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It's taken a while for me to get back into the swing of things after my return to London, but at long last here's what happened on the last few, hectic days in Mexico, which included one last day in the field to collect our final samples:

 

A 05:00 start was a harsh way to take on the most challenging climb of the trip but by then Chiara and Dave were ready. Although as they trooped out to the jeep, heavy limbed, it was hard to discern that they knew it. Your devoted reporter remained on the bench in Amecameca on the basis of a four-only-in-the-jeep rule; jealous of the landscapes the rest of Team Popo would see and the last chance at such physical endeavour.

 

I wanted to leave town exhausted but I'd just have to leave educated and elated instead. On writing and curation duties, I was to source rock-packing materials, a somewhat vital task, so was spurred on in the role. In preparation, I demolished huevos rancheros and set off with the sun on my face, a less than ideal command of the language and immense purpose.

 

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Forget what you know about eating fried eggs, tortillas, cream and green chilli sauce at different times.

 

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When riding other animals, it's customary to do it contraflow to heavy traffic. 

 

My insight into the last day of scientific field work on Popo came as the team arrived back at base early in the evening. They looked at the peak of their exhaustion. We dined quietly but when asked how the day went, Dave gave a dazzling smile and explained how in his element he was. 'Where did your energy come from?' I asked. 'I don't know, he replied. It was some kind of euphoria. I just kept on going, following my body rhythms.'

 

Reaching their highest altitude yet of 4,474m, Chiara too had a strong final day in the field. She described how for her, Hugo had set the pace and by 'making small footsteps in his wake', she could maintain the energy to make it. 'Without Hugo, I would have failed,' she said, with what's become her trademark grin and shrug of the shoulders. 

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Hugo: Two steps ahead and a dab hand with a 5kg mallet. He's a field work essential.

 

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Popo: Quietly cultivating a 50-a-day smoking habit.

 

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Beautiful Monarchs converge on an outcrop.

 

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I'll name that layer in one.


Chiara's research will very much depend on the data she generates once she's tested these samples back at the Museum. However, as the week progressed it's clear Dave can already see how his work here will enhance the Museum's collections. The Popo samples from this trip will have context of the type he rarely sees in the collection, with his photographs and field sketches giving an exact visual of the make-up of each outcrop.

 

This, along with the GPS and field notes places the sample more firmly at it's location and - to fully understand Popo - this helps immensely. 'It was also great to get back into making sketches,' he says. 'To be here to collect from the source is invaluable. I have much more to information to offer those wanting to use these collections now.'

 

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Dave tells me his drawings have been 'enhanced' by years of doodling with his two kids.


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Local dining requires rapid response paperware.... In truth, our visit to procure more packaging for the specimens.

 

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Amecameca prepares for a two week festival as we depart (a coincidence?)

 

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I don't know what he's selling but I want one.

 

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Lost Highway: Laden with rocks, Dave and Chiara's taxi takes ten wrong turns too many. Mostly to the right.

 

If any of you have seen the film, The Canonball Run, you will have some insight into the way Mexican highways and byways work. As Chiara and Dave's taxi heads for Mexico City and the beginning of our journey home, we spot a car boot full of people with their legs sticking out, the vehicle swerving between traffic. My palms begin to sweat at the sight.

 

The 90 minute journey extends to a joyful five hours as the taxi gets lost and our Sat Nav diverts us to the more 'exhilarating' - i.e. terrifying - parts of town. A lifetime later, we've booked into our hotel and hit the streets of the busiest city I've ever been to and spend the evening re-living the highs and lows of the trip. The sheer volume of people traffic serves only to remind us of the dangers of Popo, a mere 70 kilometres away. It also makes me think of how vital Chiara's research could one day be in predicting their safety.

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Day five and we see a split in the team. The public engagement crew are town-bound due to our scientists traversing dangerous terrain at heights they've never been to before. I see the logic but I miss the buzz of the hike and reporting back first-hand. We travel as far as Tlamacas wth them at 06:00, me in the jeep asking them questions from UK students that are being relayed to me via phone, and all the while I'm eating a cheese and chilli sandwich. We're all tired but Dave and Chiara's day will push this exhaustion to its limit.

 

Still, it's vital to record their day for your good selves so I instruct Dave to take many photos, which you'll discover he was rather good at.

 

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Popo, you never take a bad picture.

