Apr 182014
 

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.

[post originally published in April 2010, updated in April 2014]

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.

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Apr 182014
 

A major earthquake struck southern Mexico at 7:27 local time on Friday 18 April 2014. The effects of the earthquake, which had its epicenter in Guerrero, were felt at least as far away as Mexico City. Authorities in the states affected, which include Guerrero, Morelos, México, Puebla, Oaxaca, Querétaro, Veracruz, Jalisco, Michoacán, Tlaxcala, Guanajuato, Hidalgo, Colima and the Federal District, have reported only minor damage, and no loss of life.

The preliminary report from Mexico’s National Seismological Institute says that the earthquake had a magnitude of 7.0, with an epicenter 31 kilometers northwest of Tecpan in Guerrero, and occurred at 7:27 a.m. local time. The earthquake occurred at a depth of 10 kilometers.

Initial reports from the U.S. Geological Survey (including a map) are that the earthquake was 7.5 magnitude, and at a depth of around 48 kilometers (30 miles). The USGS has since downgraded the magnitude to 7.2.

First hand reports from Mexico City say that power went off in several areas in the north of the city, and that cell phone communications were also down in some areas. The Federal Electricity Commission reported 6 hours after the earthquake that power had been restored to 98% of the 1.2 million people affected in the Mexico City Metropolitan Area. Some windows have been shattered, and there are a handful of reports of minor structural damage, including 15 walls that collapsed and 48 buildings that suffered some damage. The city was quieter than normal because of the Easter holidays, during which many city dwellers take vacations at the beach.

The most serious damage in Mexico City appears to have been in the Morelos residential complex in colonia Doctores, where the residents of two of the 14-story buildings have apparently been evacuated following reports of cracks in walls and passageways, and the separation of some stairways. Following a formal building inspection, one of the buildings will not be reoccupied prior to remedial work being carried out.

Residents of Mexico City received 65 seconds warning via Mexico’s advanced Seismic Alert system (Sistema de Alerta Sísmica), which functioned precisely as it was designed to. There were more than twenty aftershocks in the five hours after the initial earthquake, the largest of which was magnitude 4.8.

George Dunn in Puerto Vallarta (see comments) reports that buildings at the Bay View Grand were evacuated. “but all is well”. Many tourists in Puerto Vallarta and Acapulco left their hotel rooms temporarily during the quake which lasted about one minute.

In Guerrero, it is reported that the highway between Acapulco and Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo is temporarily closed to traffic while inspections are carried out of a bridge near Tecpan, where the road shows a marked displacement (see image), and the rubble from several small landslides is removed.

road-fracture

Later on Friday, officials of Guerrero state acknowledged that many public buildings in the state suffered damage from the earthquake. In Petatlán, near the epicenter, at least 100 homes were damaged. In the state capital of Chilpancingo, several walls collapsed, at least three homes and the tower of the Santa María de la Asunción cathedral suffered some damage.

As a precaution, the main (tourist) dock in Zihuatanejo has been closed, pending a formal inspection, but is expected to be back in operation within the next day or two.

Curious coincidence: The earthquake came exactly 108 years to the day after the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906.

We will continue to update this post periodically over the next few days to reflect any significant changes.

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Apr 172014
 

The 2014 hurricane season in Mexico for Pacific coast storms starts on 15 May and lasts until 30 November. For Atlantic storms, the hurricane season extends from 1 June to 30 November, though most hurricane activity is concentrated in the months from July to September. Hurricanes are also known as typhoons or tropical cyclones.

In 2013 only two hurricanes (Manuel and Ingrid) hit Mexico, but they hit simultaneously in September, leading to more than 100 storm-related deaths and millions of dollars worth of property damage in several states, especially Guerrero.

The table shows the World Meteorological Organization’s official list of 2014 hurricane names. Note that male and female names alternate. Names are often reused in future years, with the exception of the names of any particularly violent storms, which are officially “retired” from the list for a long time.

