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Published: June 21st 2017
Geo: 19.0468, -98.2092
The Monarch Butterflies were indeed awesome, but our spell in the mountains was the nearest we got to a 'Homestay' and interesting for the people we met and the stories they had to tell.
We stayed with Joel, aged 34, and his large family of 9 siblings and his parents. They were all involved in developing this Butterfly Tourist business, which only runs for Nov to March at most and is subject to the falling Monarch population. But Joel was building more rooms for guests with his Mother and sisters cooking more meals next door and his brothers providing the horses and assistance for the arduous mountain climb. This business was also greatly helped by Ellen, an American from LA, living with Joel for the last year, who knows what visitors want. But Ellen is an Anthropologist and going back to LA to teach in the summer. Is this an academic project for her, or is she emotionally involved with Joel and the family? For how long?
Joel had lots of dramatic stories to tell. Firstly of how he made 3 attempts to be smuggled across the US border, sent back twice, but successful finally and worked in NY and LA
for several years illegally as a labourer and also in a nail parlour, popular with the ladies - its even more of an industry in USA than Norwood High St!
We also met Ann, mother of an American Harry De Vert, who was murdered by drug gangs on his way South, travelling alone on a motorbike. She had brought his ashes back to scatter them with the Monarchs because this was the last place that he was seen. In fact Joel told of how he was aggresively interrogated by the Police as the last person to have seen him. They would have liked to pin a murder on him if they could find some evidence, so he got hold of a human rights lawyer to accompany him to the Police interviews. Ann was trying to trace where the files of evidence were held and who was investigating her son's murder to achieve some closure. This encounter was very sad and brought home how dangerous parts of Mexico can be.
Alongside these stories of life and death the other visitors - a Mother and daughter from Liverpool ( daughter researching butterflies) and Father ( overoppinionated) and daughter from Miami were much less
colourful characters, but had all gone to extraordinary lengths to see the Monarchs
From the hills we drove to the next county town of Cuervanaca, which on the map appeared to be a simple enough journey but resulted in us getting hopelessly lost, firstly in tiny villages with dust roads and then in urban housing no through roads. There are very few signs on the roads and our map is too large a scale. Sat Nav can be brilliant but sometimes gets totally confused.
The best way to travel is on the paid motorways, even though we have to pay very frequently. Travelling through villages is a nightmare with calming road bumps errected at random to slow down traffic.
We finally got to a quiet hotel with a wonderful outdoor heated swimming pool. This was a lovely treat for 2 days. We found that the cheap bus ride got us into town easily, with only once getting lost in the suburbs and resorting to being rescued by taxi. We found a great private collection of
artifacts, beautifully displyed in Robert Grady's house, this included a Rajashtani story-tellers cloth, wrongly labelled as a temple hanging (we know this, we have one too!). We also found
an excellent restaurant on a terrace overlooking Cortes' palace. Food has been hit-and-miss at best, we've been served steaks you needed a chainsaw to cut, we've learnt that at the drop of a hat fiery chillis get thrown in to almost everything (in pre-Hispanic days corn/maize and chillis were both staples so I guess they have had many years to become immune to the fire!} But we have discovered some very acceptable Mexican wines - the longest wine-making tradition in the Americas apparently.
Then on to Puebla with a stop en-route at another ancient site we had managed to miss in our meanderings getting to Cuernavica. Xocichalco, famous for its elevated situation, a great ball-court (pelota - played at all these ancient sites as a re-enactment of the will of the gods where a wrong move could cost you your head! Could be a useful innovation in Premiership Football methinks.Also famous for the temple of the Plumed Serpent with beautiful relief carvings.and so to Puebla and an excellent hotel with a great restaurant, the Casa Reyna. Another Spanish town laid out in a grid with innumerable churches, convents and monasteries - many taken away from the church and converted to museums
etc. One particular street had been the home of a convent where the nuns made sweets, the Convent of Santa Clara - now the whole street is full of sweet shops, we bought gingerbread pigs, very yummy!
Liz mentioned speed bumps earlier, every tiny village, bigger villages, towns, city streets, they all think they are entitled to a fleet of nasty speed bumps that stretch right across the road, they are a meanace. One smallish village we passed through the other day had 12. Schools think they are entitled to a couple, so do hospitals, factories etc. Traders with stalls at the side of the road think they are entitled to one so the drivers have time to study their wares! Some are official, many are 'self-help' and the guys who build them have the nerve to collect money from drivers to cover the cost of construction. Some are clearly marked with signs and coloured paint, others are completely unmarked and are exactly the same colour as the tarmac - not to be negotiated lightly at night. Then there are the potholes.......
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