The Nature Writers of Texas

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Mexico is a Beautiful Country That Gets Few Visits from Americans
by Ro Wauer

Betty and I, along with friends from Del Rio, recently spent two weeks in Mexico, mostly in the state of Veracruz, an amazingly diverse area geographically and biologically. Veracruz lies along the eastern slope of the Sierra Madre Oriental, between the Gulf of Mexico and the highlands of Oaxaca. It exemplifies a 16th century description of Mexico. When the Spanish king asked a returning conquistador for a description of the new land, the visitor seized a piece of paper, crushed it into a crinkled ball, and laid it in front of the king. “There, your majesty,” he said, “is a map of your New Spain.”

For those Americans who do visit interior Mexico, few leave without the realization that Mexico not only is a beautiful country, but also as safe as anywhere in the interior portion of the United States. Just like no one in their right mind would wander about the streets of many of our large cities after dark, one doesn’t wander after dark about many of Mexico’s large cities and border towns. But we have found that the interior Mexican towns are safe. And the people we meet are just as honest and kind as those in the U.S.

I have been traveling to Mexico one to several times most years since 1966. And although the roads, accommodations, and restaurants were less acceptable then, all have been improved immeasurably in recent years. Mexico’s main highways today are equal to those in the U.S. Mexico caters significantly to visiting Americans. And the exchange rate makes prices only one-half to two-thirds of what they are in the U.S.

Our recent Mexico trip was designed primarily to find and photograph butterflies. A secondary purpose was to visit a number of archeological sites and some locations that I had not seen during my earlier birding years. We generally covered an area from Tampico south to Catemaco and westward into the Sierras to the Esperanza cloud forest. I was disappointed in the amount of forest that had been cleared during the last couple decades, but I was impressed with the efforts underway to protect some of the last remaining forests. For example, sizable tracts of native jungle-like vegetation still exist in the Sierra de Tuxtlas near Catemaco and cloud-forest habitat along the Veracruz-Oaxaca border. And some good forest also remains surrounding the various archeological sites.

We recorded more than 300 kinds of butterflies during our trip, none more impressive than the huge morpho. This tropical, deep blue species occurs in intact forest habitats as far north as the El Cielo area in central Tamaulipas. But to see one flying in the rainforest of southern Veracruz is extra special. And the numerous heliconians that we found at various sites were extra special as well. Isabella’s heliconians were widespread, as were the zebra and julias, but we also got great photos of Mexican, tiger, and erato heliconians. Other large butterflies of special interest included rusty-tipped pages, common and crinkled banners; Blomfild’s, Karwinski’s, and small beauties; and five species of crackers. These tree-huggers are named for their behavior of snapping their wings in flight.

Some of the smaller butterflies were just as impressive. Perhaps, the wavy-lined sunstreak, an extremely long-tailed, bright green hairstreak, was most welcome. But finding pearly and sky-blue greatstreaks, a square-spotted yellowmark, Anna’s eighty-eights, blue-eyed sailors, and a fuzzy saliana was also impressive. And finding seven kinds of clearwings was another highlight. Of the more than 300 total species, 48 were lifers for me.

My message with this nature note is not about butterflies and magnificent scenery as much as it is about the country in general. We Americans too often believe the worst about what we don’t understand, and we rarely give that new idea a chance. Anyone who does venture south of the border, beyond the border towns and into the countryside, cannot help but appreciate Mexico for all it has to offer.

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