Friday, July 16, 2010

Day 8. Paricutín

The streets of Uruapan were barely waking up and we were already on our way to San Juan Nuevo, where reportedly you can find the best traditional breakfast of corundas (a type of round tamal wrapped in green corn leaves) and churipo (a beef broth with big chunks of beef and cabbage). Yes, all we had heard was true. You can order corundas preparadas, like Maya did, which come 5 to a plate and are served with crema y queso. Or you can order churipo, like I did, and then dunk your corundas in the broth. Add a café de olla to the mix, and you have indeed a delicious breakfast.

And we needed a nutritious breakfast, because come hell or high water we were intent on reaching Paricutín. For those of you who haven’t heard, Paricutín is the only volcano that we have seen being born. It started as a crack in the ground of the corn field of Dionisio Pulido, sometime in 1944. Mr. Pulido heard rumbling noises coming out of the crack, and a few hours later a dark cloud of scoria and steam started issuing out of the fissure. He promptly notified the municipal authorities about the phenomenon, and a couple of days later geologist Ezequiel Ordoňez arrived onsite, and started documenting the growth of the new volcano. The volcano grew up to its final height of 300 meters in a few months, but volcanic activity continued for another three years in the form of parasitic cones and lava flows. One of them finally reached the town of San Juan Parangaricutiro, surrounded it, and finally destroyed it in 1947.

Of course, Raul and I had to see this geologic wonder, and we had been told that from San Juan Nuevo (now you understand why we have a town called new San Juan) one could probably rent horses or hire a truck to take us there. Ah, but they had not taken into account that we were traveling in a Jeep SUV, so Raul asked for directions and there we went!

The road was from passable to miserable, but our brave steed never faltered, and after an hour of feeling we had been caught in a clothes washer we arrived to the mal pais formed by the lava flow. We turned a bend and there they were, Paricutín in the distance, and the tower ofthe church of San Juan Parangaricutiro as the only indication of the former location of the town. It was very sobering to climb over the jagged rocks of the lava flow into the remnants of the church. Significantly for the locals, the lava never touched the altar’s backwall, so there are still many offerings of flowers and prayers on it.

As we were coming back from the engulfed church, we fell in conversation with one of the locals, who assured us we could get to the foot of the volcano itself by going back and taking a different road. So we did, and the new road proved to be sometimes miserable, sometimes nearly impassable. Still, we finally got close to the foot of the volcano, and without vacillation we started the climb. I was quite surprised to see a lot of fumaroles. The volcano was now over 65years old, and I would have thought that infiltrating rainfall would by now have cooled the rocks completely. Comes to show that rocks are very poor heat conductors.

Maya, who is a "chiva loca", headed straight up to the zone of the fumaroles. If her mother knew of the cliffs that girl climbed she would not be able to sleep for worry! So of course I had to go after her, while Georgina and Raul took the more sensible way around. We kept going past the fumaroles field, straight up the volcano. The slope must had been a good 60 degrees, steep as steep can be, and covered by jagged bombs the size of baseballs to basketballs. The rock fragments were very loose, so for every three steps we took we went back one (Georgina later told us that in the route they took they went back one step for every one they took).

We finally made it to the top, and the view was glorious! The crater is elongated, deep, and has very steep walls. Add to that the fumaroles and the unreal swirling of clouds around us, and you could well imagine you were looking into the maul of Hell. This time we were very lucky, and when we did the circuit around the crater we had clear views of the lava fields surrounding us. Way, way far out there we could see the tower engulfed by the lava.

Georgina and Raul caught up with us as we ended out circuit of the crater, and we all stood there speechless, but happy to have accomplished such an adventure. Georgina swears that she will never do such a crazy climb again, but I am beginning to convince her that next time we have to climb the Pico de Orizaba!

One last, sad, note, about Paricutín. Dionisio Pulido, the owner of the corn field where Paricutín grew became very famous, as his name appears in almost every Introductory Geology book. However, fame does not bring bread to the table, and the poor man spent years asking the government for compensation for his lost field. Alas, the growth of the volcano was considered an Act of God, and the government refused to compensate him. Finally, after a frustrating ten years Dionisio Pulido decided to put the volcano for sale, and placed announcements to that effect in El Excelsior, one of the daily newspapers of Mexico City. As far as I know nobody took the offer (pity, I would have certainly jumped at the chance of having my own volcano :)