Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The Mariposas

We started in Taxco at about 1700 metres and we just kept climbing, mostly on toll roads through more spectacular scenery. When we weren't on toll roads, we drove through some really ugly towns like Toluca, a "suburb" of Mexico City which falls under the same crazy rules as to when one is allowed to drive.(e.g., if your license plate ends with an even number and your first-born son has green eyes then you are allowed to drive on Mondays.) We were pretty happy to get through it on a weekend, although the traffic was terrific and we ended up getting lost a couple of times before we got out.

We climbed at least another kilometre before levelling off in a stunning high altitude plain. Straight roads were a pretty welcome change for the queasy among us. I never realized that plateaus this big actually existed. I kept expecting the eventual descent from the heights but it just never materialized.

We arrived at the campsite around 4:30. Wil had very cleverly passed a camper and a huge rv on our way into town. They pulled in a few minutes after we'd gotten ourselves set up in a lovely little spot beside a palapa. The place was gorgeous — a working farm in the middle of a tiny village, complete with horses, sheep, wandering ducks and chickens, all set amongst a profusion of pines that made us feel right at home. As Wil remarked, you have to get up to 3000 metres in Mexico to get the kind of trees we're used to. Getting out of the van was a bit of a shock to the system however, rainy and bloody cold. It was still a welcome change to get out the duvets for sleeping. We even got the furnace going before tucking in. The kids found a happy trio of young Mexican women who were happy to play pingpong and twister and bingo with them. We all slept well, very happy to be snug in our little van.

After breakfast the next morning, we drove another ten minutes up, up, up through the village to the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary. The road was paved with bumpy rocks and smooth strips of brick the colour of the soil and the houses and the rooftops. The people look different — real mountain folk, squat, the women in long braids, the men in jeans and straw hats, everyone with gorgeous open faces and raw, chapped cheeks. After parking, there was another climb, this time on foot, along a windy, steep path lined with rough wooden shacks. In front of every shack was an aproned woman rattling off a list of foods she'd prepared "for our breakfast". The sales pitch of each lady overlapped the one that came before in an endless song. We stopped to buy a little round brick of peanuts in caramel (my new favourite snack) and found ourselves being serenaded by a little girl hoping for a peso. The shacks that weren't food were hand-woven baskets or embroidered huipils or tacky souvenirs plastered with monarchs. The mountain women had a beautiful way of greeting each other, as they said hello they reached out their right hand and lightly touched the fingers of each other's hand without touching palms, the gentlest sort of handshake I've ever seen.

We finally made it to the taquilla and bought our tickets. When we handed them over at the gate we were assigned a "guide" to follow us through the sanctuary. He was very sweet but useless, any facts we gleaned about monarchs were from the information panels. The monarchs travel an incredible 4500 kilometres from our backyard to this little patch of woods every single year and it only takes them a month to make the journey. Normally, they only live a month but those who are making the trip go into this crazy altered state that keeps them alive for eight months, long enough to come to maturity, make the long flight back to these trees, reproduce and then die.

More climbing, from 3000 metres to 3200, puff, puff, through a forest of giant pines. Scattered on the sides of the path were hundreds of dead monarchs. Then the trees started to change. It looked like the branches were heavy with termite nests and the trunks of the pines were bumpy. Then the sun came out and the bumps began to move. And the clumpy, laden branches came alive with fluttering orange wings. The warmer it got, the faster the fluttering until every ray of sunshine that made it into the woods was alive with bright orange wings. Totally magical.

As we sauntered back through the string of shacks, we picked up some rough, woollen mittens and a basket woven from the pines to keep our tortillas warm. We couldn't resist the call of the aproned ladies. We stepped in to one of the shacks, this one with two long narrow tables lined with refrescos and bright blue benches. The lady came up, rattled off the menu, then went off to prepare our order. All the cooking was done on a oil barrel on its side, cut lengthwise and fitted with a steel lid. A wood fire burns in the bottom, which keeps the shack warm, while the top is used as a cooking surface for blue corn tortillas, carne asado, cecina and a variety of bubbling blue enamel pots full of moles of all colours, and rice and beans. A half-dozen quesadillas and a cecina later, we were on the road to Querétaro.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Hi, Sarah!

Somebody just told me about your blog... and I`ve only just now figured out that you folks were leaving for a loooong trip.

I`ve read every word, going back to the beginning. It`s so exciting to read about your journey; thanks for this story. I`m loving the real and immediate style of your writing, and I`m loving hearing about your adventures and mis-adventures.

Much love to you all, and you can be sure I`ll read some parts to Cloclo about Frances' passage through Zipolite and Mazunte. We stayed last year at San Agustinillo and fell in love with the little place.

I wish you plenty more fun and lots of safety. My heart`s squeezing to think of you all there, happy and sunkissed!

shannon partridge