Visiting El Rosario Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary

Trip Start Jul 04, 2010
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Trip End May 10, 2011


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Where I stayed
Posada de Bosque

Flag of Mexico  , Michoacán,
Thursday, November 11, 2010

Aporo at 2316m to Ocampo at 2287m/23C 20 km/ trip alt 167m /avg climb 3%/ max climb 11% /max alt 2378m/ Butterfly Alt 3000 m/ 9842 feet

With just 20 km to go to Ocampo, the jumping off point for El Rosario Butterfly Sanctuary, we expected an easy day. We would end the day, knackered, hitchhiking in the dark to our cold hotel with a cold shower. Just another great day!

We slept well in the cabin waking refreshed. Dave made coffee as we packed. Michelle poked her head out to say good morning to the staff and check out the morning trout feeding. It was a sunny fresh (cool) morning. Air was clear and clean. Do you do breakfast?, she asked. Oh, we can if you like, but we will need an hour to prepare. Great, we are in no hurry. They put together a nice breakfast and we enjoyed relaxing in the morning.

Riding out to another great blue sky day, we again went over dirt roads but did not need to double back the way we came. We could go directly to the carretera (highway) toward Ocampo. The main highway was just two lanes and without a shoulder. But there was very little traffic and we felt safe. We cycled mostly through a valley with charming farms and villages and mountains never far off in the distance. Several sheepherders waved at us along the way. The pleasant temps averaged about 24C.




Just before the 'T' split to Ocampo, we ran in to a small village with a ruin on the hill and a sign that said ‘LA EXHACIENDA’. A guy on the road explained that it is old ruined Spanish manor house that was built on an Indian ruin, and we should go in. It was interesting to think of the history of this area with the massive old ruin (300 years ago from the Spanish to 1000+ years old for the Indians) now surrounded by simply built houses and small farm plots. We did not go in the ruin.

Michelle just had to try an ice cream from the tricycle cart with a straw umbrella, 2, 3 or 5 peso sizes. It was a good chance to interact with the people of the village.

At the ‘T’ split of the road, machine gun toting police were blocking all traffic and inspecting papers. We peddled by without a comment but got waved on with big smiles from the guys. We felt a picture was in order but did not dare.

5km after the 'T', and at 12:30, we arrived in Ocampo, our destination for the day and the jumping off point to El Rosario Butterfly Sanctuary. Dave made a quick check of a larger newish hotel on the edge of town. It was deserted except for some cleaning staff in the dining building. We continued on to the main plaza, like we always do, to check out other hotel options. The other option in Ocampo was a small dark bunker of a hotel that was not appealing. We considered a third option, which was to stay at the Sanctuary 11km up the steep mountain side. We tried to hitch, with our bikes, but the truck driver, who was going there anyway, wanted $30 (US) which put us off for many reasons. With the help of some locals, we found a combi driver who would take us for 300 pesos, still more than we had in mind.

We made our way back to the deserted hotel and, with the help of a gardener, found the clerk who was running the hotel. They wanted 390 pesos which is a bit overpriced and more than we have become accustomed to paying, especially for an empty hotel. The folks at hotel said we could leave our bicycles and luggage there and stay in a hotel in El Rosario. We also had the advertisement of the Sanctuary that offered accommodations. We left with just enough stuff for the night. We told them we would be staying at this hotel on our return. Fifteen minutes later, we were in the combi on our way up the steep cobblestone road to El Rosario. We would not have been able to ride up that road on our bikes. And as we rode up in the combi, we decided we were lucky we did NOT get a ride with our bikes. Coming down on bikes would have been pretty treacherous because of the incline, curves and rough cobblestone surface.

After everyone else was let off in the town of El Rosario, the driver drove us up as far as he could and pointed us up the foot path to the butterfly Sanctuary and we walked right up to the gate. Very few people were milling around including visitors to the Sanctuary, staff, and others. The gate lady wanted to collect the entrance fee but we wanted to wait until the morning to go in. She found Andreas who could give us info on the hotel. Andreas said we could stay and walked us past a long row of empty shacks that are used to sell trinkets to the tourists. We got to the hotel complex and Andreas told us there was no water until the season officially begins on November 20. (Ah, the reserve was open but not 'officially' open. That explains why so few people were around.) We thought we could deal with no water for one night. Then Andreas said we needed to wait till 6PM for the key and we should see the butterflies in the meantime. A fine suggestion.

We paid our entrance fee and were led up the long steep path by a guide. Apparently, everyone must have a guide who's job is to make sure the visitors follow the rules; stay on the path, no flash photography. It took us almost an hour to get to the ridge top where the butterflies hang out.

The monarch is the only butterfly that migrates both north and south as the birds do on a regular basis. But no single individual makes the entire round trip. They go from Canada and USA to Mexico for the winter and make a northward return in summer. The cycle spans the life of three to four generations of the butterfly. Interesting Wikipedia details are at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monarch_(butterfly)

We did not see many butterflies on the hike up the mountain. But then we reached 'the spot'. Off to one side were clusters of trees engulfed by butterflies. The weight of the butterflies pulled down the branches. We took plenty of pictures and videos. But the clusters were high in the trees and back-lighted against the bright sky. Our compact digital cameras were not up to the task but we got enough images for memories. The guide also told us the butterflies come out of the trees and will cover the ground between 11AM and 1PM before returning to the trees.

As we were making the hike down toward the entrance gate, the prospect of staying in the hotel without water seemed less appealing. The last combi buses down the mountain leave by 6PM. We got down to the gate and were told the combi's probably were finished for the evening, but we could take a "taxi", a old rickety jeep. He wanted 400 pesos! 'No thanks, for that price we would walk.' It was really too far to walk but we figured we could hitch a ride along the way. We hurried the kilometer to El Rosario town in hopes of finding a late combi bus. But no dice. Every once in a while, a truck would pass us but would not stop. The Jeep taxi drove by us too, empty! The sun was setting and the temp dropped quickly. We had walked over a half hour. Finally, we asked for a lift from a guy in a pick-up truck who was waiting for a friend before heading down. He would take us! The road was rough enough to cause this truck to go slowly and carefully. And when the sun went fully down, it was darn cold. He picked up a load of road workers who also needed a ride home, but those guys had to ride in the bed of the truck. Burrr. Our driver was going toward Aporo, so we asked him to drop us at our hotel on the edge of Ocampo on the way. He was happy to.

A kid, who looked about 12 years old, checked us in. Dave walked back to town to find something for dinner. Michelle tried the shower but could only get cold water. The kid called his grandmother for help. They said something about a broken boiler, and left the hotel without further explanation. In town, the only food Dave could find was at a few torta and taco stands. Everything else in town was closed. At least we had some food for our bellies. After about three hours, the kid returned with the boiler repairman and we finally got our hot showers about 11PM. That is a lot of responsibility for a 12 year old, but this kid was up to it! All is well that ends well...
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