Nov 292015

Line 12 of Mexico City’s Metro (subway) system was originally opened in October 2012. The new line, also known as the Golden Line, extended the city’s metro system into several lower income areas in the south-eastern part of the city, including Tlahuac, Milpa Alta, Xochimilco and Iztapalapa.

However, in March 2014, the elevated (above ground) 14-kilometer-long (9 mi) southern section of this line between Tlahuac and Atlalilco stations was closed for emergency repairs. A replacement bus system was established between those stations. According to a report in the Mexico City daily Reforma (citing a study by ILF Consulting Engineers), the design of tracks in that section had resulted in damage to the wheels of several metro trains. It also resulted in the failure of an electric cable and caused cracks and fractures in the track supports. Authorities have blamed some former city officials, together with the line’s builders, a consortium comprised of France’s Alstom and the Mexican companies ICA and Carso.

Metro Line 12 was finally fully reopened 20 months later, on 29 November, 2015. Line 12 is the longest line in the city’s metro network,extending 25 km (15.5 miles), with 20 stations, including four transfer points. In terms of network connectivity, it added an important east-west link connecting four lines that serve the southern section of the metro area. Line 12 runs from Mixcoac (Line 7) to Tlahuac in the southeast of Mexico City, intersecting with line 3 at Zapata, line 2 at Ermita and line 8 at Atlalilco.

Mexico-City-Metro-MapOfficials estimate that the line, which has both underground and overground sections, eliminates 860 buses from the city’s congested streets, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 22,000 metric tons a year. It cost about $1.8 billion to construct.

Mexico City metroBetween 400,000 and 450,000 passengers are now expected to use Line 12 daily. It is expected to cut the average daily commuting time from those parts of the city it serves by more than an hour a day, from 150 minutes to 78 minutes. The line is only accessible by using the new metropolitan smart transport card “Tarjeta DF”.

The complete network of 12 lines comprising Mexico City’s metro system, used by more than 5 million passengers a day, now has 195 stations and a total length of about 227 km (141 miles).

Will the line eventually be extended?

In January 2013, officials of Mexico City’s Metro system (Sistema de Transporte Colectivo, STC)  announced that they were considering extending Line 12 westwards into the Álvaro Obregón district of the city. This is still being talked about. STC’s Managing Director Joel Ortega Cuevas also said that an analysis was needed of the viability of extending the Metro network to reach several major commuting routes in the State of México (see map), including Ecatepec-Coacalco-Zumpango; Chalco-Ixtapaluca; Naucalpan-Tlalnepantla-Cuautitlán; Atizapan-Naucalpan and Chimalhuacan-Nezahualcóyotl.

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

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

Useful links:

Related posts:

Nov 252015

Happy Thanksgiving to all our American readers!

Try the following links to learn more about Mexico’s contributions to Thanksgiving. For starters, what about the idea that Thanksgiving originated in Mexico, not in the USA!


That idea may be slightly controversial, but most celebrations of Thanksgiving certainly have some close ties to Mexico since they are likely to include one or more of the following ingredients:

These items, and many other food items that originate in Mexico, have come to play an important role, not only for American Thanksgiving celebrations, but also for many of the world’s finest cuisines.

¡Buen provecho! ~ Happy Thanksgiving!

 Posted by at 3:52 am  Tagged with:
Nov 232015

As we discussed in this earlier post, historical analysis combined with greater climatological understanding shows that many of the worst droughts and floods in Mexico have been associated with either El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events or with the related Pacific-North American Oscillation. Perhaps 65% of the variability of Mexican climate results from changes in these large-scale circulations.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) says the 2015-2016 ENSO is expected to be one of the three most powerful ENSO events since 1950 with effects that will last for up to eight months.

What will this winter’s El Niño bring? 

