It took us the best part of a day to escape the sptrawl and traffic of Guadalajara, and by the time we had we were nearing Chapala, a resort town on Mexico’s biggest lake (Lake Chapala). We happened to arrive just as their Lienzo Charro (Mexican rodeo) was starting, so we had little choice but to attend. While entertaining at first, I must admit I grew bored of the spectacle after several hours of watching them ineptly try to rope a bull. It got a bit better when the spectators got drunker and started jumping into the ring to have their go with the bull.
From there to Morelia, we had a very nice but very hilly ride. The trees are wearing their fall colors, and dry leaves blanket the ground. We visited Tzintzuntzan, mostly on account of its name, but were glad we did. They are impressive Tarascan ruins overlooking Lake Patzcuaro, much more modern and imposing than Chicomostoc, but then we weren’t allowed to clamber over them as we pleased. In Morelia we were hosted by Daniela and her roommates, from couchsurfing, and had a great time at a weird little bar with delicious, local beer and playing ultimate frisbee. Morelia has an amazing, long aqueduct, very well preserved. It may have been my favorite Mexican city to date. We ended up staying an extra day, mostly because we’d seen the hill we’d have to climb when leaving the city. The road’s name, “Thousand Peaks” did little to quell our fears. It turned out to be a great ride though, a very long but pretty gentle climb, with beautiful views out across row after row of misty mountains and foothills. The hilly riding kept up to Macheros, a little mountain town at the entrance to the Cerro Pelon monarch sanctuary. We were awoken at 6:45 by a guide who hoped to sweep us up before any competition arrived – all the men in town are guides for the sanctuary, it seemed. But another guide, Toño, came and won the coin toss. So we began the arduous climb up to the butterflies. We arrived at their grove before the sun, so they were still dormantly clinging in great bunches to the trees – a small branch snapped and plummeted to the ground from their weight. We sat and watched as the sun rose and gradually the butterflies started to take flight. Toño was afraid we’d grow impatient with the wait, so he started hurling small rocks and sticks at the sleeping bundles. We came late in the season, so there are fewer butterflies now, and those that remain have retreated deeper into a gorge where paths don’t reach, but still the numberr of butterflies was astounding. The sound of their wings was at first barely discernible above the birdsongs and the drone of more mundane insects, but gradually grew to drone them out, like the light pattering of rain inside a tent. On the way down, we crossed paths with a stream of butterflies heading down the mountain for water.
That afternoon we rode to Amanalco, reaching it not long before sunset. Stuck for a place to camp, we asked the police if we could sleep in the town plaza, but they were worried about the ill effects the dew might have on our respiration and bade us sleep under a nearby mezzanine, under their watchful eye. There goes another myth about Mexico. We awoke to the curious stares of hordes of children, gathered outside the school next door and wondering who the sleeping gabachos were. We drank hot chocolate and ate tamales frm a street vendor as we watched the children file into class and the town slowly wake up.
Then more climbing to get to Toluca, Mexico’s highest city (8,750 feet). Suddenly, after an hour and a half of climbing, we broke through the pine forests to a view over the wide barren plains surrounding Toluca. We ate at a Chinese buffet in Toluca for dinner, after which I resolved that the next Chinese food I eat will be at Tea House in Minneapolis. We always go in with such high hopes, and they’re always absolute crap.
In the morning we muddled our way via public transport to the Nevado de Toluca, an imposing, snow-capped volcano (4th highest in Mexico) overlooking the city. After taking a bus to Los Raices, we piled into the back of a pickup to get a ride to the park – us and 9 others in the back, with 7 more in the cab. Perhaps foolishly, I managed to climb the volcano and was rewarded with spectacular views out across the plains and down into the beautiful lake in the crater. But I neglected to bring the camera … oops.
Since then, we were picked up by Juan, Jaime’s cousin, and driven to his house outside Mexico City. He generously offered to ferry us and put us up in house fabulous (and self-designed) house so we can see the sprawling madhouse without having to bike here. I knew it would be crowded, I didn’t expect the Black Hole of Calcutta.