 

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Rocky V: The return of the rugged outcrop. Actually, kinda like Stallone's face these days.

 

Chiara, Dave and Hugo cross a steep section of rocks roughly 30cm x 2m across, zig-zagging all the way. This in itself is tough going, those lungs in constant need of oxygen. But they're faced with an even steeper incline of pumice and loose ash after that and Dave gently laughs at the prospect. Slipping their way up, they are rewarded with reaching the snowline. A small patch of what once covered Popo to a greater degree, only to be reduced dramatically by the change in climate.

 

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I'm fairly convinced this isn't a water stop. Hugo only stops to collect rocks.

 

The altitude sickness has lost it's bite for now and both Dave and Chiara are doing well. At least Dave can see straight away when he gazes up without the second or two delay he's been experiencing. Through his renewed vision, he spots a bread-crust bomb and as he photographs they hear a muffled, loud BOOM! The first explosion from Popo and I'm not there [shakes fist at sky]... A plume of gas drifts over the ridge and Dave remembers this isn't a mountain, this is an active volcano. And he's close enough to the crater to feel fear for the first time since being here.

 

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The bread-crust bomb. Explain what it is or it'll break granny's teeth.

 

Meanwhile, I'd arranged to visit a local middle school in nearby San Pedro Nexapa to find out how the kids feel about living next door to Popocatepetl. The generous Gabriela and Gisela from the national park office had made this possible and as we turn into the gates I thank them. A sea of curious faces turn our way and I know from how they react we are in for a warm and funny visit.

 

Elsa, Marianna and Ana Paola had been chosen to speak with us and after shy introductions and a briefing that hopefully set them at ease, we set up camera. I didn't know what to expect as sometimes kids can be ambivalent to such real fears but the girls all showed it. They were more than aware from family members, the past dangers of Popo and, although very friendly, they were solemn on the subject. Marianna was particularly eloquent and agreed to appear with us on the live-link to the Museum's Attenborough Studio at 14:30 on Saturday (so check back with this blog as we hope that a recording of the event will be uploaded soon after).

 

Back to Popo and our scientists continue their climb ... the pumice under foot is 'Like standing on marbles' says Dave. Without poles? 'Nearly impossible.'

 

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Two more BOOMS makes eight in the trek so far. Chiara, Dave and Hugo reach as far as they are going to climb today - 4,630m - where they'll take their first sample. They can see the stratification (arranging of layers) of the lava flows as they dip down into the valley.

 

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Look at the strat on that.

 

The descent begins, back down to the snowline and Dave describes his footing as 'surfing the scree.' Much easier to slide down keeping the body stable than to scramble up it as he did earlier. He's keen to meet Chiara who's a little way off and make their way to the jeep after a 'cracking day.' Three or four more BOOMS in quick succession. Popo's really picking up the pace.

 

They descend further to 4,215m and feel the chill as the clouds descend. At an outcrop, they discover something new. A dark rock with really nice pink and white crystals of feldspar. Quite big crystals. They'd describe this as porphyritic and are both 'anxiously excited to find out why this rock is here and why it's different.'

 

The team made it back to base, safe and sound, despiite the frequent booms and rumbles that Popo made during their trek. Lee and I met them for dinner after a brilliantly guided visit by Gabriela to The Hacienda de Panoaya; home to a zoo, the international museum of the volcanoes, and a museum honoring Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz (Mexican nun and writer), who lived here during her childhood. Lee finished our visit in style with a post-lunch zipwire, crying out the word for 'mud' in Spanish to impress Gabriela with his learning.

 

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Before I tell you about another dramatic day in the field, here's a choice clip of our base town Amecameca. Lest we forget just how interconnected Popocatepetl volcano and this cool little town's residents are.

 

(This video has no sound)

 

 

Today we travel to a station in Tlamacas, 4,000m up, and on the way the subject is raised of Thursday and Friday's 5,000m climbs. 'What do we do if someone fails?' says Chiara. Hugo discusses the severity of symptoms and probability of sickness increasing with numbers. I suddenly feel the opportunity to climb slipping away. But altitude sickness is not something you can take sole responsibility for. If you get sick, the whole team is affected. So it's clear who should stay and who should go.

