URUAPAN, MEXICO — On Feb. 20, 1943, a Purpechan peasant working his cornfield in the Michoacn countryside felt the earth tremble and saw smoke rising from his land. Then a crack began spewing lava - giving birth to a volcano that over the next eight years would rise to 300 feet before falling silent.
Today Paricutin Volcano, about 20 miles outside Uruapn, and the volcanic lands surrounding it are open to visitors curious to see just what a volcano can do. That curiosity is satisfied at the surreal sight of two old church towers sailing above a sea of craggy and forbidding volcanic rock.
The churchless towers are all that remain of the village of San Juan Parangaricutiro, which was buried by the nascent Paricutin's onslaught. (The slow-moving but inexorable lava allowed all the villagers to flee to safety.)
Kids may not go much for visits to old Spanish-colonial buildings and artisan markets, but few things come higher on their list of interests than volcanos. And the trek to see Paricutin's handiwork carries the added attraction of being possible on horseback.
The hour-long journey to the buried village (or the day-long trip to Paricutin's rim) begins in the Purpechan village of Angahuan, just off the highway north out of Uruapn.
No need to inquire about where to find horses for hire. The town's cowboys - mostly Purpechan-speaking boys - greet anyone looking like a stranger entering the village with insistent offers of saddled horses. We gringos didn't have a chance to consider walking - which is altogether possible. Our children (including a 15-month-old) were scooped up and in a saddle and triumphantly heading off to the promised volcano before we could properly negotiate our price. Chalk it up to helping the local economy. The trail to San Juan leads out of dusty Angahuan, with its traditionally dressed and traditionally scurrying indigenous women, through the captivating Michaocn countryside. But it's the buried village and the lava flow that are the big attraction. The first thing our six-year-old did was touch one of the dark-pocked boulders to see if it was still hot.