Out for a drive south of Chisinau, Moldova. Photo taken December 6, 2016.
Where are Kevin and Ruth right now? Purcari Winery, Republic of Moldova.

Where are they going next? Transnistria. The country that doesn't exist! Arrive December 8th.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Off to see the butterflies!

Every fall, more than one billion monarch butterflies make the 4,500 km (3,000 mile) trip from Canada to the mountains west of Mexico City where they spend the winter huddled in fourteen colonies.

Five of these colonies are open to public viewing.

We've been to two other locations previously, so we're glad that yesterday's trip was to a different one.

The bus picked up our group just after 8:00am, and we took off for a two and a half hour trip into the mountains of Michoacan, Mexico.

The Sierra Chinqua Butterfly Reserve is located at 3,230 meters (10,600 ft) altitude. It was chilly up there! The temperature was only 10C (50F) and it was overcast. In fact, we saw a couple of snowflakes!

It was after 11:00am by the time we got to the area where the horses are. You have the option of taking a horse part of the way, or walking. Later is actually better because as it warms up the butterflies start to fly. When it is cold, they remain clumped in groups trying to stay warm.

Our group, getting on the horses.

They were pretty efficient getting our group of 19 people all settled on their horses. It's a good thing we were there during the week, because it wasn't at all busy. Entrance fee is 45 pesos ($3.60 CAD) per person and it cost 150 pesos ($12.00 CAD) per person for the round trip on horseback.

This is one of the tours that was included in the price people paid for their caravan trip. We would normally have walked and not taken a horse.

Everybody is saddled up.

Ready to go.

Even though it's chilly at this altitude, I absolutely love the countryside being up in the mountains. The air is so fresh! Sherman would be able to make it up to this particular reserve, and large tour buses regularly drive the route. And, we could boondock in the parking lot. There are a lot of other hiking trails up in the mountains, so one day we will bring Sherman back up here.

Heading into the pine forest.

We were only on the horses for about 20 minutes. Then, a 20 minute hike after that. 

At 54 years old, we are the youngest ones in our group. And of course we do a lot of hiking and this walk was nothing for us. But the other 17 people we were with are aged between 59 and 78. And of course we're also at 10,800 ft in altitude by the time we reached the butterflies. But we had lots of time and we weren't in any rush. So we encouraged people to stop and rest along the way as they needed to, and that was fine.

On the hiking trail to the butterflies.

One of the things that is so amazing about the monarch migration is that the colonies are so localized. Walking through this huge pine forest, you'd think you would see a few floating around, but there is very little indication of any butterflies at all. Until all of a sudden, there they are!

You're not allowed to get close to the where they are clumped, so many of these photos are zoomed in. But they are literally covering the main trunks of the trees. 

Thousands of butterflies covering the tree.

A monarch butterfly.

They huddle in groups to stay warm.

But the forest floor is littered with many who don't survive the cold night. Some of these butterflies are actually still alive, and will rejuvenate themselves when the sun comes out.

The only disappointment for our group is that the sun didn't come out during our visit. All it takes is 20 minutes of sunshine to warm things up enough for the butterflies to take flight, and unfortunately while we were there it was too cold for that to happen.

Still, it was an interesting visit for those who had never seen it before.

Some of the indigineous people who are employed by the reserve. It is located on their protected land.

We hiked back to where the horses were waiting. We still had a few of our group members bring up the rear and I had seen a sign advertising a mirador (lookout) and I asked our guide how far it was. He said "only five minutes up that trail" and he pointed to a path leading uphill.

I knew I didn't have much time, but I hopped off my horse and headed up the hill. It was quite steep, but I didn't stop and I arrived at the top huffing and puffing.

The view of Michoacan from the pine forest where the butterflies live.

Back in the van, and headed home. But we stopped at a restaurant in the village of Tlalpujahua just to have a drink, take a break, and wander around for a half hour.

The restuarant is on the roof. 

We are quite far from some places!

The 16th century church in Tlalpujahua.

Part of our group enjoying the patio.

We arrived back at the RV Park at around 5:45pm. Fortunately we didn't have to cook dinner because Arturo (the owner of the park) had organized a group dinner for us. At 125 pesos ($10.00 CAD) per person, prepared by a professional chef, and including beer. Great food. We had tostados with a special topping of mango, pineapple, and shrimp. And then a hearty filling soup with spinach, chicken, and corn. Not sure of the name of it, but it was a specialty Hispanic dish.

Getting ready for our group dinner at the RV Park.

Today, we do a group tour of the city of Morelia in the morning, and then we're going to a specialty exposition that is being put on to advertise the different Pueblo Magicos in Mexico. There is supposed to be free food samples from each region!

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I'm not sure what it does exactly, but it sure looks high tech!




22 comments:

  1. It would have been wonderful to see them fly but just to see all those thousands of butterflies would be amazing.

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    1. It truly is amazing to see all the butterflies. Kevin and I have now been 3 different times and we have yet to REALLY see them fly. This was definitely the most disappointing time but there is no way that we can control the weather.

