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El Rosario Monarchs

Written on: Wednesday March 12th, 2008

A journal entry from: Camping Mexico


As Colin and I eventually begun to descend from our Mexico City ?high? we hopped back into the truck bound for a world famous monarch butterfly sanctuary. The tiny mountain village of Zitacuaro is isolated in the forested highlands of the Sierra Madre Mountains, and is where we camped; no actually, we froze, at around 5000 feet. The days are pleasant and sunny, but believe me, the night-time temperatures are cold enough to swiftly wipe out any lingering feelings of home-sickness I may have. Imagine camping at home, in, let?s say, mid-January?

Two sheets, two blankets, 2 sleeping bags, decked out head-to-toe in fleece and I was still clinging on to Colin like my life depended on it trying to achieve some minor degree of warmth. We woke up to a beautifully crisp morning, in fact, it was so beautifully crisp that we could see our breath inside the tent! It was at this point, after freezing like this for several evenings, that I decided it was time we head back for some heat?the coast. Ah, the coast. But, before we do that, the monarchs!

As I previously mentioned, we were camped at 5000 feet, and the sanctuary was still a good 45 minute drive up into the mountains, which was to be followed by a vigorous 1.5 hour hike straight up even further. Apparently these butterflies prefer it way up in the mountains, beyond the reaches of most people. Smart insects, in my opinion.

Each autumn, millions and millions of these monarchs fly from the Great Lakes region of Canada, a mere 4500kms away, and arrive in the easternmost part of Michoacan, Mexico. Once we finally reached the top of what seemed the highest peak in Mexico, the sight was really astonishing. Picture a forest, similar to one in say, the interior of BC, with lot?s of pine trees?minus the mountain pine beetle, and add a few spanish-only speaking Mexican ?tour guides?. Then picture the forest floor utterly covered in brilliant orange butterfly wings (the males die promptly after mating, and their bodies litter the floor, ha!). Then look up in the trees, and picture millions of butterflies clustered together (for warmth-recall the frigid nighttime temps) literally weighing down huge tree branches. Wait a little while for the sunshine, and they all start fluttering their wings, I think to warm up?

Then they start flowing off the tree branches in the thousands, like little waterfalls all around you. Wait a short while longer and they start landing on your head.

We spend over 2 hours in this forest witnessing this generous display of nature. As we headed down the mountain the butterflies were flowing down the paths and looked like a river. It was really striking.

A bit of sad news to report, however: while up at the top of the monarch sanctuary, I looked over at Colin and noticed a markedly disgruntled expression across his face. Then I knew. It was the camera. Colin and ?Canon PowerShot s2is? have been quite close for the past four years, and Canon has helped Colin produce innumerable impressive shots over the years. As to be expected, ?Canon? had taken a bit of a beating throughout the duration of our trip (dropped onto the pavement a few times, sand in the lens etc), and started to show some serious signs of degradation. We continued to rely on ?Canon? to capture the highlights and everyday occurrences of our trip, and then the tragedy occurred: Canon died, for good. It appears that a little sand in the lens is indeed fatal and lead to Canon?s rapid demise. Fortunately, Colin had already taken numerous photos of the butterflies! And luckily, we have spent the last week along the Michoacan coast camping in the same tiny surfing villages we camped in on the way south (Nexpa, Ticla, and Pascuales). So, if Canon had to go, it went at a fairly opportune time, I guess.

We?re in Barra De Navidad now, camping in a picturesque sight right on the beach, with a large pool. It?s hot, windy, and gorgeous and Colin just got in from an hour long kiting session. All this for less than $15 dollars a day combined. Life is good.


From MOM on Mar 14th, 2008

Amazing butterflies...can't imagine life without your camera...you will have to rectify that! Back in Victoria...cool, Roger on the Cowichan River today. MOM

From Judy Alston on Mar 18th, 2008

Loved your description of El Rosario Sanctuary. Perfect. We are now NW of Mexico City. We hit all of Belize, Tikal in Guatemala, Tulum (stayed in a thatched roof house in Punte Allen, Mahahual, Palenque, Chichén Itza, Uxmal, Campeche, Teoithuacan...on our way to San Miguel de Allende.