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We had asked around the night before and were told that we had to wait in front of the auditorium between 8 and 8:30 to get to the butterfly sanctuary. There are two close to Angangueo, El Rosario and Sierra Chincua and we had been told that El Rosario was better, but Sierra Chincua was an easier hike. Pedro was in his nicely worn out bike shoes and I in my ninja shoes. When we got there at 8, a Mexican guy motioned us over and asked us if we were in town to see the butterflies, we let him know that we were and he told us to get on the next combi (kinda like a mini-bus.. but smaller). We figured he was just being helpful, until he got on the combi with us and 15 minutes later got off at the sanctuary with us. It turned out that he had met the French couple the day before and was there as their tour guide. We tagged along as we had no desires to get our own, and thus had no need to pay anything but a tip if he did a good job.

Even though Lonely Planet had rated it as easy, our guide was insistent on us marching up, past all the signs and to the place where we could see the butterflies. Partly from an interest in the place, and partly because bike fitness doesn’t transfer that well to hiking fitness I stopped to read every sign and slowly dropped further back until the guide realised what was happening, took a small break, let me catch up, and then repeated the process all over again. Not being my guide I wasn’t going to give him specific orders, but he was definitely doing a good job on reducing the size of his tip!

It took the best part of a couple of hours to see our first butterfly, for some reason they like altitude (we were around 3,300 m/10,000 ft). Having lived in Mexico City, which is at 2,300m (7,000 ft) for 5 months it wasn’t really affecting me, just my general out-of-shapeness. Our first butterfly was in an area where there were signs around asking for silence, and so of course the only other tour group we saw that day was in front of us being obnoxiously loud, the joys of high-school students on field trips. We let them go ahead and sat round waiting for the buterflies to do something, but it turns out they don’t do much until past 11am when the sun has warmed them up enough to want to move. Before that, they hang on trees and wait for the shade to go away. Even though it’s fairly early in the season, in the areas where there are lots of them, the floor is littered with dead butterflies for whom the sun didn’t rise quickly enough. I tried to avoid walking on them, but that became impossible in some parts, especially when we went off path to see them. Even though we had gotten there before 11, there were some fluttering around like gold-dust in the breeze, and as the sun got and the day warmer more and more took to the air. They really didn’t seem to have a plan, or to be doing much of anything, other than fluttering around. I guess to add excitement to their day, a few of them bounced off the side of my face and then flew away as if it were a completely normal thing.

As we descended the guide introduced us to some of his friends who had horses even though we’d said that we didn’t want one, and then as we got near the bottom he made sure to route us past the ticket gate to ensure that we paid. I guess he’s on commission from those people, but things like that were slowly eating into his tip. The final straw came when he told us that the bus would arrive at 1:30, so we had plenty of time to eat. We did and got to the entrance at 1:20, waited for a while and then were told that we’d missed the bus as it comes at 1:15. I figured that he also had a friend in a taxi as he was telling us that he could get us a lift down. We asked about walking and were told it’d take 10 minutes, which didn’t seem believable as the combi rocketing up the mountain took about 15, but we decided to walk and hoped to find a lift so we said goodbye to our guide and the four of us set off.

After 10 minutes, and 4 cars, a small car pulled over and took us down to Angangueo. It took 15 minutes of sensible driving for us to descend and the driver, a local, told us that it would have been more than an hour to get down. As the French couple had a timetable and a bus to get it made me so frustrated at the guide, and glad that I’d not tipped him. If people do a good job, I’ll give them a tip, but he used up too many lives for my liking and so went home without a tip from me.

We got back to town, said goodbye to the French couple and went back to the hotel. We packed up and after being lazy for a while set off on the bike. Riding through the beautiful countryside made us realise just why we’re doing the right thing, as we had one of those indescribable moments where you just think that there’s nothing you’d rather be doing at that point in time. Other than a couple of hills, it was all downhill to our destination of Maravatío where we found a place to camp behind a mini police station and ate delicious tacos at a restaurant of a guy who is on Couchsurfing that I could have contacted if only I’d known we would be in town. A good end to what had been a lovely day. My only regret with the butterflies is that they’re really not that easy to photograph when they’re in the trees.

Looking at butterflies

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