Rock on

When I walk out of my living room and look up, right above me is La Ventana – the Window. It formed heaven knows how many years in the past, when a seismic event shook loose part of a pinnacle of rock, which fell between the pinnacle and the main body of the cliff to form what looks like an oblong aperture. Occasionally, I wonder if it or a portion of the main cliff-face could fall in another temblor, flattening this house.

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La Ventana, from my house in Amatlan. The oblong aperture is foreshortened because of the angle.

Yesterday, walking with some friends on a trail out of a village a few kilometres away, we noticed a big rock by the side of the path that we couldn’t recall from a hike in October. In the cornfield behind it was a bigger chunk of limestone, while as we looked back up the hill, we could see a cleared track with broken trees. It looked like a chunk of stone had recently broken off from the main hillside, rolled down the hill, and broken into a main piece and several smaller boulders.

Sure enough, two people we met on the trail confirmed that it had come down at the start of November – they even knew it had been at 5.30 in the afternoon, when they’d heard a loud noise. The next day, a fence needed repairing, though the corn in the field had already been safely harvested.

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The rollway of the errant boulder, which crushed or knocked aside a few trees on its way down.

The four of us in our group spent some time admiring the different pieces of rock, which must have weighed tens of tons altogether, and the swath of destruction they had caused. By the end of next rainy reason, the scar will be almost invisible, and fresh saplings will root themselves, but right now, it still looks like the Incredible Hulk’s play-slide.

Whenever I mention the hazards of living in Mexico, people send leave me admonitory warnings to watch out for myself. I appreciate the sentiments, but I will forever feel less safe in a big city, where people still drive and text at the same time – I’ve nearly been struck four times by them, and only survived through my own quick reactions, not the drivers’. In a place where sudden death from floods, an earthquake, or a falling rock, is a day-to-day occurrence, your perceptions shift, and you feel more alert and alive. It might sound masochistic, but I appreciate the natural threat level in this country: too much safety, or apparent safety, dulls the wits. Being this close to visible natural processes, which are far less discernible in and around built-up areas, adds a zest to living, and shifts your sense of who you are, and how you relate to the world around.

Every time I go into town, for example, I look to see if Popocatepetl is visible from the few hundred yards of vantage point where its cone is clear of obstructions. It’s charming to see it after rain, which falls on its slope as snow; interesting to watch when it’s emitting a lot of steam; and awesome, in that word’s original sense, when I can see an actual eruption of dust rising miles into the air. I sometimes joke that Popo is my favourite Mexican.

And now I have a favourite Mexican rock to admire as well.

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This is the biggest chunk that broke off my favourite Mexican Rock. It’s about five feet high and wide. You can just see the main boulder to the right at the back, sitting in the cornfield it ploughed through.