 

For now though, we travel together and hit the point in the road where a deep volcanic ash becomes our path forwards. 'We can drive a little further, then we walk' says Hugo. With that, our four wheel drive tries to engage it's four wheels. On our right is a drop of say 20 metres. Our back right wheel decides the latter is the route this car is taking and Hugo's passengers lose all colour in their cheeks. I bail without hesitation and we all attempt to push the car to safety, walking boots slipping ever nearer toward the drop. Purchase achieved, our lungs recover and our nerves unjangle.

 

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Getting stuck is the pastime of a true geologist.

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Where are we? It's a landscape I've never seen before, never thought existed. 'We're on the moon,' says Dave grinning.

 

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Ash, more high altitude Sacaton and mounds of alien-looking mosses. A perfect location for a 70's Bowie video.

 

The conversation stays dark like the volcanic ash we tread as Dave shows me how to grip a walking pole so as not to break my wrists if I fall. I appreciate the technique and continue the hike to the station. My heart is racing but my pace is slow. Hey altitude, nice of you to drop by again.

 

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Chiara steams ahead on a full recovery. Last one up writes the blog.

 

We're on the south west side of Popo and as we reach 4,000m Hugo needs to inform Cenapred (National Centre for the Prevention of Disasters) of our wish to collect samples. The monitoring equipment they use will pick up our hammering and - possibly - even our footsteps. Negotiations take place and we continue.

 

Hugo points out an incredible face of bi-colour lava. 'Look at the layers, says Dave. 'Shows incredible flow.' Hugo, armed with hammer smashes clean samples for everyone. 'It's between 1,300 to 2,000 years old. Two generations of magma, perhaps. 'The excitement is palpable, our dark thoughts are shifted.

 

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Undeniably beautiful but I wouldn't want to carry a slab at 4,000m.

 

On our ascent to the station we see some fabulous scoria. One of the major igneous rocks, lightweight and extrusive. I'm sure I see Dave skip. And there were definitely three 'awesomes' as he surveyed the rocks. But we'd not collected any as the ascent seemed our goal. We want some now, especially a large specimen we'd all cooed over.

 

To get it we need to descend and it's steep, loose and a little scary to Chiara and I. 'As we Italians say, 'If you don't have head, you give leg!' she says which means we have to go back and get it. 'It's FINE. Let's do a scree run,' says Dave nonchalantly. I check my walking pole straps to ensure non-breakage of wrists and we run down the slope after Dave who, arms outsretched and invigorated is shouting, 'Easy!' 

 

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Altitude-enhanced snack packaging. Never gets old.

 

I've brought with me a friend's backpack that she took to Everest. Its roomy to say the least. I offer it up for the collection of the big scoria. Proudly I carry what Dave and Chiara were sure would make it into the Museum's collections or possibly a gallery. Ten glorious minutes of hefting it, then I beg Dave to carry it.

 

 

Before we head back to the jeep, we survey Friday's climb. The ten hour hike. We've fared very well today, quite elated stomping down from the station. Not even tamales can prepare the team for what's to come.

 

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"It's so close, let's do it now," says Chiara.
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It's Tuesday and Chiara's much better this morning as we live-link to host Ivvet and scientist Epi at the Museum for our first public Nature Live of the trip. Tamales (corn-based-dough steamed in a leaf wrapper) are on the way and we're all delighting in the semi-precious-looking hailstones that scatter the ground at the foot of Popo and it's neighbouring volcano Iztaccihuatl. Let's call it Izta, its less fun but easier.

 

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Jealous of our Popo climb, another team prepare for Izta. The dogs wear neckerchiefs. A nice touch.

 

Today we explore a canyon and our hire car (no four wheel drives available) can only make it so far. We stop and jump in the jeep for a kidney pounding ride to where our hike will begin. Like the day before the terrain is rough. We follow a river and climb boulders, fallen trees, loose rocks and wet, shoe-swallowing sand.

 

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Tamales. Don't hike for hours without one.

 

Midway to the end point of the canyon, I hear an almighty splash. A woman down. A hand outstretches toward me as I'm catching up fast. It's clutching a black object which is thrust into my hand. It's Chiara, having taken a tumble, choosing first to save her fieldwork notebook. Next is the smartphone and finally it's Chiara. Laughing, unhurt and undeterred she continues.

 

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Chiara resists the urge to shower a la I'm a Celebrity.

 

I can see a change in the expressions of Dave and Chiara. These are good rocks. Really good rocks. We stop and the equipment comes out. Hugo and Dave explore the furthest part of what now appears to be a dyke.

