A few geographical notes.
Mexico is considered part of North America because it lies on the North American Plate, NOT for cultural reasons. Some of Baja California also lies on the Cocos Plate and the Pacific Plate, but by far the largest portion is on the North American Plate. It is the rubbing together of these plates, as well as its related volcanic activity, which makes the country particularly earthquake-prone.
Although Mexico City is in a valley, when we go there from our house, we go up even after we go down a bit. We are never as low, on the whole trip, as we are at home. Xalapa has an altitude of roughly 4000 feet, although it varies from place to place. Our house in Col. Ursulo Galván, about eleven miles more or less south from Xalapa, is at 3800+ feet. The top of the Colonia is also about 4000 feet. Our area of Veracruz is on the eastern, down side of the Sierra Madre Oriental, on its corner with what is called the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt, or the Sierra Nevada (Nevada means snowy--these mountains are or were snow-capped either all year or part of the year). We are in the faldas, or skirts, of Cofre de Perote, to our west, which, along with Pico de Orizaba, makes the corner of the two mountain ranges. The trees in these mountains are mostly oak and pine having, surprisingly for people expecting something more tropical. They have an appearance not unlike the mountains of the US west. to me they look somewhat Oregonian.
So the bus from Xalapa climbs through the Sierra Madre Oriental and then on to the Altiplano de Mexico, or the high plains or plateau of Mexico which extends from the southern US border to the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt. In the southern area, its altitude averages about 6600 feet above sea level. It is quite uneven because Mexico City itself is in a valley of the altiplano (called the Valle de México) and is 7350 feet above sea level. In the bus we go down into Mexico City from the altiplano. The site of Mexico City was originally a lake. The Aztecs built on an island in the lake, but the Spanish filled it in. The people of the area farmed on man-made islands in the lake. Interestingly, Tlaxcala (see previous post) was one of the regions in which people lived who came to actively oppose the Spanish during the Conquest.
Well. I could go on, but this post is supposed to be about what we saw on our bus trip.
Anyway, after Malinchin, the next spectacular sight is of Popocatepetl(17,800 feet) and Iztaccihuatl (17,160 feet), the second and third highest mountains in Mexico after Pico de Oriaba. You see Iztaccihuatl first on the bus trip. It is not an active volcano. The name means white woman because it is snow covered, and its four peaks are said to look like a reclining woman. I think it looks as much like the profile of a face as of a body, but no matter.
The picture below (stolen from Wikipedia) is pretty much how it appeared to us.
You drive a bit further before Popocatepetl appears a bit to its south. The two are separated by the Paseo de Cortés and are linked by a Nahuatl legend of thwarted love between a princess and a warrior, Iztaccihuatl being the princess, Popo, the warrior. Popo was not the name of the warrior, however, at least I don't think it was. Popocatepetl means smoke-covered mountain. In the 1990s the glaciers on Popocatepetl shrank noticeably, apparently partly because of warmer temperaturs, but also because of increasing volcanic activity.
Popocatepetl is the more famous probably because it is still an active volcano (and is easier, at least for me, to say). In fact, it was more than normally active on the 22 of May when we went past it for a visit to Jim's opthalmologist. I wrote about that here. The government has a series of warning notices about the severity of volcanic activity which seems a bit like the US's warning system for terrorism danger, but where the volcano is concerned, it is more useful and accurate. The three stages are green, normal; yellow, alert; and red, alarm. It has been on yellow for awhile now, though since our last trip, things have quieted down and it is has been at a low yellow.
It looked pretty much like this last Wednesday when we drove past, except it also had a very, very thin stream of steam coming out to the left.
This image is from the CENAPRED website. CENAPRED is the Centro Nacional de Prevencion de Desastres. It has an excellent page on Popocatepetl and information on a lot of other stuff as well.
Today, after a relatively quiet few weeks, there has been an uptake in volcanic earthquake activity with a cluster of seven of about 2.4 on the Richter scale occuring this morning. I found this information on the site called Volcano Discovery which says it may (or may not be) an indication of an uptick in activity. This as well as the CENAPRED site offer all kinds of up-to-the-minute information on volcanoes, the former world-wide, the latter Mexican.
Back on the bus, Popo and Izti (their nicknames) fade into the horizon behind us, and soon we find ourselves slipping down the broad, curving highway to Mexico City.