Butterflies and Pig Tails


Friday we and three of the other missionary couples arranged to take the day off from the office and go see Monarch butterflies. You’ve probably heard that Monarch butterflies migrate seasonally like birds. In the summer, they spread out across the U.S. and into Canada. In the winter, they go to Mexico—they are smart insects. In Mexico, they don’t spread out like they do in the U.S. Instead they are concentrated in pockets in the mountains a couple of hours west of Mexico City. Reserves have been set up in those areas. We hired a guy who arranges tours to take us. His name is Nacho (not really his name, but his name is a lot harder to say so he goes by that) and he took us to a reserve called Piedra Herrada.

               Driving into the mountain forests, we were surprised at how much they reminded us of the forests in Idaho and Washington. In fact, when we got to Piedra Herrada, I felt like I’d arrived at a church camp back home. It was great to smell the mountain air scented with pine and to see the wildflowers.


Our whole group. Nacho and his wife, Sheila, are on the left

          The altitude of Mexico City is about 7,350 ft. The base area of Piedra Herrada is at about 9,000 ft. To get to the butterflies, you have to go up even higher, and you have to have one of the reserve’s guides take you. The guide is included in the price of admission to the reserve, but tipping is ok. Our guide let us know that. Ron spoke with her as we walked and found out she works at the reserve from November to March—the butterfly season. The rest of the year she helps her husband farm. They grow mainly corn and beans, but she did also mention potatoes. Ron tried to tell her he was a potato farmer and he’d love to see their farm, but she looked a little perplexed by that. I’m not sure if she didn’t understand him or if she was concerned about a stranger telling her he wanted to go to her house.

The trail was just a little over a mile long, but in that distance we gained 1,000 ft! Most of us hiked, but the smart ones (the Alsops) paid to ride horses. Remember, the air gets thinner the higher you go, so it was a bit of a trek. Most of the path was paved with flat stones, but at one point our guide took us off on a “short cut” that was supposed to be easier. After taking it and coming back down on the main path, I highly doubt that. It was a narrow dirt path through the forest, which really felt like we were hiking through an Idaho forest. Every once in a while as we hiked, a Monarch butterfly would flutter past.


             Once we reached the area where the butterflies congregate, we were supposed to be quiet so as not to disturb the resting Monarchs. After hiking so high, we had to drop down into a little canyon to get to there. When it’s cold, they cluster together on the branches of trees. As it warms up, they start to be more active. The day we were there was overcast, and so not super warm. Still, we saw lots of butterflies flying around, but also huge clusters of them on the tree branches. It was pretty amazing to see. We also saw a lot dead butterflies on the ground. Of the generation that arrives in Mexico and overwinters there, most of the males die before they head north in the spring.
Looking at the background of this photo and the previous one of me, you can see the steady incline of the trail. However, it's steeper than it appears in these photos--or at least it felt that way.

Our guide used these dead Monarchs to show us how to tell a male from a female. The male is on the left. He has one black spot on each of his lower wings that the female doesn't have.
The dark masses on the trees are clusters of butterflies



The intrepid hikers. At this point we are smiling because we are on the way back down.


              Other than the steep climb back up out of the little canyon, the entire hike back was downhill and went much faster than the hike up. In the meadow at the bottom were stands selling souvenirs and food. At one place they were frying chicharron, which is pig skin. It might sound gross, but I really like chicharron. I had to get a video of it frying because it was so cool to watch.


             Besides frying the chicharron in small pieces, they also fried large pieces which they then used in place of the tortilla to make a dish like a tostada, piling toppings on the chicharron. One of the items you could have on it was pig tails. Ron ordered one for us, but I told them to only put two pig tails on it, just so we could try them. I can now tell you that pig tails really don’t have much flavor. They’re just kind of chewy, a bit like a flavorless gummi worm. I didn’t particularly like them, but I didn’t particularly not like them either.

Those are pig tails in that bowl!
Ron eating a pig tail.
These are the guides and horses, waiting for someone to hire them to go up the trail.


            From Piedra Herrada, Nacho took us to a town named Valle be Bravo. It is a colonial town sitting on Lake Avándaro and is a mountain resort town. It reminded me of McCall, Idaho--with a Mexican flavor. ATVs were almost as common on the streets there as cars. Besides water sports, the area is known for paragliding. We ate at a restaurant on the second floor of a building, which had a great view of both the lake and the paragliders. We had no idea a place like that existed in Mexico, and it was fun to visit.
The restaurant where we ate is right in the middle of the photo on the level where the blue sign is.
Ron couldn't resist.


             Saturday we managed to go to both the tianguis and the art park with the Alsops—a lot for one day. You might be getting tired of pictures from tianguis, but I love them. At one point Ron was buying something at one booth while I made purchases at another. Then at the art park, Ron and Bob wanted to go to a store up the street, but I stayed at the park by myself and made several purchases on my own. I couldn’t help but think that a year ago I could not have imagined myself being comfortable being alone in a marketplace in Mexico, let alone being able to communicate well enough to buy anything. I still don’t understand or speak Spanish very well, but I can say, “Cuánto cuesta?” (How much does it cost?) The numbers they say in reply can throw me, but I learned a trick from one of the other sisters. She said she tries to estimate the cost of what she’s buying, then hands them a bill that is much larger than that, and it’s usually enough that they hand her back change.

When you buy fruit at the tianguis, they'll peel it and cut it up for you at no extra charge. This guy is cutting up a pineapple for us.
Holy Moley, that's a lot of guacamole!

               One thing I love here is that thanks to the street performers, there is music almost everywhere. I’m amazed at how much of it is music from the U.S. I prefer when they play Mexican music, but no matter the style, it is fun to have music wherever we go.

               We had a busy week in the office, which is good. I’d rather be busy than twiddling my thumbs looking for something to do. Working in the area office is an interesting experience. It is very businesslike but also very spiritually oriented. One morning this week as we were going into our office, I noticed that an office door near ours was open enough that I could see in. Inside were two men who hold prestigious positions, sitting with their heads bowed in prayer. We start all our meetings with prayer, but for some reason, that image really touched me.

               I'll end with an update on our daughter Madi. So far her preeclampsia is staying mild enough that it's safe for her to continue carrying the baby. She is now 34 weeks along. Her doctor says if she reaches 37 weeks, they'll induce her--they won't let her go longer than that. So within the next three weeks we will be getting a new grandson and will make a brief visit to Idaho to meet him.



  1. So happy to hear about your adventures. Good news about Madi...hope she makes it to 37 weeks without incident. Love and miss you! Vicki


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