 

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You shin up that wet slippery trunk, I'll shoot.

 

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A beautiful outcrop of lava. Chiara examines and collects.

 

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Bright fungi nestle in fallen trunks.

 

Ever increasing his altitude, Hugo jumps down to join in the rock collecting. He agrees it's a fine bed of rock and grabs an appropriate hammer.

 

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He'd make a mess of your Christmas nutbowl but Hugo can crack you a terrific rock sample.

 

As I stumble around attempting to look agile I spot our first insect of the trip. Entomologists please assist with this brightly coloured and handsome individual.

 

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The team collect at many points back toward the jeep. A tiring hike but a very fruitful one. Silica-rich Dacite of a lovely quality. Also, on these cliff faces, where the river cuts-in, is a portion that interests them greatly.

 

Dave tells me it's where volcanic breccia meets andacite. For those of you new to geology what's exciting about these two rocks is how they've met. At some point after the magma has risen the breccia has been thrown out of the top and spilled out over the edge. Once they point this out, it's clear to see. You begin to feel the movement and energy of a now still material and see these different areas within one rock face. It's really very cool.

 

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Breccia and andacite meet (just next to Hugo's foot)

 

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We return to the jeep, picking thistles from our behinds like characters in a Warner Bros cartoon. There's discussion about an even more challenging day tomorrow.

 

Looming large is the 10 hour hike to our last outcrop on Friday. But tomorrow's not Friday and I put it to the back of my mind. We're a few days in and I'm keen to go through the samples with Chiara and Dave to find out how they are linked and what their first thoughts are of what they've found. How do they tell you about Popo's past? And how long before science can predict eruptions? Stay tuned.

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My post for today shall begin with a clip of what we've been priviledged to see every day whilst on field work in Mexico. Lee, Dave and I are all keen photographers and agree that there's a picture wherever you look. The light is literally perfect and there's barely a sound (bar that of scientists chipping rock) that can be heard in these wide expanses of grass, pines and volcanic matter.

 

(Note: this video has no sound)

 

After a high buzz start to the day, linking live to our Attenborough Studio to take excellent questions from sweet, keen students in a special event for schools, we visit our next outcrop (an area of exposed rock), a beautiful area called Tlamacas at 3,900m above sea level. No sooner had we piled out of the jeep than we see the cheery sight of Hugo, springing up like a mountain goat, to rocks roughly 10 metres high. I ask him as he descends a little later what is the highest he's climbed. 'K2', he beamed, 'at 7,300m.' I feel my lungs tighten and my admiration grow.

 

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Hugo and Chiara investigate. Popo watches on in the distance.

 

I approach Dave to nosey into his activities by the exposed rock face. What have we here then? 'Volcanic rock. Feldspar. The likes we've seen here already. It's called Dacite.' I look on as he photographs the rock and ask how these images are then used. 'Pictures go alongside the collections. They show the features of the flow.' This has a snappy ring to it but a lot of sense too. Unfortunately Dave does not receive the same kind of imagery with samples given by others to the collection. 'If only' he smiles. 

 

I'm keen to know what finding similar rocks means in different outcrops. 'It's unusual not to have lots of change in a volcano but Popo's rocks so far are fairly similar. Chemistry should change over so many hundreds of thousands of years but they've not done so much here. The whole process is a bit random, so change should occur. This makes Popo pretty interesting.' The team chip away samples and discuss their finds. Hugo and Chiara pass samples between each other until Chiara pleads with hands full. 'Poor Italians, you only have two hands' laughs Hugo.

 

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Chiara takes five to speak with Hugo's University TV Crew.

 

Our second outcrop is but a walk away. A steep walk. Downwards. Chiara must have some idea of how steep and she looks apprehensive. Her apprehension makes me excited. Are we going on a difficult hike? Hugo takes us to a spot, points down and says he'll meet us at the bottom. 'Don't follow the river for long as there are cascades. I'll meet you down there.' Our springy mountain goat not coming? Then I'm with Chiara on this one.

 

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Cascades you say? Dave and Chiara following the river. And by river they mean where it used to be. I was looking for water. Doh.

