Monarch Butterflies in Michoacán: Wild Wings and Wings in the Wild

Wings in the Wild

This weekend I journeyed to Angangueo to observe one of the countries top natural attractions. I visited El Rosario, which is the largest monarch butterfly sanctuary in Mexico.Mariposa-MonarcasEvery year in early November, 60 million to one billion monarch butterflies journey almost 3,000 miles from Canada, and take refuge within Mexico’s lush green forests to hibernate during winter. They gather in sanctuaries like El Rosario from November until March, when they again begin another long journey home.
El Rosario was first discovered in 1975 by Dr. Fred Urquhart. National Geographic subsequently featured this discovery in their 1976 August issue, which led to an immense boost in tourism and completely changed the economic dynamic of this small town. Despite its universal appeal, foreigners only account for less than 5% of total visitors, and these local citizens seem to struggle to generate enough income from tourists during even the busiest months. :/

The chance to gaze upon such raw natural beauty seemed one not to be missed, so I decided to plan a day trip to El Rosario and witness the spectacle I had read so much about.
On Friday night, after a nice stroll around the historic center of Querétaro, I made my way to the bus terminal. This is the Temple of Santa Rosa of Viterbo. Absolutely beautiful! 😀IMG_8394_zps437f4a7cAlthough my journey to Angangueo was not 3,000 miles, it was arduous nonetheless. 🙂 My bus was set to depart at 1 AM on Saturday; however, things did not go as planned. For starters, my bus picked me up two hours late, which was a definite test of my patience, but at least now I know the bus terminal like the back of my hand, and I was also able to do a lot of people watching during that time. For example, during that two-hour stretch, the ticket salesman won THREE stuffed animals from the claw toy machine. How lucky is that? The machine must not be rigged like the ones in the states. Hah.42contempFrom Querétaro, the bus traveled to Celaya, and then to Zitácuaro. This was the most direct route available; unfortunately, this particular bus stopped in EVERY major city on the way there, which added almost three additional hours of travel time.

Last but not least, the bus has to constantly deal with these bad boys!Tope_zps7172c0bbWhat are sometimes utilized in parking lots in the United States, are actually the STAPLE of speed control in Mexico. Instead of law enforcement policing your speed limit, speed bumps or topes are strategically placed on nearly every major street and highway. Talk about abusing a good idea!  Vehicles are forced to come to an almost complete stop when approaching these speed bumps, unless they want to totally wreck the underbody of their car, or reenact a scene from Speed. Hah.stunts-speed-590x350_zps4364d984After arriving in Zitácuaro at 8 AM, I took a local bus to Angangueo. I soon realized that this bus was also used for transport of market produce as bushels of fruit and vegetables began to surround me on all sides. Luckily, the market vendors were extremely kind and hospitable. As I sat there with my coffee, they immediately offered me a bolero roll with avocado and fresh peppers, and began to strike up conversation. 🙂

IMG_8399_zpsa08c8c8dThey asked if I was going to visit the butterflies, since that is why almost all foreigners visit the area. They recommended a bus for me to take to the sanctuary that was inexpensive, and wished me a safe journey. So sweet! 🙂
I arrived in Angangueo around 9 AM and began to wait for the bus to the sanctuary. Angangueo is a beautiful little Pueblo Mágico with cobblestone streets and hillside churches surrounded by the striking beauty of the lush mountainside.
IMG_8404_zpsfbb276e1IMG_8413_zpsc8152007IMG_8416_zpsac4adae8IMG_8423_zps40d5e137Again, I waited almost two hours for that bus and didn’t arrive at the sanctuary until 11 AM. If you do the math, that is around 10 hours of travel time, which is slightly heinous, but I did learn a few things during that time.
First and foremost, time is NOT as important in some cultures. As an American, I am very focused on time, but soon realized that the people around me sit or stand along the streets all day to talk with each other and live in the present. They feel no rush or obligation to get from one place to the other. They are content with whatever happens or does not happen during their day. This perspective made me relax and savor each moment on the trip, despite the fact that I hadn’t yet arrived at my destination.
On a less serious note, I learned that the Spanish words  for “right now” and “wait a minute” are NOT literal translations. Hah. I was told these words MULTIPLE times during the trip, but these sayings were far from the truth! 😛
Anyway, upon entering El Rosario, I was assigned a guide that would lead me on the 45-minute walk to the butterfly sanctuary.IMG_8446_zpse196c766gg_zpsf043c520IMG_8444_zps7ede402aThe trek was almost completely uphill and required a bit of endurance, but stops to take in the breathtaking views of the pine forests were highly encouraged, if not obligatory. 🙂IMG_8550_zpsf1cdb006IMG_8453_zps9c3a4249When we arrived at the sanctuary, I was absolutely awestruck.IMG_8468_zpsb33ace50Hundreds of butterflies were flying around me. Thousands upon thousands of butterflies were clutched together, hanging in the trees.
IMG_8478_zpsb9016603IMG_8510_zps68cd41f2IMG_8461

