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HOME > Classical Novels > The Boy Travellers in Mexico > CHAPTER XVIII.
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It was the most natural thing in the world that the daily view of the snow-covered mountains, Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl, roused in the youths a desire to ascend to the top of the former. Doctor Bronson was not ambitious to undertake the expedition, but he encouraged the youths in their desire, and arranged to accompany them as far as the foot of the cone, where the saddle-horses are left. Frank was appointed the historian
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 of the affair, and performed his work in a manner that secured the hearty commendation of the Doctor. Our readers may judge for themselves of the young man's literary abilities; we have not changed a line or a word of his account, which was as follows:
"Popocatepetl means 'The Mountain that Smokes,' and Iztaccihuatl is La Mujer Blanca, or 'The White Woman.' The name of the great volcano
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 is generally shortened to 'Popo' or 'Old Popo,' and for the sake of saving time and space I shall follow the fashion occasionally, and not give the name in full.
"The name of 'The White Woman' comes from the resemblance of the top of the ridge to the body of a woman lying upon a bier and covered with a shroud. The face is quite perfect, but the rest of the figure requires considerable aid from the imagination. Old Popo is not altogether a smoking mountain, as there are times when no smoke comes from it, though it constantly throws out fumes of sulphur; in one sense it may be called an active volcano, while in another it should not be so designated. According to the historians, it was quite lively during the first years of the Conquest, but for a very long time it has been peaceful enough, and only at rare intervals shows any signs of a return to business activity.
"Geographically it is forty-five miles from the city of Mexico in a south-southeasterly direction; it is in latitude 19° north and longitude 98° 30' west, and according to the measurements of Humboldt and others, it is 17,540 feet high. The latest Mexican atlas makes it 17,884 feet; General Ochoa, the owner of the crater, says it is 19,673 feet, and still another measurement gives the height of the summit at 21,373 feet. You may take your choice of these figures.
"Popocatepetl was first ascended in 1522 by Francisco Montano, who was lowered 450 feet into one of the craters by means of ropes. He did not succeed in reaching the summit, nor did several other explorers who made the attempt during the time of Cortez.
"It used to be a much more tedious journey to the summit of Popo, as it was necessary to go on horseback about sixty miles from the city of Mexico, and the expedition required a large outlay for horses, guides, and escort, and consumed from ten to fifteen days. Now the railway is a great help in the matter, and we utilized it to the utmost. Before the railway was opened, the journey to Amecameca was made by diligence.
"Two American gentlemen, Colonel Watson and Mr. Arms, both of New York, were stopping at the hotel with us, and on learning that we wished to visit Popocatepetl, they invited us to join them. Of course we accepted at once, and Colonel Watson offered to make all the arrangements about horses and guides. His first step was to obtain a letter of introduction from General Ochoa, who owns the crater of the volcano and carries on an extensive business of mining for sulphur; the letter was addressed to his agent and major-domo at Amecameca, Don Domingo Zela, and asked him to facilitate the movements of the party in any way in his power, and allow us to sleep in his rancho at Tlamacas.
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"Colonel Watson went to Amecameca one morning accompanied by Fred, who was to act as interpreter, as the colonel was a little rusty in his Spanish. Doctor Bronson, Mr. Arms, and I followed the next day, and the colonel had everything ready for us on our arrival. We went by the Morelos Railway, starting from the station of San Lazero at
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 7.30 in the morning, and reaching Amecameca in about two hours. The distance is fifty-eight kilometres, or thirty-six miles.
"The town is of goodly size, and has a prosperous appearance. It was once the resort of robbers, who occasionally dashed out upon the roads in the direction of the city, and after plundering everybody who came in their way they retired as speedily as they came. The people of the town screened them whenever they were pursued by the military, and some very vigorous action was necessary before the business was broken up. Most of the three thousand inhabitants are Indians, and since the advent of the railway and the consequent increase in the number of visitors they show a laudable ambition to make the most that they can out of the strangers who come within their reach.
"Through the aid of Don Domingo Zela, Colonel Watson had secured a sufficient number of horses and mules to give everybody a good mount, and also for the transportation of the baggage. He had engaged some volcaneros, or mountaineers, men whose ordinary occupation is the transportation of sulphur from the mines in the crater; they know every inch of the way, and are accustomed to all the peculiarities of the mountain. Nobody should attempt to ascend Popocatepetl without a sufficient number of volcaneros; one to each traveller is none too many.
"Then there were several peons, or general servants, and there were arrieros to look after the animals and see that none of them were lost. Altogether we made quite a cavalcade, and must have presented an imposing appearance to the crowd that assembled to see us off.
