Maya Rally, Senora Mariposa
The Monarch butterfly reserve was on Jen’s list before el Jefe told us we were like a pair of migrating Monarchs and long before the rally... but as it turns out a visit also scores us rally points. It happens to be about a day’s drive for us (200 miles or so), and therefore an easy choice for our first day’s drive. We get a pretty slow start from our camp in Guanajuato...not great news since we’re already worried about making it to the finish line in time for the party/end of the world as we know it. Despite our plans to leave at daybreak we take care of the blogpost, add air to the tires, tweak the carbs and finish a few other errands. All in, we aren’t on the road until after 10. Heading south over what is by now well known territory and past Irapuato, we finally reach untraveled terrain. We hit the cuota (toll road) to make up a bit of time, but soon realize that the Pemex stations disappear on the cuota and we end up having to use gas from one of our jerry cans to prevent running dry.As we start getting closer to our destination we make our typical stops for directions, or at least to make sure we are headed in the right direction. We have no gps (or map) so this is about as close as we come to a planned route. It’s also a good chance to talk with a handful of locals and often how we find the best taco stand in whatever pueblo we happen to be in. Across the street from the pemex is what looks like a makeshift stable with horse out front, but the attendant assures us is the best meal in “town”. We cross over and order one of each...which in this case means a mouth watering chicken consume’ and some bistek tacos. The whole family jumps to work lighting the fire that will cook our steak and preparing the sides. Absolutely terrific- and for under $5 we have our fill for lunch and a full container of sopa for dinner at camp.
Further on, we turn north off the cuota toward the reserve. There are actually several reserves in the area, but only a few are open to the public. Apparently we chose poorly. We roll into this tiny town and start asking around but nobody seems to know who to talk to or how to arrange a visit to the monarchs. We were hoping to see the butterflies today and hit the road early, but after 45minutes of deliberation between the policia and other locals someone seems to know that the butterflies haven’t shown up at this spot yet this year. The policia have offered for us to park directly in front of the municipal building and that they will be standing guard all night, but we still think we might still make it to the other reserve and take off.
The signs had said 39k to the south reserve, but once we reach the reserve its another 29k to a town...and we are losing light fast. We debate driving through darkness to meet up with a few other teams we know caravanned another hour south but decide to turn around and look for camping. We haven’t camped in the middle of nowhere since baja and it’s painfully fresh in our minds that we are in Michoacan state, where even locals have urged us not to visit due to the violence between two rival cartels. We pull off onto a dirt road as the sun sets and start looking for a protected and discreet parking place. As we drive far enough down the doubletrack to be out of eyesight from the main road Jen thinks she spots a building. Not what we were hoping. Now we have to make the decision to either u-turn and look for another turnout or ask permission. We rather think we should turn around but the track has no open space until we reach a tiny stick built casita and several stables/coops.
As we start to turn around we see that a woman; clearly startled by our arrival, is standing behind the fence. I slide open the window and apologize in my best broken spanish for disturbing her while jen hops out and walks over to the fence. I watch for a few minutes but realize its not going very well and should probably introduce myself in case the sketchy bald guy lurking in the van is the issue. As i arrive at the fence and introduce myself it becomes clear the lady is still uncomfortable. Jen has asked if we can camp for the night but the lady makes the disturbing movement of her thumb tracing her throat and i’m certain she has just said that its not safe and we’ll be killed. As she continues talking it sinks in what she really saying...she’s terrified that we will kill HER in the middle of the night.
“How do i know that you wont kill me in the night?” she asks. Jen is clearly the perfect person for this job and begins trying to ease her mind. Hoping to be a less commanding presence, I laugh at the kitten crawling around her neck and then squat to take photos of the puppies curled up in wool shavings at her feet. Jen meanwhile is asking what we can do to prove that we aren’t a menace and wouldn’t be any problem. The ranchera listens to Jen’s reasoning and then explains that she lives all alone, has no lights or phone and it’s clear that while she’s visually warming up to superjen she doesn’t seem to be warming up to the idea of us staying. She asks questions about where we are from, why we drove down her solitary dirt road and whether we are married or have kids. We explain that we don’t need to stay anywhere near the house and could simply sleep in the van parked back near the main road. She seems a bit confused, but i mention that there is a bed in the van and she wants to see to confirm our alibi.
As we walk toward the bus Jen lets her know Karma is friendly and doesn’t bite, and as i open the cargo doors she spots Karma and immediately melts. “que hermosa” she screams (how beautiful). Clearly a dog lover, and clearly (another reason) why we brought karma all this way. Karma hops out with tail wagging vigorously to show her some love, we pull out the bed and show her the stove to further solidify our complete low maintenance nature. Suddenly things have shifted in our favor. Elated that we aren’t here under malice, she turns and gives jen a giant hug. I still get only the polite handshake, but she is suddenly more worried about our comfort and if we need anything than about our intent.
Her kitten also bravely leaves the safety of its nest in her hair to make its way inside to inspect the bus, and Karma is curious about the intruder and maybe a bit stressed about the possibility of losing what little living space she has to an adopted cat. Jen offers our new hostess a poblano that we have in the basket, and she in turn hurries back to grab a half dozen eggs from directly under the chickens. “Too many” we tell her, but she assures us we need “3 for tonight and 3 for the morning”. A few more hugs are exchanged, we thank her profusely for allowing us to stay and complete our u-turn to go back down the dirt track.
Our night guarding the road to the ranch was possibly the most quiet and peaceful of our trip to date. It was also easily the coldest. We huddled under the sleeping bag in the silence of the forest miles away from wifi or the ability to plan tomorrow’s course, and with the occasional serenade from the coyotes. Before departing our hostess had warned us “if you hear dogs...they aren’t dogs”. And on the occasional departure from the bus we see the most magnificent star display.
The rest of the maya rally teams likely used their GPS to seamlessly guide them and the vehicles they are caravanning with into the safe harbour of a campground with a baños, wifi and hot water. They probably didn’t get lost, they probably didn’t almost run out of gas or have a stressful conversation about where to hide the van for the night. We definitely chose the road less traveled and we must confess that this time it turned out perfectly. In the amount of time it took for sunset to fade from golden orange to black we went from crazy northamerican throat cutters to welcome guests. We may or may not see any butterflies today, but that magical transformation in the heart of the reserve we wont soon forget.