  • slightly higher ocean water temperature off west coast; some fish species may migrate northwards
  • some winter rain in north-west
  • increased winter storms, and cooler temperatures, along east coast; risk of flooding, mudslides
  • reduced summer rainfall in Mexico’s central highlands; risk of drought and lower crop yields

This winter, according to the Center for Scientific Investigation and Higher Education of Ensenada (CICESE), the Baja California Peninsula is likely to receive more rain than usual during this year’s very strong ENSO (El Niño) event.

The distribution of fish species is likely to change as the ocean temperatures are higher than usual, resulting in the migration of some species, leaving fewer fish off the coast of Baja California, one of the world’s most important commercial and sports fishing zones. Sardine fishermen may have a difficult season, incurring greater costs as they try to locate viable schools of fish.

A NASA climatologist predicts that California (USA) will be on the receiving end of more winter storms (January-March), and heavier rain, than usual. This increases the risk of hazardous mudslides in some coastal communities. It could also mean more mosquitoes, and an increased chance of contracting dengue fever or chikungunya.

What is the longer term outlook?

The first map shows likely precipitation anomalies for early next year (Spring). Areas shaded brown are areas expected to receive less rainfall than normal. Areas shaded light blue through green are predicted to get more rain than usual.

Spring precipitation anomalies

Spring precipitation anomalies in a strong El Niño year. Source: CNA

The second map shows summer precipitation anomalies. A significant reduction in rainfall is expected across most of central Mexico, though some areas in southern Mexico will likely get more rainfall than normal.

Summer precipitation anomalies in a strong El Niño year. Source: CNA

Summer precipitation anomalies in a strong El Niño year. Source: CNA

We end with one piece of good news for our more active readers. Previous El Niño events have brought great surfing to the west coast of Mexico, so make your travel and hotel plans as soon as possible.

Related posts:

Nov 192015

Proficiency in English is widely seen as an ever-more-essential skill in our increasingly-internationalized and business-oriented world. Many Mexicans have acquired excellent English, whether from education, family connections or residence abroad. It therefore comes as something of a shock to study the latest English Proficiency Index, put out by the Toronto-based organization,  Education First (EF).

Education First modestly describes itself as “The World Leader in International Education”. (This claim is rather grandiose, given that the International Baccalaureate, for one, is far larger and much better known in educational circles worldwide).

The 2015 edition of EF’s English Proficiency Index (EPI) “ranks 70 countries and territories based on test data from more than 910,000 adults who took our online English tests in 2014. This edition continues to track the evolution of English proficiency, looking back over the past eight years of EF EPI data.”

EF categorizes the level of English proficiency in different places as “very high”, “high”, “moderate”, “low” or “very low”.

English proficiency in Mexico

English proficiency in Mexico (grey = moderate; yellow = low; orange = very low). Credit: EF EPI, 2015

Strangely, Mexico does not do well on this index. According to EF, no state or city in Mexico performs beyond the “moderate” level (colored grey on the map). From the map, it appears that there is, in this context as in many others, something of a north-south divide in Mexico, with southern states under-performing in comparison with northern states.

The highest-scoring cities for English proficiency are Monterrey (53.59) and Mexico City (53.03), both classed as “moderate”, followed by Hermosillo (52.36), Tijuana (51.27), Guadalajara (50.52), Ciudad Juárez (49.35), and Mexicali (48.51), all classed as “low”. At the bottom end of proficiency, Puebla (47.84), Cancún (47.14), and Oaxaca (44.61) are all in the “very low” category.

EF recognizes that the people taking its tests are “self-selected and not guaranteed to be representative of the country as a whole. Only those people either wanting to learn English or curious about their English skills will participate in one of these tests. This could skew scores lower or higher than those of the general population.” On the other hand, it also claims that, “The EF English Proficiency Index is increasingly cited as an authoritative data source by journalists, educators, elected officials, and business leaders.”

That may be so, but given the EPI methodology and EF’s overblown claims of being “The World Leader in International Education”, perhaps we should take these results with a grain of salt ~ of which Mexico has lots!

