We don’t care, we take our time and it allows us to see the country. Our hotel is the best in town. It is modest and comfortable, except at 4:30am when the dining room staff drags every table across the concrete floor above you. Dinners are pretty good and the booze is both included and abundant (thanks to Lalo)! What else can we ask for!
Rebeca We arrive while Matthew is off to Morelia to pick up the rest of the tour. So we have the place to ourselves. We meet Rebeca, one of our guides who is actually from Tlalpujahua! She brings us margaritas and we chat for a bit. We love her, and little did we know that she would soon become our favorite person!
Talking of favorite people, we also spend a lot of time with Scott Steen, the President of American Forests. We met Scott in DC last year, so we knew him already, but in a professional capacity. This trip we got to know him personally, and discovered a whole different side to him! A side very much in tune with our own!
Mariposas Monarcas The trip to the butterfly sanctuaries is amazing. We visit two of them, Santuario de la Mariposa Monarca “Sierra Chincua” and Reserva de la Biósfera Mariposa Monarca (El Rosario), both requiring a bit of a hike up the mountain to the butterflies. The hikes start at about 10,000 feet and go straight up, with the highest point of the trip at 11,700. Not for the faint of heart, especially the second one where it starts with a mile of stairs (700).
But do they not disappoint! To stand in the middle of millions of butterflies, and hear them fluttering their wings, if you’re quiet, is something everyone has to experience. The experience was particularly special at El Rosario. We see trees completely covered with las mariposas, their limbs bendy under their weight, and butterflies everywhere! It is impossible to capture them in photographs, but we try.
Kidnapped Our day at El Rosario is special in other ways too. It is definitely the highlight of the butterfly viewing, but it is also rewarding culturally. First of all we kidnap Rebeca — to Matthew’s chagrin — and drive to the sanctuary with her. She is a fascinating woman and we really enjoy chatting with her about everything and anything. We definitely hope to stay in touch with her. Then on the way back to the hotel we kidnap Scott — again to Matthew’s chagrin — and that’s when we learn about how much we actually have in common with him. And that Assana agrees with David a lot.
More Than Mariposas Sandwiched between the two sanctuaries is a cultural day, which starts with another long ass trip in the bus. This time to La Estanzuela ceramic studio. The idea is similar to the ceramics in Puebla, but their designs are very different. We don’t like any of the patterns, but fall in love with these massive tazas extra grandes… almost bowls with handles. They would make great serving dishes for chili! We ask if they would make plain white ones for us, and the answer is yes! Yeay. We order a set of 8. And to avoid paying many times more than their cost in shipping, Rebeca offers to bring them back to the US when she leaves a few days after us. Did we mention she is awesome?
Los Perros Pobres We also spend an afternoon in Tlalpujahua. Matthew has arranged for a local sweet tasting. Once we are done standing around waiting for people, we set off on our own to explore the town which, though truly teensy, has all the prerequisite: a big church, a zócalo, a convent and a bunch of cute cobblestone streets. Our favorite stop is a teeny shop with homemade liquors, preserves and scarfs, all made by Doña Rebeca, with Doña Rebeca at the helms herself, knitting a scarf. Exploring town takes… umm…a minute.
But there are a lot of stray dogs and our hearts are broken by the hungry look in their eyes. So what do we do? We buy 4 bags of dog food and feed as many as we can! Next we have to deal with the look in people’s eyes. Guess what? We don’t care what they think. Get over it folks!
¡Hasta Luego! All in all, what an amazing trip! Thank you Matthew for including us, thank you Rebeca for educating us, and thank you Scott for all the DC gossip! And every time we think we are done with México, we find ourselves on yet another amazing trip. So, hasta luego, México! Quizás que la próxima vez que es el Valle de Guadalupe.