Sep 142017
 

Happy birthday, Mexico! On 16 September 2017, Mexico celebrates the 207th 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

Jul 102017
 

There are press reports of red-hot rocks emerging last weekend at a location known as “Pueblo Viejo” in the municipality of Venustiano Carranza in the state of Michoacán, a short distance east of Lake Chapala. That location is not far from the famous mud volcanoes, “Los Negritos” at Villamar, described in chapter 6 of my book Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury.

Note: Please note that this is an on-going event; this post will be updated and, if necessary, rewritten, as further information becomes available.

The reports say activity began on Saturday 8 July 2017. Cracks and fissures have appeared in the middle of a soccer pitch in Pueblo Viejo, and smoke, vapor and red-hot rocks emitted. Some reports refer to two goats having been found burned to a crisp, and say that subsoil temperatures up to 250 degrees Celsius have been recorded.

Short video related to this event: http://www.hoyestado.com/2017/07/

Expert geologists are on their way to assess the situation and try to determine the cause and potential impacts.

Update – 11 July 2017:

Panic over! Geologists from UNAM have discounted the possibility that this is the birth of a new volcano and determined that this is a “geothermal fault” giving rise to a phenomenon that is more similar to the fumaroles found in some areas where volcanoes were previously active. The Lake Chapala area is part of Mexico’s Volcanic Axis which was very tectonically active millions of years ago.

This screenshot of Google Maps shows the approximate location:

The most famous new volcano in historic times is Paricutín Volcano, located further east in Michoacán. Parictuín was active between 1943 and 1952.

Mexico's Volcanic Axis (Fig 2.2 of Geo-Mexico, the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico. All rights reserved.

Mexico’s Volcanic Axis (Fig 2.2 of Geo-Mexico, the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico. All rights reserved.

Press reports (Spanish:

Related posts:

May 232017
 

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:

Acapulco:

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:

May 112017
 

We rarely post straight links to other sites without detailed commentary but every rule has exceptions and this spectacular selection of 30 Google Earth images from The Atlantic more than deserves a close look:

Previous visually-stunning or visually-interesting posts on Geo-Mexico include:

May 042017
 

The holiday of Cinco de Mayo (5 May) commemorates the Battle of Puebla, fought on May 5, 1862. The battle (against the French) marks Mexico’s only major military success since its independence from Spain in 1821. Today, in a curious example of cultural adaptation, the resulting holiday is actually celebrated more widely in the USA than in Mexico!

Cinco de Mayo: Google image search results

Cinco de Mayo: Google image search results

For an account of the history behind the Cinco de Mayo, and for an explanation of why the holiday is now celebrated more in the USA than in Mexico:

In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated with a parade in the City of Puebla each year, but, in another strange twist of geography,  the longest-running annual re-enactment takes place in Mexico City:

Want to read more?

MexConnect has several informative articles relating to Cinco de Mayo, including:

Apr 152017
 

Following on from his (self-defined) “success” in growing cacao in Mexico, American businessman Jim Walsh is now promoting his own brand of “mezcal” – Kimo Sabe – and is talking up a project to help 1,000 farmers in Zacatecas.

– “The collaborative partnership will create over 100 new agave farms, as well as work with existing agave growers to greatly expand their cultivation capabilities, generating over 1000 new jobs in the state. “

– “The replanting of wild agave on a grand scale, championed by the Governor and the experienced agri-business executives at Kimo Sabe, is the key to long term sustainability of a vibrant mezcal industry,”

The details (ie the company’s own press releases) can be read here:

The claims on their website include:

“Kimo Sabe, unlike any other spirit, uses sound technology to homogenize the molecules in the spirit. This makes the liquid clean and smooth from the first sip to the last note. “

“Along with the energy of the sound waves, agave plants are like solar panels, they absorb sun during the day and grow at night. Harvested after 8 years of sun absorption you are drinking SUN and SOUND energy – a natural stimulant!”

