Oct 052015

There are almost fifty places where people can legally cross the Mexico–United States border, but only one where the cities on either side of the border have the same name: Nogales.


The fascinating history of the two Nogales (Ambos Nogales), twin cities on either side of the border, is related in this detailed 2010 blog post by Robert Lucas: Ambos Nogales Face Across the Border.

The geographic curiosities of the border between Nogales (Sonora) and Nogales (Arizona) included, historically, a street that ran east-west along the border, with one half of the street in Mexico and the other half in the USA:

Postcard of Ambos Nogales, ca 1915

Postcard of Ambos Nogales, ca 1915

This postcard from about one hundred years ago shows International Avenue, Nogales. The boundary line on the postcard was added by the publisher to indicate that the border ran down the middle of the street. Even in the absence of any boundary fence, residents were apparently still required to cross at one of two entry points: either the Morley Avenue crossing (shown in the postcard) or the Grand Avenue crossing further to the west.

Prior to the building of the International Avenue, which created a clear separation between Mexico and the USA, there had been some interesting consequences of having a bi-national city straddling the international border. For example, after Arizona introduced prohibition, outlawing the production and sale of alcohol in that state, some publicans took advantage of the unusual geography of Nogales to build saloons that straddled the border. Patrons tired of sipping their tea who wanted to enjoy duty-free mescal could simply move to the south end of the bar…

In 1897, the U.S. Congress ordered that a 60-foot strip along the border in downtown Nogales be cleared of all structures as a measure to suppress customs fraud. Mexico soon followed suit, creating the International Avenue. The International Avenue did not look like the view in the postcard for for very long. By 1916, a temporary fence had been erected down the middle.

Two years later, on 27 August 1918, this area was the scene of the Battle of Ambos Nogales (La batalla del 27 de agosto), which led to a permanent fence being built, forever separating Ambos Nogales into two distinct cities.

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Oct 012015

Denomination of origin status (aka designation of origin, appellation of origin) has been awarded over the years to numerous Mexican products (see image). The status provides some legal protection to the use of the name and sets geographic limits on the areas where the items can be produced. The general declarations of denominations of origin are issued by the Mexican Institute of Industrial Property and published in the official federal broadsheet Diario Oficial de la Federación (DOF).


Three products are related to art and handicrafts:

  • Olinalá (laquer work from Olinalá in the state of Guerrero)
  • Talavera ceramics
  • Ambar from Chiapas

Most, however, are related to food and drink:

  • Tequila (Jalisco, Nayarit, Tamaulipas, Michoacán and Guanajuato);
  • Mezcal (Guerrero, Oaxaca, Durango, Zacatecas and San Luis Potosí);
  • Bacanora (Sonora);
  • Coffee from Veracruz (Veracruz);
  • Sotol (Chihuahua, Coahuila y Durango);
  • Coffee from Chiapas (Chiapas)
  • Charanda (Michoacán);
  • Mango Ataulfo from the Soconusco region (Chiapas);
  • Vanilla from Papantla (Veracruz)
  • Chile habanero (Yucatán Peninsula)
  • Rice from Morelos

Perhaps, therefore, it is not surprising that Mexican cuisine has been acclaimed as one of the most varied in the world. In 2010, the traditional Mexican cuisine of Michoacán was added to the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Mexican cuisine was up for more international awards this week when 10 of the country’s restaurants made the list of the top 50 in Latin America.

The World’s 50 Best organization named eight restaurants in Mexico City and one each from Nuevo León and the State of México among the 50 best in Latin America. Three of them — Quintonil which placed sixth, Pujol ninth and Biko 10thalso made the list of the world’s top 50 this year.

They were followed by the only restaurants outside the Federal District: Pangea in Monterrey, Nuevo León, which placed 13th, and Amaranta in Toluca which was 22nd.

The other winners were Sud 777 (27th), Máximo Bistrot (41), Rosetta (44), Nicos (47) and Dulce Patria (49).

