Monarch butterfly reserve at Cerro Pelón

Recently we went to Macheros, a rural town of about 300 people and the gateway to the Cerro Pelón butterfly reserve. It’s one of the places where the monarch butterflies spend the winter. Macheros is at about 7,000 feet, and the mountain reserve is maybe 10,000. The closest large town is Zitácuaro, Michoacan. It took us about 6 hours to get here from Ajijic.

We stayed at a place called JM Butterfly B&B, owned by a local Macheros guy and his American wife. 14 rooms. Lovely and highly recommended. The owner’s mom runs a small restaurant (only one in town) next door that serves three meals a day to us butterfly tourists. The vistas remind us of Oregon – mixed conifer forests, farmland, orchards (here, peach mostly, I think, and avocado), mountains. It’s pretty remote. There is wifi at the B&B only because they built the towers to bring it in. No cell service. Fields being plowed by horses. Trout farm for fish.

Our lovely room:

View of Macheros from B&B, and sunset:

Yellow on map shows where we live; red shows approximate location of Macheros:

We took the tour up to see the monarchs, which entails about an hour horse ride each way. Do you know I am afraid of horses? Well, there you go. Luckily, you don’t actually ride the horse, in that you don’t steer it; someone leads it while you sit on it. Still, I found it kind of terrifying. The terrain is pretty steep and I was very sore from the ride — both my backside (as expected) as well as my arms/shoulders from hanging on the saddle, front and back.

I asked one of our guides if anyone ever fell off the horses and she said, “never.” I understand now that this was a lie, but I am grateful she told it to me, or I still might be making my way down the mountain on foot after refusing to get back on the horse.

The butterflies were wonderful to see, although we were at the tail end of their stay here and many had already left. (My advice: go in December or January vs March.) Still, we saw lots of clusters hanging from the trees and then many flying when the sun hit them. Pretty amazing how they make the trek across two (sometimes three) countries twice every year.

Butterfly numbers are significantly down, largely due to the herbicides in the US that kill the milkweed they depend on, and the pesticides that kill them. The argricultural system in the US causes so many problems, and this is one very sad one. Many of the people visiting here are folks who find the caterpillars in the US and Canada and then feed and shelter them until they become butterflies. (They have some tagging system too, and the tag numbers are entered in a database when the dead tagged insects are found.)

We had some milkweed growing in our yard in Oregon and saw the caterpillars (although the Western monarch population is different from the one that winters here). Now, I want to do more.

The B&B, the butterfly tours, and a non-profit started by the B&B folks (Butterflies and Their People) are doing what they can to protect the habitat here — mainly by offering jobs (guides, B&B workers, arborists) so that people have some income and don’t illegally cut the trees that the monarchs rely on.

We also took a nice hike up a big hill to two viewpoints. Along the way, a forest full of wildflowers and hummingbirds.

I will write later about my cooking class at the small restaurant, with owner Doña Rosa.


Keep your eyes open: things you see in the AM in Ajijic

I am not an early riser by nature. However, here, I am always rewarded if I get up relatively early to exercise on the malecon. I see so many wonderful people and things. I am afraid the US will seem impossibly and unpleasantly sterile when we return there.

This week, I noticed:

— The man with a wheelbarrow full of ice and fish, hollering “Hay pescado! Pescado fresco!” (There’s fish, fresh fish.) He’ll clean them for you on a board that he carries on the wheelbarrow with the fish.

— Freshly painted polictical slogans, the overspray still dotting white on the sidewalks. All the signs in our nieghborhood seem to be for the Morena party — “Morena, La Esperanza de México.” (The hope of Mexico.) Elections are in July. Note to self: learn about the political parties.

— Two horses (with riders) hauling ass down the street, so fast that people were gathering their kids up onto the sidewalk and coming out of shops to look.

— Dogs. Mostly out by themselves or with canine buddies, going about their dog business. Sturdy German Shepherds, skittery chihuahuas, wagging yellow Labs fresh from a swim, handsome pit bulls, dirty little poodles. Today, I passed a woman on the sidewalk who was followed by a tiny brown chihuahua in a pink sweater. I must have startled her, the pink sweater pup, as she stood still, creating an impasse on the narrow sidewalk until her person called her.

— Men going to work, mostly carpooling in pick-up trucks. They are dressed for construction, in jeans and boots, and carrying water bottles, lunch containers and backpacks.

— Men not going to work, sitting in a small group in the soccer field or fishermen’s lot. They can look a little rough around the edges and are sometimes having a raucous discussion, perhaps under the influence of last night’s libations. Still, a smile and “buenos dias” is always greeted with a friendly response: “adios,” “buenos dias, “good day” or “good morning.”

