Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Nevado de Toluca

I have this unquenchable desire for exploring volcanoes, you give me a choice between blue Caribbean beaches, golden yellow deserts, frozen tundras and volcanoes...I would go for the last one allowing my heart to make the decision and not brain. Having less than a week at my disposal in Mexico and despite ticket screw-up we could still make it to the volcano Nevado de Toluca!

Located at an altitude of 4700m, Nevado de Toluca is the fourth highest extinct volcano in Mexico (after the volcanoes Pico de Orizaba in Veracruz, Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl in Puebla) that belongs to Transvolcanic belt of Mexico. It also has got a tongue-twisting Nahuatl name Xinantécatl, which would take atleast 10 attempts to get it right. The volcano is about 22km from city of Toluca in the state of Mexico. The caldera of the volcano is about 1.5Km long and has two precious lakes, lago del sol and lago de la luna divided by a small mountain. It's last eruption happened in 1330 and it's extinct since then. The speciality of this volcano is, it's the only volcano whose crater could be accessed by a normal car, not even a 4x4 is needed.

We reached Toluca airport by 9 in the morning and Ricardo picked us from airport at 9:20. Ricardo got off at his house and gave use directions to get out of Toluca city to head towards the volcano. We thanked him and countinued in Lupita's Renault Clio to the volcano, after a small stop-over for road side tamales (chicken or poblano chillis in green or red salsa) and atole de coco (coconut flavoured corn malt drink). We hit the highway 134 and we could see the giant volcano at the horizon, like a white cloud. We turned left at highway 10, that leads to entrance of the park, parque de los Venados (entrance 20 pesos per car). From there it's a 17km metal road that leads all the way to crater. The journey is a very picturesque one, winding dusty roads amidst dense pine forests with the view of the snow capped volcano approaching nearer every turn.

As we got closer, the volcano unveiled it's stony texture with a kiss of snow, surrounded by golden yellow grasslands. Six kilometers from the crater, is a gate with a small store selling water and juice, also there is a toilet and parking space. From here you can either continue in your car until caldera or hike up for 2km along the scenic pass, Paso de Quetzal. We chose the latter method and started the not-so-steep-looking hike. Trust me that short and easy looking hike made us pant like exhausted hounds, due to the altitude. We lived in Monterrey which was around 500m above the sea level, while Nevado was around 4700m high. The oxygen was highly depleted and every step of the hike had to be done like a tortoise. Behind us, the big valley of Toluca city was covered by an ugly layer of polluted clouds that met the clear blue skies at the horizon. As we reached the peak, the breathtaking view of the lakes and the caldera made us forget our exhaustion.

On to the left is the smaller but deeper la laguna de la luna (the moon lake) and on the right is the larger and greener la laguna del sol (the sun lake) both separated by a small hill. The sun lake is surrounded by gigantic dusty walls of the volcano, while the moon lake has an approach for the vehicles. When started descending to the moon lake, on the high mountains a huge apparition of cloud started forming, but the sky was mostly clear except for this cloud and the sun shone bright. The descent to the lake is along the dusty volcanic screes but a quick one. I unbuckled my shoes and wet my feet in the moon lake, water is clean but freezing and there were stone small stone boulders everywhere on the banks and inside the lake. By this time, the ghostly cloud had spread all over; we could feel the fall in mercury levels.

We spent not more than 10 minutes at the moon lake and started walking towards the sun lake, temperature fell further and it was very noticeable. As we reached the big green sun lake, we saw the clouds entering the valley at a very low altitude and a very light snow-fall started. We wanted to go around the lake, but a guide suggested us not to do so for the weather was getting worse. We spent another 10 minutes at the lake and started ascending, the snow-fall gradually increased too. By the time we reached the point, from where we had started the descent, the snow-fall had accelerated and the same landscape with dusty brown screes were now covered with thin bright carpet of snow. I guess there was atleast 15 degrees drop in mercury levels in a matter of 20 minutes. I had never seen snow in Mexico and thanks to Nacho, I happened to see it just 2 days before my departure.

We enjoyed every moment in snow before we started our descent to the car. As we started our journey back, the clouds started clearing. We drove slowly enjoying the scenary and when we reached highway 134, we again saw the volcano was consumed by vast dense cloud expanse. We head to Toluca centro and had lunch of tacos de cecina (thin salted beef cuts) and spent rest of the evening with the company of Lupita, Sandra and Ricardo. Before I end the article, I would like to thank wholeheartedly to Nacho for arranging the whole thing, Lupita for lending her car, Ricardo for picking us in the airport and Sandra for accompanying us and accommodating at their place.

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