– See more at: http://mexiconewsdaily.com/news/10-mx-restaurants-make-top-50-in-latam/?utm_source=Mexico+News+Daily&utm_campaign=e16d4a4877-September+26&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_f1536a3787-e16d4a4877-347991749#sthash.eIuO6Sm7.dpuf

Other aspects of Mexican life and culture on the UNESCO list include the Indigenous Festivity dedicated to the Dead (added in 2003); Places of memory and living traditions of the Otomí-Chichimecas people of Tolimán: the Peña de Bernal (2009); the Ritual ceremony of the Voladores in Veracruz (2009); Parachicos in the January fiesta in Chiapa de Corzo, Chiapas (2010) ; Pirekua, the traditional song of the Purépecha, Michoacán (2010); and mariachi music (2011).

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Sep 282015

The gradual devaluation of Mexico’s Magic Towns (Pueblos Mágicos) program, reported here in earlier posts, continues with the recent addition of 28 new Magic Towns to the list, bringing the total number to 111.

Magic Towns

At the Second Annual Fair of Magic Towns, held in Puebla recently, the Federal Tourism Secretary Enrique de la Madrid announced that 28 of the 180 applicant towns had been accepted into the promotional program. The designation is supposedly reserved for “cities, towns and villages with special symbolic features, legends and history, and opportunities in tourism”, but several existing Magic Towns have very little indeed to offer tourists, and little cultural or historical significance. The same can be said for several of the latest group of 28 Magic Towns.

Towns, by state (September 2015) [corrected]

Mexico’s Magic Towns, by state (September 2015) [corrected]

Towns in the program are eligible for federal grants towards maintenance, rebuilding historic centers, improving infrastructure, installing underground utilities, developing tourism products, training and other projects. According to Magic Town proponents, the program increases visitor numbers and income by between 20 and 30%, though it is very hard to see where such positive numbers come from.

The latest 28 additions to the Magic Towns program are:

  • San José de Casas (Aguascalientes)
  • Candela and Guerrero (Coahuila)
  • Palenque (Chiapas)
  • Aculco, Ixtapan de la Sal [incorrectly given as Ixtapa de la Sal in the press release], Teotihuacán, San Martín de las Pirámides and Villa de Carbón (State of Mexico – Estado de México)
  • Tecozahutla (Hidalgo)
  • Mascota and Talpa de Allende (Jalisco)
  • Sayulita, (Nayarit)
  • Linares (Nuevo León)
  • Huautla de Jiménez, Mazunte, San Pablo Villa Mitla and San Pedro y San Pablo (Oaxaca)
  • Atlixco and Huauchinango (Puebla)
  • Isla Mujeres and Tulum (Quintana Roo)
  • San Joaquín (Querétaro)
  • Mocorito (Sinaloa)
  • Tlaxco (Tlaxcala)
  • Coscomatepec, Orizaba and Zozocolco (Veracruz)

On a positive note, it means that my Western Mexico, A Traveler’s Treasury (2013) now has descriptions and details of no fewer than 18 Magic Towns, rather than the 15 previously included!

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Sep 232015

This Tourism index page lists the most relevant posts on Geo-Mexico related to tourism, including history of tourism in Mexico, types of tourism, major resorts, and current trends. It is updated periodically.

Importance of tourism:

History of tourism in Mexico, hotels, publicity campaigns:

Magic Towns:

Cancún and the Riviera Maya (Maya Riviera), Quintana Roo:

Huatulco and Oaxaca:


Geotourism and ecotourism in Mexico:

Cruise ships:

Lake Chapala, Ajijic, Chapala and the Lerma-Chapala basin:

Megaproject proposals and conflicts over tourism:

Specialized forms of tourism (tourism niche markets):

Other (miscellaneous):

Other Geo-Mexico index pages:

Sep 202015

Mexichem is a Mexican chemical and petrochemicals company (2014 total revenues: US$ 5.6 billion), with headquarters in Tlalnepantla, in Greater Mexico City. Mexichem is a world leader in making and marketing plastic pipes and other products required in the infrastructure, housing, telecommunications, drinking and potable water sectors.

It employs 19,200 workers and has 120 manufacturing operations in more than 30 countries, with a sales presence in 90 countries.

