It started as a gust of wind last Tuesday afternoon. The sun was shining, villagers around the corner were celebrating something with live music, gunshots and tequila, and we were so captivated by the pulsating fall layers of a huge Popocatépetl eruption some 23,000 years ago that we hardly noticed the dust constantly blowing into our eyes. That Tuesday evening, though, the upcoming storm was becoming hard to ignore: it started to rain heavily, and the wind joyfully played with a large metal piece somewhere in our hotel all night long. The infernal sounds were accompanied by several electricity cuts, occasional heavy hail showers and lightning. All in all, a quite convincing storm.
Now, being a naïve European, I am used to storms that don’t last for much longer than one intense night. The storm that descended on Mexico this week was different. It lasted another two days: strong winds felled advertising boards, trees and electricity posts, and temperatures up to 40°C lower than usual produced hail and snow that paralysed – and at the same time excited – large parts of Mexico (as you can imagine, snow is very rare in Mexico). Fieldwork turned out to be a rather insecure and soul-destroying activity under these circumstances, so we got creative. What follows is a documentation of our life in the times of the ‘big storm’…
First, in order to fully comprehend what I will be talking about, we should add a soundtrack to these lines.
Now that we are in that cozy mood, let’s start driving to Tetela del Volcan, a small village in the SSW of the volcano, in the middle of green valleys cut into the several 100 m thick deposits of past Popo eruptions.
We have arranged a workshop at a local school on Wednesday morning: the children will cast 3D plaster models of Popo volcano, try to find their village on the model, and then produce their own lava streams and pyroclastic flows using a syringe and diluted paint.
Sounds pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? Well, add to the mix 120 kids that are excited about the strange foreigners and the plaster sludge and the paint, and everything becomes a bit more thrilling. If you finally consider that some of us have a rather patchy knowledge of Spanish, the whole thing becomes a bear garden, and a rather memorable experience for everyone.
At this point, we want to thank Ian Saginor from Keystone College (USA), who provided us with the amazing 3D printed models of Popocatépetl that we used to make the plaster casts. Thanks to his enthusiastic support, this great experience for all of us was made possible in the first place – and there are definitely more events like this to come!
It is cold and late when we arrive back at the hotel later that Wednesday (we have passed a broken electricity post, and it was raining cats and dogs), and there is not much else to do than try to warm up in the common room. And then, something magical happens, something that probably only happens when snow is falling in central Mexico, when the birds are hiding in the trees, motionless, as if they would be spared from the weather this way.
Olga, our Spanish cook and general benefactor at the hotel, offers to make a tortilla de patatas for us – a truly heart- and soulwarming meal that is also a welcome change from the Mexican diet of predominantly corn and meat. And not only that, she also invites us into the kitchen and shares the secrets of the perfect tortilla with us.
After another night of mystical metal pieces making horrifying noises, we get ready to reach the other side of the volcano to make our next adventure happen: we are renting an excavator to get a better picture of Popo’s explosive eruptions in the last 14,000 years!
But this will be the topic of the next blog post. For now, we are still in the middle of the big storm, it is hailing, then raining, then hailing again, and the roads are in a wretched condition. But it is only when we find a police car that was hit by a falling tree on our usual road that I realise I might have underestimated the dimension of this storm so far.
After a long detour, we reach our destination. We arrange everything for the excavator to excavate our outcrop the next day – a five minute job. Meanwhile, the weather conditions have worsened. The way back becomes a proper adventure, with 74 fallen trees on the road on a 20 km stretch (yes, we counted), and a dense, unidentifiable mixture of hail and snow. Accompanied by the soothing music of Lucha Reyes (you may hit play again above), we slowly make our way back through the trunks.
On the way to the hotel, we meet dozens of people on their way up towards the snow – they don’t care too much about the storm, they are too fascinated to see the snow and build snowmen. Only a police barricade can stop the cars, and many people continue by feet.
We, for our part, are happy to safely arrive back at the hotel and stick with preparing for the excavator day, waiting for the storm to be finally over. This was enough adventure for two days, and we are keen to get back to proper fieldwork again. If you want to find out how that goes, visit us here again in a few days for the next blog!