Such statements echo the sensationally non-scientific claims they made for their “Intentional Chocolate”, that their “breakthrough licensed technology… helps embed the focused good intentions of experienced meditators and then infuses those intentions into chocolate”.

Those unfamiliar with Mr Walsh’s previous agricultural experience in Mexico may want to first read about Maya Biosana, before jumping up and down in delight at his latest venture:

We’d love to be proved wrong this time, Mr. Walsh, but we’re not holding our breath.

Apr 102017
 

Mexicans celebrate Easter in considerable style with processions and re-enactments of religious events. The MexConnect Easter Index page has a varied collection of articles and photo galleries relating to the Easter period in Mexico.

Easter procession in San Miguel de Allende. Photo: Don Fyfe-Wilson. All rights reserved.

Easter celebrations have been held for centuries in many of Mexico’s towns and cities, though the details may have changed over the years. This MexConnect article, for example, features photos from a Good Friday procession held in San Miguel de Allende in the mid 1960s.

The festivities in dozens of villages and towns throughout the country, including Tzintzuntzan in Michoacán and San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas, have a very long history.

In other villages, the present-day, large-scale Easter celebrations are not genuinely “traditional” but are a relatively new introduction to the local culture. This is true, for instance, in the case of the Easter activities in Ajijic, on the northern shore of Lake Chapala, where, “The local townspeople take honor in portraying the cast mentioned in the Bible. Mary, the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary are there, along with wonderfully costumed early Christians and complacent Roman townspeople and authority figures.”

Perhaps the single most famous location in Mexico for witnessing Easter events is Iztapalapa near Mexico City. See here for photos of the 2013 Celebration of Easter Week in Iztapalapa.

Note: This post was originally published in April 2010, updated in April 2014 and republished in 2017.

The geography of Mexico’s religions is analyzed in chapter 11 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico; many other aspects of Mexico’s culture are discussed in chapter 13.

Related posts:

 

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Mar 292017
 

In 2009 Feike de Jong walked the entire perimeter of Mexico City to capture the strange scenery of its fringes. The 800-km trek took him 51 days.

Mexico City Metropolitan Area (Geo-Mexico Fig 22.2; all rights reserved)

Spatial growth of Mexico City Metropolitan Area (Geo-Mexico Fig 22.2; all rights reserved)

These two Guardian articles tell the story of his trip:

The author’s ebook Limits: On Foot Along the Edge of the Megalopolis of the Valley of Mexico, with the full story and more images, is due to be released later this year.

Enjoy!

Want to learn more about Mexico City?

Mar 192017
 

Twice a year, at the spring and fall equinox, the sun is positioned directly over the equator, giving everywhere on the planet twelve hours day and twelve hours night. The spring or vernal equinox, which heralds the start of spring, usually falls on 20 March or 21 March, and is celebrated in many parts of the world as a time of fertility and rebirth.

Mexico is no exception, and here are the nine most magical places in Mexico to celebrate the spring equinox:

Nine Best Places for Spring Equinox

Nine Best Places in Mexico to witness the Spring Equinox

1. Chichen Itza, Yucatán

The Mayan archaeological site of Chichen Itza, between Mérida and Cancún, is a very popular place to witness the spring equinox. The Kulkulkan temple is a masterpiece, built according to precise astronomical specifications. At the equinoxes, the sun=s rays in the late afternoon dance like a slithering snake down the steps of the pyramid. Spectators may not realize that this pyramid has amazing acoustical properties as well:

The astronomical observatory known as El Caracol (“The Snail”) at Chichen Itza has features aligned so precisely that they helped the Maya determine the precise dates of the two annual equinoxes.

Serpent slithers down the steps of Kulkulcan pyramid, Chichen itza. Credit: Flickr:

Chichen Itza: serpent slithers down the steps of Kulkulkan pyramid,
Credit: Flickr: wowitsstephen

2. Dzibilchaltún, Yucatán

Dzibilchaltún, in the state of Yucatán, about 20 km from Mérida, is much less well known but equally fascinating. The rays of the rising sun (spectators arrive before 5 am) light up the windows and entrances of the Temple of the Seven Dolls in a spectacular display.