2014 Hurricane Names for the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean
ArthurGonzaloLauraRene
BerthaHannaMarcoSally
CristobalIsaiasNanaTeddy
DollyJosephineOmarVicky
EduourdKylePauletteWilfred
Fay

2014 Hurricane Names for the Eastern Pacific
AmandaGenevieveMarinaTrudy
BorisHernanNorbertVance
CristinaIselleOdileWinnie
DouglasJulioPoloXavier
ElidaKarinaRachelYolanda
FaustoLowellSimonZeke

For the Atlantic coast, Mexico’s National Meteorological Service (Servicio Metrológico Nacional, SMN) is expecting 10 named storms: 3 tropical storms, 5 moderate hurricanes (1 or 2 on the Saffir-Simpson scale), and 2 severe hurricanes (3, 4 or 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale).

In their early season forecast for this year, Philip Klotzbach and William Gray, researchers at Colorado State University,  expect hurricane activity in the Atlantic to be significantly below the 1981-2012 average. They write that, “The tropical Atlantic has… cooled over the past several months, and the chances of a moderate to strong El Niño event this summer and fall appear to be quite high…. Historical data indicate fewer storms form in these conditions.” They predict that in the 2014 season 9 named storms will form in the Atlantic: 6 tropical storms, 2 moderate hurricanes (1 or 2 on the Saffir-Simpson scale), and 1 severe hurricanes (3, 4 or 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale). These forecasts will be updated on 2 June and 31 July.

saffir-simpson-scalePacific Ocean hurricanes tend to be more common in El Niño years, so this year may be more active than usual. For the Pacific coast, Mexico’s National Meteorological Service (Servicio Metrológico Nacional, SMN) is expecting 15 named storms: 5 tropical storms, 7 moderate hurricanes (1 or 2 on the Saffir-Simpson scale), and 3 severe hurricanes (3, 4 or 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale). The SNM publishes regular updates on hurricane activity (in Spanish) on its webpage and via its Twitter account: @huracanconagua.

How accurate was the 2013 forecast?

The early season (May) prediction for 2013 (last year) was for 18 named storms in the Atlantic: 9 tropical storms, 5 moderate hurricanes and 4 severe hurricanes. This prediction proved to be the least accurate forecast in recent years. In reality, the 2013 Atlantic season had 14 named storms: 1 tropical depression, 11 tropical storms, 2 moderate hurricanes and 0 severe hurricanes. Klotzbach and Gray have since looked at the possible reasons for the poor forecast and concluded that, “It appears that the primary reason was the most significant spring weakening observed since 1950 of the Atlantic thermohaline circulation.” A summary of their findings is available here.

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Apr 142014
 

Food activist Jill Richardson, author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It, has a blog called La Vida Locavore. (Locavores are people interested in eating food that is locally produced, and has not traveled long distances.)

Richardson, who serves on the policy advisory board of the Organic Consumers Association, visited Mexico twice in 2010 and has published an interesting online diary of her trips. Richardson visited the two contrasting states of Jalisco and Chiapas. In the former wealthy state, she was able to spend some time in the agricultural community of Cuquio. Her purpose on this trip was “to learn about the impacts of the Green Revolution and NAFTA on corn production there.” Later in the year she visited Chiapas, a far less wealthy state, during the time of the coffee and corn harvests, “working with and learning about the Zapatistas (an indigenous insurgent group).”

Educational level of farmers in Mexico, 2007

Educational level of farmers in Mexico, 2007. Credit: LaVidaLocavore.com

Following her trips, Richardson compiled a page summarizing agricultural statistics for Chiapas, Jalisco and Cuquio, based on Mexico’s 2007 Agricultural Census. The page has numerous tables and graphs about everything from crops grown and machinery used to irrigation, access to insurance, living conditions and other sources of household income.

Agriculture in Cuquio, 2010

Agriculture in Cuquio, 2007. Credit: LaVidaLocovore.com

Richardson’s passion for produce that is organic and locally produced is admirable. The anecdotes in her diary entries are well told, and raise important issues about the overuse/abuse of pesticides and fertilizers,the exploitation of farmers, microlending and a host of other factors that caught her attention. While her diaries are certainly not a comprehensive analysis of agriculture in the areas she visited, they do shed some light on some of the important issues facing farmers there. The diary entries are worth reading for the many examples and photographs included.

Her diary entries include:

I should note that despite Richardson’s impassioned and persuasive writing, I’m not actually in agreement with her advocacy for locavorism. I find myself more in agreement with the reviewer of her book who wrote that, “The author’s rabid advocacy of locavorism is especially myopic; she brushes past the costliness and impracticality—When buying eggs I ask the farmer how many chickens they own and if these chickens are on pasture—and ignores critics who argue that locavorism is an energy-inefficient fad.” (See The energy efficiency of farming in Mexico and elsewhere.)