Mexichem operations, 2015

Mexichem operations, 2015 (Source: mexichem.com)

The company’s origins date back to 1953 when a group of Mexican and English investors founded Cables Mexicanos S.A. to make high carbon steel wire ropes. Several changes of name and owners later, it emerged in 2005 as Mexichem. Mexichem has grown rapidly since then, largely due to an aggressive series of acquisitions.

In 2006, Mexichem bought Bayshore Group (PVC compounding). In 2007, it bought Amanco (PVC pipe systems and fittings), Petroquímica Colombiana (maker of PVC resins) and DVG, Industria e Comércio de Plásticos (producer of rigid PVC water and sewage pipes).

In 2008 Mexichem acquired Fluorita de Río Verde (fluorspar production plants and two fluorite mining concessions), Quimir (sodium phosphates), Geotextiles del Perú (geotextiles), Fiberweb Bidim Industria e Comércio de Não-Tecidos (Brazilian geotextile producer) and Colpozos (Colombia’s leading supplier of irrigation and well drilling systems).

The list goes on in succeeding years, with a succession of acquisitions of companies making PVC pipes, connections, polymers, resins, and fluorochemical competitors to become a world leader in the fluorine chemical segment, particularly in the production of refrigerant and medical gases.


To consolidate its fluorite business, in 2012, Mexichem bought Fluorita de México, ensuring access to the highest pure fluorspar available worldwide.

Mexichem has four main business divisions:

  • Pipe systems, fittings, conduits and plastic accessories for the delivery of data, video, communications, electricity, water and gas. The pipe systems are made from polyethylene, PVC, polypropylene and specialty flame and smoke resistant compounds.
  • PVC resin and valuable industrial compounds based on chlorine and caustic soda. PVC has uses from pipes that carry drinking water, wastewater or water for irrigation to construction materials and products, as well as  auto parts, household appliances, clothing, footwear, packaging and medical devices. Caustic soda is used to make soap, shampoo, lotions and detergents and to treat water.
  • Fluorine-based products, technologies and services. Mexichem’s “Mine to Market” structure ensures a secure supply chain of flourine-based products for the steel, cement, aluminum, automotive, refrigeration and pharmaceutical sectors.
  • Energy. This division was created in 2014 in order to capitalize on opportunities arising from Mexico’s new energy policies.

A note on Mexico’s importance for fluorite

Exports of fluorite from Mexico were worth $180.7 million in 2014 (29% of the world total), making Mexico the world’s leading exporter of that mineral, ahead of China ($120.2 m). In 2014, Mexico mined 1.1 million metric tons of fluorite, and was the world’s second largest producer after China (4.4 million tons).

Mexichem sits on the world’s largest high-grade fluorite deposits, in its mine in San Luis Potosí. It produced 529,464 metric tons of fluorite from this mine in the first six months of 2015, 96% of the national total.

The world’s largest total reserves of fluorite are in South Africa (41 million tons), followed by Mexico (32 million), China (24 million) and Mongolia (22 million), according to U.S. government figures.

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Sep 172015

The worst earthquake disaster in modern Mexican history occurred thirty years ago this week. On Thursday 19 September 1985 a magnitude 8.1 earthquake struck at 7:19 a.m. and lasted a full two minutes. It was followed by a 7.5-magnitude earthquake 36 hours later.

Mexico's position in relation to tectonic plates

Mexico’s position in relation to tectonic plates.Map: Geo-Mexico.com; all rights reserved

These earthquakes resulted from the Cocos Plate (see map) pushing under the North American Plate. While the epicenters were 50 km off Mexico’s Pacific coast, near the Michoacán-Guerrero border, most of the damage occurred 350 km (215 mi) away in Mexico City because the city center’s subsoil, being former lakebed, is very unstable. The clay and silt beneath the city is up to 50 m thick in the area that received most damage. Geologists have likened the effects of the earthquake to the shaking of a bowl of jelly.

Further damage was caused by liquefaction, a process in which water is squeezed rapidly through the pore spaces in soil, dramatically reducing its cohesion. The sediments beneath Mexico City amplified the ground motions during the earthquakes and many buildings were stressed well beyond building code limits.

