Michoacan is famous for a few things, but I went there to see the biggest group of Monarch butterflies that convene anywhere in the world. I left Guadalajara and got caught up on the toll highways, where I met a Costa Rican hitchhiker. He was on his way to Guatemala to renew his visa, and told me he had been waiting and walking for four days for a ride. His legs were beat up he was sore and smelly, but I realized all of this after he was sitting in my passenger seat grinning at me and thanking me, ” Pura Vida.” He was the only real hitch hiker I’ve had on this trip and might be the best, He bought me dinner and coffee and gave me a bracelet that he had made.    IMG_6653
We drove together for the better part of the day conversing in broken spanglish. He was upset when I told him I wanted to get off the toll highway and take the slower/cheaper road. But we related over our mutual hate of topes, speedbumps in Mexico. When I told him I was planning on spending the night in Morelia, Michocan, he told me that he didn’t want to go there because it was too dangerous. He was there three years ago and heard gunshots all night.
When I woke up from my streetside campspot in Morelia I noticed a sign above my car mentioning something about robbers and safety. Turns out I had parked and slept in my van in an area known for burglaries. I rolled on my good fortune and basked in this ancient city full of beautiful buildings, cathedrals and raised aqueduct that snakes through the streets.IMG_6652
I went to a free contemporary art gallery that was full of intense protest art. Images of corruption, gang violence, poverty and war were central in all the pieces.IMG_6651 I couldn’t quite understand were these artists were coming from because I didn’t get the impression of any of these negative images as I walked around town. I had al pastor tacos at a tiny hole in the wall taco shop under the aqueduct, and tried gaspachos, a mix of mango, papaya, chili, and cheese.
IMG_6662IMG_6668That night I made it to Zitacuaro, just miles from the winter meeting place for thousands of Monarch butterflies. There, I stocked up on tortillas and avocadoes before wandering into an open air performance of a Christmas musical at a local elementary school. It was a nice reminder of the holidays in my most unfamiliar Christmas season yet.
After getting lost a few times and driving deep into the night on a mountain road I made it to the least visited entrance to the butterfly reserve. I camped outside the park entrance, attracting interest from the local dogs, who barked at me all night long. In the morning the locals were also intrigued as I went about my dailies, cooking eggs in my thuggie and brushing my teeth with water from a bottle. Eventually the park opened and I was able to enlist a guide to show me the path 6km up the mountain to where these orange and black airborne insects were congregated.
My guide told me that there are 25 guides and they are hired in order, so sometimes he will go days without work. In the five years he has been climbing the mountain, he has picked up very little English, so I was grateful for this one-on-one Spanish practice. The hike was long and steep, and the reward was pretty dismal. There were alot of butterflies and they were beautiful but at mid day in the heat with the sun at twelve o’clock their colors don’t really pop.IMG_6776
That night I drove to Cuernavaca and wandered around the beautiful downtown, seeing a live orchestra band playing music for the public to dance to, Christmas lights and displays and just a whole lot of people hanging out and having a good time.


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