Volcanoes in Mexico: residents between caution and old beliefs

“Don Goyo is angry because he did not receive his gift”. At the foot of the Popocatepetl volcano, which is experiencing a resurgence of activity, residents persevere against a backdrop of old beliefs surrounding the “Smoking Mountain” in central Mexico.

The massif, which ended at 5,452 meters on Friday, was still agitated: “persistent tremors of low to moderate intensity associated with sustained emissions of gas, water vapor and ash,” according to the last bulletin authorities issued on Friday.

The Alert Level 3 imposed on Sunday has been maintained. This is the threshold that occurs before a possible evacuation of residents and signs indicating the streets to be taken.

Euphemia de Jesus Ramos, 65, a resident of San Andrés Calpan, an area located about 25 km from the “mountain that smokes”, is not planning to leave.

“We have our animals. If we leave, thieves take advantage of that,” a trader selling poultry in the market told AFP on Thursday.

In fact, neither he nor his family moved in December 2000 when authorities ordered the evacuation of some 50,000 people facing the risk of an eruption.

“We’ve been used to it since 1994. We’re not afraid anymore,” slips Euphemia, referring to the year when “Popo” woke up after 70 years of dormancy.

In the background, occasionally, the clouds part and “Popo”—also known as Don Goyo—and his fogeys appear.

Euphemia a poultry seller at the San Andres Calpan market near Popocatepetl volcano in central Mexico on May 25, 2023. (AFP – Claudio Cruz).

Throughout the week, the volcano has spewed ash into the suburbs of Puebla, the capital of the state of the same name, 80 km southeast of Mexico City.

Domingo de los Santos, 45, a pig seller, confirms he would leave in the event of a red alert: “With regret, the animals will follow us. If necessary, we take a bag and we’re going away.” Are’.

– Beliefs, Myths and Legends –

Status of Popocatepetl volcano in Mexico (AFP - hkg/pp, pld/fh)
Status of Popocatepetl volcano in Mexico (AFP – hkg/pp, pld/fh)

The resurgence of volcanic activity – as in 1994, 1997, 2000 …. – has also given rise to legends and beliefs that remain in the Valley of Mexico, a plateau that rises in the middle of the volcanic mass at an altitude of more than 2,000 meters. situated at.

According to the Mesoamerican account, Popocatepetl, also known as “Don Goyo”, was a warrior in love with the white lady (“Iztaccihuatl”), the name of the nearby mountain that adjoins it at 5,215 m.

But the father of “Izta” preferred another monarch, the peak of Orizaba (Cittlaltepetl in Nahuatl), the roof of Mexico with its 5,636 meters above sea level.

“The Orizaba woodpecker was a traitor,” said Isabel, 54, a resident of the village of Zalitzintla. “They cut off the head at Popocatepetl, hence the crater.”

The volcano is also known as “Gregorio Chino Popocatpetl”, remember the elders of Xalitzintla.

On 12 March, the feast day of Saint Gregory the Great, a tribute is given to him, a sort of birthday party.

Last year, hundreds of devotees climbed the sides of the volcano offering tequila, mezcal, flowers and birthday songs…

This year, the authorities banned the procession.

“Don Goyo is angry because he hasn’t received his offerings,” said Jose Luis, a 55-year-old businessman with conviction.

“We have already asked Don Goyo to wait until next year,” said Gumaro Sandra Popoca, the mayor of neighboring San Nicolás de los Ranchos.

More rationally, the volcano is monitored night and day by scientists from the National Center for Disaster Prevention (SENAPRED).

“We did not observe the presence of a lava dome”, he wrote on Friday after an overflight of “Popo”, noting that the “main crater” is filled with fragments of magma.

Popocatepetl volcano spews ash and smoke on May 25, 2023 (AFP - Claudio Cruz).
Popocatepetl volcano spews ash and smoke on May 25, 2023 (AFP – Claudio Cruz).

Scientists predict a continuation of “uniform activity” with “frequent and variable amplitude” aftershocks and “occasionally strong” eruptions.

They predict other “ash emissions”, as well as the release of “incandescent fragments” within an established 12 km exclusion radius around the volcano.

For all practical purposes, they advise residents “not to head towards the crater … the offerings must still await.”

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