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.