Butterfly Trailblazer: An interview with Cerro Pelon’s first female guide

It’s not unusual to see women working as guides in the El Rosario and Sierra Chincua monarch butterfly sanctuaries. In these sites, anyone who’s related to an ejiditario (members of the community with land titled in their names) can buy the right to work. At Cerro Pelón, the organization of work is simultaneously more inclusive and more discriminatory. Any man who performs community service can work in butterfly tourism; they do not have to buy this right from their elders. But because women’s community service is not recognized as such, it’s rare to see women working there. That is, until my sister-in-law Anayeli Moreno started guiding tours for our ecotourism business. This season she’s taken people to see the monarch colony on Cerro Pelón almost every day. Recently I caught up with her to ask her about life as Cerro Pelón’s first girl guide.

Why did you decide to study tourism when you went to college?

All my life I’ve loved the butterflies. My dad was a forest ranger, so he was always up there taking care of them. Our family would go see them several times a season. I tell people that I first saw them I was still in my mother’s belly.

Anayeli Moreno and Colorada descending Cerro Pelon, March 1, 2018.

 

When I was growing up, I would see these big tour buses coming to Macheros for the day, and they brought guides with them from Mexico City or Morelia. I saw these guides speaking English to the tourists and I didn’t know what they were saying. And then these tour groups would come to eat at my mom’s restaurant and we really needed a translator. I thought that if I studied tourism, I would get to study English.

I started working as a guide at my family’s business JM Butterfly B&B part-time three years ago and then full-time two years ago after I graduated. I love being a guide because it means that everyday I can go see butterflies. I never get tired of seeing them. I also like my work because I’m always meeting new people and learning new things from them. Sometimes it’s a lot of responsibility though, like making sure people don’t fall or taking care of them if they get altitude sickness.

What’s your favorite sanctuary?

I have guided people to all of the butterfly sanctuaries, but I feel much more like a visitor there. And there are so many visitors there — I feel really pressured being around so many people. I feel like Cerro Pelón is my home. It’s prettier and more peaceful, there are fewer people, and you can stay at the butterflies longer. Seeing butterflies always makes me feel happy. How do you say me da alegria?

It gives you joy.

Right — when I’m up with the butterflies, there are no problems, there are only butterflies.

 

Ana in El Llano de Tres Gobernadores in a storm of monarch butterflies.

Our lives have changed a lot in the past five years, our ecotourism business has grown rapidly. For me personally things have changed more in the last two years, because now I can understand and speak more English. And I get to travel in the off-season and talk to people about butterflies.

Where have you liked visiting?

I liked going to Pittsburgh, I think because I liked the mountains there, it felt more like home. Even though I don’t much like big cities, seeing New York City and Washington, DC was interesting.

When you gave presentations, which ones did you like?

I really liked doing a presentation at Point Pelee in Canada with Darlene (Burgess), because we collaborated, and I knew if I forgot anything important, she would mention it. I also liked it when I got to give a presentation to school kids in Virginia in Spanish, although I was a little nervous that we would be speaking a different Spanish, because most of them were from El Salvador, not Mexico. And it was great giving presentations in Iowa too, because I met so many people who were passionate about monarch conservation there.

What do you talk about in your presentations?

What it’s like to grow up in a big family [Ana is the eighth of ten kids]. How people thought that the monarchs were the souls of the dead because they always came back to us on the Day of the Dead. And I also talk about the importance of forest conservation here in Mexico, and the job my dad and now my brother Pato does as a forest ranger. Thanks to the rangers, our forest is in much better shape than the other sanctuaries. And if I were to do one now, I would talk about our new project, a non-profit called Butterflies & Their People, where we’ve been able to hire even more local people to take care of Cerro Pelón.

How have you seen tourism change here in Macheros?

Actually we used to get more visitors, those really big groups on buses, but they only came in the month of February. Back then there were food and souvenir stalls that people set up at the entry of the sanctuary. But around 2010, people started getting worried about security and the groups stopped coming here. Since my brother and his wife started their business, we still don’t get big groups like we used to, but now we get more visitors across the whole butterfly season, not just in February. And now the English-speaking guides on Cerro Pelón are actually from our community, like me and (my brother) Joel.

How about being the first female guide?

I feel good about that, because I think I’m a role model. Now they are other women working in butterfly tourism in Macheros. My cousins Jenny and Valeria started leading their family’s horses up Cerro Pelón. And I think there will be more of us in the future.

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