Related posts:

Nov 162015

It is now just over a year since the first locally locally transmitted cases of chikungunya were reported in Mexico. (Local transmission means that mosquitoes in Mexico have been infected with chikungunya and are spreading it to people).

Distribution of Chicungunya, as of October 2015

Distribution of Chikungunya, as of October 2015 (WHO)

The virus, first isolated in Tanzania in 1952, began to spread rapidly after an outbreak that originated in Kenya in 2004. By 2006, the virus had reached India, and by 2007 northern Italy. Imported cases were identified in Taiwan, France and the USA in 2010. In these stages, chikungunya was spread to new areas primarily by travelers infected with the virus.

The first locally-transmitted cases in the Americas were on the Caribbean island of St. Martin in 2013.

The chikungunya virus was first recorded in Mexico in October 2014 and has since spread rapidly from Chiapas through much of the country (map).

Incidence of Chikungunya, 2015, up to 24 October

Incidence of Chikungunya, 2015, up to 24 October. Data: SINAVE/DGE. Cartography: Geo-Mexico

As of 24 October 2015, 9423 cases have been reported in Mexico in total. The states most affected (in terms of number of cases) are Guerrero (1620 cases since October 2014), Michoacán (1548), Veracruz (1203), Oaxaca (1151) and Yucatán (1131).

Two mosquito vectors (Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus) are involved in the spread of chikungunya. Aedes aegypti is exclusively tropical in distribution, but Aedes albopictus also thrives in temperate climes, giving chikungunya the potential to spread virtually throughout the Americas.

The number of cases spikes with the rainy season since mosquitoes breed in stagnant water. Curiously, about two-thirds of the cases in Mexico have been in females, and only one-third in males. Presumably, this is due to differences in work and/or living habits, with females having greater exposure than males to the mosquitoes involved.

There is no vaccine to prevent chikungunya or medicine to treat the viral infection.

The most common symptoms of chikungunya virus infection are fever and joint pain. Other symptoms may include headache, muscle pain, joint swelling, or rash. Joint pains can last months or even years. The disease is debilitating, but rarely fatal. Someone who has contracted chikungunya develops lifelong immunity (unlike dengue fever, where no such immunity exists).

Want to learn more?

Related posts

Nov 132015

While writing Geo-Mexico, the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico, we were surprised to find there were no books in English about the geography of Mexico aimed at readers in the upper grades of high school or beginning years of college. On the other hand, we knew of several books about Brazil aimed at that level, most of them published in the U.K.. Why are there more geography books about Brazil than about Mexico?

One attraction of Brazil to geographers is that the spatial patterns of activities in that country are far simpler to describe, map and analyze, than their counterparts in Mexico. For example, compare these two maps of climate zones:

Climate zones of Mexico and Brazil.

Climate zones of Mexico and Brazil. Credit: Geo-Mexico and Wikipedia, respectively.

This makes it easier to teach about the spatial patterns of Brazil than Mexico. Even though regional geography largely disappeared from U.K. schools in the 1970s, most examination syllabi for the equivalent of Grade 13 still required the study of countries at contrasting levels of economic development. Brazil was a relatively popular choice to represent either (initially) an LEDC (Less Economically-Developed Country) or (more recently) an emerging economy or “middle-income” country. Naturally, this led to textbooks based on Brazil.

If further evidence were needed that British schools have tended to ignore Mexico, then look no further than a recent article in Geography, the flagship journal of the U.K.’s Geographical Association, the leading subject association for all teachers of geography in the U.K.

Quoting its website,

The Geographical Association (GA) is a subject association with the core charitable object of furthering geographical knowledge and understanding through education. It is a lively community of practice with over a century of innovation behind it and an unrivalled understanding of geography teaching. The GA was formed by five geographers in 1893 to share ideas and learn from each other. Today, the GA’s purpose is the same and it remains an independent association.”