3. Great Temple, Mexico City

The Great Temple (Templo Mayor) in Mexico City marks the spot where legend says the Mexica priest Tenoch saw the promised sign of an eagle on a cactus indicating the original site for the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan. The city was renamed Mexico City when the Spanish conquistadors defeated the Aztecs and eventually became the largest city in the western hemisphere. As the sun rises at the Equinox, its rays shine precisely between the two major temples at this historic site. This spectacle, probably once reserved for the priests, can now be enjoyed by all.

4. Teotihuacan, State of México

Teotihuacan (“the city of the gods”) is the single most visited archaeological site in Mexico and an outstanding location to witness the spring equinox. Within easy day trip range of Mexico City, Teotihuacan was once a bustling city housing an estimated 200,000 people. It holds a special place in Mexico’s archaeological history since it was the first major site to be restored and opened to the public ~ in 1910, in time to celebrate the centenary of Father Miguel Hidalgo’s call for Independence.

The original inhabitants erected marker stones on nearby hillsides to mark the position of the rising sun at the spring equinox as viewed from the Pyramid of the Sun. Many of the visitors at the spring equinox today dress in white and climb to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun in order to receive the special energy of the equinox. There is some concern about the problems that so many spring revelers may cause:

5. Malinalco, State of Mexico

There is no direct evidence that the ancients celebrated the equinox at this location, though the archaeological site certainly has a carefully determined orientation. However, perhaps on account of its accessibility from Mexico City, Malinalco, in the State of México, has become a popular place to see in the spring.

6. Xochicalco, Morelos

Xochicalco, in the state of Morelos, is equally easy to reach from Mexico City and was the site of a very important calendar-related conference in the 8th century BC. It attracts equnox viewers on account of its considerable astronomical significance from pre-Hispanic times.

The sites main claim to archeo-astronomy fame is not connected to the equinoxes but to the two days when the sun is at its zenith (directly overhead) here each year, on 15 May and 28 July. The vertical north side of a 5‑meter‑long vertical “chimney” down into one particular underground cave ensures that the sunlight entering the cave on the day of the zenith is precisely vertical. The south side of the chimney slopes at an angle of 4o23′. Sunlight is exactly parallel to this side on June 21, the day of the Summer solstice.

7. Bernal, Querétaro

At the Spring Equinox, this town is invaded by visitors “dressed in long, white robes or gowns, and red neckerchiefs” who come seeking “wisdom, unity, energy and new beginnings”. (Loretta Scott Miller, in El Ojo del Lago, July 1997).

Since 1992, this Magic Town has held events each year from 19 to 21 March to celebrate the Spring Equinox. On 20 March, hundreds of people hike in the evening to the chapel of Santa Cruz, part-way up the Peña de Bernal, the giant monolith that overshadows the town, for hymns and prayers. They greet the sun as it rises on 21 March. Following a ceremony in the town square at noon (21 March), as many as 15,000 visitors form a human chain stretching from the plaza to the top of the monolith. Local attractions in Bernal include small museums about local history, masks and Mexico’s movie industry.

8. El Tajín, Veracruz

The amazing Pyramid of the Niches in El Tajín, Veracruz, is another great place to visit on the spring equinox. Crowds gather here to celebrate the equinox, despite the fact that in this location, there is no particular solar spectacle to observe. Today’s celebrations continue an age-old tradition at El Tajín, which has long been one of the most important ceremonial centers in this region.

9. Monte Alban, Oaxaca

Monte Alban, just outside the city of Oaxaca, was the first planned urban center in the Americas, and was occupied continually for more than 1300 years, between 500 BC and AD 850. Visitors from all over the world, many of them dressed in white, converge on Monte Alban at the spring equinox to recharge their energy levels.

Magical Mexico!

Mar 152017
 

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, we offer this short list of references highlighting some of the more significant connections between Ireland and Mexico.

