Sunday, December 7, 2014

It Felt Like National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation! Win a Starbuck's Gift Card

This time of year many of the movie classics come to mind and one that always surfaces at some point in the season is that zany Christmas movie with the Griswolds.   I recently felt like I was living one of the Griswold family moments on a trip to Mexico.  I'll tell you the story and when you get to the end, please leave a comment letting me know what you would have done if you'd been in my shoes. My son who made the journey with me will be the judge of the best response. One lucky winner will be selected to receive a $10 Starbuck's gift card. Oh yes, AND YOU COULD WIN STARBUCKS FOR LIFE!  Be sure to read about the Starbucks giveaway.

Just before Thanksgiving my son and I traveled to Mexico to visit San Miguel de Allende and as we made our travel plans we realized we would be in Mexico at the same time the Monarch butterflies arrived from their winter migration.  Both of us were so excited to be able to visit the Mexican forest to see the butterflies.  We tried to book a tour beforehand but ran into some language barriers and decided that we could take care of setting up our tour as soon as we arrived.

On our first morning in SM we woke up really early (too early) and walked to the town center. Nothing much was opened accept this beautiful coffee shop known for some of the best churros in town. The cafe is owned by Margarita Gralia and the shop is always packed. In fact she came in for a meeting while we were there.
We finished an early breakfast and set out to find a tour company and as luck would have it there was a tour company just a few doors down.  I was even more excited when I realized the woman in the shop spoke English so no language barriers - booking should be easy. We were told that our guide would pick us up at our hotel at 7:00 the next morning and she further explained that we would be back home by 7:00 in the evening.  Great. So off we went to enjoy our day.
The next morning we were standing outside our hotel at 6:45 a.m. having had no coffee but so excited to make the journey to see the butterflies.  We waited, and waited, an by 7:15, I called the guide.  It sounded as if I woke him up but he closed with, I'll be there by 7:30.  With coffee on my mind I called him back and asked him to pick us up at the local Starbucks which would be open at 7:30.  (I'm one of those people who functions much better after having my morning coffee). Starbucks opened promptly, I got my tall dark and by then it was about 7:40. Suddenly a nice-looking guy was in my space saying "are you waiting for a guide?"  This guy quickly let me know our guide had arrived.  My son and I walked out of the Starbucks AND "what to my wondering eyes should appear but a..." BRIGHT ORANGE 1977 VOLKSWAGON BUS with a driver, 2 small children, a man asleep in the floor of the bus and the slick nice-looking guy.  Could this be right?  I couldn't think fast enough to decide whether to get in the bus or skip the butterflies and try to fight the bank charges to get my money back.  Would this old vehicle be able to make the trip? Oh and let me add the bus had been customized so we were missing some seating to make way for the cabinet & sink - yes a little sink!  I told my son to get in the front seat and everyone cleared a path for me to have a seat in the back seat.  All the while I'm thinking to myself this guy must be dropping his family off somewhere.  But no, the guide announced that we were on our way to pick up the English-speaking woman from the tour office.  Meanwhile the guy asleep in the van obviously had a rough night the evening before and remained passed out, oblivious to the long bumpy drive on cobblestone streets as we make our next pickup.  Have you ever been around people who've had too much to drink?  The bus reeked.

We arrived at the woman's apartment and she came out wearing a long flowing flowered skirt that appeared to be a few decades old, sporting a pair of Birkenstocks, loaded down with homemade granola bars. She got in the bus and somehow we managed to make room for one more person.  Surprise!  Everyone in the van would be making the trip to see the Monarchs.

So off we went and once we were on the highway things were fine for a while. Someone decided we needed to have some music so the driver popped in some mariachi music mixed with sappy tunes from the 80s. It was then we learned that the guy who was sleeping in the floor plays in a mariachi band and had been playing all night. The two little boys in the back of the bus belonged to the guide and were out of school for a school holiday which is how they ended up on the tour.  The hippie woman was Canadian and had been living in Saskatchewan working with tribal women victims of domestic violence.  She told us that woke up one day a few months ago with an urge to move to San Miguel so she bought the VW bus and drove by herself to SM and planned to live in her bus and figured she could learn to speak Spanish once she got settled. I've never met someone who just picks someplace on the map and moves there.  The slick, nice-looking guy gave no clues about himself nor did the tour guide but truthfully, I was fine with not knowing too much about them.