— Kids running in their pajamas to/from little stores to get an item needed for breakfast, perhaps eggs in a plastic sack, a jug of milk or a stack of tortillas.

— Women setting up their food stalls in the street, kneading a big plastic tub of masa for tortillas or heating up a grill.

— A noise that sounded like a boat motor coming from the fruit and veggie store. A juicer, of course! Note to self: bring a little cash for fresh carrot juice.

— Flowers of all colors and scents, including the fragrant vines across the street from our house.

— White pelicans, egrets, herons, doves and parrots.

— A new mural at the skatepark on the malecon, a study in black, white and grey replacing the colorful stylized eagle that had been there.

— Lake Chapala!

Unrelated: a fall, Luche Libre wrestling, and return to Yelapa

Unrelated items: a fall, Lucha Libre wrestling, and return to Yelapa

We’ve just returned from our annual Yelapa visit. For those who don’t know Yelapa, and my love of it, I suggest you search my blog for prior posts. We played in the International Croquet Tournament, but alas did not win. Like croquet? Want to play it in a beautiful tropical place on a jungle-y course? You can join in next year, February 10-14. The more, the merrier.

Living in Mexico this year made our trip different, as we didn’t return home to the US and the cold, but to our snug rental in sunny, colorful Ajijic. Still, I find Yelapa incomparable. The lack of cars makes it different than other beach towns we have enjoyed. Even though there is more building here every year, the location and the fact that the place is an indigenous community keeps it small — there will be no Hiltons, Señor Frogs, no time shares or 20-story condo buildings. I enjoyed sleeping on an open-air porch and listening to the surf at night. And the frogs! The nights when I heard the chorus frogs from the river, those were special.

We were invited to dinner at some friends’ house and several people told their “why Yelapa” stories. They all have one thing in common, “I got off the boat (haha, everyone gets here by boat),” and most then continue with something like “and knew this was where I wanted to be,” or “and I felt like I was home.”

Gracias Yelapa; nos vemos en el proximo año!


And now, on to the topic of feeling old. A week before we visited Yelapa, I fell. I had attended Zumba class on the malecon in Ajijic and was jogging home through a field, on a dirt path, when my toe hit a rock. The next thing I knew, I was sprawled in the Superman pose on the hard, rocky ground. (Did I mention it was hard and rocky?) Knees, elbow, hands, thigh, lots of scrapes and bruises. My stainless steel water bottle tumbled onto the rocks, making a huge clang that woke up the dogs who live in that field. They came barking at me, which motived me to haul my sorry ass up quickly. I hurt, I felt miserably old, and I limped home where my husband fussed over me and cleaned my wounds. I spent the day with ice and ibuprofen. I’m happy to report (I think) no lasting injuries, although my left knee still isn’t quite right.

I feel lucky, as a middle-aged woman, not to have broken my wrist or ankle or hip. I feel old and vulnerable, and more committed than ever to exercising and staying fit.


A few weeks ago we joined a bus trip from Lake Chapala Society to see the Lucha Libre wrestling in Guadalajara. My complete knowledge of the sport was based on seeing Jack Black in the film “Nacho Libre” years ago. But it seemed like a fun experience to be had only in Mexico and so we signed up.

And it was fun! A stadium where beer and food vendors come to your seat is always a plus and the wrestling was a spectacle! Evidently we were there on “family night,” and heard it gets pretty raucous on other nights, with folks throwing things at the wrestlers. Kids and adults, everyone seemed to be having a good time. Lots of cheering the good guys and booing the bad. The wrestlers had interesting (and sometimes skimpy) costumes. My favorites were a sexy guy with “Black Sugar” emblazoned on the rear of his briefs and “Tigre,” a fellow with white-and black-striped mask/ears and briefs. Roar! There were single matches, and then some with teams of two or three. The guys were all athletic with their choreographed gymnastic throws, slams and falls. All of that must seriously hurt, even though it’s “fake.”

Our biggest adventure of the night came when the bus ran out of gas on the way home, about 4 miles from Ajijic, on a dark narrow stretch of road with no shoulder. Some fellow passengers called taxis, the fire department showed up to make sure no one whacked into the bus, and things worked out in the end.

Go do things. Enjoy life. And when you fall, get your sorry ass up before you get bitten by a dog.

Black Sugar

I’m a fan girl


I Speak Spanish in my Head: San Sebastian and Women’s March

I speak Spanish in my head: San Sebastian and Women’s March

Saturday, January 20.

We started the day at the Ajijic plaza for the second annual Women’s March. Last year, we were travelling and I regretted that I wasn’t able to march in protest of the inauguration of our current US President. So I decided not to miss my chance this year, although this year’s theme seemed more general. A woman more artistic than me made the sign I carried, “Los derechos de mujeres son derechos humanos.” Women’s rights are human rights.

