Search This Blog

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Where the Monarchs Hang in Mexico

The Jade Green Forests of Michoacan

By Silvia Uribe

My friend Rosty is afraid of butterflies. He insists that these not only beautiful, but also quite innocuous creatures make him feel unsafe when they fly around him, particularly around his face. "My fear comes from the time I was a kid, when a huge moth - the type we don't see around anymore - was flying on my face and I was unable to get away from it," he explained. All his life he's been missing the opportunity to see the monarch butterflies in their natural habitat. He's missed a lot.

Allow me to explain. Here in Goleta, as most know, we have a monarch sanctuary, officially known as the Coronado Butterfly Preserve, on the Ellwood Mesa, close to the bluffs. I feel a particular attachment to these royal - by their name and by their rich appearance - insects. There's a connection between them and me. They call Goleta home, as I do, and they like to travel to Mexico as well. I do this every year, but they are not as lucky. They make one round trip only. They leave during the fall and come back up during the spring. It is their "children's grandchildren" that go south the following fall.

Millions and millions of monarchs from the central and eastern Canadian provinces and the eastern and midwestern United States embark in an extraordinary effort, migrating to Mexico just as the California ones do. For years it was a mystery where these colorful beings went and where they ended their trip. The scientific community knew that they went to Mexico, but the exact hideouts continued to be a secret known only to local villagers and landowners.

In 1975, after a serious tagging endeavor on the part of researchers and amateur observers, their arrival sites were revealed. Here's what we know now about the monarch's journey:

The monarchs leave during mid- to late September, continuing until mid-November. They start the trip southward individually, but gather at points along the migration route to rest, feed, and drink. Scientists estimate that the California monarchs are now only about 5 percent of the overall worldwide monarch population.

We still don't know how these fragile animals get oriented or how they survive such a prolonged trip. Their arrival is an amazing sight. In massive butterfly clouds, they sweep up into the forest located in the mountain ranges of the Mexican state of Michoacan, arriving in November through early December. Some of their main overwintering locations are: Altamirano, Sierra Chincua, El Rosario, Chivati-Huacal, Cerro Pelon, San Andres, Mil Cumbres, La Mesa, Lomas de Aparicio, Piedra Herrada, Oxtotilpan, and Palomas.

After these locations were made public, a presidential decree in Mexico established in 1986 the Monarch Butterfly Special Biosphere Reserve. This consisted of 60 square miles of protected forest. In the year 2000, with a new presidential decree, the reserve was expanded, creating a protected corridor of 216 square miles. Of the seven sanctuaries mentioned, only two are open to the public: El Rosario and Sierra Chincua.

According to what researchers tell us, the butterflies have chosen these sites - located just a few hours from Mexico City, and almost 10,000 feet above sea level - because the oyamel firs and other nearby trees, streams, underbrush, and fog combine to form the perfect natural ecosystem for them. I would add that they might have also chosen these paradisiacal enclaves because they are some of the most beautiful places that human or animal eye has ever seen. These locations surround the legendary Patzcuaro Lake and make up an intense jade green, intricate forest. No wonder the little insects make an extra effort to get to such places.

If you are a nature lover, I encourage you to travel to Mexico and explore the marvelous Biosphere Reserve. You should be prepared to find butterflies by the millions flying or lying around you on the trees, on the bushes, even on the ground. The grandness of the place and its beauty is breathtaking, and it is also a fabulous reminder of how our earth supports all kinds of life, no matter how large or minuscule it may be, if we're willing to protect its resources.

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latina perspective.

Cross-posted at The

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Family Trips

By Silvia Uribe

As summer and its weather fades away, and we all get back on track with our order of business, whether it is school, work, or the everyday chores of a full-time mom, or dad, or those of a retired person. Families look back and re-live the fun every time they look at the pictures or the video they took during their vacation. These stand as faithful witnesses of those times spent together, and proof that family life can be fun when we find in ourselves the disposition to make it fun.

There are times during those trips, though, that we rarely take into account. Moments that are not only fun and entertaining, but also very conducive to bonding with the ones we love. These moments almost never go on record, but they are, in many instances, the ones that are engraved in our minds for the rest of our lives. No pictures or videos to archive; only memories, and a sense that being with each other is the best place where we can be.

For many, the perception of vacation is leaving home to get to the destination as fast as possible. Once there, each one does whatever they enjoy the most, and after a full day of activities or rest - depending on age and disposition - we go to bed awaiting the next day to do more of the same. That's probably why a friend of mine used to say, "Why do people insist in going on vacation? They go, they come back, and then what? Their life goes on exactly as it was." He didn't see any purpose to it.

It was not like that for my family. There was a purpose for our time together. It was a time to bond, grow, understand, observe, learn, and above all, laugh. My father rarely planned a trip by airplane if there was a way to get to our destination by car in an "acceptable" amount of time, meaning in relation to the number of days that he could take off work. But long or short, those trips were fun. My mom, our guest - usually one of my cousins - and I knew when we were leaving, but rarely where we were going. Packing was challenging at times, but we were willing to pay that price. That's how I came to know most of Mexico's 30 states.

