The Legend of Popo – Mexico

Legend of Popo

Since I had a few friends living in Mexico, I decided to visit the culturally rich and beautiful country. Before I left, I had no idea about the stunning experience I was about to have.  While driving from Mexico City to visit my friend in Puebla, I noticed a high mountain, amidst the misty clouds reaching an incredible height of 17,802 feet. That was the volcano called Popo or Popocatepetl or the “Smoking Mountain”!  One of the continually active volcanoes of the world!

The Smoking Mountain - Popo rises upto 17,802ft
View of the Popo from the highway with its emissions

The Legend of Popo & Izta

Izta, the dormant volcano lies in a shape of a “Sleeping Woman” next to the Popo
The Izta, a dormant volcano lies in a shape of a Sleeping Lady

I was bubbling with immense excitement and did not once take my eyes of the enchanting view. This was my first experience with an active volcano though it was at least 20 kms away from me. That is when I decided to know more about it. Since I wanted to grasp it all, we stopped on the highway to get a good view of it. I could not hold my curiosity and hence started asking questions with a help of my Spanish book to the people around me. I wanted to know what people thought about it, how was life living around such a dangerously beautiful volcano, or if people worshipped it and so on. A very old lady selling a local desert fruit called the prickly pear started narrating the mythological beliefs of the people of Mexico. The tragically beautiful story is from the Aztec era where Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl (mountain next to Popo) were lovers. The father of Iztaccíhuatl, a mighty ruler, placed a demanding condition upon Popocatépetl before he could take Iztaccíhuatl as his bride. His mandate required that Popocatépetl first engage in battle against the tribe’s enemy and return victorious. Treacherously, a rival of Popocatépetl’s sends a false message back to the ruler that the warrior has been slain when in fact, Popocatépetl had won the battle and was ready to return to his Iztaccíhuatl. However, the princess upon hearing the false news falls ill, dying of a broken heart. When Popocatépetl returns only to encounter his beloved’s death, his heartbreak is inconsolable. He carries Iztaccíhuatl’s body to the mountains whereupon he has a funeral pyre built for both himself and his princess. Grief-stricken beyond measure, Popocatépetl dies next to his beloved.  And hence, both the mountains lie next to each other, one dormant and the other yet sizzling. So this was a heart-rending story or myth that people of Mexico believe.

Ixta_Popo_from_PueblaDormant Mount Izta next to the Smoking Popo

Later after we reached Puebla, I decided to talk to the “city” people about the Popo. While walking around the city, my friend met an acquaintance and we got together to have a cup of coffee. I couldn’t wait to start asking question as my curiosity of the Popo wasn’t fulfilled. To my surprise, he owned a farm at the base of the Popo and described the way the local farmers and Indians in the area have different opinions and ways of worshiping the mountain. He said the most common thing was to trek up the ash-coated, belching mountain with offerings of fruit, flowers and chocolate mole chilli sauce, beseeching the angry “Smoking Mountain” not to blow its top. He also agreed that prayers and offerings will help them as he lives in the Yellow Alert or “not so urgent” area while his friend who lives in the Red Alert or “run for your life” area had actually clambered to the caves high in its rugged folds to make offerings to the 17,802-foot volcano.  After the 1994 eruption of ash and sulphur-di-oxide, the farm town people of the Americanas have started indulging more and more into pleasing the chain-smoking mountain. Almost 75,000 people were evacuated though no lives were lost but one cannot forget that the volcano is just 60kms from the largest city in the world – Mexico City and 40kms from Puebla putting almost 20 million lives at stake.

After perceiving the stories of the volcano, I thought about how we as people create and make ourselves believe in little legends and stories in order to exult the land we live on or the crop we grow or ask the natural forces to protect us. Even though so many people live with their lives at stake,  the Americanas boast and worship  the Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl’s along with the farmland of peaches, corn, rice, beans, fruit, the culture, art and its historic churches. It indeed makes it unique and dangerously spectacular.