What perhaps looks like dark masses along the tree-tops, is actually clusters of butterflies dangling in small herds.IMG_8504_zps1aa66177IMG_8498_zps82354310Here’s a magnified image I found on Google.monarch_highlands_mexico_big_zpsf9965cbc Up close, the contrast of the vibrant orange wings against the deep green plant life was absolutely stunning.IMG_8460_zpsc9f78c99 (1)IMG_8485_zps2a48f090IMG_8523_zps9f530d0bSome were lucky enough to have the butterflies land on them to rest for awhile. 🙂IMG_8532_zpsb1f2004cThese delicate creatures seemed calm when approached by people.
IMG_8545_zpse6c5ef43IMG_8548_zps569c3360They almost sensed that we would do them no harm. 🙂IMG_8534_zps1fb06459IMG_8459_zps4274c3e5The place itself was mystical. Despite being such a marvel, you have just read that it is not the easiest place to visit and does not receive many foreign visitors. 🙂 For that reason, walking around the sanctuary didn’t feel like a tourist attraction. It still remained a very personal encounter that I was fortunate enough to experience.IMG_8483_zpsd0174ebaIMG_8465_zps1c5bbc0dIMG_8484_zps3dac42aeIMG_8458_zps99fc475cAfter marveling at the beauty of nature, I felt relaxed and content. I began my trek back down the mountain, and also my long journey home. Getting home was not as complicated, since I was not going to mess around. I took a taxi to the bus terminal and then hoped on a direct bus back to Querétaro. 🙂 I did manage to make a quick stop at the local market and grab some delicious produce for the ride home. These blackberries and succulent peaches were picked to perfection. Yum!IMG_8560_zps336fadd2

Wild Wings

On Sunday, I was able to enjoy wings of a different sort. 😛
I met a friend at Buffalo Wild Wings to watch the Packers take on the Seattle Seahawks. This is a trendy new restaurant in town, so they even have valet parking. Seems pretty fancy for a BWW. 😛IMG_20150118_174532_497_zps2af5473bWe ate some wings and had some michealadas to cheer on Los Empacadores de Green Bay. 🙂IMG_20150118_150817_077_zps5d69dab9IMG_20150118_162115_0361_zps0579b2a9IMG_20150118_143029_755_zps4473b6b0Although the game didn’t end with a win, I will be a Packer fan ’til the end. 🙂IMG_20150118_171931_566_zpsc8544a78

School Happenings

This month, fifth grade is going to begin a research project on endangered animals. Their readings thus far have covered animals, such as cougars, sea turtles, and wildlife from the Everglades. Now I am hoping to share some additional information with them after my tour to the monarch sanctuary. I read an article this weekend about the diminishing monarch butterfly population. Their migration numbers are at a record low due to deforestation and loss of milkweed from pesticides.

As a requirement for the project, they will be asked to map out information about their animals habitat, unique skills that enable them to survive in the wild, and also their role in nature. After understanding more about their animal, they will research why they are endangered. Since these kids wil be the future generation, I would like them to understand the positive impacts that humans can have on preserving an animal species. For example, at the monarch sanctuary, I found evidence of reforestation that was funded by the WWF. Very promising! 🙂IMG_8556_zps2e93d923In 6th grade, we have been learning about the prefixes il-, in-, ir- and im-, which translate to “not” in English. Some of our words included illegal, inappropriate, impossible, and irrational. I thought that this was the perfect opportunity to host a mock trial in the classroom! 😀 I gave them the scenario of a stolen sandwich from the school cafeteria. They were assigned the role of either lawyer, accused, witness, policeman or judge. They had to create dialogue for the trial and present it to the class.

They had a blast and their skits were hilarious! The judge had to yell, “Order in my courtroom! Your actions are completely irrational!” The accused stated, “I am innocent. That sandwich would be irresistible to anyone! I did nothing illegal! I am telling the truth!” He almost shed a fake tear. 🙂 In the end, the defense lawyer offered to buy Subway sandwiches for everyone in the courtroom and nobody went to prison. Nicely done. 🙂

After a long weekend of traveling and lesson planning, I was also able to do some grocery shopping for this week.

On the menu is cabbage stuffed with lentils, rice, fennel and tomatoes. As a teacher in Mexico, I am given this card as part of my salary.wpid-img_20150118_115714_700It can be used at all major grocery stores to purchase everything from food to toiletries. They say it boosts our overall salary, since this money is separate from our monthly income and is not subject to income taxes.

Anyway, now I will settle in with some hibiscus tea and begin reading Anna Karenina. Another action-packed weekend in the books. Until next time. 🙂wpid-img_20150106_172209_525_11

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