That said, Richardson’s online diary is a very useful resource and likely to be a valuable starting point for many classroom discussions.

Related posts

Geo-Mexico has many other agriculture-related posts (easily found via our tag system). They include posts about the geography of growing/producing cacao, honey, sugarcane, coffeeChristmas trees, chiles, floriculture, tomatoes, tequila, horticultural crops and oranges.

Apr 122014
 

On Thursday, 27 March 2014, Mexican and U.S. officials were on hand to witness a release of water from the Morelos Dam (located on the border, see map) that should help to rejuvenate wildlife in the Colorado River delta. The delta area has been dry for many years.

Map of the Colorado delta

Map of the River Colorado delta. All rights reserved. Click to enlarge.

The agreement between Mexico and the USA allows for a “pulse flow” of water to be released down the Colorado River, which will bring water to the river’s delta in the Sea of Cortés (Gulf of Mexico) for the first time in more than five decades. The pulse is designed to mimic the effects of a springtime snow melt. The pulse flow will amount to a total of 130 million cubic meters of water over a period of eight weeks.

Within 48 hours of the initial release, the water had reached about 50 km (30 miles) downstream, with some of the water infiltrating into the barren soil as it went. The scientists monitoring the release are still unsure whether or not any water will make it as far as the sea, but already there are signs of life returning to the delta region:

The release of water is part of a pilot project, due to last five years, that will lay the groundwork for possible future agreements to ensure that the delta area receives sufficient water in the future to enable its fauna and flora to survive.

For more about this landmark event, see

You can help restore water to the Colorado River Basin by joining (free) Change the Course, a project of National Geographic and partners. 

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Apr 102014
 

For a small Mexican town of somewhat nondescript architecture, Jiquilpan de Juárez, in Michoacán, has considerable claim to fame, well deserving of its Magic Town status. Jiquilpan is the birthplace of two Mexican Presidents, who played pivotal roles in national affairs, and several distinguished artists. Its unprepossessing exterior appearance offers no hint of the important works of art—including sculptures and a singular mural—which are to be discovered in the town.

The first former President associated with the town is Anastacio Bustamante, who had the distinction of being President three times 1830-32, 1837-39, 1839-41). In the interim between his first two governments, Mexico was forced to cede a large part of its territory, including Texas, to the USA. Bustamante, considered one of the more honest nineteenth century politicians, seized power for the first time in 1830, overthrowing Vicente Guerrero. He was in turn overthrown by Santa Anna in 1832, and fled to England. On resuming office in 1837, after the rather unsavory incidents which robbed Mexico of Texas, Bustamante immediately faced the “Pastry War” crisis.

The Pastry War began when Mexico refused to pay compensation for damages to a pastry shop, owned by a Frenchman in Mexico City. The shop had allegedly been looted during riots in 1828. Ten years later, the French government used this pretext, and other losses which had occurred at the same time to other French property, to demand 600,000 dollars in damages from the Mexican government of Bustamante. The French also sought a preferential trading agreement with Mexico. Bustamante considered the claim for looted pastries to be preposterous and refused either to pay, or to consider the trade agreement. Outraged, the French brought up a fleet from the Caribbean island of Martinique and blockaded Veracruz. Seven months later, the French added a further 200,000 dollars to their demand to cover the costs of the blockade. Bustamante finally gave in and paid in full, whereupon the French fleet sailed off.

The second former President associated with  Jiquilpan is Lázaro Cárdenas, born in the town on the 21st May, 1895. As national President (1934–40), he presided over a massive agrarian reform program and in 1938 nationalized the railways and the oil industry. He was the last President to be held in sufficient esteem to occupy important ministerial posts including Defense Secretary after the end of his term as President.

jiquilpan-sm2On Jiquilpan’s main street, appropriately named Avenida Lázaro Cárdenas, are the library and the town museum. During Lázaro Cárdenas’ presidency, a nineteenth century church in Jiquilpan was converted to a library and embellished with two impressive works of art. The new door of the library, in which are sculpted the heads of 22 of the most outstanding figures of the early twentieth century, was designed by Guillermo Ruiz. It is a beautiful tribute to the greatest thinkers and scientists of the time (Edison, Marti, etc.).