 

I discover the senses figure highly in rock collecting. Firstly, as I sniff a fresh surface of exposed rock I discover that licking them is an everyday geologist pastime. Why? 'To taste the minerals' says Chiara, which seems a reasonable enough idea. Soon after I see Dave shaking his head in disapproval as he hammers a rock face in several places. 'No, no, no' he says as he slings the 'bad' rocks to one side. What gives, Dave? Well, sound is important too it seems. 'The thing you want is kind of a tinny sound when you hit it. Means its hard, unweathered and fairly fresh.'

 

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You go first. No, you go first.

 

Our search for a particular rock named ignimbrite reaps little rewards. An incredibly weathered outcrop is what we discover and this is impossible to sample usefully. We have, however, tested our fitness by climbing down pretty much a vertical slope, zig-zagging all the way. Thank heavens the high altitude grasses or Sacaton are strong rooted or this reporter would be no longer with you. We stop, eat chocolate and ponder our route to meet up with Hugo.

 

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Our first evidence of large mammals as we hike our way to meet Hugo.

 

The compass looks right, the road looks semi-alright (in two places we duck under barbed wire to continue) and we feel confident of our direction to the jeep. An hour passes and Chiara seems slower and more laboured. We check on her health and she admits to feeling the altitude as she takes out her inhaler and calms her asthma. Dave and I have headaches. Unusual and intense.

 

We continue more slowly and Chiara hangs back to throw up in the most polite way I have ever seen. There's no doubt it's moderate altitude sickness. A few more stops and Hugo hoves into view. Exhausted glee. It's back to base and straight to bed after a long day in the field.

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Not my words, Chiara's, as we chat over a drink shortly after the arrival of our eagerly awaited Museum scientists. Seems Hugo (our man in Mexico and fellow scientific collaborator with Chiara and Dave) is a different kind of vulcanologist. His study of volcanic gases provides them with a rounded view of the outcrops we'll be visiting to collect over the next week.

 

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A shakey shot but I was keen not to spook our weary travellers.

 

Barman Rudolph interrupts politely to tell us of two climbers who 'had trouble' on Popocatepetl two weeks earlier. A confusion of language or had they perished up there? Thankfully, it was a near-miss tale of being sure to inform people of your climb.

 

We take Chiara and Dave to a superb taco stall. On a blanket of coriander, busy lads fried indistinguishable meats. Tripe's popular but having tried it in the spirit of adventure, I cannot say why. Chiara enquires about our eating habits since arrival, 'No Montezuma's revenge yet?' We confidently shake our heads.' OK' she says, 'only it takes up to a week to kick in.' Momentarily anxious, I order another pair of tacos. We weave past a jumpy pack of dogs on our way back to base. The first collecting site is at sunrise, so it's time for heads down.

 

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Chiara likes to make personal notes as well as scientific on all her field trips. She writes her first thoughts of Popo.

 

That same winding road and at Paso de Cortes, Chiara smiles and treads toward Popo. We both agree it looks forboding: so large and incredibly steep. The wind is up and it's cold too but the sun is spectacular, catching all the sharp contours of Popo and its neighbouring volcanoes. Hugo arrives and we begin a stone's throw away, clambering down to the first sampling area named Tutti Frutti because of the colouration of it's rocks.

 

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Chiara consults a beautiful colour coded map showing Popo's past lava flows.

 

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Chiara, Hugo and Dave observe the layers of volcanic deposits.

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I said I'm hard rock, not soft - Chiara uses a gentler tool of Hugo's for an altogether gentler task.

 

To my surprise, absolute quiet descends. Collecting what appear to be soft rocks is a very sedate activity. Layers are numbered, samples are hammered lightly or scraped into bags and each one is carefully labelled.

 

Hugo and Chiara discuss how they collect and the age of this lava flow. Hugo states it happened 14,000 years ago. They visually identify those rock types they recognise and chat about the work of other collectors, recently here to study other aspects of Popo. It's clear Chiara is up to date on all that's written on Popo. If she's going to fully understand it, her own studies are made all the better for her knowing the work of others.

 

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It's like scientific Simply Come Dancing watching Dave and Chiara collect. The sheer coordination.

 

Three outcrops in and we are on the roadside examining another lava flow. This time the rock is hard and Chiara raises her shiny new hammer. She's less than fond of this one: her favourite's been lost and this has a dreadful 'newness' about it. At 4ft 11 inches, appearances truly deceive as Ms Petrone proceeds to knock seven bells out of the basalt lava.

 

 

Be sure to put her on speed dial if you ever need a wall knocked through. It's seems a basic method but I'm told its a trusted one. But why hammer your way through rocks when there are so many of the same type around? 'To get to a fresher surface,' says Dave. Much more fruitful to study.

