Every few weeks, I get a random email from my husband along the lines of this one, which I received a few minutes ago:
“u shud see the volcano now. so cool. huge amount of snowfall.”
I don’t know why he keeps doing this. He knows I can’t ever see the volcanoes from our apartment, but he tells me anyway, from his 12th floor office in central Mexico City.
Of course, on particularly beautifully crisp days, I can’t resist, and I ask him, unprovoked: Can you see the volcanoes??? (Pollution sometimes obscures them).
We are clearly enthralled by them. Them, yes — we have not one but two friendly neighborhood volcanoes. Only Popocatepetl (above) screams “I am a volcano, look at me.” He’s not only quite handsome, he’s also active, letting up giant plumes of smoke and ash every day. His counterpart volcano, named Iztaccíhuatl, is more subdued in appearance, and coincidentally, dormant.
I’ve seen Popo and Itza just a couple of times since we moved here, most notably on our drive from Mexico City to Cholula, which is about 90 miles smack-east from here. You have to literally drive up and over the volcanoes to get there (well OK, not exactly up and over them, but very close by).
Mexico City is already at 7,500 feet, and as you approach the volcanoes, you go up to about 10,000 feet. (Popo is an astounding 19,000 feet high). The climate swiftly changes from arid brush to pine forest. On random hairpin turns, you suddenly see the snowy summits!!! The another turn, and they’re gone…but seconds later, volcanic summits again!!!. Like this, over and over, for about 60 minutes through the volcanic pass. What a drive. Nothing like it, people.
Story Time, Boys and Girls
Beyond their natural beauty, Popo (which means “smoking mountain” in Nahuatl, the Aztec language) and Itza (which means “white woman”) are a fabulous part of Mexican lore. And, when you first see them, you understand why: They are impossible to ignore, as they loom quite intimidatingly over the Valley of Mexico.
It depends on who you ask, but basically it goes like this: Popo was an Aztec warrior, and Itza was a beautiful Aztec princess. Popo was sent away to fight, and Itza was told he died. She killed herself in agony. Popo returned to find her dead, and he too died, from grief. The gods covered them in snow and turned them into mountains.
Itza, in fact, resembles a sleeping white woman, and Popo…well, he looks like a giant volcano. I guess that’s why he’s the boy.
And now, from that myth, are fantastically cheesy renderings of the lovers on calendars, artworks, etc. Just like this.