Prone to Wander

Popo and Izta

This is the story of star-crossed lovers – a story as old as the hills. It is the story of blood and war in a land of serpents and flying birds – of maiz, jade, stone and bronze – and of smoking volcanoes and fire. It is the kind of story best told under a spreading jacaranda tree that weeps every spring as its lavender blooms fall to the ground like tears.

Murales_Rivera_-_Markt_in_Tlatelolco_3Thousands of years ago, the Aztecs ruled a wide swath of Central America from the great city of Tenochtitlan – an ancient metropolis built almost as if by magic in the middle of a great lake in the highlands. The Aztecs were known to all as fierce rulers who dominated the neighboring tribes by fear, war and death at the hands of their bloodthirsty, vengeful gods.

Not far away in the neighboring tribe of Tlaxcaltec, the chief was becoming weary and broken down by being taxed, slaughtered and oppressed by the Aztecs. As it so happened, this particular chief also had a beautiful daughter named Iztaccíhuatl (let’s call her Izta for short).  And as it so happened, a young warrior in the tribe named Popocatépetl had fallen madly in love with her.

One day young Popo went to the chief to ask for permission to marry his daughter. The powerful chief agreed, but on one condition: Anyone worthy of marrying his daughter and ruling the Tlaxcaltecas one day must first lead the tribe into battle against the Aztecs and return in victory.

aztecPopo told Izta about his quest, and he set off through the hills with the Tlaxcaltec warriors without hesitation or doubt. It was a long and bloody battle, but Popo fought bravely, sustained by the hope and promise that Izta would be his bride when he returned.

But as it so happened, another warrior was also in love with Izta, and in a fit of jealousy he sent word back home to Izta and the chief, saying that Popo had died in battle.

Izta, who had been waiting patiently for Popo’s return, was so overcome by grief that she was struck down by an illness. She wasted away, becoming only a shadow of her former self, and tragically died of a broken heart just as Popo and the warriors returned victoriously.

When Popo heard the news that his love had died, he was devastated, and he wandered the countryside in despair for several days. Finally, he decided that to honor Izta he would build a monument for her. Popo piled up ten hills together into a great pyre of a mountain, gently gathered up Izta’s body in his arms and carried her up the slope.

Popocatepetl_e_Iztaccihuatl_by_MorphoLunaWhen he reached the top, Popo laid Izta down across the top of the mountain to rest in eternal sleep under the sun and moon. Then he took his smoking torch of fire and crouched down in quiet vigil beside her.

The two lovers have long since been covered by ice and rock and the long passage of time. But they have certainly not been forgotten – today they rise high above Mexico City and Puebla – as vast, ancient volcanoes.

Popo still keeps his watch over Izta, even to this day.  Locals will tell you that you can still feel his heart tremble and see his torch smoke and burn when he wakes from dreaming of his beloved.


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