The murals decorating the interior of the library were painted by an even more prominent figure in the history of Mexican art: José Clemente Orozco, one of the famous “Big Three” of Mexican Muralism, alongside Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros. Orozco painted, literally singlehandedly (having lost his left hand in a childhood accident) a series of sketchy black-and-white murals depicting political parties and revolutionary Mexico on either side of the former nave and an unusual and striking full-color, nationalistic mural known as “A Mexican Allegory”.

The modern Jiquilpan museum, east of the town center beyond the very friendly Hotel Palmira, includes a collection of archaeological pieces unearthed from a nearby shaft tomb. In addition to the archaeological pieces, the museum houses the Centre for Studies of the Mexican Revolution. Even non-Spanish speakers can gain insights into the turbulent and complex times that comprise the Mexican Revolution by looking at the extensive photographic exhibition on the museum’s first floor. The exhibition details the life and works not only of Lázaro Cárdenas but also of other key figures in twentieth century Mexican politics including General Francisco Múgica, who was in the group which proposed for inclusion in the Constitution of 1917 (still current today) Article 27, which encompassed agrarian reform and land redistribution, and Article 123 which dealt with the rights of workers, including an eight-hour day and guaranteed minimum wages. The museum in Jiquilpan is a fitting tribute to these much revered politicians.

Moving away from politics and towards the arts, Jiquilpan was the birthplace of artist Feliciano Béjar, who passed away in 2007, and received national acclaim for his inspiring sculptures, painting and weaving. Rafael Méndez, arguably the world’s greatest ever trumpet virtuoso, was born into a musical family in Jiquilpan and later moved to the USA. His legendary technique and tone have never been equaled. Jiquilpan hosted an international trumpet festival named for him in 2011.

Elsewhere in Jiquilpan are a statue of Christ on the Cross, said to date from the times of Emperor Charles V (now in San Francisco church), and a fountain sculpted by Francisco Eduardo Tresguerras, Mexico’s most famous nineteenth century sculptor and architect. This fountain was originally on the El Cabezón hacienda, owned by the Cañedo family, in Jalisco, but the family later gave it to Lázaro Cárdenas to beautify his native town. Known as “The Fisherman’s Fountain” (Pila de los Pescadores), it is a few blocks from the main plaza. Another, newer fountain on the plaza, “La Aguadora” (The Water Carrier), commemorates the first anniversary of the nationalization of the oil industry.

The ancient hieroglyph for Jiquilpan, from pre-Columbian times, is a horizontal line of earth with two indigo plants above it, linking the town to the color blue. One of Jiquilpan’s most famous poets, Ramón Martínez Ocaranza, also linked his birthplace to the color blue, christening it, “the city of jacarandas”, a tag that quickly caught on and is still used today. Anyone who drives through the town during jacaranda season (February–March) will certainly agree that the tall trees  with their lavender-blue blossoms bordering the main avenues are a magnificent sight.

Note: This is a lightly edited excerpt from chapter 6 of my Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury (Sombrero Books, 2013)

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Apr 072014
 

A short distance west of the crater lake of Santa María del Oro, in the west Mexico state of Nayarit, is Ceboruco volcano which has a cobblestone road to the top. The road starts from the old and picturesque village of Jala, eight kilometers off the main highway (Highway 15). The cornfields around Jala yield some of the largest ears of corn in the world, more than 30 centimeters (one foot) in length, a cause for celebration in the village’s annual August festival. Jala was declared a Magic Town in 2012.

The road up Ceboruco is a geologist’s or biologist’s dream come true, a slowly unfolding series of volcanic forms and different types of vegetation with abundant surprises even for the scientifically expert. Small wonder, then, that the great German botanist Karl Theodor Hartweg was so impressed with Ceboruco when he collected plants here in the nineteenth century. To read more about his discoveries, see The geography of garden flowers, many of which originated in Mexico.

ceborucoNear the top are several short but interesting walks, some in shady, thickly vegetated valleys hidden between towering walls of blocky lava, some along the many overlapping rims of the various old craters of which this complex peak is comprised. Wherever you choose to walk, a multicolored profusion of flowers and butterflies will greet your eyes.

