Saturday, February 07, 2009

Orange Crush

So yesterday we spent about eight hours in a car driving through Michoacán - "America's Meth Basket," according to its license plates. This is what most of the drive looks like - winding, death defying mountain roads on which you're stuck behind a double-trailer which may or may not be filled with some kind of explosive liquid, followed by stretches of open highway on which we'd get it up to about 90, only to have five or six cars bunched up behind up trying to pass on the right. Every few hundred meters along Highway 15 there were women and children selling handwoven baskets and fresh strawberries, undeterred by the fact that Highway 15 is a six-lane shoulderless superhighway about as busy as Interstate 70.

Eventually we lose the regularly-paved roads altogether and, after another bone-jarring hour, arrive at the El Rosario Monarch Sanctuary. After paying the absurdly modest $2.50 admission fee, we run a half mile-long gauntlet of butterfly-kitsch peddlers before beginning a long, near vertical climb that started at an altitude of almost 10,000 feet. For the record, yr humble corresp. is a long way from 19, and has been known to sweat all the way through his jeans on occasion. And for the first hour or so of this uphill death march, we saw literally dozens of butterflies. After a couple of phone calls home to the main office to chew out and then fire the intern who arranged the trip, we decided we would keep going in order to get our two dollars worth, and hope that some of the souvenir hawkers sold beer on the way down.

One of the great things about being right the vast majority of the time is that, on the rare occasion when you're wrong, one has the luxury of being able to admit it, so...holy fucking shit, were we ever wrong. This was without a doubt one of the more amazing things we've ever witnessed. The higher you climb, the thicker the cloud of butterflies becomes. And while the place is probably a photographer's dream, we'd sent our staff cameraman off on assignment, so you'll have to content yourselves with our modest amateur efforts.

This attempt at a close-up ended badly for one anonymous mariposa who, in his excitement over the prospect of appearing in Burro Hall, flew directly into yr corresp's mouth, only to be expelled quickly and, regrettably, without wings. In case you're curious, butterfly wings taste like dust. We're not going to say any more here because killing a monarch butterfly is probably a federal offense.

After a while, it starts to feel like a snowglobe full of butterflies, or one of those Jacques Cousteau films where the school of orange fish come swarming towards the camera. The noise of the wings flapping is loud enough to be creepy in a Hitchcock sort of way. (And, to be clear: if they were ever to evolve teeth and claws, these creatures would kill you and everybody you love. You've heard of the Butterfly Effect? Well, multiply that one little butterfly by 20 million...)

It's sort of hard to tell in this last picture, but basically, the trees themselves are bright forest green. The reasons the leaves look like they're dead is they are in fact caked with butterflies.

If you still have your doubts...the souvenir vendors do sell beer.


Anonymous said...

Spectacular! I wish I could have seen them for myself. The pictures are great!


EL CHAVO! said...

That looks pretty amazing. I wish we could hear an audio clip of a million butterfly wings.