House of the Butterflies
The World Is Often Too Much With Us
You know the feeling... you are having a pretty good day, and then you watch or read the news and your heart feels heavy. You are perfectly content, walking down the street or driving through a Yucatan pueblo on a sunny morning, and a skinny dog or an old man who can barely walk but is carrying more than you EVER could, stops you in your tracks. In the last few years, especially, the experience of so many beautiful or amazing things are tinged with a hint of sadness at the thought of their cost, the price that was paid to achieve them or their imminent demise due to unfortunate and inconvenient truths.
We have enjoyed the luxury of sitting at Mezzanine on a cliff above the beach in Tulum, sipping our Bombay martinis, snacking on a chicken satay and watching as the afternoon colorful sky deepens into a velvety sparkle. We have marveled at the architectural beauty of a friend's renovated colonial or an obscure but magnificent hacienda. We have floated in our swimming pool, watching zopilotes flying in slow, lazy circles below towering clouds. There are uncounted numbers of beautiful places and things for us in the Yucatan (and in the world...), and yet mixed with the experience of appreciating them is the knowledge of the risks it took to build them, the poverty of the people who helped to build them or who work tirelessly within their walls, or the precarious situation of so many living things in our turbulent times.
Or, though we know what a useless emotion it is, we have found ourselves haunted by guilt while enjoying ourselves in the Caribbean sun, knowing that there are people around the world who are hungry, sick, financially ruined or homeless. Call us what you will... crazy, conflicted, hypocritical, confused (we prefer "human")... but sometimes our hearts are broken.
Around the Next Bend... Pure Delight
So all the more beautiful and soul-satisfying was the experience of pure delight that fluttered into our lives one day as we were driving hurriedly on the road from Valladolid to Tulum to attend a meeting. As we rounded the bend before we reached the first of the three Mayan villages along that road, we saw a sign that read La Casa de Las Mariposas. Hmmm, intriguing! We had never seen that sign before. Even as those thoughts flitted through our brains, our little car flew past the place itself. After the tiniest bit of internal debate, we slowed down, executed a quick U-turn and doubled back to the place advertised on the billboard.
We parked (we were the only car in the spotlessly clean parking lot). We saw no one, but a friendly black labrador came up to greet us. We weren't sure if she was lost (we tend to be magnets for lost dogs these days...) or if she belonged. She was friendly, healthy and had a collar, so we assumed this was her house. She didn't seem to mind that we were there, so we proceeded towards the back of the property. To the left, had we needed them, were some beautifully painted washrooms. To the right, there was an as-yet-unfinished updated Mayan palapa. But still, no sign of humans.
To our left, we saw that the owners had built a lovely outdoor deck with deck chairs facing the trees that had been left to grow there and the garden that had been planted among the tree trunks.
Finally, after a few "hola?"s, we were greeted for a second time by a human, a lovely young woman (LYW), whose name we have now forgotten (a common occurrence these days...). She invited us into the House of the Butterflies.
Not A House
It really isn't a house the way that we think of a house. The Casa de Las Mariposas is a structure built of wood and netting, constructed around a central pole and incorporated right into the forest. There is a small anteroom, and then, through another screen flap, the butterfly house itself. Extra security, you know, so no one can get in to disturb or harm the delicate creatures inside. Or maybe so they cannot escape, though it was hard to see why they would want to.
Once inside, the little house reminded us of nothing less than a fairy dwelling or a hobbit garden... green life and colorful flowers bloomed, oozed and emerged from everywhere. Plants grew together in happy proximity with others completely different from themselves... we love that about a garden, don't you? Trees stood proud and tall, providing what might be loosely called "walls", structures for hanging orchids, netting and other plants. A little world within the jungle world, lovingly created and tended in service to Nature and to sharing a little corner of it with Humans (and a dog).
And everywhere among the greenery, practically impossible to photograph in our short visit, but lovely to see... the butterflies! In a few short minutes we saw mating white ones, serene orange ones, camouflaged grey ones and high-flying yellow ones. The LYW showed us the honey dishes that are set out for the butterflies to drink from (when flowers just aren't enough...) and the nursery box where the pupas and coccoons are kept for safety and ease of demonstration to visitors. The LYW told us that in a few days, more butterflies would be emerging from the box to join the others in the garden. She also told us that she lived on the coast by Tulum, but worked here every day, tending to the gardens and the butterflies, learning their ways and nurturing them. She seemed very happy about it, too.
And No Bitter Aftertaste!
It only took about fifteen minutes for us to peruse, photograph and enjoy this little adventure. On the way out we paid our fee (again, we don't remember... $50 pesos? $60 pesos? per person. Something like that...). We petted the friendly black dog goodbye and thanked the LYW for her time. We climbed back in our little car and set out for our meeting in Tulum. And we found ourselves feeling kind of happy too! What a lovely little place we had just visited!
The House of the Butterflies not only did not invade its little plot of jungle, it seemed to actually enhance it with more plants and more butterflies (and a dog). No one appeared to have been hurt in the making of it, not even the trees. No one was being exploited or taken advantage of, nothing was being wasted or defiled. People (and dog) were living in concert with Nature. Could this be? An experience to be enjoyed without a smidgeon of remorse? A sweet moment with no bitter aftertaste?
Even after a week or two of reflection, we do believe so. The House of the Butterflies is not a zoo, but a sanctuary, not a tourist attraction, but a place to heal the heart. The brochure says Ven a disfrutar de los detalles de la naturaleza. We encourage you to do just that, as we did: Come to this tiny little corner of the world in Yucatan and, for a brief and shining moment, enjoy Nature's details.
La Casa de Las Mariposas
Hours: Monday to Saturday, 8 am to 4 pm
Location: On the carretera between Tulum and Coba, Km. 33
Cell: 045 (984) 745-1680 (but frankly, we had no luck calling...)
Admission: Yes, there is one. $50 or $60 pesos... something like that.