Thursday, July 30, 2009


When I was a kid, we had a set of children's encyclopedias. Very colorful, well illustrated.
Volume 12 of Golden Book Encyclopedia covered “Paricutin to Quicksand”. I can even remember an illustration of the farmer working in the field with the volcano beginning to poke out of the ground behind him. It was active from 1943-1952.
cone Volcano

Paricutin Volcano Cinder Cone

Little did I realize that decades later (next century actually!) I would be living just down the road from the volcano. So needless to say, this is a “must do” day trip!
After driving a little over 100 kilometers west from Patzcuaro we approach the village of Angahuan. This is our starting point for our trip to the lava fields. There waiting at the first topé (a speed bump, okay a speed bump on steroids!) will be a man waiting for visitors. Off to the side of the road you will see a few others and some horses. Consider this person your travel agent/salesman . He will rent you a horse and send a young guide with you. As I was wanting to visit the church in the village first, I continued on past the topé into the village. Not wanting to miss an opportunity, the intrepid “travel agent” hops onto his steed and chases us into town. While photographing the church, we come to terms and the ride is arranged. Be sure to have sturdy footwear on, and make sure you take some water.

Angahuan’s church

Here is my recommendation about hiring a horse. If it is rainy season, you REALY want to have a horse, otherwise you will be hiking through mud and muck (including organic contributions from the horses) until you get to the lava field. If it is not rainy season, rent a horse anyway. You can save your energy for climbing around at your destination, you will be especially glad on the trip back. Plus you get to contribute to the local economy. The pesos you leave will make a bigger impact to them than they will to you!
horse tiff

Me And My Horse

While you can take the day and ride up to the top of the cinder cone, my destination is the San Juan Parangaricutiro village church in the lava field. The entire village was destroyed by the lava, with only the church showing through to indicate the village was there. After about 45 minutes (depending on where in town you start) on horseback we approach the “base camp” a variety of little huts that dispense food, drinks (keep hydrated!) and the odd souvenir (mostly old photos).
church tower

San Juan Parangaricutiro’s Church

Hiking up from the concession area, you approach the church. The spire rising out of the lava like a hand from the grave in one of those old late night horror movies. The view in the photo above shows the church from about a the level of the second floor. It makes sense that as the church was the tallest building around that parts of it would survive the disaster. What is really unusual is what you find at the other end of the church, at the altar.
Altar pano

The Miraculous Altar

It seems that the lava, a wall of molten rock 20-30 feet high, approached the altar and decided to stop. Leaving the altar untouched while continuing on to destroy the rest of the town. For the devout, this was a powerful endorsement of their faith. Now, to this day, the faithful make pilgrimages to this altar to pray and commune.

Miraculous Mementos

From these pilgrimages there are left behind flowers, crosses, rosaries, and countless personal mementos. Pictures and items of the people they have come there to pray for, or perhaps tokens of those whose prayers were answered. It is important to remember, that for many , this is much more that an interesting tourist site, but a sacred expression of their faith.

Hmmmmm, Quesadillas!

After tiring of climbing around the site, a brief sojourn at the base camp is in order. A cold beer, and a few quesadillas really hit the spot, with hand made blue corn tortillas made from scratch. Yummm!
Then off to find the young fellow minding our horses for the ride back. All in all, a memorable afternoon.

Have you visited Paricutin? I would love to hear what you thought.
Leave your impressions in the comments, Thanks!


Glenn said...

A Queretaro girlfriend and I visted Puricutin in the summer of 1988.

Our experience was much the same as you discribed. There was no developed concession area; no blue corn quesadillas. A school group shared their avocado tostados with us, and an elderly man sold us Coca Colas from a plastic bucket.

It was a very enjoyable trip.

Steve Cotton said...

My introduction to the volcano was similar to yours, Todd. But it was in The Weekly Reader, I think -- a publication we were all obliged to subscribe to in elementary school. I still remember the tale of the farmer dropping stones into the ever-increasing chasm. I need to see it. But not a spot for the good Professor Jiggs.

Alexander said...

Don't forgot to mention you can take the long way there and see more of the "back country" I think it added to make it a very memerable experiance

Laurel in Austin said...

I visited Paricutin in the early 90s. My travel companion insisted there would be a Volcano Restaurant and I was wearing earrings. Our guide just let the horses take us there. It rained and my rebozo faded all over my shirt and the banana I had in my backpack was pulverized. Still, memorable and beautiful.

Steve Cotton said...

I forgot to say -- great photographs.

Unknown said...

Nicely done Todd. Cheri and I were there last November, your photo of your horse was quite memorable. Going there last week during the rains was much less satisfactory.

Todd said...

Thanks for the compliments all!

A very charming place.


Todd said...

I am enjoying hearing about your visits to the volcano, any of you go up to the cinder cone??

What did you think of it?
Is it worth the extra time?


Tancho said...

Well Todd, I think you have saved me a trip to Paricutin!
Some of our visitors have expressed a desire to see it, and after reading your exhausting trek, ( well at least I was exhausted) I think I will give them the link to your pictures.......
Nice photos , as usual!

Todd said...

Thanks! but really, it is a fun trip.
Hop in your car, then hop on a horse.

You gotta do something or your joints will all seize up and you will be stuck in your chair!


Frankly Ronda said...

Puricutin is a MUST visit. Husband, Oldest Son, Youngest Son and I all went in December 2008.

Our visit was very much like yours including the wonderful meal after the hike. I think we ate at the same "hut."

We did not go all the way to the volocano - maybe next time. Just to the church was full excursion.

The miracle of that church makes one stop and think for sure.

Babs said...

Your post is so enlightening. The photo image of the altar has an other worldly feeling. Quite amazing. Doubt I'll ever get there.

Did you see the photos that Florence posted on FB of the celebrations today in the village celebrating the anniversary of the event! Beautiful......

I so wish you would start writing again.....or at least some day.


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