The Estrella Roja (Red Star) bus pushes upwards along Federal Highway 150 as it leaves the metropolitan area of Mexico City on its way to Puebla, capital of Puebla State. Midway on the journey, the bus, its passengers ensconced on worn plush seating, a current Hollywood production dubbed in Spanish playing on several video monitors dispersed throughout the cab, crosses a relatively low point on the ridge that forms the natural border between the two Mexican demographic regions, and then begins its descent.
To the south, the altitudes of this national park are impressive: extinct volcano Iztaccíhuatl, named “white woman” in Nahuatl for her snowy peaks, or “sleeping woman” in Spanish for her undulating curves, stands at 5215 m (17,110 ft), while still active Popocatépetl, Iztaccíhuatl’s lover according to legend, who to this day periodically erupts in grief over her demise, reaches 5426 m (17,802 ft).
Were it not for the thick cap of smog hovering over the nation’s capital, once the world’s most polluted city and struggling to make its way down the list, the couple would always be in plain view; visibility is better in Puebla, especially from the summit of Cholula, where a Catholic church was erected atop the Tlachihualtepetl pyramid in the 1500’s.
Once, it is believed, there were 18 glaciers along the Ridge of the Sun, over which the sun rises to look down upon the great, ancient city of Tenochtitlan, as the capital was called before the Spanish invasion in the 16th century. At the start of the 21st century, there were but three glaciers left, and now, only two. In 2018, the Ayoloco glacier was found to be bereft of snow, and one week ago, in April 2021, geophysicists from the Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) officially announced its death.
The glaciers are an important source of fresh water and climate regulation, and the gravity of the loss cannot be understated. Ayoloco was Iztaccíhuatl’s largest glacier; without it, the Aztec princess has lost her white wedding dress and is now only covered in grey, jagged rock. Five days ago, UNAM researchers climbed to the summit and placed the following plaque, an admission of collective guilt expressed in simple words, addressed “to future generations”:
“Here lay the Ayoloco glacier, which receded until it disappeared in 2018. Over the next decades, Mexico’s glaciers will irretrievably disappear. This plaque is to memorialize that we knew what was happening and what to do about it. Only you will be able to say if we did so.”
UNAM’s video of the expedition can be viewed at https://www.jornada.com.mx/notas/2021/04/22/sociedad/declaran-extincion-del-glaciar-ayoloco-en-la-cumbre-del-iztaccihuatl/
Danica Jorden is a writer and translator of French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, English and other languages.
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