Search      Hot    Newest Novel
HOME > Classical Novels > The Boy Travellers in Mexico > CHAPTER XIX.
Font Size:【Large】【Middle】【Small】 Add Bookmark  
"The snow hardened a good deal as we neared the summit," continued Frank; "in fact it was much more like ice than snow, and the walking became more difficult every minute. In some places it was as smooth as glass, and but for our outside stockings and the spikes in our shoes we would have been constantly slipping. Even as it was we had a good many falls, but nobody was seriously hurt by them. There was no danger of a long slide down the mountain, as the guide took us along a route where there were many hummocks, or pillars of ice, so that we brought up against them whenever we had the misfortune to fall down.
"Our woollen mittens were a great protection to our hands, which often came in contact with these pillars and would have been cut by them, as their tops and edges were sharp. We are told that persons who have made the ascent without gloves or mittens
[Pg 297]
[Pg 298]
 have had their hands so badly lacerated that they could not be used for days afterwards.
"We had no serious accidents, which is not always the case with parties making the ascent of Old Popo. Sometimes the snow slides down in the form of avalanches, and occasionally the sand does the same thing. To be caught by one of these avalanches is almost certain death, but happily the guides know the mountain and its peculiarities so well that such accidents are rare. Parties have been overwhelmed by storms of hail in the same way that a party on Mont Blanc lost their lives several years ago. Considerable areas of sand and snow are sometimes set in motion by the tread of one's feet upon them, and the unfortunate climber who has caused it is carried down and dashed to death on the rocks below.
"One story that we heard was of three Indians who were descending the volcano. One of them saw a depression in the snow like a furrow, and thought it offered an easy footing. He went to it, and suddenly disappeared from the sight of his companions. As they moved towards the place to ascertain what had happened, they felt the crust sinking beneath them, and had barely time to scramble back before a considerable area disappeared in a crevasse. No trace of the missing Indian was ever found.
"It seemed as though our toil would never end, when suddenly Fred, who was in advance, gave a shout and sat down. He swung his hat in the air, and I wondered what he meant by it.
"'Here we are!' shouted Fred; 'we're at the crater.'
"I hurried up as fast as I could, and sure enough there it was, a great chasm a thousand or more feet deep, and fully half a mile across. The sides narrow somewhat, so that a little way down you can make out pretty nearly all of the outline. The bottom of the crater can be called flat in a general way, though it is the farthest possible from the ideal of a ball-room floor. Steam and the vapors of sulphur rise from solfataras scattered over the bottom, and from these solfataras the sulphur is constantly forming. The supply is inexhaustible, as the formation goes, on a great deal faster than the miners can remove the product.
"We scrambled down perhaps 200 feet, to where the edge of the crater hung over like a precipice. Here there is a malacate, or apparatus for hoisting out the sulphur. The men working in the sulphur-mines descend and ascend by this apparatus; in fact there is no other way of getting in or out of the crater.
"Our guide told us that the men run great risks, as stones are constantly falling from the sides of the crater, whence they are dislodged by the frost and by the action of the steam and sulphur jets. Rumblings
[Pg 299]
 like the premonitions of an earthquake are frequently heard, and sometimes the ground trembles so much as to make one's footing unsteady. In addition to this is the effect of the sulphur, which rots the clothes of the men, and causes their teeth to fall out. They sleep in caves in the sides of the crater, and on two or three occasions a caveful of men has been
[Pg 300]
 overwhelmed and killed by the stony avalanche. Altogether the place did not appear attractive as a residence, and I was not surprised to learn that the men receive high wages, and even at the rate of pay they are not easily obtained. They remain a month at a time in the crater without leaving it, and are then replaced by new men and allowed a vacation among their friends in the country at the base of the mountain.
"We could have been lowered down by the malacate, but concluded not to make the attempt. We could not do so without spending the night in the crater, and this we were not prepared for; Doctor Bronson would be waiting for us, and would fear some accident had happened; though, as for that matter, we could have sent one of the peons to tell him; and furthermore, we thought we should run more risk than we would be compensated for by the experience. A party of three gentlemen went down there a few weeks before we did, and one of them became exhausted, and his life was saved with great difficulty. Our guide said, whether truthfully or not we don't know, that a German gentleman died there a few years ago, and since then the miners do not desire visitors among them.