As soon as we jumped in the car, everything was an adventure. The first thing was to learn about our destination. Dad would disclose it once the car was rolling, but not before we tried to guess it. It was all excitement! How long it will take us to get there lacked relevance. We knew that on our way we would stop in every little town to explore it, eat, talk to its people, and either continue our way, or stay and sleep. If he had a timeline, we didn't know it.

No one ever slept while on the road. We had to be alert to answer my dad's questions at the end of the day. The promise of a prize can do wonders. We always knew the answers and he would buy us things that - I realized later - he would have bought us anyway, whether we knew the answers or not. While driving, dad would create fun games, like counting cars of a specific color, or taking turns to say a word that was related to the word that one of us previously said, or simply, choosing a word and singing songs that included that word in their lyrics. Oh, and our conversations were as varied and entertaining as the rest of the activities. The point, obviously, was to keep us engaged, alert, happy, and constantly relating to each other. There's a reason why they say, "It is all about the journey". My dad knew this. As an adult, I try to replicate the experience every time I'm with my family on the road, and believe me; it is not hard at all, no matter the age of those who ride along.

Inside our car, we have a captive audience. Whether we're traveling with our family, friends or co-workers, a road trip is the perfect time to get to know each other. If we use this time smartly, we can really get to conversations that we'd rarely have in a different environment.

There's only one condition. In the car, everyone should forget about the iPods, the TV screens, DVD players, and totally and completely ban phones in general, particularly the iPhone (although the GPS application can come in handy.) Technology has the power to isolate us, and when it comes to spending time together, it can become a thick wall between us.

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latina perspective.

Cross-posted at

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Service, Please

By Silvia Uribe

Here in Santa Barbara, and everywhere else, good customer service is difficult to find. At risk of sounding really ancient, which I am not, I remember the days I was growing up in Mexico, when I traveled with my parents. Good service was offered everywhere. What ever happened to those days? Shopping days with my mother, which included the rarity of having lunch at a restaurant, come immediately to mind.

I remember that when we went into a department store we were able to find someone to help us, or better yet, they found us. These employees always seemed to know and were able to suggest what would suit us well, according to our figure, age, and pocket. They knew about fabrics, and the best way to care for them. Employees also helped us find all pieces to create the perfect outfit, including the indispensable accessories.

You can find all of the above today, mostly in expensive stores or boutiques, but in those days, most stores offered a high level of service. Chain stores today, however, argue that they don't have money to pay better-trained employees. But think about it, in those days, store employees didn't make a lot of money either. The difference is that they had to adjust to the standards of service that their employers set, and not the other way around. It was in the best interest of businesses to offer services that would translate into a lot more spending on the clients' part.

These days, when we go to a department store, we're lucky if we find an employee to answer our questions. Sometimes, we have to look around for a while, and walk half of the store to find someone. When we discover one, they usually don't know where the merchandise is located, what size fits, what the fabric composition is, and much less have any willingness or energy to go look for what we may need. Oh, and their fashion advice is something to fear; hence, the little spending.

The same thing can be said about the restaurant industry. In the past, those who waited tables knew their menu up and down, including the ingredients each dish contained -- at least the main ones -- and they were able to give suggestions. Not only that, but they were trained how to set a table correctly, and by correctly, I don't mean what the etiquette books say, I mean with plates, silverware, and a glass of water at the very least. They knew to take our complete order and to talk to us in full sentences. Moreover, when taking our order they would stand next to us, so we could hear each other. When they brought our food, they were usually mindful of not crossing in front of customers, placing the food and beverages carefully on the table to prevent spills.

When we go out to similarly affordable restaurants today, it is a complete adventure, but not necessarily for the exotic flavors that we'll enjoy. It is more because good service is not guaranteed, and our waiter or waitress might not know how to do their job. When we want something, we need to catch the eye, in any way or form, of our ever-distracted server, and this may take a long time. Once they finally notice us and come to see what we need, they sometimes stand far away, forcing us to yell. If they come back for any sort of clarification and find us talking to our friends, they might tap us on the shoulder to make their presence known.

When the food comes, at times it is not what we ordered, or it is cold, and in order to set the food down, they don't mind passing it across the table, and among people. Sometimes they give us the plate to put in front of ourselves. Spills on the plates, or on the table are today almost an everyday occurrence.

And what to say about the employees' physical appearance? Maybe because Santa Barbara is such a laid back beach town, but some of these characters seem to not be very alert, as if they had just jump out of bed, without having enough time to shower, or at least fix their hair. What's that?

I wonder why customer service fell in such a steep decline and why business owners don't seem to care. Why they don't have a high standard of service as a policy is beyond my comprehension. Good customer service always brings new and old clients in, and increases the bottom line. We learn this in Business 101.

My point is that productivity and customer service are the tools that will dig the private sector, and the public too, out of the ditch in which we find ourselves. I'm sure we can step it up a notch.

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latina perspective.

Cross-posted at