Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Mariposa Monarca

During my earlier days in Mexico, I had heard about a place which the monarch butterflies from Canada migrate to. A million questions took shape in my mind, how on this holy planet can a timid monarch with a lifespan of few weeks migrate thousands of miles which would atleast need many generations for the migrations to complete? How do they reproduce during migration? How are the newborns directed? Though I could not get answers to many, I was one among the luckiest few who got a chance to see the sanctuary where they migrate to - the forests of Angangueo, in the state of Michoacán.

Angangueo, is a tiny yet beautiful mountainous village located two and half hours away from Morelia. It has narrow cobblestone alleys with an old majestic cathedral, houses embellish the mountains and the houses are in turn decorated with umpteen flower pots. From Morelia, we drove straight on Acuedecto leading to Mex15. We drove amidst mountains clad with evergreen forests, which brought to me the memoirs of western ghats of Karnataka. The road was curvy without any marked lanes which slowed down the drive. From Ciudad Hidalgo, we had to change to Mex54 till Aporo. From Aporo the road runs through many villages, containing plethora of speed breakers. The forests here change from evergreen to dense coniferous which makes it an ideal abode for butterflies. The oyamel pine mountains provide the butterflies with the apt moisture and temperature need for dwelling.

There are many sanctuaries in and around Angangueo of which Sierra Chincua and El Rosario are the famous ones. About 10 minutes drive from Angangueo led us to Sierra Chincua sanctuary, the parking is about a kilometer and half off the road. There are numerous small shops selling souvenirs and canteens with loud promoters, cute street kids some crying, some asking for gifts. The entrance costs 35 pesos, optionally you can hire a guide which costs extra; bored of hiking, you have an option of mounting a horse back which would take you up hill, close to where the butterflies hang out. The trek is a short and an easy one among the woods, one can occasionally see a distant stray butterfly as you start. The butterflies gradually starts becoming uncountable as you keep scaling heights and at some point, you'll be enthralled by the sight of the dynasty of monarchs cloaking the coniferous firs, clustering and bending the boughs in millions. Few lay dead, many keep flying, some cover the entire tree, others suck the find clouds of butterflies swarming around the place. It's a divine sight of nature and one should be fortunate, to say the least, to witness the performance of such shy and delicate creatures migrating down all the way from Canada. Silence is maintained in the sanctuary and certain areas are barricaded from entering.

Think about it, the quiver of monarchs which start from Canada are not the ones which we see here in Mexico. It requires about 3-4 generations for the whole lineage of monarchs to migrate to Mexico in search of milkweed, the only food of caterpillars. Science guesses that the polarization of sun's rays and earth's magnetic field are made use by the monarchs for navigation, but then there lies no proof for that. I was told that February is the best month for visiting Angangueo sanctuaries, that is the time when you find the monarchs carpeting the mountains.

Having filled the both, mine and my camera's memories with glimpses of monarch migration, we headed back to the entrance, stopped over for lunch. Pollo en mole, pollo con champinones with blue-corn tortillas we had there, sated our tongues and stomachs that we couldn't have asked for anything better.

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