"The crater is not at the top of the mountain, the highest point of Popocatepetl being to the west of this great chasm, and about 1000 feet more elevated. It is a sharp cone, and so difficult of ascent that few have succeeded in reaching the summit. There is some dispute as to whether it has actually been ascended, as the Government offers a reward of $500 to any one who proves that he has been to its top. Some American gentlemen in the capital city say it has been done, but the difficulty of officially proving the accomplishment of the feat would be more than the value of the reward. Hence it is not claimed at all; and consequently, the negative testimony favors the assumption that no one has yet scaled the height of Popocatepetl.
"We remained nearly two hours on the summit, shivering in the cold air in spite of our thick overcoats, while at the same time the heat of the sun scorched our faces. While we were there a borrasca, or storm, came on, and the air was suddenly darkened. We sought shelter beneath a projecting rock, and watched the cloud of snow as it eddied and whirled around the crater. At such times it becomes so dark in the crater that the men cannot work; they retire to their caves and wait till the storm is over. At the same time the fires of the solfataras become very distinct, and recall the description of Dante's Inferno.
"The storm lasted about twenty minutes and then cleared away, the sun coming out as brightly as ever and the air growing comparatively still. These storms are rarely of long duration, but they are to be dreaded
[Pg 301]
 whenever they come; the temperature falls far below the freezing-point, and the wind blows a gale. But down in the crater it is warm enough, in consequence of the steam and heat from the solfataras. The snow melts as soon as it strikes the bottom, and renders walking a matter of difficulty.
[Pg 302]
"The story of our descent of the mountain is quickly told. The workmen had dug a straight trench in the volcanic sand, and it is down this trench that they send the sulphur by the simple force of gravity. It is placed in sacks, the sacks are piled on a petate, or mat of bulrush, and when once started the mat and its cargo slide down with great velocity.
"For two reals each of us hired a petate of one of the men at the hoisting-works, and with our volcaneros to guide the impromptu toboggans, we went down with great rapidity and ease and without accident. It reminded us of the descent of Vesuvius; the sand is much like that of the famous volcano of Naples, and we were very glad to be able to make use of it.
"I said we came without accident; for the sake of exactness I must add that Colonel Watson was pitched out of his vehicle at the end of his ride, and stopped with his head and shoulders buried in the sand. Fred had a similar experience, with the difference that he went in feet foremost; as neither suffered any injury, and was ready to laugh over the mishap, my original statement holds good.
"The Doctor had gone back to the sulphur rancho at Tlamacas, and thither we followed him as soon as we found our horses. It was too late to get to Amecameca that evening, and so we had another night among the sulphur refiners. The sulphur is brought here just as it is dug from the crater of the volcano; it is refined at Tlamacas and made ready for market, and is sent thence to Amecameca on the backs of donkeys or mules. General Ochoa says that in spite of its abundance he cannot compete at the coast towns with the sulphur from Mediterranean ports, and his only market is in the interior of Mexico. He intends to place some improved machinery at the edge of the crater, so as to reduce the expense of hoisting out the crude material; and in this way he hopes to lower his price. His plan is to run his machinery by means of the jet of air from one of the large solfataras, which he estimates at twenty horse-power.
"While we were absent on the mountain General Ochoa's agent told Doctor Bronson the following story about how the general came to own the mountain:
"'Serious attention to the richness and abundance of sulphur in the crater of Popocatepetl was first called by Baron von Humboldt; the existence of sulphur in the crater was known long before, as the Spaniards seem to have made use of it in the time of the Conquest. In one of his letters to the Emperor Cortez says, "As for sulphur, I have already made mention to your Majesty of a mountain in this province from which smoke issues; out of it sulphur has been taken by a Spaniard, who descended
[Pg 303]
 seventy or eighty fathoms, by means of a rope attached to his body below his arms; from which source we have been enabled to obtain sufficient supplies, although it is attended with danger." There is other evidence that the conquerors obtained sulphur from the mountain, but their methods were of the most primitive character.
"'About the year 1850, an enterprising Mexican named Corchado visited the crater, and brought away samples of the sulphur, which he carried to Puebla. A company was formed, and a considerable amount of sulphur was taken out, but owing to lawsuits and political troubles, the enterprise was soon abandoned. When General Ochoa was a student in the mining section of the military college his tutor was a gentleman who had known Baron Humboldt, and was greatly impressed with his remarks about the value of the sulphur deposits in the volcano. Through this gentleman's advice the general applied to the Government for permission to work the deposits, and he obt............
Join or Log In! You need to log in to continue reading

Login into Your Account

  Remember me on this computer.

All The Data From The Network AND User Upload, If Infringement, Please Contact Us To Delete! Contact Us
About Us | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Tag List | Recent Search  
©2010-2018, All Rights Reserved