Séamus Ó Fógartaigh in his “Ireland and Mexico“, published in Irish Migration Studies in Latin America by the Society for Irish Latin American Studies (based, curiously, in Switzerland) looks at the early links between Ireland and Mexico, including suggestions that the travels of St. Brendan the Navigator may have inspired Christopher Columbus and that the famous “Plumed Serpent” of Mexican mythology may have originated from the deification of an Irish monk.

Much better known are the later links. During colonial times, several of the Spanish administrators sent to New Spain (now Mexico) were direct descents of Irish exiles to Spain. They include the 63rd and last Spanish Viceroy of New Spain Juan O’Donojú (formerly O’Donoghue) who arrived in the New World shortly before Mexico became Independent in 1821.

A generation later, Irish soldiers who chose to leave (deserted) the US army formed the backbone of Mexico’s St. Patrick’s Battalion (Batallón San Patricio) which fought the invading Americans in 1846-48. They are especially remembered for their bravery in the Battle of Churubusco (in Mexico City) in 1847. Their story is well remembered by Mexicans today, their exploits commemorated every year at a ceremony in Mexico City, and the basis of several books and the movie One Man’s Hero. The single, best account is that by Michael Hogan in The Irish Soldiers of Mexico. For a summary account, try “The St. Patricio Battalion, The Irish Soldiers of Mexico” by Jaime Fogarty, published in UNAM’s Voices of Mexico magazine, April-June, 2000.

San Patricio Melaque (Google Earth)

San Patricio Melaque (Google Earth)

On the Jalisco coast, the small town of San Patricio Melaque (around the bay from Barra de Navidad and the Isla de Navidad tourist development) holds an annual fiesta that celebrates both the town’s patron saint and the achievements of the Irish soldiers. Nine days of activity (church services, fireworks, parades, bullfights, fairground games) come to a climax on 17 March. (It is sometimes claimed that San Patricio Melaque is the only settlement named San Patricio in Mexico, but that is not quite true, since there are at least three others: two tiny hamlets called San Patricio, relatively close to Cd. Victoria in Tamaulipas, and one named San Patricio de la Mesa in the mountains east of Hermosillo in Sonora.)

In the twentieth century, Álvaro Obregón (family name O’Brien) was President of Mexico from 1920 to 1924. (We will take a critical look at his relationship with the indigenous Yaqui Indians of Sonora in a later post). The city of Ciudad Obregón in Sonora is named in his honor. Artists of Irish descent also impacted Mexico’s national life. They included architect, painter and muralist Juan O’Gorman (1905-1982), responsible for the monumental mosaic that adorns the walls of the National University (UNAM) Library in Mexico City, and a striking, colorful mural in Pátzcuaro that depicts an erupting volcano; this mural was completed just one year before the unexpected eruption nearby of Paricutín Volcano.

Today, according to Wikipedia, there are between 300,000 and 600,000 people of Irish descent living in Mexico, mostly in either northern Mexico or Mexico City.

Dr. Michael Hogan has done far more than most to publicize the links between Ireland and Mexico. In this 8 minute Youtube video clip, he talks to an Irish radio show host about the San Patricios, Irish and Mexican history, music and tequila.

Most of the links we’ve described might never have happened if Mexico had not sent an unwanted export to Ireland in the middle of the nineteenth century. The census of 1841 in Ireland recorded a population of about 8 million. The staple Irish food at that time was the humble potato and Ireland’s rapid population growth during the early part of the nineteenth century was based on the so-called “potato economy”.  Ireland was bursting at the seams in 1841, but just a decade later, after the potato famine, the population had fallen to 6.5 million. The cause of the Irish potato famine was a water mold (Phytophthora infestans) that originated in Mexico and crossed the Atlantic in the 1840s, reaching Europe in 1845 before rapidly spreading across the continent to reach Ireland.

If a Mexican water mold had not provoked the Irish potato famine, maybe there would have been no settlements named San Patricio in Mexico today, and no cause to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Mexico! Wherever you may be, have a very Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Related links: