Our next morning was Valentine’s Day and we were headed to the butterfly sanctuary.
When my children were little and taking Music Together classes and watching “Dora the Explorer”, I heard this folk tale about a butterfly, “La Mariposa”, in which animals enamored by the butterfly would say “Mariposa, Mariposa, will you marry me?” (There’s a bilingual children’s book you can check out that tells the story HERE if you’re interested). That sing-songy phrase was in my mind as we headed to see the butterflies.
We got up at 7:00 and then were out in the patio area of the restaurant by 8:00a.m. for a buffet breakfast of fruit, granola, fresh squeezed juices, fresh hot coffee, and waffles. By 9:00, we were boarded in the bus and on our way to the Monarch Butterfly Reserve.
It took about an hour and a half to reach the reserve. Once there, we paid to pee and then were assigned our horses. My horse for the day was named “Rosito” and his handler was Francisco. The handlers lead the horses up a two mile trail (going up a few hundred metres) to a clearing where we saw thousands of monarch butterflies fluttering around. Trotting along the rocky, dirt path, we were in a flow of orange and black flitting.
Our guides said they had never seen so many just flying around like that. After a lovely, long rest enjoying the Monarchs, we remounted our horses and continued up the mountain to a trail where we dismounted our horses and hiked down and over to a most amazing viewing spot.
The butterflies, clinging like barnacles on the tall, old growth forest trees blended in in perfect camouflage, while others fluttered around, some seeking water in the river below and some seeking nectar in the salvia.
We can help the monarchs with their survival, growth, migration
and breeding by planting milkweed, tithonia,
brush. Here are 10 suggestions of
flora to plant to help and attract butterflies:
Our exploring Mexico Reefs to Rockies, “In Search of Coffee, Vanilla, and Monarch Butterflies”, journey continued with an authentic (and delicious!) breakfast at the recently renovated and restored Hacienda Zimpizahua after we checked out of our hotel, Casa Real de Café. The weather was a beautiful, warm and sunny treat. We enjoyed dining al fresco and family style in the courtyard. Breakfast included sopes with frijoles, green or red chile, and queso, chicharones, huevos, bread, corn torillas, chorizo, fresh squeezed orange juice and delicious, local coffee from the nearby plantation.
The hacienda was formerly owned by the “Finca” (landowner/boss) who ran a coffee plantation. A still functioning water wheel provides nostalgia from the grand days of the Mexican coffee industry. As we followed the red tile paths around the property, we were led by our guide, Jorge, to the patio where the coffee beans used to be spread out and dried in the hot Mexican sun. Borderline slave workers would spread the beans in a single layer for drying over hot concrete and then scramble to collect it back if rain clouds rolled in. The process is more slightly efficient now, but the glamour of the coffee industry has faded as the price of coffee beans has plummeted to 3 Pesos/Kilo (~US$0.32 / pound).
The grounds of the Hacienda Zimpizahua is as beautiful as a botanical garden with orchids, air plants, a koi pond and poinsettias sprinkled throughout. From a balcony, we had a crystal clear view of Pico de Orizaba, the 19,000’ high dormant volcano. Along the road to and from what was the main reason for the road (the Hacienda), we witnessed bee hives, coffee plants (some covered with banana leaves to protect them from the recent unseasonable cold), roaming dogs and a workers strike protesting the recent developers infiltrating the region with no consideration for the landowners’ rights.
A quick drive down the road
brought us back to where we had the cooking class the previous night…a local
coffee plantation. We learned all about
how coffee is grown, how if it is not local to the region, it doesn’t thrive as
well as the local varietal, when it blooms and when the beans are red, ripe and
ready to harvest. Jorge again translated
for us all about the different processes and how they affect the flavors. We learned about the worms and fungi that
contaminate the coffee beans causing them to be rejected by these dedicated
coffee growers. The best roasted coffee
beans are a matte brown, but not super dark, not shiny and have a marzipan colored
line in the middle indicating the oils are still in the bean. (If the beans are shiny, all the oils have
already been released along with most of the flavors).
Our coffee guide emphasized how we must be Mindful about deforestation and climate change…factors that will affect whether or not we can enjoy really good coffee in the future. Coffee plants grow best in dappled sun light with a canopy above and biodiversity all around. Coffee plantations provide homes for a plethora of flora and fauna as well as homes for hundreds of bird species.
Our coffee plantation tour
concluded with an elaborate tasting where we explored the delicate, intricate
flavors of the coffee either as a shot of espresso, a cappuccino, a latte, or
straight out of the sifon (siphon – a
process where a hot halogen light bulb heats a round flask of water and then an
open topped funnel of sorts suctions the water through a filter up through the
coffee grounds and then, as it cools, the coffee sifts back through to the
flask ready for drinking at the perfect temperature for tasting once it’s
poured in a cool, ceramic cup. Flavors
of hazelnut, chocolate, vanilla and caramel swirled on our palates. Alex (the baristo) also produced some
impressive latte art. Three pounds of
this strictly pure and meticulously grown and processed coffee later, we were
on our way…although I’m not sure how I’m getting it home!
After we had our fill of Arabica, we went to a local restaurant and I ate a lunch of the local smoked trout, rice, vegetables and brown beer. It was one of our group members’ birthday and we all sang “Buon Cumpleanos” to her and, after giggling at the relighting candles, stuffed ourselves on vanilla and prune cake (with buttercream frosting).
Our final tour of the day was of the Inecol (Instituto de Ecologia AC) Botanic Gardens. Given that this is a tour organized by the Denver Botanic Gardens, it only made sense that we would check out the local botanic gardens, chock full of tropical flora and bird life. But, the surprise was our botanic gardens’ guide, Phil, from Great Britain. Despite living in Mexico for 23 years, he still has a thick British accent…which was lovely. 🙂
By far the coolest feature of this botanic gardens was their collection of Cycadas (Cycad) – these are sturdy, fern-like plants that were around on our planet Earth at the same time as the dinosaurs, but are still around today. One of their specimens is 1500 years old. They reproduce with seeds (two types: female and male) and need to be planted close together. Other impressive stars of the show were the huge cinnamon tree (cinnamomum zeylanicum), the Camellia Sinensis tree (where all black tree comes from in various forms of aging), the wild bee hives in all sorts of shapes and sizes and the Mexican bamboo.
The day ended with a four hour long drive north along Highway 180 (a two-lane road that stretches from Texas to Cancun, Quintana Roo) and our final arrival in Guiterrez Zamora, where we stayed in Hotel Santa Lucia after dinner in a town along the way – equipped with the state police packing automatic weapons and wearing bullet proof vests. (We felt very safe).
The first day was just travel and we arrived in Veracruz without incident (although my mother had to throw out her apple since you can’t bring stuff like that into other countries for fear of spreading disease and pestilence). We were greeted at the airport in Veracruz by our American guide Mike Vondruska and our local, Mexican, English-Speaking guide, Jorge Alberto Vidal Lopezolivera.
Bags were transferred to a large van and we met our fellow
tour attendees like deer in the headlights (as often happens when you put a
bunch of people together who have just met for the first time but know they
have to spend nine days together having no idea how this is all going to go).
We arrived and were checked into the Gran Hotel Deligencias. My mother and I were in room 419, each in our own bed. A quick “snack” dinner of oysters, guacamole and chips, and cold cervezas at the hotel restaurant later and we were ready for sleep. The passionate locals were enjoying loud music until at least 1:00a.m., but we were so tired, we faded into dreamland.
Next morning, we were up at 7:00a.m., showered, repacked and in the elevator back to the hotel lobby by 8:00a.m. We loaded our baggage in the tour van and walked across the street to Gran Café del Portal Veracruz for a breakfast of café, orange juice and Machaca (eggs with “dried meat” and salsa) and warm corn tortillas.
Bellies full, bill paid and money exchanged, we were in the van on our way to a local town, Coatepec. Our first stop was an Orchid Museum (Museo de la Orquidea), established by Dr. Isiaias Contreras Juarez over the course of 40 years. There are over 350 species of orchid from 2mm tall to about a foot tall. Most were not in bloom, but the ones that were stretched their beautiful blooms (even the ones we had to use a magnifying glass to see). J
Some important things we learned about orchids are:
They have a symbiotic relationship with the
plant they grow on
The changes in temperature they experience
throughout the year help them bloom
Climate change is affecting their natural growth
They need mostly air (and some water) to live
Vanilla is an orchid!
The word “orchid” means “testicles” (from the
shape of their bulbs)
After the orchid museum, we walked to see a jade plant in
bloom. Then, we drove down the road and
ate lunch at a very nice restaurant and enjoyed artisanal bread and dark
beer. Mom had grilled chicken and I had
snapper, rice and vegetables with a fresh, salad. At the end of the meal, the wait staff bought
a large bottle of tequila (a casa (“on the house”)) and we all partook.
Then, we were off to our next hotel, a boutique-y place near
the town square called Casa Real del Café.
We peeked into one of the local Iglesias (churches) and
chuckled at the statue to Santa del Café (the patron saint of coffee). Then, we walked around the town for a bit and
enjoyed people watching a typical Sunday evening in the town square, complete
with live singing, couples dancing, artisans selling their wares, children
playing and other street performers.
Our final activity at the end of a full day was a cooking
class with Art Cuisine, a local mother, Tanya, and her family taught us how to
make picaditas (masa cooked on the griddle, pinched, and topped with frijoles and
queso, or rojo salsa), chicken and mushroom mole dish, and coffee lemonade
(made with local coffee with just the right technique). And, we finished with coffee gelatin and
vanilla and raisin ice cream.
The bed felt so welcoming after such a colorful and adventure-filled
What do you think of when you think of Valentine’s Day? It’s a day of love. In addition to loving the humans in our lives, what can we do to Love Our Planet? We can electronically Love Our Planet (eLOPE) by taking action on-line as well as in the real world.
CO2Balance.com – Provide carbon offset calculators, carbon offsets go to renewable energy, energy efficiency, and reforestation projects.
Conservation International – Has a Personal Carbon Calculator. Carbon offsets help protect the roughly 832,000-acre Makira Forest in northeast Madagascar.
MyClimate UK – Carbon offsets purchased go toward energy efficiency projects, and renewable energy.
Solar Electric Light Fund – Purchased offsets go toward installation of PV solar lighting in villages that currently use diesel or kerosene.
TerraPass – Makes is easy to use offsets purchased to go toward wind energy, biomass, and industrial efficiency. TerraPass is one of the most well-known and respected carbon offset provider in the world.
The Carbon Neutral Company – Offers access to advice, verification services, project funding, and routes to market for small-scale carbon projects generating regulated credits and credits matching requirements of the CarbonNeutral protocol.