 

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Beautiful crystals of feldspar (rock forming minerals) glimmer in the freshly exposed lava.

 

Three o'clock and lunchtime had arrived. I glanced up from the pistachio shells I was considering eating and we drove to Cholula, the town of 365 churches. Had there have been time Hugo suggested we counted them, but lunch was quick and we hopped back into the jeep to visit the last outcrop of the day. And what an outcrop it was.

 

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Chiara and I, dwarfed by the gargantuan 2,000 year old lava flow from Popo.

 

The sheer height of this lava flow domiated our entire view and was for me, the most striking sight of the day. This is not to say I've become complacent at the sight of Popo but, for the first time, the scale at which the lava from the restless giant had once been hit home. It stood as a reminder of what it was capable of, what Chiara and Dave were hoping to one day shed some light on. Most of all it reflected the destruction it had brought to the people that once lived here.

 

A few rock samples were broken, bagged and again carefully labelled. Having Dave onhand meant at a glance, the gaps in the Museum's collection could be accurately filled. Hugo too, had sampled throughout the day, so as to duplicate what was collected. Tomorrow our plan was to climb higher and as we juddered violently in the jeep en route back to the hotel, a blinding red sunset appeared.

5

After a 24hr door-to-door journey from London, Lee and I secure our hire car and take on the streets of Mexico City. The traffic carries us along as it weaves and bobs haphazardly; the pavements are alive with switched on, purposeful looking residents. We’re roused from our jetlag by the hustle and bustle of the roads but crash back down to earth the instant we reach the hotel.

 

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It's bumper to bumper, the vehicles have indicators but I've not yet seen one lit.

 

There are approximately 24 million people living in Mexico City (that's almost 4 Greater Londons!) and it’s impossible to prepare for the field work ahead without considering the impact this volcano has had on the people that live in its shadow. 15 eruptions have occurred since the Spanish arrived in 1519 A.D. with an unknown quantity before. Then, after fifty years of quiet, in 1994 a series of earthquakes signalled that eruptions had started.

 

A cloud of ash could be seen over its peak and it fell on the nearby city of Puebla. Civil defense evacuated 19 villages (a population of 31,000 people) east of Popo. By Christmas of that year, the total number of evacuees reached 75,000 and a ban on climbing the volcano for non-scientific visitors has been in place ever since.

 

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A local squeezes through traffic.

 

We make an early start and drive to Amecameca, the town we’ll use as our base from which to climb Popo. Chic’s ‘Le Freak’ and breakneck-speed Spanish pumps from the radio as we tackle the GPS and the ‘soup’ of traffic. The map and the actual roads don’t always match but wrong turnings show us more of a landscape I already love.

 

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Municipal buses don't come any cooler.

 

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Gentle hustle on the busy streets.

 

Popo was visible from Mexico City but as we travel out in our car, the built-up scenery subsides to be replaced by quarries and swathes of red earth as the volcano begins to dominate our view. If Lee climbs like he drives he’ll conquer this giant, no problem. I stare in awe at the smoke plumes rising from its summit and think, ‘Will my climbing boots melt up there?’

 

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View from our car on the 115 to Amecameca.

 

Checked in at our base in Amecameca, we explore the town and gaze up at Popo. You find yourself wanting to see it from wherever you stand.

 

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The bar at Hotel Fontesanta, with neon palms and cutlery timepiece. Oh, and Popo on the horizon. 

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Sunset from nearby town San Pedro Nexapa

 

We’ve arranged to meet National Park official Agustin, to gain access to the park and get closer to Popo. Lunchtime’s late in Amecameca and by 16:00 we’re greeted by a hulking great man with a warm demeanour and an unhurried efficiency. Gabriella and Gisella run the education programme and agree to an escorted drive part way up Popo. Lee and I depart for lunch. You’ve never seen two people eat cactus quesadillas so fast or with so much excitement.

 

A winding 3,600m drive up to Paso de Cortes, our breathing begins to feel heavy, our heads light. In the thinning atmosphere, I feel oxygen rich and starved all at once. Coordination feels clumsy but our sight is fixed. Lee has climbed further to grab some establishing shots of Popo and has been noticed grinning uncontrollably by one of the rangers. 'Emotion' he says knowingly as he gestures toward him. Chiara and Dave arrived Friday night and the sampling begins on Sunday.

