From Queretaro we farewelled our last first class bus for a while. We have been travelling with Primera Plus and boy have they been cushy; more leg room and recline than an aeroplane, power sockets and lunch (just sandwich, cookies and drink but hey I won’t say no).
We were on our way to Morelia, another large-ish city in the state of Michoacán. I know what you are probably thinking: “but that state has travel advisory warnings!” which we were aware of, and promptly ignored in order to visit the places we wanted to see. You will notice that the next few places I blog about will also be in this state, but don’t worry we are fine and nothing untoward happened while there. If anything these areas have been quite quiet and relaxing for us to see, but there were definitely not many (if any) other tourists. We did take some precautions with our money and purposely ran low with the amount of Peso we were carrying, spreading it around our belongings a little more and using our locks more diligently.
But back to Morelia! We had a rough start when we turned up at our hostel and they had no reserved booking for us. I had made this on Hostelbookers and we had had no other issues previously when using this website. The guy at the hostel spoke no English but we managed to communicate with him enough to get two beds in a dorm for the night, luckily without anyone else in the room. We attempted to do some internet searching to find other accommodation but the WiFi was too crap for this to have much success. So feeling pretty annoyed and cranky we left to see the city.
Morelia at first glance looks and feels like your average city, and if anything my first impressions of it were that it was a little grubby and had a fair bit of graffiti. But never fear lovers of Morelia, it grew on me.
The city is actually a UNESCO heritage area for it’s colonial buildings, and the more time we spent walking the streets the more I began to realise how many and how pretty the buildings are.
So that first afternoon we just did our usual thing of strolling around checking out the sites but with the added extra of looking for different accommodation. We found another hostel on the other side of Centro and decided to swap to there the next morning as we had already agreed to a night at the disappointment hostel. The afternoon actually ended up to be quite fun, we stopped for some quesadillas, sat in the Jardin de Rosas at a bar and drank 2×1 (two for one) cervezas, nibbled on a salad (shocking I know) and pizza (not so shocking), wandered Centro again stopping for ice cream and then on our way back to the hostel we discovered a bar with cheap cocktails.
Cheap cocktails feels like a great reason to try a few, the menu (because there were so many options they needed a menu) had literally hundreds of options from margaritas to daquiris to martinis and all sorts of other crazy concoctions. We both tried two and we were predictable in our choices. I had a delicious horchata daquiri and a chai martini and Tom tried a mango one and a kiwifruit margarita. So tasty! I still dream of finding more bars that have similar cheap cocktails to gorge myself on. Oh well I’ll just have to make do with regular non-alcoholic horchata for the meantime.
The next morning after a horrible nights sleep (nasty matresses and not enough blankets) further solidifying our dislike of that hostel, we donned our packs and walked across Centro. Our new hostel was more than happy to accommodate us AND was cheaper! We got settled and spent about an hour chatting away to the owner in a mixture of English and Spanish while he gave us all sorts of tips. We booked a tour to see the migrating Monarch Butterflies for the next day and headed our to check some sights.
There is a small aqueduct in Morelia as well as heaps of beautiful old buildings. After Queretaro I was sick of churches so we didn’t feel the need to look inside each one. One that we did peek inside though was the Sanctuario de Guadalupe (Guadalupe Sanctuary), and I’m glad that we did. The inside of this church is how I imagine standing inside a Fabergé egg would feel, there is ornate flowers and gold, gold and more gold. It makes it sound a little gaudy but it is quite impressive overall.
After a stop at the tourist info centre where we had a nice chat with the lady at the counter we headed to our next stops which were the natural history museum and the contemporary art gallery. Both of which were a little strange, the natural history museum is just a small place, an old house actually, with themes of conservation downstairs and creepiness upstairs. The first room upstairs was fine, a little sad with taxidermy endangered species in it, though with an emphasis on conservation. But the second was intense, there was a cabinet of malformed, preserved or taxidermied animals and human babies. Think cats with two heads, baby goats with eight legs… a little gross for me but Tom was fascinated. The art gallery was really just an exhibition space inside another beautiful old house. The current exhibit when we were there was themed around violence, specifically around the narco-conflict impacting Latin America. Some of the art was perplexing, some depressing and some truly creative. I think both of our favourite were the functional instruments which had been made of dissembled parts of guns.
We wound up the day drinking more beers in the gardens followed but some quesadillas gigante (yes they were giant) where we met a local guy and had another drink with him. The bar he took us to had a three person band playing and although they were really loud they played some great covers of English and Spanish music across a range of genre.
