Trip report-Butterfly tour from Ixtapa.

by Altona Stu @, Friday, February 10, 2017, 22:05 (253 days ago)

My wife and I have spent four weeks in Ixtapa in January-February for quite a few years, enjoying the beach and the sites-Isla Ixtapa, Zihuatanejo and its wonderful dining, Playa las Gatas and more. But I have always been interested in the story of the Monarch butterflies. Manitoba, where we live, is at the north end of their remarkable migration and Mexico is home to several refuges at the south end of that migration. So after a few years of talking it up to friends we decided this year’s Ixtapa visit would include a butterfly tour. So in off-season research we found and hired a guide, Juan Carlos Garcia to take my wife and me, a couple from Minnesota and another couple from Michigan on a tour to the butterflies and parts in between.

So at 6:30 AM on a Friday morning Carlos picked up the six of us in a Suburban and off we went. First stop was the Parque National Barranca del Cupatitzio in Uruapan. This is the spring-fed source of the Cupatitzio River. The Parque was founded in 1938. It is beautiful place, with a series of walkways, streams and waterfalls, and a cliff diver! It was cool and refreshing under the trees after a warm drive. Then we set off again, our next stop—Santa Clara del Cobre.

Santa Clara was the copper smelting capital of New Spain and continues to this day to be an important copper working centre. The town is full of expert copper workers, making everything you can think of that can be made from copper. Think everything from delicate jewelry to kitchen sinks and bathtubs. Carlos took us to a store with a workshop at the rear where the products in the store are made. Four workers did a loud and smoky demonstration showing us from start to finish how an urn is made. After this and a walkabout of Santa Clara we left for Morelia.

Morelia is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. An old colonial city that one couple said reminded them of Europe and another said of Argentina. We thought it was beautiful, with old, old buildings, large plazas two, three or four blocks square filled with statues, trees, stages, walking paths and on the occasion of our visit, music, dancers, speeches and protests! (Gasolina, Trump.) We spent the night at the Casino Hotel, just steps from the Cathedral of Morelia which we toured that evening. Construction of the Cathedral began in 1660 and was completed 84 years later. The twin bell towers are 60 meters (200 feet) tall and visible from great distance. The Cathedral is considered by some to be the most beautiful in Mexico. The pipe organ was imported from Germany in 1905 and was the largest in the Western Hemisphere at the time with 4,600 flutes and pipes.

The butterfly viewing strategy according to Carlos, is to arrive at the site late morning when the air is warming up so the Monarchs, which hang together for warmth in massive clusters overnight, begin to warm up, separate from the clusters and fly about. So, the weather forecast appearing perfect, the next morning we left at 8:30 for the refuge, a nearly three hour trip. The last hour or so of the drive was a big climb with lots of slow, sharp curves. After parking the Suburban we set out for another significant climb. The choice was ours: on foot all the way, or a 20 minute horseback ride up the mountain followed by a still significant climb on foot. The least fit of us made the better argument and we rode horses! This was still followed by a difficult climb on foot to about 10,000 feet of elevation. The air is pretty thin up there. The fitter you are, the better.

And once at the top, spectacular sights! It turned out just as Carlos anticipated. There were still large masses of butterflies hanging together in the Oyamel Fir trees but many others had left the warmth and were flying all around us. The Oyamel Firs grow only at altitudes between 2,400 and 3,600 metres (8,000 to 12,000 feet) and this seems to match the same ecological conditions the Monarchs require at this stage of their existence. After getting our fill of the butterflies, we set out, no horses this time, to walk back down to the parking area. Walking up is tougher but walking down is no bargain! My legs were shaking by the time we hit the bottom and everyone mentioned sore calves the next day. But it was all worth it.

So, back to Morelia we drove, a tired bunch. We arrived about 5 PM, rested up a bit and then had dinner at a roof-top restaurant kitty-corner from the Cathedral of Morelia from which we witnessed a fireworks display at the front of the Cathedral. A short display but quite powerful. Then to bed.

The next morning we did a two hour walkabout in Morelia, seeing historic areas of the city including Santuario de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. The interior is ornately decorated in gold leaf and is apparently widely regarded as a national treasure. We also saw the picture-worthy Morelia Aqueduct, built between 1785 and 1789 consisting of 253 arches, 1.6 km or 1 mile in length. About 11 AM we set off in the general direction of Ixtapa with plans for several more stops along the way.

Our first stop of the day was in Capula, at the studio of Maestro Juan Torres Calderon. He has an acreage there dotted with sculptures and centred by a church which is his gallery. According to his paintings and sculptures, he is an admirer of the female body! Beautiful work.

Then on to Patzcuaro where we stopped for lunch and to spend some money at Once Patios (11 Patios), a whole lot of small stores in a building which once was a nunnery where the works of local artisans are on display. We also spent some time in the town plaza which was packed with action including traditional dancers and modern break-dancers! Quite a contrast but both entertaining in their own way.

There is a lot more to see in the Patzcuaro area, particularly around Lake Patzcuaro, but by this time we were toured-out and tired and so we left for Ixtapa. Back at 6:30 PM, a grateful, happy bunch. We already are planning for a two day, one-night trip to the archaeological site at Tzintzuntzan and the other towns and villages around Lake Patzcuaro next winter.


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