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  2. We saw the migration of monarchs near Blythe, CA flying across the interstate highway and so sad to see thousands killed and road slick with oil. We stopped and so did several cars but the truckers kept right on trucking with hundreds of monarchs being hit and killed. Sometimes I wish for the old days when we didn't have fast moving vehicles.

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    1. That would have been sad to see! The butterfly sanctuary between Valle de Bravo and Toluca is on a fairly busy highway and when the Monarchs are there they have caution signs up on the middle of the road and a speed limit that is super slow but I am sure some still get killed but it at least it helps.

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  3. Too bad the Monarchs did not take flight, but you van never guarantee perfect weather all the time.

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    1. No you can't control the weather and at least they could still see the thousands upon thousands of butterflies that were all clumped together for warmth and all the ones on the ground, whether they were dead or alive, it would at least give them an idea of how many are up there and the hike along with the scenery were worth it.

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  4. I have had the privilege of visiting the Sierra Chinqua butterfly reserve twice. The first time was back in 2007, and none of those vendor stands were there, and only a couple of horses. Nothing was there but one older woman in a shack, making mushroom quesadillas over an open fire from morels she had gathered in the forest. In fact, we three were the only travelers in the reserve. We stood perfectly still to listen, and there were so many butterflies, we could hear the collective fluttering like a "whisper" of their wings. It was the most magical thing I have ever experienced. Sadly, my return five years later found it much more developed and heavily touristed, but still "magical."

    I am enjoying your tour...thanks for taking us along...especially those of us who miss Mexico so dearly!

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    1. The weather the next day would have been perfect but unfortunately for us it wasn't so good the day we were there. Other than our group there was only a handful of other people there. I would expect that it would get busy on the weekends though. The way the vendor's stands are setup means that you only have to go through them if you want too, rather than being forced through a gauntlet to get to the ticket booth which we have seen at other attractions.

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  5. Really enjoying this tour, although from previous experience in the Andes neither John nor I do well with the altitude. :( Still, would love to see the monarchs AND see them in flight. Thanks for letting us tag along!

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    1. Glad you are enjoying the tour. Everyone seems to be doing well with the altitude. Only one of the group didn't do the hiking part of the trail but he did come up on the horses with us. He has a portable oxygen generator so he sort of knew his limits but his wife did the hike and she is somewhere in her mid 70's I believe. Those found it a little more difficult just took their time and had no issues. We were just disappointed that they couldn't have seen them in flight. :-(

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  6. Santa's House? At first I thought the header picture had brown leaves until I read on - very neat and something I have not ever seen. Must go on that bucket list.

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    1. Yep, Santa's House. The town of Tlalpujahua is famous for it's handcrafted Christmas ornaments.

      Seeing the Monarch butterflies should be on everyone's Christmas list! :-)

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  7. Those monarch butterflies butterflies are amazing.
    That Arturo is a keeper. Always thinking ahead.

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    1. Yes, the butterflies certainly are a sight to see.

      It would be nice to see everyone park owner as enthusiastic as Arturo is. He is doing everything in his power to make sure everyone has a good time in his area and the the park is running well.

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  8. Good you were warned it would be cool as people seem to be dressed for the trip.

    When were you last on a horse?

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    1. It was us that warned everyone to dress warm as we knew it would be pretty chilly up there at that hour and it was.

      We were last on a horse almost two years ago when we were in Lesotho.

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  9. Love the monarchs! When we lived in Idaho we had them during the summer because of all the milkweed around us. They are an amazing and beautiful butterfly. The lookout picture is gorgeous. Hope everyone is doing okay at that altitude. You are getting up there!

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    1. Yes, the milkweed is the Monarchs favourite food. They are certainly a sight to see. We really wish that it had been a sunny day and then that picture from the lookout would have been even better.

      Everyone is doing really well with the higher altitude. We all did the hike portion of the trail but one and he has an oxygen generator so he knew his limits. He did come up on with us on the horses though.

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  10. WOW, I have always wanted to see the Monarchs. You guys make great trip leader.
    I do miss the GPS info you usually post.

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    1. You need to come down and see them some other winter then. We will try and go back and put in the GPS coordinates of the parks and for the butterfly sanctuary when we have time. We will also try to remember to put those things in as we write the blog. We have been so busy and seem to have a lack of time so we are forgetting to do this.

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  11. I'm starting to think that these caravans are good for Mexico. The church in Tlalpujahua is unbelievable, 16th century. Amazing.

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    1. We are thinking the same way Chris! With this caravan they get to see many different places so the hope is that people will return on their on own in following winters and take more time to explore the places that they enjoyed the most. It is a great way to show them that Mexico is safe for traveling and what to expect when they are traveling. It is a good way to introduce Mexico to people.

      You should have seen the inside Chris, very colourful and lots of bas-relief on the walls and ceilings. I thought it was very unique.

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