My husband came along and took some great photos. At one point, he left the plaza to get a spot on the street where he could photograph the march approaching. He asked the police if he could stand in the back of their pick-up truck to take the photo — and ended up riding in the police truck along the parade route. How cool is that?

Women’s march as viewed from back of police truck

Stop the hate; spread the love

As we were walking, I had one of my most embarrassing moments ever in Mexico. (Yes, more embarrassing than going into the men’s room in a restaurant, which has happened more than once.) I was walking in the march when a young Mexican man with a large camera approached me and asked me if I spoke Spanish. I told him, “Un poco.” He proceeded to turn on the recording feature of his iPhone and start to interview me! I am guessing (and hoping) it was so awful that he didn’t end up using the footage. He asked me why I was marching. I understood the question, because really, I do understand Spanish if someone speaks slowly to me and uses the words you might use to speak to a 6-year-old child. But speaking? I speak it in my head. I answered him very simply (Porque creo en los derechos de mujeres!) and then completely bombed the follow-up questions, not being able to translate fast enough in my mind to form coherent sentences in Spanish.

Of course, a few minutes after this, I thought of a bunch of things I could have said, know how to say, that would have been fine. But alas, it was all in my head, and much too late.

<sigh> What an idiot I am, living here, and being so inept. Of course, who knows how cogent I would have been in English when faced with a reporter … but likely a lot better than I was in Spanish.

I enjoyed the Women’s March, being with like-minded people, although it felt odd to be participating in one in Mexico. I am not protesting anything in Mexico. I don’t know enough about the politics and women’s issues here, I’m not a citizen, and don’t feel it appropriate to comment or protest on anything Mexican. Most of the people marching were from the US, some from Mexico, some from Canada. I think people were largely incensed with, and protesting, the anti-woman, anti-immigrant, anti-human actions of the US leadership. But we were doing it here, because, well, here we are.

Our second event of the day was the San Sebastian procession and fiesta in the upper village area of Ajijic. If the Women’s March was largely a gringa(o) event, the San Sabastian procession and fiesta was almost 100% Mexican. Earlier that day (6 AMish), the statue of San Sebastian was taken from the chapel on the plaza and processed up to a small shrine in the upper village where Mass was said (and menudo was eaten). We joined the procession to bring him back to the chapel at about 4 PM. The procession had marchers carrying the statue, men carrying a tray of cakes and pots of food, a guy lighting off cohetes (bottle rockets), costumed dancers, floats in pick-up trucks, and folks throwing confetti and candy. After replacing the statue in the plaza chapel, the group made its way back to the upper village for the PARTY!


Masked dancers

San Sebastian procession

Cups of tequila-infused ponche were distrubuted, beer was sold, a band was playing, and then the big “fight” started. Everyone (aged 2 to 80+) had brightly-colored confetti-filled eggshells and started breaking them over people’s heads. Some nice folks gave us some so we could participate as well. It was a blast! And during all this mayhem, a lovely woman with a big smile, about 10 years younger than me, approached, again with the question of whether I speak Spanish. And again, well, I speak it in my head. She hugged me, welcomed me to Ajijic and to the party, and gave me a confetti egg. She later introduced me to some of her relatives. How sweet is that? After the US has fucked Mexico so many times, a kind woman welcomes me, the inept foreigner who can’t speak her language? I feel it in my heart, a warm sweet pain.

Confetti chaos

Our twin friends having fun

Confetti mayhem

As dusk fell, the party cranked up a notch. The band was fun, lots of cumbia music. We danced and drank beer. A greased pole had been erected in the street with toys hanging from the top. At a certain point, boys began to try to climb it. Men stood to form the base, hoisting boys onto their shoulders, and then more boys on top of those boys. Many times, everyone slid back down to the disappointment of the crowd. One of our friends and my husband decided to help (my husband thinking they needed a tall gringo to get the boys up higher), and finally there was success as a boy managed to get to the top and pull down the toys. Cheers!! A few minutes later, another lovely lady found my husband and our friend and gave them each a Tecate beer in thanks for helping the boys.


Boys climb the greased pole

Two events, a lovely day, and the same conclusion: I need to speak Spanish out loud, and not just in my head if I want to connect with all the kind, interesting, fun people around me.

Viva Mexico! I’m a lucky gringa to be here and I appreciate it every day.

Christmas and the New Year

Christmas and the New Year

Having never spent Christmas or New Year’s outside the US, I wondered if I would get homesick. I will say that I didn’t miss the constant societal push to shop, shop, shop, buy, buy, buy. I didn’t miss the plague of advertising. I didn’t miss the cold weather or the rain or snow.