On the south side of an attractive grassy valley at kilometer sixteen, fumaroles send hot gases and steam high into the air reminding us that this volcano is not yet irrevocably extinct. A massive Plinian eruption in about the year 1000 sent ash plumes into the air and devastated a wide area around the volcano. The huge blocks of lava near the summit date from a prolonged series of eruptions in the early 1870s.

Highway 15 cuts through Ceboruco’s lava field a few kilometers after the Jala junction. For those not wishing to brave the cobblestone road up to the volcano, this is a good place to stretch the legs and marvel at the inhospitable, black lava blocks which were spewed out more than a hundred years ago.

This is a lightly edited extract from my “Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury” (link is to Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature), also available as either a Kindle edition or Kobo ebook.

Want to read more about Mexico’s geomorphosites? The link uses Geo-Mexico’s “Site Search” feature.

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Apr 052014
 

How are bananas grown commercially?

Banana plants (their lack of a central woody stem means they are plants, not trees) can grow to heights of 10 meters (30 ft), with leaves up to 4 meters (12 ft) in length. Banana plants grown commercially are usually much lower in height for ease of management and to limit wind damage.

Each individual plant produces a single stem. Each stem contains six to nine clusters of bananas (“hands”), each with 10 to 20 individual bananas (“fingers”). Commercial banana stems each produce six or seven hands with 150 to 200 bananas. Each stem weights between 20 and 50 kg.

A typical banana plant grows to a size with harvestable fruit in nine to 18 months. Harvesting bananas is often done by workers in pairs, with one cutting the fruit off the stem and the other catching the bananas to prevent them striking the ground and being damaged.

After the fruit is harvested, the stalk dies or is cut down. In its place one of more “daughter” (or “ratoon”) plants will sprout from the same underground rhizome that produced the mother plant. These shoots are genetic clones of the parent plant.

Banana plants require rich soil, nine to 12 months of sunshine and frequent heavy rains (2000-4000 mm/yr), generally more than can be provided by irrigation. Bananas are either spayed with pesticides or wrapped in plastic for protection from insects. Wrapping the fruit also reduces the bruising caused by friction with leaves in windy conditions.

Bananas are easily bruised and damaged in transit, but can be picked green (unripe) and ripened quickly at destination. They are generally picked and packed on or close to the plantation.

Commercial plantations of bananas often use very large areas of land, with 2000-2400 plants/hectare. Good access to transportation routes (roads or railways) is essential in order to avoid damage after packaging. Banana cultivation is very labor intensive. Banana plants are often used as shade for crops such as cacao or coffee.

Banana packing plant. Credit: Sagarpa.

Banana packing plant. Credit: Sagarpa.

Challenges for the commercial cultivation of bananas

Weather and climatic hazards

Banana plants can easily be damaged by strong wind and entire plantations can be destroyed by tropical storms and hurricanes.

Disease

Bananas are susceptible to a wide variety of pests and diseases. For example, Panama disease (aka Black Wilt), an infection in the soil, ravaged banana plantations throughout the Caribbean and Central American in the 1950s, virtually wiping out the Gros Michel variety cultivated at that time. The more fragile Cavendish bananas proved resistant, though they required more specialist packing. A new strain of Panama disease (Tropical race 4) capable of killing Cavendish bananas has emerged in Asia, but has yet to reach Latin
America.

Fungal diseases such as black sigatoka are one of the current major issues faced by banana producers. To combat black sigatoka, plantations may be aerially sprayed with pesticides from helicopters. Black sigatoka has already reduced banana yields in some parts of the world by up to 50%. Fighting this disease apparently now accounts for about 30% of Chiquita’s costs.

Commercial bananas have limited genetic variability and limited resistance to disease. This has led some experts to argue that fungal diseases may wipe out commercial banana plantations permanently, though the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) disagrees. The FAO argues that export varieties of bananas make up only about 10% of the total world banana crop, and that considerable genetic diversity remains in the plants grown for local consumption by small-scale farmers in developing countries.

Pesticide applications and pollution

Numerous studies have suggested that commercial banana production is often accompanied by high levels of pollution, both of the soil and of water courses. For example, the authors of “Soil and Water Pollution in a Banana Production Region in Tropical Mexico” studied an area of 10,450 hectares in Tabasco where the “agricultural activities are primarily banana production and agro forestry plantations (Spanish cedar and bananas).”

