The Popocatepelt woke up early this year! On the first day of 2011 this active volcano just 40 km -24 miles- west of the city of Puebla, emitted a 1.5 km -almost a mile- high fumarole. This is somehow normal for us, we’re use to “ashy” mornings, when we have to sweep and shake the ash off the cars and streets. We don’t mind the ash and lava of this volcano (yes, lava, we’ve had some minor eruptions recently, the “Popo” is one of the most violent volcanos in Mexico and in 2000 it made its largest emission in 1200 years). Still, a 1.5 km high fumarole was news even for us.
The Popo is a very important part of the city of Puebla, as well as the Iztaccihuatl, “Izta” for short, a non-active volcano connected to the Popo by a high pass called Paso de Cortés. They are the second and third highest peaks in Mexico, only after the Pico de Orizaba in Veracruz, visible from the city on cloudless days. The forth tallest peak, the Malinche, is also visible everyday from Puebla.
With the so many volcanos so close to Puebla, we’ve been blessed with some of the best views in México. The tall smoking Popo and the long woman-shaped Izta can be seen every morning. But those days, when the four peaks can be seen, are my favorites.
Anyways, I think that’s enough facts and history, now we’ve come to the fun part of the volcanos: their legend. This is a tale close to my heart, since is the story my grandmother used to tell me every year while we drove from Puebla to Mexico City to spend the summer vacations there. I’ll do my best to tell it as my she used to.
Many years ago the Aztecs dominated the valley and all the others cities and towns had to pay tribute to them. Eventually, the Cacique (chief) of Tlaxcala got tired of the domination and began a long war with the Aztecs. His daughter, the princess Iztaccihuatl, fell in love with a warrior, Popocatepetl, who asked for her hand. The Cacique said he could marry her only if he returned victorious from war, so he gathered an army and left for war so he could marry his princess.
But being the daughter of the Cacique there were a lot of suitors unhappy about her engagement to a warrior. One of them, Citlaltepetl, told her that Popocatepetl had died in combat. Iztaccihuatl cried the death of her lover until her heart gave out and died of sadness. When Popocatepetl returned a hero from war he heard about the death of her princess and decided he wouldn’t leave her again, ever.
He built an enormous tomb and carry her lifeless body to the top. He kissed her one last time and sat, with a smoking torch, to watch over her. Dust, dirt and snow covered their bodies until they became volcanos. They’ve been together ever since, and from time to time, Popocacatepetl’s heart aches and tremble, and the torch’s fire is revived and smoky again.
The jealous Citlaltepetl was vanished and became another volcano, the Pico de Orizaba -whose ancient name was Citlaltepetl-. His punishment was to forever witness the everlasting love of Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl.
That’s why the Popo has been forever active and emitting fumaroles, why the Izta is shaped like a sleeping woman, why they’re so close to each other, and why the Pico de Orizaba once in a while pops out to have a quick glance.
The names of the volcanos are in nahuatl. Popocatepetl means “smoking hill”, Iztaccihuatl means “white woman” -though now is known as “sleeping woman”- and Citlaltepetl means “hill of the star”.
[photos courtesy of RussBowling, micoletán(María), Sergio Kasusky and pacomexico/Flickr]