GEOGRAPHY_vol100_part3_COVERThe Autumn 2015 issue of Geography includes “Twenty-five years of Geography production”, an article by Diana Rolfe analyzing the content of the last 25 years of the publication. One particular section caught our eye. Rolfe lists the number of times that specific places are referred to over that time in the journal’s “place-based articles”.

The analysis shows that 78 countries were referred to in the past 25 years. The most frequently mentioned country (no surprise here) is the U.K., with (139 articles over the past 25 years). The next most frequently mentioned country is South Africa (27 mentions), followed by China (16), France (12), Australia (10), Hong Kong, Ireland and Canada (8 each). Latin American countries do not have a good showing on this list, but are represented by Peru (2), Argentina (1), Brazil (1) and Chile (1).

Astonishingly (to us at least) Mexico does not get a single mention. Neither, it must be said, do Sweden or Norway.

The omission of Mexico from the list is significant, given that it is the world’s 11th largest country in terms of total population, 14th largest in area, is the 9th most attractive country for FDI, and has the 11th largest economy on the planet!

It is an especially puzzling omission, in a U.K. context, given that U.K. investment during the nineteenth century helped unlock the mineral riches of Mexico, finance its banks, build its railway network and so much more.

We invite UK geographers to purchase a copy of Geo-Mexico, the geography and dynamics of modern Mexicocome or hop on over to to find out what they’re missing.

Related posts:

Nov 102015

Earlier this year, UNESCO added a 16th century aqueduct in Mexico to its list of world heritage sites, bringing the total number of such sites in Mexico to 33.

The Aqueduct of Padre Tembleque was constructed between 1554 and 1571. It is named for the Franciscan friar, Francisco de Tembleque, who began the 48-kilometer-long aqueduct, which was built to transport water from what is now Zempoala, Hidalgo, to Otumba in the State of México. The aqueduct connects to an engineered water catchment area, springs, canals and distribution tanks.

Location of Aqueduct of Padre Tembleque

Location of Aqueduct of Padre Tembleque (Source: Google Maps)

The aqueduct was built with support from the local indigenous communities: “This hydraulic system is an example of the exchange of influences between the European tradition of Roman hydraulics and traditional Mesoamerican construction techniques, including the use of adobe.” (UNESCO)

Aqueduct of Padre Tembleque

Aqueduct of Padre Tembleque (Credit: Xinhua/INAH/NOTIMEX)

While much of the aqueduct is at ground level or underground, it crosses over the Papalote River near Santiago Tepeyahualco supported by a graceful series of high arches called the Main Arcade, 67 arches in total, and at one point 39 meters above the river (the highest single-level arcade ever built in an aqueduct “from Roman times until the middle of the 16th century.”)

The Aqueduct of Padre Tembleque is the largest single hydraulic engineering project completed in the Americas during Spanish colonial times and is a worthy addition to the World Heritage list.

For more information:

Related posts


Nov 072015

A BBVA-Bancomer report, based on Mexico’s 2010 census data includes an interesting graph showing where “Americans older than 50” live in Mexico. The data is based on place of birth, so some of the “Americans” in the data are of Mexican heritage – they were born in the USA, to parents who were born in Mexico, and have since relocated to Mexico.


As the graph highlights, almost half of all Americans living in Mexico live in one of just 20 municipalities. Tijuana, just across the border from San Diego, leads the way, with 6.4% of all the Americans over age 50 living in Mexico, followed by Chapala and San Miguel de Allende, the only two non-border municipalities in the top seven locations for older Americans.

Perhaps no surprise, then, that both these areas have weekly English-language newspapers. The Chapala area is served by The Guadalajara Reporter which covers Guadalajara, Zapopan, Chapala and (to a lesser extent) Puerto Vallarta, potentially reaching 9.7% of all Americans over the age of 50 in Mexico. For its part, San Miguel de Allende has Atención San Miguel. Both locations are popular choices for retirement.