Damage from Mexico City's 1985 earthquake

Damage from Mexico City’s 1985 earthquake. Photo: Tony Burton; all rights reserved

Damage estimates range upward to 10,000 deaths, 50,000 injured and 100,000 homeless. More than 500 buildings collapsed, and a further 600 of the 3000 damaged structures were subsequently razed to the ground. The destruction was concentrated in a relatively small area near the city center and included many public buildings, such as government offices, as well as 11 hospitals and clinics, numerous multi-story apartment blocks, 11 hotels and 10 banks. More than 1600 school classrooms were damaged.

Buildings of between 6 and 15 stories were especially hard hit. The underbelly of the city was exposed; dozens of textile sweatshops were destroyed. The damages revealed many instances of poor construction standards and of poor enforcement of building codes. Well-built high rises such as the Latin American tower, designed to be earthquake-proof, were unscathed.

The total cost to the Mexican economy was estimated to exceed $5 billion, equivalent to 2% of the country’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product).

The disastrous 1985 earthquakes led to much tighter building codes, equal or superior to anywhere in the world, and to the formation of well-trained emergency search and rescue brigades. They also resulted in the establishment of a Seismic Alarm System which provides a 50-second warning for any earthquake measuring over 6.0 on the Richter scale occurring off the coast of Guerrero or Michoacán.

This is an excerpt from chapter 2 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico.  Many more details of Mexico’s geology and landforms are analyzed in other parts of the book; take a look using Amazon.com’s Look Inside feature before buying your copy today!

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Sep 142015

Happy birthday, Mexico! On 16 September 2015, Mexico celebrates the 205th anniversary of its independence from Spain.

Mexican flag

When was Mexico’s War of Independence?

The long struggle for independence began on 16 September 1810; independence was finally “granted” by Spain in 1821.

Want some map-related geographic trivia associated with the War of Independence?

Events in the War of Independence called for an accurate map of Lake Chapala, Mexico’s largest natural lake. The cartographer for this map was José María Narváez, whose major contributions to Mexican cartography in succeeding decades have largely been forgotten.

The first truly national map, compiled in 1857-1858 from a meticulous reconciling of the work of numerous local cartographers, was drawn by Antonio García Cubas. García Cubas did not graduate from university until a few years after completing this map!

Nationalism and the start of Mexico-USA migration, but not in the direction you might think…

Following independence, the rush was on to draw an accurate map of all of Mexico’s territory. Mexico’s boundaries following independence were very different to today. Flows of migrants linking the USA to Mexico at that time were from the USA to Mexico, the reverse of the direction of more recent flows, which have seen millions of Mexicans migrate north looking for work:

Some national symbols are not quite what you might think, either!

The story of the national emblem (used on coins, documents and the flag) of an eagle devouring a serpent, while perched on a prickly-pear cactus, is well known. Or is it?

Why is “El Grito” held on the night of 15 September each year?

In 1910, then president Porfirio Díaz decided that the centenary of Mexican independence should be celebrated in style. One of the reasons why the “traditional” Grito (“shout”) is made on 15 September each year, rather than on the morning of 16 September (when Father Miguel Hidalgo apparently gathered his parishioners in revolt) is because 15 September 1910 happened to be Díaz’s 80th birthday. Why not have one big bash and celebrate both president and country at the same time? Even though the Mexican Revolution broke out later that year (and Díaz was later exiled to Paris), Mexico continues to start its annual independence-day celebrations on the evening of 15 September.

Not to be confused with Cinco de Mayo (5 May)

Many people incorrectly assume that Cinco de Mayo (5 May) is Mexico’s independence day. The Cinco de Mayo has nothing to do with Independence, but everything to do with a famous victory over the French. It commemorates the Battle of Puebla, fought on May 5, 1862. The battle marks Mexico’s only major military success since independence:

Independent country, independent book:

Mexico has come a long way in 200 years, but amazingly, to the best of our knowledge, Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico, is the first-ever book in English focused exclusively on the nation’s varied and fascinating geography.

¡Viva Mexico!

