Monday evening, 10:21 pm . . .
Cotopaxi is basically a city that has managed to rebuild itself about every 15 years when the volcano spits up violent blasts of hot, molten lava into the air. You can see the volcano from miles away, even in the dark.
The terrain around the mountain’s base has many times been destroyed by earthquakes and buried by pumice and ash blown from the crater. And there’s a nonstop plume of super-hot steam rising from the crater—which is over 2,300 feet in diameter from the north to the south, 1,657 feet from east to west. The crater’s depth is just under 1,200 feet. It’s a big, hot mother scratcher!
The mountain itself is surreal in its alternating colors and formations due to the combination of dark-colored lava flows and falls of light-colored ash. It’s just waiting to explode and rain down fiery hell on everyone!.
For the life of me I can’t imagine why people would build so close to danger.
“Why do people choose to live in New Orleans?” Mr. Green says as we’re cruising the outskirts of Cotopaxi on the way to Senior Carlos Gustav Machado’s house. He lives with his wife and sister near the base of the mountain, where the landscape is basically grassland.
“ . . . New Orleans,” he continues, “is a city built on a swamp. Every couple of years a hurricane comes in and tears it all to pieces. It’s a poor spot for a city. Why do people live there?”
Humans are stubborn, I guess.
“When you fall in love with a place, you can’t leave it. And nothing, not a storm, or a war, or catastrophe is going to change your mind. Your home is your home.”
Yeah, I say, until it melts you.
I notice as we get closer to the mountain that the clouds are almost glowing above and around the volcano. “What is that?”
“The clouds are lit by the fires in the crater. And the clouds are almost always looming above. The top of the mountain is normally covered in snow, but . . . ” he squints, “well, that’s odd. There doesn’t appear to be much snow.”
As we get nearer and nearer, I realize just how tall and enormous this mountain really is. Mr. Green sees my eyes widening, “They once said that this mountain was unclimbable. It’s nearly six-thousand meters high.”
And as we approach the small house, more of a collection of boards and pieces of corrugated tin, I notice the emptiness of this area. It’s quiet and almost baren. This place, the whole mountain and volcano and all of it, it could be a giant cemetery. Indeed, it probably is.
We come to a stop and Mr. Green radios over to the other Hummer, “Let’s do the same thing we did at Seniorita Alonzo’s house. That seemed to produce results.”
We all get out of the vehicles, steeping down and walking towards the shabby grey house. It looks like, where the wooden boards are, they’ve painted and painted and painted. And the planks are so warped and bent that I think the wood itself rotted away long ago. All that’s probably keeping this thing from collapse is the many layers of enduring paint.
There is an emptiness to all of this that I can almost taste. A palpable sorrow that is sewn into every blade of waving grass. The wind is coming from impossible directions hitting us from more than one angle. And I hear a dog barking somewhere off in the distance as if it’s hungry.
The door to the house shudders as the warm wind races by our faces, and a short, hunched man hobbles out towards us, raising his free arm. An old cane supports his stagger. The guy has a full head of white hair, and his face is more wrinkled than one of those pug dogs.
His thick white eyebrows are like walls to hide dark brown eyes that look defeated even as he tries to smile and be polite. I’m no doctor, but I know he’s hurting. I want to give the guy some Tylenol 3 just to make me feel better.
“Hola, comóesta usted?” Mr. Green says. “Señior Machado. Soy Señior Green, y estamos aqui para hablar sobre su hijo. Estamos con el World Peace Brigade.”
Hello, how are you? Mr. Machado. I’m Mr. Green, and we’re here to speak with you about your son. We’re with the World Peace Brigade.
“Hector me dicho que tu venias,” Señior Machado grinded out between coughs. “Pero, no es lo que tu piensas.”
Hector told me you were coming. But, it’s not what you think.
Mr. Green briefly looked over to us, his face uncomprehending. “No entiendo . . . ”
“Ne he perdido mi hijo,” Señior Machado said softly, his voice scratchy and rough.
Mr. Green turns to us, “He says he didn’t lose his son.”
But Hector said . . .
Señior Machado continued, “El ha encontrado algo muy curioso. Pero, no puedo confiar en nadie.”
“Says his son found something very curious, but he couldn’t trust anyone else,” Mr. Green translates.
Tell him to show us.
Mr. Green nods, turning to Señior Machado, “Enseña nos, por favor.”
“Mi hijo los llevara.”
My son will take you.
I can say, now, that up until that point, I’ve never seen anything that bothered me quite like what we were about to see.