The area had been sprayed weekly with the pesticide Mancozeb for a decade at an application rate of 2.5 kg/ha/week. The study monitored soil, surface, subsurface and groundwater pollution. It found that there was a “severe” accumulation of manganese in the soil, while surface and subsurface water was “highly polluted” with ethylene thiourea, the main metabolite of Mancozeb. The authors concluded that “The level of pollution in the region presents a worrisome risk for aquatic life and for human health.”

Banana research

In Latin America, the Honduran Foundation for Agricultural Research is a leading banana breeding center and the source of many promising hybrids, including some that can either be cooked when green (like plantains) or eaten as ripe bananas. It usually takes decades to develop and introduce a new hybrid. Scientists are also working on genetically-engineered (GE) bananas that will remain ripe longer, and are trying to develop dwarf hybrids that produce large amounts of fruit for their weight, are easy to work, and less susceptible to storm damage.

Sources for science of cultivation methods and issues:

  • Morton, Julia. 1987. Banana, chapter in Fruits of warm climates.
  • Violette Geissen, Franzisco Que Ramos, Pedro de J. Bastidas-Bastidas, Gilberto Díaz-González, Ricardo Bello-Mendoza, Esperanza Huerta-Lwanga, and Luz E. Ruiz-Suárez, 2010. “Soil and Water Pollution in a Banana Production Region in Tropical Mexico”, in Bull. Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, October 2010, 407–413.

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Apr 032014
 

Geo-Mexico agrees entirely with Joseph Kerski (a key member of ESRI’s Education Team), that it is amazing “how little American students really know about their neighbor to the south.” In order to help remedy this situation, ESRI’s Witold Fraczek has created a series of online “story maps” about Mexico. The maps can be accessed in several different ways, including as an ArcGIS Online presentation and an iPad iBook, or via this webpage.

The six stories are entitled:

Each “story” includes several maps (covering topics such as population, landforms, climate, historical landmarks, caves, indigenous cultures, tourist attractions), some of which are interactive in the sense that clicking on a marked point brings up a pop-up panel with a photograph and/or additional information about that place. The maps, linked by short commentary notes, can be viewed at a variety of scales.

This series of maps has many strong points, and could certainly be useful in some geography classes, but it also has some weaknesses that should be taken into account when using them. Brief comments follow on each of the six stories.

1 Explore Mexico (Crime vs. Tourism)

The first map in this mini-series depicts “tourism attraction density” based on “650 major points of interest”. No clues are offered as to how the 650 points were selected, and indeed, some can not really be shown by points on a map since they cover larger areas. The map appears to weight all 650 points equally, though some are major, major tourist attractions (like the pyramids of Teotihuacan) that attract thousands of visitors a day, while others are very much less significant.

The second map, showing the “20 cities with most murders” uses data from 2011 (now out-dated) to conclude that “crime, measured by the total number of murders” appears to be “spatially isolated from the areas most attractive to tourists”. Surely murder rates (per 100,000 people) are a better measure than the number of murders in each city?

Murder rate per 100,000 is used as the basis for comparing Mexico with its regional neighbors, but Mexico is so large (and the murder rates across the country so varied) that comparisons at this scale mean relatively little, especially when some of the nations are tiny Caribbean islands, where one or two murders extra in any year can mean a significant spike in their murder rate.

2. Mexico’s Natural Wonders

The introductory text to this section rightly highlights how “the natural world of Mexico varies amazingly, from tropical jungles and coral reefs to deserts and glaciers.”

However, the statement that “Central Mexico is home to billions of Monarch Butterflies, whose 2 year /4 generation long trip to Canada and back amazes both scientists and the general public” is misleading. First, there may be millions of Monarch Butterflies, but there are not billions. Secondly, not all Monarch Butterflies migrate. Thirdly, those that do migrate are part of an annual (1 year) cycle involving 4 or 5 generations, not a two year cycle.

The text later claims that the Monarch Butterfly reserves “are located on old volcanic hills covered with pine-oak forest”. Actually, they overwinter in pine-fir forests. Mexico’s pine-oak woodlands occur only at much lower elevations.

The only birds incorporated into Mexico’s “biological wonders” are its pink flamingos, yet there are dozens of other bird species that are equally worthy of inclusion. Fortunately, the texts accompanying the maps of caves and cenotes (sinkholes), waterfalls, volcanoes, canyons and geologic sites appear to be much more accurate.

Screenshot from ESRI's story maps of Mexico.

Screenshot of ESRI’s story maps of Mexico.

3. Historical monuments

This section includes a useful map of Mexico’s World Heritage sites, though absent (from both the declared sites and the proposed sites) is the El Pinacate and Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve in Sonora, which in June 2013 became Mexico’s 32nd World Heritage Site.

The great weakness of the maps of “archaeological sites” and “missions and monasteries” is that no clues are given as to how and why particular locations were selected for inclusion. This leads to some anomalies in the distribution. For example, Oaxaca is almost a no-show for “missions and monasteries” according to the map, despite such buildings being the subject of an excellent and extensive book by Richard Perry published as long ago as 2006, Exploring Colonial Oaxaca: The Art and Architecture.

The map of Magic Towns is also a useful map, though many more towns have been added to the list since 2012.

4. Geography of Mexico – Did You Know?

This series of maps will be quite useful to many classes as a quick way to introduce the basic physical and settlement geography of the country. Maps of relief and precipitation are accompanied by one of time zones and a simple map of states (though these are not named on the “map story” version) and major cities.

The introductory text to this section claims that “the array of Mexican volcanoes stretches along the same latitude as the volcanoes of Hawaii. Analogously, those located at the eastern ends are the newest and highest.” This may be true for Hawaii, but is not the case for Mexico. There is no simple pattern to the heights of Mexico’s major volcanoes, and certainly those in the east are not significantly younger than those in the west.

5. Indigenous People of Mexico

The single map in this section attempts to show the location of about 25 of Mexico’s many indigenous groups. The colors chosen for each group are in many cases confusingly similar, though the names of each group do appear as you zoom in on parts of the map.

The introductory text makes a strong case for Mexico’s attractiveness to tourists, yet concludes with the strange (and unanswered) question, “So why isn’t Mexico a major tourist destination?” Mexicans would beg to differ. Mexico is a major tourist destination. In 2013, for example, it received 23.7 million international visitors who spent 13.8 billion dollars. In fact, Mexico is ranked #11 in the world in terms of tourist arrivals (and that number excludes the 70 million or so border tourists each year).

6. Cartograms of Mexico

The cartograms in the last section certainly add interest to the map stories, but the basis of the “travelers attractiveness” map (those 650 tourist attractions again) means that the map is not a very good reflection of tourist numbers across the country. The significance of the State of Mexico is greatly exaggerated, while states such as Quintana Roo (with the resort of Cancún) and Baja California Sur (with Los Cabos) fail to stand out.

The final “fictional map” purports to portray Mexico as perceived by Californians. Based on the author’s personal impressions, in some ways this is the single most interesting map in the entire collection!

All in all, these maps are a mixed bag. The idea behind them is great, as is the decision to produce them in a flexible GIS system. If the details were refined a little, and more explanation offered about the basis for selecting places for inclusion, they would be even more useful in geography classes, and might go some way towards helping American students gain a better appreciation for their southern neighbor.

Mar 312014
 

Latin America’s largest solar power plant is now supplying power to the city of La Paz in Baja California Sur. The Aura Solar I photovoltaic power plant has an installed capacity of 30 MW. The plant was officially inaugurated on 19 March 2014, and will supply about 82 GWh/year of electricity to around 164,000 residents of La Paz, more than two-thirds the city’s total population of 220,000. It is located a short distance east of the city, and replaces an old, air-polluting thermoelectric plant.

Auro Solar 1 project, La PazThe new power plant, owned by Corporación Aura Solar, is the largest photovoltaic power plant in Latin America, according to company chairman Daniel Servitje Montull. The 100-million-dollar plant occupies 100 hectares (250 acres) and was constructed by engineering firms Gauss Energía and Martifer Solar. The project relies on about 131,800 solar panels and has an estimated operational life of 30 years. About 25% of Mexico’s electricity is currently generated using clean energy sources. Mexico has set a national target of 35% clean energy by 2024, in order to minimize Mexico’s contribution to global climate change.

This 2-minute YouTube video shows various stages in the building of the plant:

For a description of one traveler’s informal visit to the plant, click here

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