In the foothills of Mexico’s Popocatepetl volcano, locals have their own beliefs about why ash is recently raining down on them – and it has little to do with conventional science.
According to legend, the spirit of the volcano located 70 kilometers (about 45 miles) southeast of Mexico City is embodied by a man known locally as “Don Goyo.”
And when he gets upset, “El Popo” starts to rumble as it has for more than a week.
“Don Goyo’s angry because they didn’t put out his offering,” said Jose Luis, a 55-year-old charcoal seller in Xalitzintla, the community closest to Popocatepetl.
Some residents even report having seen the mountain incarnate appear before them.
Jose Marcos said that when he was a child, Don Goyo – full name Gregorio Chino Popocatepetl – came to his house for a glass of water and a taco.
“We asked him ‘who are you?’ He said: ‘Don’t you know me? I’m Gregorio Chino Popocatepetl. I’m the volcano,’” the 77-year-old farmer said.
Every year on March 12, residents mark the day known as Don Goyo’s birthday.
Hundreds of people approach the crater to offer typical dishes, liquor, flowers and clothes, and sing a traditional song.
This year, however, authorities restricted access to the site due to the increased danger, dismaying locals who warned that it would anger the mountain’s spirit.
“We’ve already asked Don Goyo to wait for us until next year,” local mayor Gumaro Sandre Popoca told AFP.
Life in Xalitzintla, home to about 2,000 inhabitants, revolves around volcanoes.
The walls are dotted with images of Popocatepetl and the neighboring Iztaccihuatl volcano.
Mediums who claim to communicate with “Don Goyo” are influential figures in the community.
One of them, Nazario Castro, blames people who enter the exclusion zone to take selfies for upsetting the volcano.
“They’re provoking it because they go up” to take pictures and “it starts to thunder,” Castro said.
Isabel, a restaurant owner in the town, said that as an 11-year-old girl she also saw the man who embodies Popocatepetl.
“He comes down from the mountain. He’s tall, with white hair and green eyes,” she said.
“He scared me. I ran home and got under the bed,” added the 54-year-old, who did not want to give her full name for fear of being called a “gossip.”
But she enthusiastically recounted a pre-Hispanic love story involving Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl.
According to legend, Iztaccihuatl (“white woman” in the Indigenous Nahuatl language) was the daughter of a local chief who fell in love with a handsome warrior called Popocatepetl (“smoking mountain”).
But Popocatepetl was sent to war and a lovelorn Iztaccihuatl died of grief.
When the warrior returned, he found her body and carried it to the mountain, where both were covered with snow and became majestic volcanoes.
For the past week, “El Popo,” which awoke from decades of slumber in 1994, has unnerved locals with several explosions and repeated emissions of ash, gasses and molten rock.
Authorities increased their warning level to one step below red alert, which, if reached, would mean evacuation for thousands of people living near the volcano.
While some residents have already left as a precaution, others prefer to stay.
“We’re not afraid,” said Eufemia de Jesus Ramos, who sells birds at an animal market in San Andres Calpan, about 25 kilometers from Popocatepetl.
“If we leave, the thieves will take advantage of it,” the 65-year-old said.