Tue Jan 15 2013: "Are you sure this volcano is dormant...?"
In 1943, a fissure opened up in a cornfield just outside of Uruapan. The farmer and his wife watched as ash and stones erupted from a small hole in the ground. A week later, that fissure grew up to be a volcano measuring 5 stories high and after a year it was over 1,000 feet tall! During this time, the volcano continued spewing lava and ash, covering the field and burying two neighbouring villages, Paricutin (which the volcano was named after) and San Juan.
We wanted to see this volcano first-hand, so we rode about 15 minutes outside of Uruapan and stopped for lunch in Nuevo San Juan. The inhabitants of old San Juan had plenty of time to evacuate their homes and they relocated their town further away from the volcano and named it Nuevo San Juan. After lunch, we rode further uphill to where the farmer's field used to be. The road crumbled away to a dirt path through a very scenic forest.
"Excuse me!" Neda beeps her horn... nothing.
"Con permisso?"... ah, that did the trick - Spanish-speaking cows...
The trail gets smaller and disappears into the forest
Trail becomes a field of fine volcanic ash
The ash is like sand, which is our sworn nemesis! Our big, heavy bikes with smooth, street tires leave deep gouges in the soft surface. As Neda tries to accelerate out of the dark ash, her rear tire kicks up a smokey ash-cloud that hangs in the air behind her until my bike cuts through it. Instead of paddling our way through all of this, we decide to park the bikes and hike 30 minutes to the farmer's field.
From across the field, the volcano appears in the distance, rising 1,400 feet in the air
Although we are assured by many people that the volcano is dormant, we're a bit taken aback
when hot, smelly gases still rise from the fissures in the ground!
For once, I'm not responsible for the smell behind me...
Scrabbling up the very steep summit of the volcano, we take different paths
because whoever's ahead leaves a small landslide of babyhead volcanic rocks
We reach the top, and bask in the... uh, sulfuric gases
Looking into the crater of the Paricutin Volcano
There's an awful lot of heat and activity here for a "dormant" volcano...
Hiking around the rim of the volcano
In the very far distance, my zoom lense captures what remains of old San Juan
Old San Juan lies almost completely covered in lava from the Paricutin Volcano. From the peak, we can see the direction and the shape of the lava flow. The only thing standing in San Juan is the top of the the church. It's too far to hike today, as it's taken us 2 hours to get from the bike to the summit, and the sun is starting to hang low in the sky.
Getting ready to descend
Spectacular views from the top of Paricuctin
We take another way down the volcano, as it seems a bit more direct, although it's much more steeper. From the video above, we slid down as if we were on snowboards down a Double Black Diamond run - smoke still rising all around us! When we reached the bottom, we got a bit lost and spent almost an hour rummaging through thick foliage trying to find the path back to the field we came in from. We had less than an hour of sun left and I was starting to panic a bit, but thankfully Neda has the tracking skills of a woman in a shoe store on Boxing Day and we made it out into the field as the sun was beginning to set.
Just another 30 minutes to get back to the bike and then a ride through the forest in the dark. Not looking forward to that.
And then, salvation!
Castullo and his brother were also visiting the volcano, and they managed to drive through the ash and park a lot closer than we did. When they saw us walking though the ash field, they offered us a ride in the back of their pickup truck. We had seen tons of Mexicans riding in the back of pickup trucks in our travels, and now we were doing the exact same thing as the locals! So awesome! We were giggling like kids and taking lots of shakey pictures all the way back on the bumpy ride to the bikes, and the two brothers were shaking their heads and laughing at us from inside the truck. :)
We thanked Castullo for the ride and then negotiated the rest of the ash field
I couldn't put my kickstand down to help, so I had to ride past Neda, park and come back to pick her bike up.
It was getting dark very fast...
We did manage to get back to Uruapan safely, and it was only after a couple of days of rest from our long hike that we felt ready to venture out to the other side of Paricutin to try to find the remnants of the church in the lava.
Had lunch at Angahuan, the closest town to old San Juan
We were a bit worried about eating here, didn't seem that sanitary... but the food tasted good
We rented a couple of horses and descended down the steep path
strewn with volcanic rock
There it is, the remains of the church in old San Juan
This was the only building remaining in the entire town
There are shanties set up just outside the ruins
and it looks like people still worship at the church