We drove for about 2 hours before stopping in a small town at what looked to be a market and we were told that we were stopping for breakfast. We marched past the long line of women waiting for milk vouchers, past the vendors selling all kinds of junk, past the open-air butcher, veggie stand, etc. and walked up to a counter and the guide ordered breakfast for all of us. We were served up a couple of tortillas with meat and a bowl of soup.  I was genuinely hungry by this time so I didn't ask too many questions.  Also, I was a bit concerned about the roadside dining and risking Montezuma's revenge but was I trying to be brave.
We spent some time waiting for the two guys in our group.  We were told they needed to go take showers and to myself I'm thinking that's a good thing because of the bad smells in the van.  So while we waited I walked around and ran into the sweet potato lady.
We got in the van and drove for another hour or so and this time ended up taking a bathroom break in the cutest town ever and guess what - you'll find some of Santa's workshop in this village!  The town is Tlalpujahau and we learned some very interesting facts about where we were. Besides being a place where Christmas ornaments are made, Michoacán just happens to be the kidnapping capital of Mexico! Shouldn't someone have mentioned this to us before we made this trip? 

Can you see our bus on the right?
I was so distracted by all the Christmas joy that I didn't notice until we were back on the road that the guy I nicknamed "sleeping beauty" was now up and sipping  drinking TEQUILA!  He'd packed him up a little cooler and was working on his hangover.  

At this point we are just a short distance from the butterfly reserve and I was totally focused on getting there and making the trip worthwhile.  It would have been nice to have gotten information about the area we were in but the guide didn't seem to want to share much information though he was a very good driver.
I loved the farmer wearing the cowboy hat.  He truly loves the land and all of God's beautiful world.  Not pictured - the hippie woman - she went to put on warm clothes.

Sleeping Beauty - in this photo this guy had enjoyed several beverage refills and has filled his pockets with magic mushrooms!

Eventually, we made it.  It was beautiful and one of the farmers who owns the land served as our guide.  To him the land is sacred and he earned my respect as he took us up the mountain, guiding us through some gorgeous woodlands pointing out native lupines, salvia, thistle and orchids all in bloom before we reached the butterfly area. Just imagine thousands of butterflies.  The day was overcast so the butterflies were not as active as I'd hoped but you could still see them clustered on tree trunks and we also spotted hummingbirds too.  It was breathtaking.  The farmer told us that he is 65 years old and he described the decreasing number of butterflies arriving each year by showing us how much of the forest they used to inhabit compared to these days adding that we must do something to save our environment.  

As we began our journey down the mountain "sleeping beauty" stopped to point out some very unique mushrooms. When we got in the van to make our journey home he couldn't quit laughing about what was in his pocket. He'd loaded his pockets with magic mushrooms!  

It started raining on the drive home so it took us nearly 5 hours to make the trip. It was the longest 5 hours of my life but I was so happy we survived. There are so many more small details I could share but lesson learned.  The next time I decide to book a tour, I will be checking references before booking. I try to be an adventurer but this went way beyond adventure in my book.

The next day we stopped in to BajioGo Tour &; Shuttle Company and the agency's staff was appalled at the price of our tour, the crazy vehicle they used, 15 hour drive, the fact that meals were not included in our ticket price and that we were exposed to some of the craziest and most unprofessional experiences. Just in case you decide to go to San Miguel (and you should, it's wonderful) be sure NOT to use the tour company services of AVENTURAS SOL Y LUNA SN MIGUEL!!!

Congratulations if you made it all the way to the end of the post and I hope you'll leave a comment letting me know what you would have done.  Happy trails!


  1. Oh my goodness! I guess just suck it up and try to make the best of it like you did. Surely and adventure you will never forget!

  2. What would I have done....interesting...First I would not have drank the Tall Dark for fear of having to pee on a long road trip (you left out a description of the bathroom facilities) Then I would have stayed home because not only do I have butterflies out on my deck but plenty of hummingbirds too right here in beautiful Kennesaw....!! As for Sleeping Beauty....I hate to disappoint but that's my Landscaper Mr Morales from Buford......a nice guy....does good work....but he can't hold his liquor

  3. Gracious! That's an adventure for certain! I'm glad it all turned out well. What would I have done? Probably much the same as you did, although I might have done a little more research ahead of time, and also checked out what was included in the tour package. You'll be talking about this tour for a long, long time.

  4. Great story....I am so glad you made it to see the butterflies!! I would have written a blog post about it (just like you did!) and enjoyed telling the story for years to come :) I think on the rainy drive home I would have closed my eyes and squeezed someone's hand the whole way....maybe "sleeping beauty?" What an adventure! ~Sara R.

  5. What an amazing adventure my friend and you also landed in 'kidnapping capital' I guess it was worth it from your fabulous photos! Happy you saw the butterflies too my friend. We just saw butterflies here on a last long weekend we went to.
    Happy holidays,

  6. And the winner is Sara R! Thank you all for taking time to leave a comment. Sara R, I will be following up with you regarding your gift card. Happy travels!