Kudos to “Madeline”, who points out in a comment (below), that there are several other English-language papers in Mexico. They include two in Puerto Vallarta: PV Mirror and the Vallarta Tribune. Based in Mexico City, The News is the closest thing to a national daily in English, with distribution points in many parts of the country. In Quintana Roo, Playa del Carmen has the Playa Times. In Baja California, there is the biweekly Baja Times and no doubt there are a few others, which we will add in due course!

Related posts:

Nov 032015

The flow of bilateral Mexico-USA trade has increased six-fold in value in the past 20 years to nearly 1.5 billion dollars a day; 80% of it moves by truck or rail. A new rail bridge, the West Rail Bypass International Bridge (WBR), opened in late August, capable of carrying up to 24 million metric tons of freight a year, which should help reduce delays in trans-border trade.

West Rail Bypass International Bridge.

West Rail Bypass International Bridge. Credit: Cameron County

The WBR links Matamoros (Tamaulipas) to Brownsville (Texas). It took four years to build and is the first new rail link between Mexico and the USA for more than a century. The bridge can be used by 14 trains a day and replaces a rail line that previously wound its way, with frequent delays, through a heavily congested urban area.

In an unrelated effort to speed up trans-border shipments, Mexican and U.S. officials are testing a single, joint customs inspection procedure that could cut border-crossing times for freight by up to 80%.

The program is being tested at three locations:

  • Laredo international airport in Texas (for vehicle, electronic and aerospace components being flown to eight cities in Mexico),
  • Mesa de Otay in Baja California (for Mexican farm products entering the U.S.) and
  • San Jerónimo in Chihuahua (for computers and other electronic exports from Mexico).

Assuming the six month pilot project is successful, costly border delays for some trans-border shipments could soon be a thing of the past. The project has been warmly welcomed by AmCham, the American Chamber of Commerce in Mexico, which represents more than 1,400 companies.

Related posts:

Oct 302015

Celebrations for Mexico’s Day of the Dead (Día de Muertos) or, more correctly Night of the Dead (Noche de Muertos), date back to pre-Hispanic times. Indigenous Mexican peoples held many strong beliefs connected with death; for example that the dead needed the same things as the living, hence their bodies should be buried with their personal possessions, sandals and other objects.

With the arrival of the Spanish, the Indians’ pagan ideas and customs were gradually assimilated into the official Catholic calendar. Dead children (angelitos) are remembered on November 1st, All Saints’ Day, while deceased adults are honored on November 2nd, All Souls’ Day. On both days, most of the activity takes place in the local cemetery.

In many locations, festivities (processions, altars, concerts, meals, dancing, etc) now last several days, often beginning several days before the main days of November 1st and 2nd.

Day of the Dead: Top Nine Locations

Day of the Dead: Top Nine Locations

The Day of the Dead was designated an “intangible world heritage” by UNESCO in 2008. The official UNESCO description of Mexico’s “Indigenous Festivity dedicated to the Dead” summarizes its significance:

“As practised by the indigenous communities of Mexico, el Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) commemorates the transitory return to Earth of deceased relatives and loved ones. The festivities take place each year at the end of October to the beginning of November. This period also marks the completion of the annual cycle of cultivation of maize, the country’s predominant food crop.”

“Families facilitate the return of the souls to Earth by laying flower petals, candles and offerings along the path leading from the cemetery to their homes. The deceased’s favorite dishes are prepared and placed around the home shrine and the tomb alongside flowers and typical handicrafts, such as paper cut-outs. Great care is taken with all aspects of the preparations, for it is believed that the dead are capable of bringing prosperity (e.g. an abundant maize harvest) or misfortune (e.g. illness, accidents, financial difficulties) upon their families depending on how satisfactorily the rituals are executed. The dead are divided into several categories according to cause of death, age, sex and, in some cases, profession. A specific day of worship, determined by these categories, is designated for each deceased person. This encounter between the living and the dead affirms the role of the individual within society and contributes to reinforcing the political and social status of Mexico’s indigenous communities.”

