Friday 19th August 2011

Antigua – the Mariposario tragedy

Today was our last day in Antigua. We started off by going to the INGUAT government tourist office, where we did not find a huge amount of useful advice, but we did obtain a map of the town, on the top left-hand corner of which we noticed a Mariposario, or butterfly house/garden. We were informed that there was a free shuttle bus to close by, on the hour every hour, but as it was 10.05 and it did not appear too far on the map, we started walking.

Suddenly, a tuk-tuk appeared as if by magic, and I spontaneously flagged it down, a move which we were later glad of as it was much further than we thought. However, our adventures were soon to commence, as we suddenly had a puncture! It was all hands to the pump to change the wheel, which included the driver holding the whole vehicle up while I changed the wheel for the spare, which had a TOTALLY bald tyre with the canvas showing through and a large slash in the wall!

Luckily it held out until we arrived at the Mariposario, where we were welcomed by a tiny girl who told us that her mother would soon be there to look after us. The lady began by showing us all stages from egg to adult of the Monarch butterfly, which she was rearing, followed by a lot of broken off old butterfly wings, which we enjoyed identifying and placing on the relevant pages on the book and photographing them.

Gulf Fritillary and Mexican Silverspot on their page in the book

She then showed us around the project, which incorporated a complex of covered greenhouses (with netting rather than glass) containing both the food and nectar-source plants of many species of locally occurring butterflies. This was fascinating, and we were able to observe at extremely close range several females egg-laying, numerous caterpillars, and of course lots of adult butterflies.

Full of enthusiasm for the project as we were, suddenly the lady told us in hushed and sad tones that we would be almost her last guests as they were about to be forced to close down on Sunday (this was Friday) forever, due to lack of visitors and therefore funds. This seems a real tragedy as the operation is up and running, HIGHLY educational and beautifully run. So, if anyone would like to invest quickly to save the Mariposario of Antigua, Guatemala, please let me know! Its lack of visitors must be entirely due to a lack of marketing as it is really well worth a visit – or several visits.

Feeling deeply saddened, we walked a short way back along to road to the Centro Cultural La Azotea, a beautifully maintained coffee plantation, museum of coffee and of Mayan musical instruments and an outdoor reconstruction of indigenous houses from different regions of Guatemala. I much enjoyed wandering around the gardens photographing the numerous butterflies and dragonflies, until finally we returned to Antigua in the free shuttle bus – but not before I had suggested to one of the ladies running the visitor centre that perhaps they could offer a new home to the Mariposario, as they seem to have plenty of land and I think it would add an extra dimension to the visitors’ experience of the Centro Cultural. She said they were considering it, but without much enthusiasm. The Mariposario appears to be doomed – a real tragedy as the whole operation is up and running, lovingly created and maintained by its creators; a lack of marketing and publicity would appear to be the cause of its downfall.

Anna's Eighty-eight, Diaethria anna, La Azotea

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