"It did not take long to pack our baggage on the mules; we did not have a large quantity, and, moreover, it was in bags or bundles suitable for the pack-saddle. It included heavy blankets for keeping us warm at Tlamacas—where we were to spend two nights close to the snow-line—heavy overcoats, canned meats and other provisions, and our travelling-bags containing the little odds and ends that one wishes for his own use. We were told that we could get most of the things we needed at Amecameca, but it might happen that the usual supply-shop would be 'out' just then, and we had better make sure by procuring in the city the things that we wanted. Then we had goggles to protect our eyes from the glare of the sun on the snow, thick mittens and mufflers to keep out the cold from hands and faces, and heavy woollen stockings to put over our boots to prevent slipping on the ice.
"The boots that we wore were not our ordinary ones, but heavy affairs specially made for the purpose, and having sharp nails in the soles to give us a good grip on the ice. We did not put them on until
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 reaching the snow-line, and when we came back we gave them to the volcaneros as souvenirs of our visit. If the fellows were sharp they probably sold the boots at a good price to the first party of tourists who happened along without this sort of an equipment.
"There was some difficulty in getting away, as Colonel Watson's horse insisted upon having a private dance just to show off his ability, and as the dance took place in the midst of the other horses, it made a disturbance until we could get out of the way. The example became contagious, and very soon some of the other horses joined in the dance, but we managed to quiet them all down without accident.
"We had been warned in the city that robbers occasionally interfered with visitors between Amecameca and Tlamacas, and if we could procure an escort it would be a wise precaution, and possibly save us from plunder or a fight. Colonel Watson brought a letter to the commander of the Rurales, or Rural Guards, at Amecameca, and that gentleman kindly gave us an escort of four men to accompany us to Tlamacas and back, waiting there while we were making the ascent of the mountain. Quite possibly
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 these fellows had been brigands, and may have carried on business in this very place, but this was no affair of ours. They served us faithfully, and we were not interfered with in any way.
"That robberies have been committed, and murder too, was evident from the great number of crosses along the road. There is said to have been a time when a man known to have five dollars, or even one dollar, in his pocket was not safe along this route. There were men who were ready to commit murder for a trifling amount; anybody who wanted to be rid of the presence of another had only to mention it to one of this gentry, and accompany the mention with a suggestion that it would be worth five or ten dollars to have the obnoxious individual disappear. In a day or two he would be found dead by the way-side; a slight stir would be made by the police, but if no reward was offered for the murderer the affair was soon forgotten.
"At any rate, that is what the chief volcanero, who acted as our guide, told us, when we asked him about the crosses. But before we go out of Amecameca, or Ameca, as it is often called, let me say that it is a very pretty place, and reminded us of Interlachen or Meiringen, in Switzerland. It is 8000 feet above the level of the sea, lies in a sort of valley, and has
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 an abundant supply of water, which rolls down from the mountain and sparkles in numerous rivulets that flow through every street. The water serves to keep the streets clean, and the clean streets seem to have impelled the inhabitants to keep their houses in presentable condition; the walls are white or in bright colors, and altogether Amecameca is one of the most attractive little towns we have seen since we crossed the Rio Grande.
"There was a crowd of people in the Plaza Mayor, and in the market-place, and the people seemed to move around more actively than in the capital. Perhaps it was the greater purity of the air, though one might
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 think that its increased rarity would have an enervating effect. Anyhow, it was cooler at Ameca than in the city, and that may have been the cause of it. Many persons predict that this little town at the foot of the great mountain will be a fashionable resort at no distant day, as it certainly has many attractive features.
"We had a ride of fifteen miles to the rancho of Tlamacas, where we were to spend the night. The pack-mules went off in advance, while we sat down to a good breakfast which the colonel had ordered in the Hotel Ferrocarril. Then we mounted our horses, and after the dance I have mentioned we got away.
"Our road led among fields of barley, the lines between them being shown by hedges of maguey or other members of the cactus family, and now and then by rows of poplar and willow trees. The way ascended with more or less steadiness, and after a time we passed from the cultivated ground into forests of pine and other mountain trees. Some parts of the lower hills were devoted to pastures, and the cattle in them were in good condition. They are nourished upon a rich bunch-grass that grows here; and scattered about here and there we saw a good many thistles, together with beds of mountain flowers. We passed a few haciendas, the last being that of Tomacoco, where there is a church very much in ruins.
"The pine forest begins after we leave the plain, a............
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