The Day of the Dead celebration holds great significance in the life of Mexico’s indigenous communities. The fusion of pre-Hispanic religious rites and Catholic feasts brings together two universes, one marked by indigenous belief systems, the other by worldviews introduced by the Europeans in the sixteenth century.”

In no particular order, here are the 9 best places to visit for Mexico’s Day of the Dead:

1. Michoacán

The single best-known location for Day of the Dead in the entire country is the Island of Janitzio in Lake Pátzcuaro, Michoacán. This is one of Mexico’s most famous major annual spectacles. Thousands of visitors from all over the world watch as the indigenous Purepecha people perform elaborate rituals in the local cemetery late into the night. Yes, it has become commercialized, but it remains a memorable experience, and also offers the opportunity to sample the local cuisine, which itself was declared an “intangible world heritage” by UNESCO in 2010!

Janitzio cemetery

Janitzio cemetery

Several other locations in the Lake Pátzcuaro area, including Ihuatzio, Tzintzuntzan, Arocutín and Jarácuaro, offer their own equally memorable (but less visited) festivities and rituals. Interesting observances of Day of the Dead also occur in many other places in Michoacán, including Angahuan (near Paricutin Volcano) and Cuanajo.

2. Mexico City

Two locations in the southern part of the city are well worth visiting for Day of the Dead.

In San Andrés Mixquic, which has strong indigenous roots, graves are decorated with Mexican marigolds in a cemetery lit by hundreds and hundreds of candles. Street stalls, household altars and processions attract thousands of capitalinos each year.

In Xochimilco, the canals and chinampas are the background for special night-time Day of the Dead excursions by boat (trajinera).

3. Morelos

Ocotepec, on the outskirts of Cuernavaca, is another excellent place to visit for Day of the Dead activities.

4. Veracruz

Xico, one of Mexico’s Magic Towns, has colorful Day of the Dead celebrations, including a flower petal carpet along the road to the graveyard. Don’t miss sampling the numerous kinds of tamales that are a mainstay of the local cuisine.

5. San Luis Potosí and Hidalgo

In the indigenous Huastec settlements of the mountainous area shared by the states of San Luis Potosí and Hidalgo, the celebrations for Day of the Dead are known as Xantolo. Multi-tiered altars are elaborately decorated as part of the festivities.

6. Chiapas

Several indigenous communities in Chiapas celebrate the Day of the Dead in style. For example, in San Juan Chamula, the festival is known as Kin Anima, and is based on the indigenous tzotzil tradition.

San Juan Chamula

San Juan Chamula

7. Yucatán and Quintana Roo

In the Maya region, Day of the Dead celebrations are known as Hanal Pixan, “feast for the souls.” Families prepare elaborate food for the annual return of their dearly departed. The cemeteries in the Yucatán capital Mérida are well worth seeing, as are the graveyards in many smaller communities. See, for example, this account of the festivities in Pac Chen, Quintana Roo: Hanal Pixan, Maya Day of the Dead in Pac Chen, Quintana Roo

Tourist locations offer their own versions of Day of the Dead celebrations. For example, Xcaret theme park, in the Riviera Maya, is the scene of the Festival of Life and Death (Festival de la Vida y la Muerte) featuring parades, rituals, concerts, theater performances and dancing.

8. Oaxaca

There are rich and varied observances of Day of the Dead in the state of Oaxaca. Visitors to Oaxaca City can witness vigils in several of the city’s cemeteries and night-time processions called comparsas. The celebrations are very different on the Oaxacan coast, as evidenced by this account of Day of the Dead in Santiago Pinotepa Nacional.

9. Guanajuato
The city of San Miguel de Allende in Guanajuato holds an annual four-day festival known as “La Calaca” with artistic and cultural events that are “integrated into the vibrant celebration of life and death known as Dia de Muertos”.

In Mexico, the age-old cultural traditions of Day of the Dead are still very much alive!

Related links: