We stood outside the hotel gate at about 9:45am this morning and waited for about 10 minutes for the first “collectivo” to come by. These are usually full size passenger vans designed to seat about 8 people. This van was old, and pretty beat up. The driver used a rope attached to the passenger side sliding door to close it. It was pretty funny. This van was already pretty full (or so we thought) and one fellow got out so that Ruth could sit. Instead, I squeezed in, and Ruth sat on my lap. We weren’t going far anyhow, less than 3 kms (1.8 miles). But then the van stopped a few more times, and before we knew it there were 13 adults and 3 children squeezed into this van. Too funny!
We got off at the entrance to the parking lot at the El Rosario Monarch Butterfly Sanctuario. The lot would have been fine to boondock for a night or two, but with the road construction there was no way Sherman would have made it. The lot was empty at this hour, and we made our way along the path that at this point was lined with tourist souvenir stalls. Most were closed at this time of year…it is February and March when they receive almost 8,000 visitors per day on the weekends. We are so happy we came here now! At the entrance to the park itself, we paid our 40 pesos ($3.40) entrance fee. Then we were assigned a guide. We had read somewhere that you have to have a guide to visit the sanctuary, and that the fee for the guide was 150 pesos ($12.80).
Our guide was an older woman named Gloria. She didn’t speak any English, and we enjoyed practicing our Spanish with her. She asked us to sign their guest book and then we started on the trail. The first part was all steps and we stopped three or four times to rest. Gloria wasn’t even close to being out of breath. So here’s Ruth and I at 10,000 feet or so huffing and puffing, and we think we’re not in bad shape. This little woman kept asking if we wanted to rest! And we did!
Eventually the stairs stopped and it was just a path through the forest. The pine forest opened to a beautiful meadow and it was here that Ruth spotted the first monarch. And then another, and another after that. We were trying to take pictures of them, and Gloria said “no, there are a lot more just a little farther on”.
And she was right. The next section of forest we started seeing more butterflies. On the ground, in the trees, and in the air. We got to a section where a few other people had stopped, and this was a far as you were allowed to go. They were everywhere. Picture a pine tree where you can’t even see the branches or pine needles because they are so laden with butterflies. It was amazing. And we could see further down the path that there were even more.
This was taken from a distance with my 10x zoom lens. We weren't allowed any further, but you could see how many thousands of butterflies were on this one tree.
The only other people here were a couple from Alaska with their guide, and a Mexican couple with a child and their guide. It turned out that we were probably an hour earlier than we could have been to see the most butterflies take to the air. They stick to the branches during the night, and as the sun warms the day, they take to the air and they sit in any sunlight they can find. But still, we saw enough butterflies to certainly have made this trip worthwhile.
We stayed and took pictures and admired the whole scenario for a half an hour or so, then started the hike back down. Near the bottom, I asked Gloria how much we owed for her services. She said nothing, the guides are all volunteers. Obviously they do it for the tips, and we were quite happy to give her 150 pesos ($12.80) which she gratefully accepted. She was really good, and despite the language barrier we really enjoyed our hike with her.
Then, we walked the 3 kms back to the hotel. When we got there, the gates were closed and locked. Hmmm. So we waited, and tried to figure out if I could climb over the gate. Probably could have, but I’m not 25 anymore! So we waited. Eventually, a teen girl came by and noticed our problem, and went to see if she could find anybody with a key. We probably sat there for an hour and a half! Oh well. Eventually the caretaker came and let us in. This is not a busy time of year for them, but they shouldn’t just lock the gate and go away when they have guests. Even if they are just motorhome guests.
Other than being a little cold, we’ve enjoyed our three days here, and seeing the monarchs today made it all worth while. It really is a special thing to see. Another thing crossed off the bucket list!
Tomorrow, we are heading for Valle de Bravo, a little town that they say is reminiscent of a Swiss village. But first, we have to get Sherman back through those gates in the morning…