Adventures! My first three fantastic, wild months in Guadalajara were coming to an end, and my roommate Andy was leaving Mexico for Peru, so we decided to have one last adventure: a 10-day road trip across Mexico with Cuahtemoc, our hilarious and slightly paranoid Mexican roommate. I’m now back in Vermont, snug in my fire-lit, cookie-filled home with my cats and parents, but I’ve eaten, seen, and experienced so many new things in the last 10 days that I could live off the memories for months. For now, my appetite for adventure is sated! So, here’s what happened:
The trip started off with a bang. Also, a crunch. The bang came when we plowed into the back of a delivery truck that braked in front of us when we were trying to merge onto the throughway 5 minutes from our apartment. The crunch came when we pulled away, and the truck’s squashed bumper, which was attached to the frame with a shaggy blue rope, sagged even lower. Temoc handled the situation like a pro, jumping out of car and shoving a $200 peso note in the front shirt pocket of the surly, mustachoied driver who stepped out of the front door. The argument lasted about 30 seconds, and I heard the driver demand $2000 pesos for the damage. Temoc said no, jumped back into the driver’s seat and we pealed out, swerving around the protesting driver. Needless to say, we drove very, very fast for the next 20 minutes. What a getaway!
We drove for hours through the slightly-parched, cliff-bound landscape around Guadalajara, and made it to a dusty working-class town named Zitácuaro. The streets were filled with old cars and blinking neon signs on top of shabby casinos. We saw more than a few brothels. Looked like perfect spot to find a cheap hotel. Also, it easy drive from our objective, Mexico’s huge Reserva Mariposa Monarca, a biological preserve surrounding the winter habitat of monarch butterflies from across the U.S. and Canada. After a bit of haggling (again, Temoc’s forte), we ended up paying $3 to sleep on thin, springy mattresses in a cold room overlooking the street.
We woke up early, breakfasted on the white bread and peanut butter we’d nabbed from our apartment, and drove up into the mountains into the Cerro Pelón reserve. We passed an interesting looking roadside stand in front of the entrance, tended by an old man who flagged us down. We stopped in to see what he was selling, which turned out to be a drink concocted of fresh-pressed orange juice, a type of locally-made wine called jerez, and two raw quail eggs. I was hungry and in the mood for something new, so I tried it. The eggs were slippery and proteiny-tasting, the wine sweet and expansive, and the orange juice tangy and delicious. After getting over the instinctual gagging reaction that kicks in when you slurp down two raw eggs, the drink was pretty good, almost like a red-wine mimosa with a protein boost. The taste stayed in my mouth for the rest of the day. Definitely worth it.
We pulled into the reserve and found a guide, Cesar. He was wearing frayed jeans and shoes that didn’t look great for hiking, but as we started to climb the steep track into the forest, he quickly outpaced us. Two huffing, sweaty hours later, we were at the top, in a piney forest carpeted with dead butterflies. At first, I didn’t see any live butterflies, and was a little disappointed. Cesar pointed to a shaggy-looking tree in front of us and said “They’re sleeping now.” We looked closer, and the grey, shaggy mass that I’d taken for foliage took definition. Orange-gray wings and white-spotted bodies emerged…the entire tree was made of monarchs! In fact, all the trees around us were covered, from the lowest branches to the top, by quiet, gray, clinging monarchs…must have been millions! As the sun emerged and began to warm their wings, the most precocious of them detached from the huddling mass and began flapping around in the sunlight. Soon hundreds were populating the patches of sky above us, and the sound of their fluttering wings drifted down to us. We watched them for forty-five minutes, seeing how they responded as the sun was enveloped by clouds and emerged, and lunched (more pb sandwiches and chips) while some of them landed on nearby bushes to dry their wings (by twitching them rapidly up and down). Magic!
We descended back through the misty forest, and hopped into the warm car. It was already getting that “road trip” smell, a mixture of well-used sleeping bags, piles of crumbs from cookies and chips, and damp socks. We decided to push through (as Temoc would say, “Fast Tourism!”), and drove 12 hours through the heart of Mexico city and the middle of the country to make it to Oaxaca, where we had slightly giddy, very emotional reunion with our best friends from Guadalajara, who’d already been on the road for a week. I love travel.