Instead, I watched the live scenes of the “five mysteries” outside the church. I hung up a piñata my husband bought me. I saw all the families sitting outside their houses on Noche Buena (Christmas Eve), eating, drinking, making merry and sitting around glowing bonfires. I gave some envelopes of pesos to the trash guys, the police, and the house cleaner. I had brunch with new friends on Christmas Day and cozy dinners with my husband. I saw a Christmas that seemed different than that NOB (North of Border) — one where no one was busy shopping and people got together to enjoy each other’s company.

I did, to some degree, feel homesick. I missed having a Pacific Northwest fir tree, decorated with ornaments from my parents and my life. I missed the days of baking I usually do — my mom’s recipes, mostly. I missed our house adorned with festive lights. I missed entertaining, having a Solstice party, having folks to dinner, and going to friends’ houses for get-togethers. I missed (really) good wine.

New Year’s was fabulous. We caught any early play reading at the Naked Stage, Nora and Delia Ephron’s “Love, Loss and What I Wore.” Have you seen it or read the book? I recommend. After, we had a great pasta dinner with friends in their lovely century-old hacienda-style house. The Ajijic malecon then started up with music and we danced a gringo version of the cumbia on the concrete walkway along with tons of other people who were enjoying themselves. Midnight, the fireworks which blasted off from the pier to the sound of Katy Perry’s “Firework.”

We walked home shortly after and saw a group in the Seis Esquinas plaza. Adults were hoisting piñatas on a rope over the tree limb and kids were taking turns whacking them with a decorated broomstick — rushing forth to claim the candies when the piñatas burst. At the corner near our house, a large family group was gathered at tables, with their bonfire, and were playing some kind of gift exchange game. From babies in arms to the elderly, everyone was having a blast commenting on who should give a gift to whom. I have no idea of the rules, but a good time was had by all and the gifts seemed to be accompanied by kisses.


Our neighborhood also evidently hosts Ajijic’s New Year’s Day parade, which started around 1:00 p.m.. Leading the parade was a local cowboy and his horse, following by “Wonder Woman” on her horse, a banner proclaiming the parade a gift to Donald Trump and a bigger-than-life-size Trump effigy being carried by guys dressed as Lucha Libre wrestlers. On Trump’s backside was a “hit me” sign and many gringos from the crowd happily obliged, greeted by cheers and laughter. Many of the parade floats were themes from the movie “Coco” (have you seen it? You must!). And there were bands. Bringing up the end were a host of folks dressed as expertly-painted loteria cards. Better than the Rose Parade, at least in my opinion!

But then again, I am biased, and am so loving the holidays and culture I am experiencing here in beautiful Jalisco.

Beach trip

A brief trip to the beach

Chilly weather here at Lake Chapala motivated us to take a 4-night trip to the beach. It was about a 4.5 hour drive to Barra de Navidad. The scenery included berry farms, sugar cane harvesting, huge dry lakes, mountains, volcanoes, and cities.

Stayed in Barra de Navidad and visited the other small beach towns of Melaque and La Manzanilla (not to be confused with Manzanillo, a big port city with huge container ships coming in and out). We enjoyed all three towns and decided that the best beach was La Manzanilla, flatter and calmer.

We visited the crocodile reserve in La Manzanilla too. It’s a self-guided tour on a wooden walkway, with some swinging bridges, over the swampy habitat. We got to see a small crocodile eating a bird, although he was obscured by the mangroves and the photo didn’t turn out. The man at the entrance gave us a safety speech — no running, pushing people, leaning over…and no swimming.

We took a boat tour out of Barra de Navidad — firsst, we went through the back bay which has houses on canals, a fancy hotel (Grand Bay Isla Navidad), golf course, a small town, and seafood restaurants. Then we went out into the big bay where we were fortunate enough to see a whale breaching very near our boat. How fortunate we were!

We ate some delicious food including ceviche, seafood cocktails, and fish tacos on the beach in Melaque and la Manzanilla, and excellent breakfasts at Bananas Restaurant (Barra). And a fancy dinner of molcajetes at Manglitos in Barra.

Just a little game of fireball

So we see a lot of fabulous, amazing things here in Mexico that we would not see in the US.  This was one of them.

In Ajijic, there was a festival to celebrate the culture of the native Purépecha people from the mountains of Michoacån.  We saw dancing and incredible crafts.  And then at dusk, a ceremony was conducted to honor the four directions and a game of fireball was played.  Evidently, in ancient times,  the game was used to train warriors.  And then later became used as a way to settle disputes.  We don’t fully understand the rules but watching it was pure magic.

The game played with a coconut that was lit on fire, starting position inside a circle of fire, using sticks similar to hockey sticks.  Yes, women play too, although evidently not usually in their ceremonial dresses.  And I will tell you we got out of the way when that fireball got whacked our way.