Oaxaca – Santa Maria del Tule

Leaving the butterflies behind I spend my last night in Michoacan in a very basic hotel in the town of Zitácuaro, then on to Villa Victoria in the state of Mexico. I found a nice hotel right on the lake of Villa Victoria. Great view but it was a little cloudy and chilly in the morning.

Continuing east towards Oacaxa I run into a roadblock just outside Izucar de Matamoros. I was making good time until everything came to a complete stop. It seems that the taxi/bus drivers union has blocked the road just outside down protesting for more money. It’s pretty mountainous so there is no way around. At one point a Policia Federal car drove up to the roadblock in the left lane and I thought “OK now he’ll clear them out and we can get going”, but he just got out of his car and said “Let me through” and left the rest of us sitting there. Finally they tell me they’re going to keep the highway blocked until 4 pm, as it’s not even 1 pm yet and I don’t want to drive through the mountains at night I retreat back to the town and look for a hotel room. The first hotel I see is an Auto Hotel where the rooms are 150 per hour or 360 per night, it seems sketchy so I splurge on 460 for a night at the clean and modern Hotel Casablanca.  Walking out the front gate I see some wild turkeys running down the street and I remember that today is Thanksgiving in the US. Turkey is not popular here, el pollo is the king of birds, so the turkeys run around loose without a care even on Thanksgiving.


Instead of a turkey dinner I get a great pizza  for Thanksgiving.


Next morning I am up and on the road at the literal crack of dawn to avoid the highway blockade. As I get close to Oaxaca I can see the remains of this summer’s blockades. In June/July the teacher’s union had Oaxaca completely blocked; stores closed because the shelves were empty and they had to fly in critical supplies like medicine. There was a lot of fighting on the blockades and several people were killed. They are still upset about it and the burnt out skeletons of buses and semi trailers remain across parts of the highway, covered with banners commemorating the dead. I make it almost to the west side of Oaxaca and traffic comes to a stop again.There is another blockade at a critical junction of the free highway and the toll road. At least I am near a major city so there is some hope of getting around it. I follow a line of cars driving the wrong way back down the highway, then get off and take some dirt roads out to the southeast of the blockade. I have almost made it past when I come to a culvert running under the toll road, but with my rooftop tent I am about 6 inches too tall to fit through. I have to retreat all the way back to the highway and circle around to the northeast. Apparently all traffic rules are suspended when there is a blockade, the cars go the wrong way down a one way street, around gates blocking off streets, wrong way down the highway. I drove past two policeman sitting on their police car while going the wrong way on a one way street, they just waved. Finally I make it past the blockade and back onto the highway into Oaxaca, drive all the way through Oaxaca and out the east side, and when I am about 2 miles from my destination there is another blockade on the east side of the city. It takes me another hour to follow detours down roads that are not even dirt roads, in some cases just paths through fields.


Finally I arrive at Overlander’s Oasis in Santa Maria del Tule. It’s a great place run by a Canadian couple that caters to overland travelers. They have a beautiful garden courtyard that can accommodate 4-5 campers. They make me feel right at home, and it is quite nice to just hang around and have a conversation in  English for a change.


Santa Maria del Tule’s claim to fame is the world’s fattest tree, right next to the church in the town center.



It’s a quiet little town with many good restaurants. The empanada is popular here, lots of little grilles right on the sidewalk cooking fresh empanadas.



From here it’s easy to catch a small bus back into Oaxaca, but I am a little burnt out on driving around blockades so I just spend three days here relaxing and eating. The weather is perfect so it’s good to just sit out in the sun in the town square after lunch and look out at the world’s fattest tree.


Reserva de la biosfera de las mariposas monarcas

Heading east from San Miguel de Allende the next stop is the Monarch butterfly reserves in northeast Michoacan. This is where all of the Monarch butterflies that head south from Chicago at the end of summer end up for the winter. Pretty amazing when you think about it. These are not the same butterflies that started the journey, it takes three generations of butterflies to make it here to their winter spot in Mexico. They’ll stay here until spring then hatch a super generation which will make it all the way back to Chicago.

It is a steep and winding road up to the park entrance around 11,000′.  I pick up a guide at the entrance and he hops into the passenger seat and guides me up the couple of KM of very rough road to the parking lot. From there we set out in search of las mariposas.


My young guide speaks zero English so there is not much conversation on the way to the butterflies after my tourist Spanish is used up.

I’m surprised the butterflies like it this high, at 11,000′ it is very cold around 48F even in the sun. Great view of the surrounding countryside.


After a mile or so we arrive at one of the butterfly spots, it’s amazing seeing them flying everywhere.


The butterflies are clumped together on trees to keep warm, those are butterflies not leaves.


It’s around noon and they are waking up in the sun and flying around. It’s a great feeling just looking up and watching them fly.

Click below for video