Monarch Expedition: Part One ~ Angangueo Michoacán, Mexico
After the four-hour drive from Mexico City, across a wide valley of rustic farmland and over and around volcanic mountains, we arrived in the early evening at the sleepy town of Angangueo. Pitched on a steep mountainside, the narrow streets and closely packed buildings with shared stucco walls immediately reminded me of southern European villages. Especially lovely were the modest and many handmade outdoor altars gracing townspeople’s homes and gardens.
Angangueo is located in the far eastern part of the state of Michoacán in the central region of Mexico within the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt. During the late 1700s minerals were discovered. Large deposits of silver, gold, copper, and iron ore brought a rush of people into the area. Today, Angangueo is noted as home to two of the most beautiful Monarch Butterfly Biospheres, El Rosario and Sierra Chincua.
Our guesthouse, the Hotel Don Bruno, was utterly charming. As with many of the buildings we passed on the way to Angangueo, a cheery row of glazed terra cotta pots brimming with red and pink geraniums lined the hotel entrance. Through the entryway door and past the front office, guests entered the beautiful inner courtyard garden. All the rooms faced into the courtyard and mine had a delightfully fragrant sunny yellow rose just outside the door. I quickly changed to meet my fellow travelers for dinner in the hotel’s second floor dining room. A long dining table arranged family style, running the length of the room, had been set up for our group, with a view onto the flowering courtyard below.
As he did that evening, and every dinner and breakfast, Chef Jean Gabriel Salazar López had prepared an elegant feast of many different entrees, mostly native Mexican dishes, and including and combining a fabulous array of local fruits and vegetables. The proprietors and hotel staff could not have been more friendly and accommodating.
Dinner was followed by a discussion led by Dr. Emmel. Tom Emmel is the Director of the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity, which is part of the University of Florida’s Museum of Natural History. He is also a professor of zoology and entomology and the author of 35 books (more about Dr. Emmel in the next installment). I recorded several of Dr. Emmel’s lectures and an interview atop the Sierra Chincua Biosphere and will be posting all on youtube.
At daybreak the following morning, I climbed the central outdoor stairwell to the top of the hotel to film the sleepy town awakening. Roosters crowed and the hotel’s freshly washed and drying sheets whipped to the wind in the crisp mountain air. The morning light did not disappoint. Kitty corner across from my rooftop vantage point was one of the small town’s several churches, with a walled courtyard and red and white banners fluttering in the breeze. The village’s main road leads up to the mountains and is lined with red tiled roofed-homes and sidewalks swept immaculately clean. The sun was just beginning to peek through the mountains when I had to leave to hurry down to breakfast.
Despite the beauty and well-kept appearance of Angangueo, and especially of our charming guesthouse, the town and the Hotel Don Bruno were nearly empty of tourists. Reports of mayhem and murder in Michoacán have drastically reduced the number of people traveling to Angangueo to see the Monarchs at the biospheres.
The gang violence is taking place on the far western side of Michoacán, near the Pacific Coast. Angangueo is located on the far eastern side of the state, bordering the state of Mexico. Not traveling to Angangueo for that reason is as uninformed as if someone decided not to travel to San Francisco because of the gang violence that takes place in Los Angeles! The people of Angangueo have stopped logging to protect the Monarch’s habitat and have come to rely heavily on income from tourism. I was deeply saddened to see the lack of visitors, at this time of year especially, when the Monarchs are at their peak activity at the colonies.
Next installment: Day 1 at the Monarch Colony