Joel has spent years building the Butterfly B&B, which is built on the base of the house where he was born. When Ellen made a website about it in 2012, people started coming. While the beds are at Ellen and Joel’s place, the breakfasts are served at Joel’s family’s house next door, cooked by his mom, Rosa, or one or more of his five sisters. Siblings Rogelio, Vicente and Ana help out with the business by leading butterfly tours. Ana also provides simultaneous translation for cooking classes and cottage industry tours. Sisters-in-law Yesmi and Daleth keep the rooms sparkling clean for us.
Co-owner Joel Moreno Rojas
Joel is the fourth child in a close-knit family of ten. His parents, nine siblings, six nephews and one niece all live next door to the B&B. When Joel was born, Macheros didn’t have running water or electricity. Butterfly tourists were pouring in by the busload, but the town didn’t have the infrastructure to benefit from tourism. His father, Melquiades, began working as a forest ranger at the Cerro Pelon sanctuary around this time. Joel can’t remember the first time his dad took him to see the monarchs; they have always been a part of his life. When Joel turned 18 he followed his older brothers to the States, joining them in a landscaping business. He invested the money he earned in building a house with big rooms with large windows back home. Meanwhile, Joel found work in a nail salon, where he honed his English and customer service skills for the next 8 years. In 2010, he returned to Mexico and started working as a butterfly tour guide. He met Ellen on a tour the following year. When she found out how little he was making working for someone else, she offered to help him start his own business, and JM Butterfly B&B was born. In the years since, Joel has worked tirelessly to transform a bare bones house into a comfortable B&B, finishing hardwood floors, adding exposed brick, building additional bathrooms, and painting the rooms a rainbow of colors. He continues to recharge his energy by visiting the butterflies as often as possible, leading tours to the Cerro Pelon, El Rosario, Sierra Chincua and Piedra Herrada sanctuaries.
Co-owner Ellen Sharp
Ellen is an only child who grew up in Columbia, South Carolina. She spent much of her youth traveling, spending a year in Seoul, six months in Southeast Asia, a year in Nicaragua, a summer in South America, and a passport full of repeated journeys to highland Guatemala. On these trips she noticed that many of the best hotels were run by international couples, a local person with land and connections and a foreigner attuned to tourist tastes. At the time she never imagined that she would one day be part of one of these partnerships. In 2008, she decided to stop itinerant traveling and get to know one place really well, the Mam Maya village of Todos Santos Cuchumatán in Guatemala. This investigation resulted in a dissertation on vigilante justice and a PhD in sociocultural anthropology from UCLA in 2014. Ellen was on a break from theorizing violence and conflict when she first traveled to butterfly country and met Joel in late 2011. One trip led to another and another and eventually permanent residence at the base of the butterfly mountain in late 2013. She now turns her anthropologically-trained eye to happier subjects, like sustainable tourism, rural development, and multispecies ethnography (not to mention watching sunsets, gardening, and hiking). She created this website (with much appreciated technical assistance from her dad, John), writes a butterfly blog, answers email, and handles bookings for the business.