Mexican flag

Sep 102015

We have seen numerous examples in previous posts of Mexico’s astonishingly diverse attractions for international tourism. Having succeeded in attracting mass tourism (e.g. Cancún, Ixtapa, Huatulco), Mexico has sought to diversify its tourism appeal by developing niche markets for visitors with special interests, such as cuisine, adventure tourism, historic sites and health-related holidays.

Mexico’s tourism development agency, FONATUR, recently announced it is seeking help from Spain’s leading cultural tourism firm, Paradores de Turismo, to establish a network of Paradores (luxury hotels in historic buildings) in Mexico. Frequent travelers to Spain will be more than familiar with the Paradores system there which offers visitors the chance to stay in some unique historical buildings without sacrificing too many creature comforts.

Route followed by Cortés, 1519-1521. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Route followed by Cortés, 1519-1521. Credit: Wikimedia Commons. Click to enlarge.

In Mexico, a “History Tourism Plan” is being developed by FONATUR and the Federación de Haciendas, Estancias y Hoteles Históricos de México. In the first stage, an inventory will be compiled of the best existing haciendas, monasteries and other historic buildings that already are, or could be converted to, hotels. At the same time, experts will be discussing which “routes” offer the best combinations and provide most interest to tourists. Routes will be developed to highlight specific themes.

The first route to be proposed is The Route of Cortés, linking properties in five states: Veracruz, Puebla, Tlaxcala, State of Mexico and the Federal District (see map). This is a timely idea given that the 500th Anniversary of the arrival of Cortés and his journey to central Mexico comes in 2019.

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Sep 072015

We don’t often champion causes in these pages, but are more than willing to lend our support to a campaign hoping to persuade UNESCO to declare Lake Chapala a “World Heritage” site. The campaign appears to have stalled, and deserves more support.

The following 6-minute video (English subtitles) from 2008 sets the scene for those unfamiliar with the area:

Where is Lake Chapala?

Map of Lake Chapala

Map of Lake Chapala. Credit: Tony Burton; all rights reserved.

Why should Lake Chapala be declared a World Heritage site?

Natural history: it is Mexico’s largest natural lake and home to some unique endemic fauna.

Cultural and historic significance: it is a sacred site for the indigenous Huichol Indian people. Specifically, the southernmost “cardinal point” in their cosmology is XapaWiyemeta, which is Scorpion Island (Isla de los Alacranes) in Lake Chapala.

In the nineteenth century, as Mexico fought for its independence from Spain, Lake Chapala was the scene of a truly heroic struggle, centered on Mezcala Island, between the Royalist forces and a determined group of insurgents. It proved to be a landmark event, since after four years of fighting, an honorable truce was agreed.

At the very end of the nineteenth century, influential families from Mexico and from overseas “discovered” Lake Chapala. For several years, Mexico’s then president, Porfirio Díaz, made annual trips to vacation at the lake. As the twentieth century progressed, the area attracted increasing numbers of authors, poets and artists, many of them from abroad, including such greats as D.H. Lawrence, Tennessee Williams, Witter Bynner, Charles Pollock and Sylvia Fein. (To discover more of the literary and artistic characters associated with Lake Chapala, please see this on-going series of mini-biographies.)

Today, it is the single largest retirement community of Americans anywhere outside of the USA.

Is this enough to qualify Lake Chapala for World Heritage status? I don’t know, but it certainly seems worth a shot!

Posts related to Lake Chapala:

Tourism in the Lake Chapala (Ajijic, Chapala, Jocotepec) and the Lerma-Chapala basin:

Want to read more?

For general introduction and background to this area, see the first eight chapters of my Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury (4th ed, 2013). In the words of Dale Palfrey, reviewing the book for the Guadalajara Reporter, “First published in 1993, the revised and expanded fourth edition of “Western Mexico”… opens with what qualifies as the most comprehensive guide to the Lake Chapala region available in English.“

For a more in-depth account of the history of the Lake Chapala region up to 1910, see my Lake Chapala Through the Ages, an anthology of travelers’ tales. It features informative extracts from more than fifty original sources, linked by explanatory text and comments, together with brief biographies of the writers of each extract. They include some truly fascinating characters… see for yourself!

