logoTrip to see the Monarch Snowbirdsby Ed Anderson


The Monarch

On a recent vacation trip to Mexico City, I decided to devote one day to catch up with the Monarch butterflies (Mariposa Monarco) that had flown down from this area to their wintering home in the high mountains, 150 miles west of Mexico City. So, early one morning, before sunrise, I was on a 6:25am. bus heading out of the "West" or "Metro Observatorio" bus station. I was bound for ANGANGUEO, passing through TOLUCA and on to ZITACUARO.

It would be a four hour bus trip, some of it on narrow winding roads, ringed with deep ravines. Luckily we had a good bus driver. If I had known then what I know now, I would have got off the bus before the end, at OCOMPO, and gone to the better-known "EL ROSARIO" Sanctuary, because there would have been less walking. However, I went all the way. At ANGANGUEO I was about to embark on another four hour trip, this time, mostly on foot. It started out by standing on the back of a pickup truck, packed with the local native women, who were on their way up the mountain, called "SIERRA CHINCUA", to sell food and drink and souvenirs to the tourists.

After getting off the truck, the real trek began. Off I went with an English couple (to become my Spanish interpreters) and one of the local guides, thinking that I would see the Monarchs just over the first hill. No way! Only after about three miles going up and down, and around the mountain side, did I find what I was looking for - millions of Monarchs flying like an orange cloud in the bright sunlight. The Monarchs were all over. Taking pictures of them was a snap. It was Kodak heaven. After marvelling at this migration miracle for 20 minutes, and asking the guide questions like, "Why did the butterflies come here and not somewhere else?" and "How did they find their way here?" and getting no real answers, I just accepted the miracle on faith. Time was up. We then started making our way out of the mountains. We didn't want to miss the last bus.

I think the guide took us back a different way, a so-called "short cut", because I got the workout of my life! At 3500 meters high (yes, that's two miles in anybody's book), the oxygen is scarce. I huffed and puffed. At a couple of places, I was offered a horse ride, at who knows what cost, but I refused. If the Monarchs could get in and out on their own steam, so could I.

Back at the park entrance, we found that the cost to ride back to town to catch the bus had gone up, so that going down the mountain would cost more than what it had cost to come up. We declined and started the long trek back to town on foot. The "locals" had to be taught that it wasn't always a seller's market. Luckily within 10 minutes an American family picked us up in their pickup and truck-cap, and I gave them" gas money". They had done their research well when they had reached the park, and no-way did they have the time and energy that day. They would go instead to "EL ROSARIO" park the next day, because they had found out there would be less walking there.

The trip back to Mexico City by bus was uneventful. It was night. No nice scenery to see. But no ravines to have to watch either, rolling off from the edge of the road. The day ended with a mad-rush taxi ride from the bus station to the hotel in one of those green VW "bug" taxies, that tourists have been known to be robbed and shot in. Just ask the U.S. Embassy there!

Was the trip worth it? You bet! It's not for every tourist. Just those of us who love nature, and are so awe struck by it all that this is just another mountain to be climbed, and a memory to be cherished!