Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Day 6. Nevado de Toluca

We left the house at the wee hours of the morning, intent on missing the morning traffic of Mexico City. It worked like a charm, and by 7:30 am we were crossing Toluca, headed for the volcano that towers over the city. This is the most accessible of the chain of active volcanoes that crosses Mexico from east to west: Colima in the west, then Nevado de Toluca (or Xinantecatl), Popocatepetl, La Malinche, and Pico de Orizaba (or Citlaltepetel) in the east. We stopped around 8:30 in a little restaurant at the foot of the volcano to have breakfast (and to see Mexico score three goals in the first half of the World Cup of Womens Soccer), and then started the drive up the mountain.

When we got to the 4,000 m elevation (about 12,000 ft), we found the road closed. The guard explained that access to the crater lakes had been barred two years ago, because of the litter problem caused by the visitors. The option was to walk the last 6 km down the road, or to take the 2 km shortcut over the rim. Naturally, we chose the shortcut, and 45 minutes later were standing on the rim, panting because of the exertion at high altitudes.

At our feet extended the broad depression of the caldera, or somma, formed 40,000 years ago when the volcano had its last big eruption. The jagged edge of the peaks that form the rim look, from the distance, like the crest of a crown, in the middle of which seat, like jewels, two lagoons. One is of the deepest blue, whereas the other appears to be made of turquoise. It is a good thing I have seen this landscape before, because I was able to describe it great detail to Georgina and Raul, who, alas, couldn’t see a thing because the fog was so thick you could barely see 10 feet ahead of you (see the description of Aso Caldera, in my Japan blog, for a similar event). Well, Maya insisted we had to go down, because she was not going to come all this way and not see the lagoons, so down we went (Georgina and Raul, clever people they are, decided that this was far enough for them and they would go back to the car). It was a precipitous way down, but all of a sudden the ground leveled off and we almost fell in the water of the Lagoon of the Moon. Well, we walked around a bit, took pictures of the fog, and then started on our way back.

Ah, what cruel blow faith had in store for us, because for once my legendary sense of direction failed (I blame the fog), and after scrambling up the hill for some time we came abruptly to a road. A road? We had crossed no stinking road on the way back. I promptly figured out that this was the road that had been barred, so all we had to do was follow it and it would take us back to the car. Left or right? Oh, I was pretty sure it was to the right, so Maya and I took off at a good clip, and half an hour later almost fell in the Lagoon of the Sun. Rats, I had done it again! In compensation the fog lifted briefly at that moment, and we had a nice view of the lagoon, which extended all around us!

So we went back on our tracks, and Maya set a killer pace, but 6 kms a lot of kilometers, so it took us a good hour and a half to get back. On the positive side, the fog lifted at this moment, and we had some magnificent views of the Valley of Toluca below. We were tired when we got back, and much to my surprise we found no Georgina nor Raul. I asked around and nobody remembered seeing them, so I started to worry, thinking that perhaps they had followed us into the crater and gotten lost. A gentleman there had a cell phone, so I tried calling Raul but got no answer. I was already in negotiations with the guard to see if he would take me in his truck to look for them when Raul called back! They had climbed for a second time to the rim to see if they could see us (no chance with the fog, really, but they were also worried because of our long absence). Ten minutes later we were reunited, and laughing at our misfortunes, drove down from Xinantecatl.

We then took a two or three hour ride through the Mexican countryside, heading west. It was so beautiful. This is the rainy season, so the fields are looking green and are being lovingly tended by farmers. Even the cacti and magueys were looking great. There are hundreds of small dams and lakes, all brimming with water. It will be a good year.

We got to Morelia sometime around 6 pm, and after a couple of false turns we finally made it to our hotel. After briefly freshening ourselves up, we went out to be tourists, following the old rule that tourism must hurt. Actually, it didn’t. We crossed through the Candy Market (Morelia is famous by the variety and tastiness of its candies), walked along beautiful colonial buildings, and finally came into the main square. We were wondering what to do next, when I spied a city tour bus. Perfect! We bought our tickets, and for the next 90 minutes enjoyed a guided tour full of stories and lovely sights. While on the tour it got dark, and we were able to admire the beautiful illumination of temples and colonial palaces around the city. They have truly done a good job highlighting the beauty of its colonial architecture.

We ended the very long day with hot chocolate/coffee and “pastel de tres leches” under the arches of the main plaza. Maya thought the young waiter was cute, and made goo-goo eyes to him, upon which the quality of service got erratic but the coffee got much better. =)

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