Lunch with the Monarchs

by Eli Torres / May 24, 2011 / 0 comments

High in the Sierra Madre of Michoacán, Mexico, in the little town of Angangueo, exists the sanctuary to which each year the monarch butterflies return during winter. One day when I was a child, my father surprised the family with the news we where going to go see the butterflies; we were thrilled. The trip to Angangueo was not long, but if we had being racing against a slug, he would have beat us.


Town of Angangueo

Town of Angangueo.

© Robert Frerck/Woodfin Camp


The recent rains had transformed the forest road into a mud trap, not that the difficult travel mattered to my brothers or me. We had long since honed our imagination skills, so we found plenty of interesting features in the landscape to occupy our minds while our family van crawled its way up the mountain. To our young minds, every oak tree seemed to pierce through the sky; little invisible beings lived in the hollows of tree roots and rocks, and every natural wonder, like wild flowers and spiky lizards, were all part of the fantastic world we were seeing for the first time.

We arrived safely in Angangueo, a little town at the foot of the trail that leads to the sanctuary. To my young urbanized eyes, Angangueo came across as a rustic settlement. Back in 1988, about twenty buildings  made of roughly plastered bricks  and concrete constituted the heart of the town, the tallest building being the catholic church of the Inmaculada Concepcion (immaculate conception). Scattered thick tree-bark homes with asbestos roofs completed the town, and a narrow, man-made stream supplied the town with fresh mountain water.



 Monarchs in Air

Monarchs in Air

We arrived sometime around ten in the morning, a time, we were informed by the locals, not very suited for visiting the sanctuary. One fellow said the butterflies were scattered across the land then in search of nectar and water.  We could see that, indeed, was the case.  The town was about a couple miles away from the actual sanctuary, but even so, the sky and the air all around us was flickering with bright orange flashes and flickering shadows. In the moist earth of the stream’s edges, the monarchs quenched their thirst, creating endless rows of orange-robed bodies, like Buddhist monks meditating against a wall, gentle and peaceful.



 Monarchs on Tree

Monarchs on Tree

Now, having a butterfly “sit” on you is moving and exiting, but having dozens of  butterflies use you as their own personal rest-stop is just exhilarating. Butterflies are ever so light and delicate; their little legs cling to your clothes and tickle your skin as they bat their wings for balance.  One barely notices any physical contact, but there is no way their touch can go unnoticed. When a butterfly posed itself on the nose of my youngest brother,  he began to scream for our mother. Everyone thought he was scared, but I believe he cried to cope with the overwhelming feelings of delight and happiness. I understood his feelings because I was on the verge of tears myself. Joy,  is the only word I feel can describe walking among the monarchs.  

Once we settled down our exalted hearts, we started to walk toward the little fair-like market, one of the main income sources for the local people.  The market, full of awe inspiring works of art, mostly made by the local people, offers the most succulent foods one could find anywhere in the world.  

As if having butterflies landing on your head was not  enough for a happiness trigger, the hand-cooked food made from the local crops was nothing less than pure bliss.  I never thought simple food could taste so delicious. In a little timber hut, Guadalupe, an older woman—mother of about seven girls and boys—was expertly stuffing small pieces of corn dough with refried beans, cheese, or seasoned meats. She then cooked  the stuffed dough on a wood-fueled stove; this dish is called “Tlacoyo,” the regional cousin of the more well known “Huarache,” which translates as “sandals.”




I’m not sure if it is the intimate relationship these mountain folk have with nature, or maybe it was the “magic” brought in by the butterflies, but as I devoured my food, a warm feeling ignited inside of me, a feeling that never fails to curve my lips into a smile whenever I recall it.

 It has been many years since that memorable day. Now, I am rooted far away from the forests, mountains, and the flavors of the land that taught me to love life. I can only hope to some day be able to spend one more day in Angangueo.