I saw a lot of butterflies, but it will take me a while to set the scene. A few years ago I spent a year travelling through Central and South America. On this particular day I took a ride in a big dugout canoe up a broad river. It was a bright, sunny day as they mostly always were. I was in Ecuador, although I don’t recall the name of the river or the exact area of the country.
We passed an Indian village as I could tell from the dress of the people. Our passing must have been something of an occasion because people were standing on the bank. Being in a dugout we were low near the surface of the water. And I recall the way the boatsman spoke to the people on the river bank. He spoke in a normal conversational tone, no louder than if he had been addressing me in the canoe.
I can’t say how far it was to the bank, but much further than one would expect his voice to reach. And the voices of the villagers carried to us clear as day. I thought it was a wonderful thing how sound travels so far across water.
How Many Butterflies
Now to the point of this. When I landed a little further up the river, I was the only person there. I must have intended that as my destination, I didn’t just land without knowing that I had somewhere to sleep. But I don’t recall why I aimed for that particular place. So there I was. I made a fire and cooked porridge. Then I went out and sat on the hillside eating and looking down at the sweep of the river.
Butterflies started to come up the hill in a broad swathe, over my head. They weren’t just milling around. They were heading somewhere and they kept on coming.
At some point I went back to the pan on the fire to put more porridge on my plate. Then I wandered back and sat on the hill. And the butterflies kept on coming.
There are a lot of butterflies in South America. So perhaps I was a little bit immune to seeing them. For example, the wire grill over a bus window would be covered in butterflies that had impacted it. At every puddle in a muddy road, the surface of the water would be covered in butterflies. Often they would be big yellow ones nearly as wide as the palm of your hand.
But the sheer number of butterflies coming up the hill finally finally impinged into my consciousness. So I made a rough calculation as I sat there. I did a rough count of how many butterflies I could see at one time. And I estimated how long I had been there, including when I went to get more porridge.
Bottom line, I estimate that more than ten thousand butterflies flew over my head.
By chance I was watching a TV programme about butterfly migration in the USA, and it described migration by Monarch butterflies, and that is what I am going to go with. I think that is what they were.