The next morning we woke with anticipation…. we were going to see the Monarch’s! Just to make the start of our day even better, we were given breakfast. Now this in itself isn’t strange, as the hostel advertised breakie on-line but wow it was impressive. A heaped bowl of seasonal fruit (three different melons, mango and papaya) with yoghurt, muesli and the most delicious honey…yum yum. So with full bellies we were picked up for our tour, it ended up just being ourselves and an older mother and son duo from America. The son was a butterfly hobbiest so knew everything we could possibly wish to know about the Monarch’s, and our guide as well as speaking fluent English was a history student so Tom chatted away with her for the entire drive about local and Mexican history.
The drive was a lot longer than expected, I hadn’t realised it was so far, so as soon as we were told “it’s a three hour drive” I promptly downed some travel sickness pills. Nothing would ruin my day. The trip went swiftly and we were soon out of the van and on our way up the mountain. It was a 30 minute hike up to butterfly summit (or so I have named it) sounds easy right? Though at an altitude of 3500 metres (higher than anywhere in Australia and almost as high as Mount Cook in NZ) the lack of oxygen was noticeable, but we were stopping frequently for photo opportunities so weren’t really affected. The higher we walked the more butterflies we saw, at the start each sighting was amazing but the summit was breathtaking. The forest itself was very pretty and we stopped at a lookout on the way up were we could see the whole area below us with a few Monarch’s fluttering around peacefully.
As we neared the top we could see butterflies by the thousands, the sun was out and we were told that it was the best day of their season thus far. The Monarch’s migratory season in Michoacán starts in December and reaches it’s best in March, so visiting in late January was mid season. If it hadn’t been a warm, sunny day then all we might have seen was dark orange wings huddled together on trees to keep warm. But luck was on our side and we spent over an hour in the silence, snapping hundreds of photos and videos, sitting on the rocks just watching them flutter around. One of the most amazing things for me was when you were silent you could hear the rustle of their wings like someone scrunching up tissue paper all around you. Simply a breathtaking experience.
Our guide coaxed us into walking back to the van for lunch. Lunch was at a comida economica near the entry and we had a selection of chicken soup, platillo (beef, rice, beans and salad) or quesadillas. The woman on the tour with us had a quesadilla and slathered it in salsa, just after I had asked their preference for spicy food (a common topic with other travellers in Mexico) to which she had replied “Not much, just a little”. With eyebrows raised and a knowing glance at Tom we watched as she bit into her quesadilla, not surprisingly she found it ineadibly spicy and couldn’t finish it. I’m sure that little anecdote makes me sound like a bitch but the moral is: no matter how innocent looking the salsa, always taste test before adding it to your food! We have found by trial that the innocuous green, fresh avocado looking salsas sometimes pack the biggest hit of spice.
On the return journey we stopped off for ice cream, making my day just a teeny bit better than it already had been. I love ice cream, and fortunately it is easy to find in Mexico.
Wow this is getting to be a long post, not too much to go, promise!
Our remaining two days we spent in Centro. Inside some of the old buildings we saw some old murals, one of the buildings was the government palace where we had to get special visitor lanyards to be allowed in. As I have said earlier these old colonial buildings were pretty special in their own right with pillars, arches and courtyards. We finally made it inside the Cathedral, all the other times it had mass in progress and it’s impolite to snap photos during service.
We walked (the long way – whoops) to the Zoo, and spent a full day there, it was a lot bigger than how it appeared on the map and we were tired and dusty by the time we left. The Zoo is OK, some of the cages are a little small and concreted but it appears to be in a state of slowly updating to more generous enclosures.The Zoo had a lot of strange birds, many that I have never seen before and some which looked a lot like their dinosaur ancestors. A speciality of this Zoo appeared to be the deer/antelope style animals, they had huge paddocks for their enclosures. Some looked like varieties of what I would call a deer others looked more like they would live on an African savannah. It was nice to see a different selection of animals than the ones we have seen when visiting the Perth or Melbourne Zoos.
So after a not so loving start Morelia ended up being another nice city in Mexico. In keeping with our trend of using local buses we took one of the collectivos (these are vans which operate as public transport in many Mexican towns and cities, the buses also operate too but we haven’t noticed any difference taking one over another) the scenic route to the edge of the city where all the buses stop. No pre-booked ticket and bus station for us this trip.