 

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Popocatepetl: Don't hold your breath, you'll need it.

 

We arrived here by car and this is the closest view non-scientific visitors see. From here, another 300m drive up is Tlamacas and from there, the ascent on foot begins. It’s been so valuable to take in the landscape before the science begins, to spend a little time at altitude and with the people who live with this volcano.

 

‘It’s exciting to live so close to Popo’ says Nacho, one of the park rangers with an incredible smile. We smile too and whether this is in agreement or the lack of oxygen to our brains, I cannot say. One thing’s for sure, the next 9 days are going to be pretty wild.

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Team Popo

Posted by Jo - Nature Live host Feb 1, 2013

By the time you read this I will be well on the way to the Popocatepetl, perhaps even there already... so while I and the rest of the team start preparing for the real work on the most active volcano in Mexico, here's the who's who of the Museum staff on this Field work with Nature Live trip. Let's start with the people here to do the fun stuff, the scientists:

 

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Chiara Maria Petrone is Research Leader in Petrology, a branch of geology that studies the origin, composition, distribution and structure of rocks. In this role she leads the Museum research on active volcanoes and the generation of igneous rocks. What drives this research is to understand how active volcanoes work and to study the rocks to gain insight into their future activity. Likening her work to psychology, she strives to discover the hidden history of the volcano, from the initial magma formation and mineral crystallization till the final eruption.

 

She has a PhD in Igneous Petrology from the University of Florence, studied Mexican volcanic rocks as a post-doc fellow at the University of Kyoto (Japan) and at the Carnegie Institute of Washington DC (U.S.A) Since studying her PhD, Chiara has developed a wide knowledge of the volcanism of the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt, where Popocatepetl is situated.

 

Her C.V. is positively strewn with active volcanoes including Stromboli (Italy), Santorini (Greece), Vesuvius (Italy) and the Mexican Volcanic arc and she bravely giggles when one highlights the dangers of a volcano like Popo. It’s new to Chiara and she’s keen to climb and study it. Hers is a truly exciting journey to follow.

 

Dave_Smith.jpgDavid Smith has a Masters in Geology and joined the Museum nearly 20 years ago. His official title is Petrology Collections Manager and he is responsible for the care and preservation of approximately 200,000 rocks and ocean sediments. Want access to material in the collection? Dave’s your man. The Museum’s Collections are in incredible order due to Dave’s deft curation but the work required on these vast numbers could keep Dave busy for another twenty years. And STILL not be completed.

 

Occasionally Dave appears on television showing specimens from historical expeditions and how they are used to enhance scientific knowledge today. The interest in the collection is not only from research scientists but artists too. Whenever he gets a chance, Dave likes to take photographs.

 

His subject interest is wide but he but prefers graphic architecture and abstract imagery. The latter I know because he first provided me with a blog photo you couldn’t see his face in. Once a year he teams up with three friends to form a rowing crew called 'The Muppets' for a Berkshire Regatta. Wearing the appropriate wig, Dave is 'Animal.' I cannot wait to see his fieldwork outfit.

 

And now your intrepid reporters:

 

Lee_Quinn.jpgLee Quinn has been part of the special effects team at the Museum for seven years with an applied arts degree from Camberwell College and a BA in special effects from South Bank Uni. Specialising in audio, he provides the most entertaining of his own on work assignments with his animated chat and if you've ever visited exhibitions such as our Wildlife Photographer of the Year, you'll have heard the soundscapes he's composed too.

 

He'll not deny the idea of climbing an active volcano appeals to him, 'I bungeed off a crane in Orlando when they were first invented, so this is a natural progression for me!’

 

Lastly, I’m Jo Kessler your devoted blogger, camera-shy reporter and member of the Nature Live team at the Museum, blessed with the role of developing events with scientists and presenting them to public and school audiences. Whilst having a lifelong love of the natural world, I spent my first working decade in the music industry, representing hugely talented and inspiring role models. So, little has changed in that respect.

 

When volunteering at the Museum in 2005 (do it if you can, the rewards are endless) I completed a BA in furniture and product design but soon felt ‘the call of the wild’ and made natural science my career intead. I’m so excited by the science at the Museum my drive is to share it. So, bombard me with your thoughts and burning questions and they’ll be answered (volcano jokes notwithstanding) ...