Damien Enright on Mexico

*Back on the road again. Hot chilli peppers in the blistering sun, as Bob Dylan described it. Riding the long-distance Mexican buses brings back the old Dylan songs, the anthems of the nomad nation. The long day wanes and breaks and wanes again as one travels. Towns pass, with romantic names, San Miguel de Allende, Dolores Hidalgo, Guadalajara, Tequila, Ixtlan. To get to my present location, Puerto Vallarta, I spent eighteen hours on the highway, travelling from the old silver mining towns of the central plateau, where the men wear cowboy boots and sombreros, crossing over the Sierra Madre mountains and arriving down on the sub-tropical Pacific.

*Northward to the small Mexican village of Angangueo on the morning of the Day of the Dead, All Saint’s Day, as we call it. The roadside, all of the 20 miles from Zitàcuaro, on the main highway, is verged with an unbroken streamer of wildflowers. Tall, brightly decorated straw wreaths and roadside tableaux of white, grinning skeletons, some in wedding or funeral finery enliven every cross-roads.

*Turtle beach, Mexico We got word from a youth on a beach buggy that one had come ashore a mile up the beach and we set off by torch light to find it. As we went, we looked for other tracks, the deep groves the Ridleys, but even more so, the Leatherbacks, make as they draw themselves up the beach. They must not be disturbed until they have dug their body pit, excavated the pear-shaped nest pit – which will be as deep as their back flippers – and begin to lay.

*I had risen, at 6am. that morning, to see one of the planet’s most spectacular wildlife events. Each year, from early November, 300 million monarch butterflies migrate from Canada and the USA to gather and breed in the pine forests of the Michoacan mountains of Central Mexico. 300 million butterflies, like a Lotto jackpot, is almost impossible to imagine. Equally difficult to conceive is the fact that each of these delicate, paper-winged creatures has flown 2,500 miles to reach these ancestral wintering and breeding grounds.

*Long distance buses in Mexico are Pullman affairs, reminiscent of airbuses but the local or “colectivos” transports to small towns are a different charabanc. The driver chooses his own music and a volume to suit his mood. Mexicans love blare and noise and the packed omnibus to Angangueo that Day-of-the-Dead morning had a festive air. Over the almost unbroken roadside banners of wildflowers, clouds of white butterflies rise; tall eucalyptus, here and there, tower and offer shade; men sell oranges by the onion bag; stalls sell nachos, tacos and tostados filled with concoctions and sauces, cooked on charcoal griddles by the road. The bus honks and rumbles. We begin to climb.