I had heard mention of the nearby Popocatepetl volcano (“Popo” for short) but hadn’t paid much attention to its existence, and I didn’t even really know where it was in relation to me. There were far too many bars to conqu — I mean Mexican literature to study and cultural experiences to be had.
I lived with a host family with three other guys also on exchange, and our house always seemed to have a rotating stable of guests — abuelo up from Nuevo Vallarta hiding from his girlfriend (“he’s only visiting for his birthday,” cut to abuelo still crashing the couch three weeks later); the free-spirit friend who was quite the Casanova with our female friends who would visit us (I think he drove a motorcycle, but I could be making that up); or the regularly visiting government agent with his policemen companions we were always sent to answer at the gate while our host parents stayed in the house (definitely a story for another time).
So, with a drastically fluctuating occupancy and no concrete order to so many people sharing one bathroom, I got in the habit of getting up earlier than everyone else to ensure I wasn’t stuck with an exhausted hot water tank, and to finish any homework leftover from the night before. See. I was a good student.
One morning I rolled out of bed to start the day, crept past my snoozing roommate Ben, and quietly closed the door behind me. Turning to go down the short hallway, the threshold to the front of the house was fully lit, as though the light was on in the kitchen. I thought that was odd, because there’s no way the other two drunko guys in our house were up, and it was way too early for our host.
I walked towards the kitchen, glanced the sleeping couch crasher du jour, and saw that the golden light was coming through the window from outside. The sun was just coming up, blazingly bright, squeezing through the small kitchen window to light up the room and spilling over into the next. I went outside and walked down the steps of the sloping path leading to the pool that no one ever swam in.
The sky was blanketed with cotton ball puffs of painted clouds. The sun wasn’t quite showing its face yet, but was liberally stretching its arms and legs from behind the shadow of the distant mountain range. And there it was. Popocatepetl. Smoldering like a morning cigarette not being smoked as much as just held between two fingers or dangling from some sleepy mouth.
Not unusually, now that I think about it, there was no response to the entire scene. For one, I couldn’t believe I had it all to myself — at least from my stoop. There was no windfall of life-altering revelation about beauty or nature in the moment, rather the opposite. Just a quiet disengagement of the self. No words. No thinking. Nowhere to go. No one to be. Only an absorption into the unimaginable morning light, finally coming to when the sun finally pushed itself up over the mountains and its stare erased the landscape from my vision.
That was, of course, all after I took these photos.