There are no volcanoes in South Africa, which is why every time I see a volcano I am amazed that volcanoes actually exist! Last year we climbed a volcano in Chile; the same volcano, named Villarica in Pucon, errupted spectacularly earlier this year! This past weekend we climbed another volcano named Iztaccihuatl. Here in Mexico, there are more than thirty volcanoes. Close to Mexico City are two volcanoes, named Popocatpetl and Iztaccihuatl (Popo and Izta for those of us who can´t pronounce these ridiculously difficult names). La Malinche is another volcano close to the city.
Here we are on our way to a viewpoint on Izta:
Popocatepetl (the Aztec word for smoking mountain) is one of Mexico’s most active volcanoes. Popo was dormant for almost 50 years, but came back to life in 1994. We met a man who has climbed Popo during its dormancy. At this moment people are not allowed to climb the volcano, because the erruptions are very irregular. The volcano spews ash and smoke; it is quite a scary sight to behold. Popo is North America’s 2nd-highest volcano, at 5426 m and has a 250-450 m deep crater.
The name Iztaccihuatl means “White Woman” in the indigenous Nahuatl language and the mountain actually looks like a woman lying or sleeping on her back, complete with head, chest, knees and feet. The highest peak is 5230m. Izta is an extinct volcano and is a popular destination for adventurous mountaineers and hikers, especially on weekends.
There is a beautiful Aztec legend about the two volcanoes: Popocatepetl was a brave warrior who was deeply in love with the beautiful princess Iztaccihuatl. The father of Izta, who was a a mighty ruler, demanded that Popo had to fight and destroy the tribe’s enemy before he could take Izta as his bride. So, Popo set off for battle while Izta waited for her love’s return. Popo had won the battle and was ready to return home, but in true Romeo and Juliet style, a rival of Popo’s sent a false message back to the ruler that Popo has been slain. Izta, upon hearing the false news, fell ill and died of a broken heart.
When Popo returned home to his people to celebrate, he was faced with the death of his beloved. A grief-stricken Popo carried Izta´s body to the mountains where he built a funeral pyre for both himself and his princess and he died next to his beloved. According to the legend, the Gods, touched by the lover’s plight, turned the humans into mountains, so that they may be together forever. And so the volcanoes remain to this day, with Popocatepetl residing over his princess Iztaccihuatl, while she lies asleep. Every now and then, Popo will spew ash, reminding us that he is always watching over his beloved Izta.
To get to the National Parque of Izta and Popo, you need to take a bus from Mexico City´s TAPO station (the Eastern station) to Amecemeca for 28pesos per person one way (what a bargain!). We walked around the Zocalo (main plaza) of Amecameca, looking for collectivos to take us to Paseo de las Cortes, but we only found one driver in a dodgy minivan with a broken windscreen willing to take us there for 200pesos one way (less of a bargain).
People who are serious about hiking or mountaineering to a high point on Izta sleep over in Amecameca to get an early start, but it really is not a great town – it looked pretty run down and shady. The zocalo is nice with a market and vendors and there´s a beautiful church, but apart from that, there´s not much to see. Paseo de las Cortes is the place where you buy your day permits for the national park. Our driver offered to take us to La Joya, the campsite, but we wanted to hike a bit, so declined.
We started our hike from Paseo de las Cortes to La Joya around 5:30pm. It is about 8km to La Joya and would take us three hours. Not ideal. We each carried our backpack and Dirk carried a 6liter bottle of water, while I carried my small backpack in the front. I was very tired and not in the best of moods, because I had worked the nightshift at our hostel the previous night. This meant making sure that drunk people didn´t make too much noise while other guests were trying to sleep and not getting a lot of sleep myself.
As we walked, we could see Popo sticking out between the clouds with smoke billowing out of the top. At first we thought it was raining or even snowing, but then we realised, it´s raining ash on us, from Volcan Popo! Our backpacks were grey from the ash. I had to wear sunglasses to stop the ash from blowing in my eyes.
We managed to arrive at La Joya campsite at the foot of Izta volcano and set up our tent before it started to rain. The whole day it was very cloudy, but during our last steps it was so misty, that we couldn´t even see the other campers and cars when we arrived at La Joya! We just saw white everywhere. Dirk made us a meal of soup (always nice in cold weather), bacon, onions and coucous. Luckily we have warm clothes and sleeping bags for extreme weather conditions, so we slept warm. Dirk’s feet were a bit frozen, because he chose to walk outside in the cold in flip-flops!
There were many other people also hiking up the volcano. We even encountered people trail running! It was another overcast day, so we didn´t experience any of the lovely views of Mexico City and Puebla that you can see on a sunny day.
Just as we started our descend, a wind came up and it got really cold and misty!
Going down went a lot faster than going up, so luckily we were soon in warmer weather. The hike was extremely tiring, so we both fell asleep when we reached our tent.
When we woke up, we decided that it was too late to start the journey back to Mexico City and made peace with the fact that we would be spending another rainy night in a deserted campsite. After an hour, when three Mexican hikers came down the mountain and said that there is basically no way to get to Amecameca from La Joya (where we were) with public transport on a Monday, we were a bit shocked. We had planned to leave early on Monday moring and get a taxi or collectivo from Paseo de Las Cortes to Amecameca and then a bus back to Mexico. We were extremely grateful when the friendly hikers offered us a lift back down not only to Paseo de Las Cortes, but to Amecameca! And our cold hiking weekenddidn´t end with us camping in the rain, but back home, cosy at the hostel.