Both books are available as regular print books, or in Kindle and Kobo editions.

Sep 032015

Mexico’s seven leading food and beverage multinationals have invested a total of 7.42 billion dollars overseas in the past five years. The investments include acquisitions of other firms, building new plants and enlarging or remodeling existing plants.

The seven firms are:

  • Coca-Cola Femsa
  • Grupo Bimbo
  • Arca Continental
  • Gruma
  • Sigma Alimentos
  • Grupo Lala
  • Grupo Herdez

In terms of the number of countries where they have a presence, the two most globalized food and beverage firms in Mexico are Grupo Bimbo and Gruma, which are in 22 and 18 countries respectively (see map). Both firms are now quite dependent on foreign earnings. About 61% of Bimbo’s revenues, and almost 70% of Gruma’s revenues, originate from outside Mexico. Both firms have the longest reach of any of the food and beverage multinationals: Bimbo as far as China, and Gruma in Australia.

Mexican food-related multinationals

Mexican food-related multinationals are present in all the countries colored blue

In this post, we take a quick look at each of these seven firms and their recent activity abroad:

Femsa, based in Monterrey, is the world’s largest bottler of Coca-Cola products, with 45 plants in Latin America, including Colombia, Brazil and Venezuela, as well as 19 plants in the Philippines. It spent 1.855 billion dollars to buy Brazilian firm Spaipa, and a further 258 million dollars on building a new plant there (its tenth plant in Brazil), as well as 688.5 million dollars for 51% of the Coca-Cola Company in the Philippines. Femas also operates the OXXO chain of convenience stores, the largest such chain in Latin America.

Grupo Bimbo is the world’s largest bread maker and the biggest bread seller in the USA. It is the world’s 4th largest food company behind only Nestle, Kraft, and Unilever. Bimbo has 85 plants in the USA and Canada, 39 in Mexico, 32 elsewhere in Latin America, 10 in Europa and one in Asia. It has expanded primarily via acquisitions. It bought Canada Bread in 2014 for 1.66 billion dollars. In 2011, U.S. agencies authorized its purchase of Sara Lee for 709 million dollars. It also bought Bimbo Iberia (Spain) for 160 million dollars in 2011. It is now awaiting approval from Spanish regulatory authorities to complete its purchase of Panrico for 210 million dollars.

Gruma (main brands Maseca and Mission) is the world’s largest producer of corn flour and tortillas. It has 79 production plants worldwide and operates in North America, Europe, Asia and Oceanía. Gruma recently bought Azteca Foods Europe (Spain) for 48 million dollars. In 2014, it bought Mexifoods (Spain) for 15 million dollars. It also owns Albuquerque Tortilla Company. Gruma has also invested in new factories, including a 50-million-dollar plant in California, opened in 2010, as well as a new factory in Russia costing a similar amount.

Arca Continental, the second largest Coca-Cola bottler in Latin America, has 35 plants in the region. It purchased a milk products firm, Holding Tonicorp (Ecuador), in 2014 for 400 million dollars, and spent around 330 million dollars in 2012 to acquire two snack food firms: Wise Foods (USA) and Inalecsa (Ecuador).

Sigma Alimentos (cold cuts, cheese, yoghurts and other milk products) has 67 production facilities in total, including (in addition to Mexico) the U.S., Costa Rica, El Salvador, Spain, France, Italy, Netherlands, Belgium and Portugal. It recently bought Spanish firm Campofrío for 345 million dollars.

Grupo Lala (milk products) has 18 production plants in Mexico and Central America. It recently bought Nicaraguan firm Eskimo (ice-cream and other milk products) for around 53.2 million dollars.

Grupo Herdez has 13 plants in Mexico, one in the USA and one in Chile. It recently bought Helados Nestlé in Mexico.

What these firms have in common is that they specialize in making products that are relatively easy to adapt to local tastes (glocalization). They have also started their expansions outside Mexico by focusing initially on markets with familiar languages and culture before venturing further afield.

As interesting as where the companies ARE is where the companies are NOT. Astonishingly, the map suggests that no Mexican food-related multinational yet has a toe-hold in any country in Africa, for example.

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