TB

Apr 282016
 

Like most geographers, I collect maps and information wherever I travel; you never know what surprises await. Tourism publications are especially interesting since they are specifically designed (one assumes) to show the best side of the places described.

My collection of tourist brochures associated with Jalisco and the Lake Chapala area dates back more than thirty years. Many early versions had stylized maps, drawn by graphic designers, not cartographers, with sound (if uninspiring) text in Spanish. English translations were often unintelligible. In the 1980s, several bilingual members of the now-defunct Association of Travel Reporters, based in Guadalajara, offered to help the Jalisco State Tourism Department improve its translations, but the offer was politely declined.

chapala-brochure-2016

As this latest brochure relating to Lake Chapala shows, translation standards have not improved significantly since then, and remain a long way off “native speaker” level. This is particularly unfortunate, given that this area of Mexico has the largest concentration of English-speakers in the country.

Here, for example, is the English translation of the attractions of San Juan Cosalá:

One has to closely experience San Juan Cosalá in order to feel and enjoy it to the most, so come and discover a place you will never want to leave, for every happy moment can be lived here, as just by visiting you feel enveloped in an affluent of joy and vitality.

In getting to know it, just stroll across its Pier, or admire the harmonious architecture in San Juan Evangelista Church, or enjoy the exquisite aromas of seafood, bouncing from restaurants enlivened with fine music while walking over the Piedra Barrenada (Drilled Stone); or the rest;  freshness and fun offered in thermal waterparks and world level spas.

Undated tourism brochure, collected April 2016

Undated tourism brochure, collected April 2016

The cartography (above) also leaves a lot to be desired. A key (not shown in this post) is provided but the Jalisco Tourism department clearly needs to hire a geographer if they want to publish useful and meaningful maps. Details worth noting include:

  • No symbol in the key for the “gas station” signs shown on the map. The map shows only four gas stations in this area (and none in Chapala or Ajijic); there are dozens of others not shown on the map, including several in Chapala and Ajijic.
  • The map has no scale.
  • The Isla de los Alacranes, a short boat-ride from Chapala, is shown a long way south of its true position, and a lot further from Chapala than it really is.
  • The dark blue area is, according to the key, the Chapala Lakeshore. I have absolutely no idea what it really represents! Lake Chapala’s catchment area is a completely different shape to the dark blue area. The “Chapala Lakeshore” should, obviously, also include the south-east section of the lake around Las Palmas and Cojumatlán. Much of the area colored dark blue is out of view of the lake, and drains towards the Santiago River, not the lake.
  • Placing the word “CHAPALA” in the north-east section of the dark blue area is totally misleading. The area where the word is written is NOT in the lake basin, not in view of the lake, and is not even in the municipality of Chapala. Again, I have no idea why the artist responsible for this map chose to ignore geography.

It is 2016, and Jalisco State tourism officials still need to improve the quality of their brochures and maps. Come on guys! Time to up your game!

Apr 252016
 

Cuatro Ciénegas (“Four Marshes”) is a city and municipality in the northern border state of Coahuila. Founded in 1800, it has some historical significance, since it was the birthplace of Venustiano Carranza, Mexico’s president from 1915 to 1920.

The natural nearby “marshes” are highly unusual. Situated in an arid region (part of the Chihuahuan desert), they include several natural springs that feed more than 200 small ponds and wetlands. Some of the water supporting these unique wetlands, which cover an area of 84,400 hectares, is believed to be more than 200 million years old. The wetlands are an integral part of the UNESCO-designated Cuatro Ciénegas biosphere reserve. The reserve is home to several endemic organisms, including microorganisms such as cyanobacteria that historically helped produce oxygen for the Earth’s atmosphere. The area is considered “a living laboratory of evolution and the origin of life”.

Cuatro Ciénegas. Credit: Nancy T. Wilson (MexConnect)

Cuatro Ciénegas. Credit: Nancy T. Wilson (MexConnect.com)

Human activities in the surrounding area have led to severe water stress on the Cuatro Ciénegas marshes. The basin’s average natural recharge rate (replenishment rate) is about  25 million cubic meters a year, but the average yearly extraction rate, almost all for agricultural use, is close to 49 million cubic meters.

Water stress may be exacerbated in coming years by climate change, which may reduce rainfall while simultaneously increasing evapotranspiration.

Scientists have also identified five particular exotic (introduced) species that pose a significant risk to the long-term quality of the Cuatro Ciénegas wetlands. Whether naturally or deliberately introduced, these five species – African jewelfish, blue tilapia, giant cane (giant reed), Guatemalan fir and tamarisk (salt cedar) – threaten to displace endemic species and change natural nutrient flows and food chains. Guatemalan fir and tamarisk soak up water as they grow, further drying out the marshes (though, eventually, when little water is left, they will die off). The blue tilapia carries parasites that can jump to local species that have no resistance to them. The African jewelfish occupies the same ecological niche as the endemic mojarra and gradually replaces it.

Mexico’s Comision Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas (CONAMP), is now working with the Mexican Fund for Nature Conservation (FNCN) and the Canadian government agency Parks Canada to develop and implement a control and eradication program to tackle these five invasive species. The long-term survival of this highly unusual ecosystem may well depend on this program’s success.

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Apr 212016
 

Mexico is by far the world’s largest producer, consumer and exporter of avocados. Production topped 1.3 million metric tons last year, well ahead of the USA (240,000 tons) and Chile (205,000 tons). Mexico’s avocado exports have risen by a staggering 414% over the past eight years to more than 600,000 metric tons in 2015, worth close to US$2 billion.

logo_brands_avocados-from-mexicoThe state of Michoacán is by far the most important single state in Mexico for avocado farms and accounts for 8 out of very 10 avocados sold in the USA, according to the Association of Avocado Producers, Packers and Exporters of Michoacán (APEAM). APEAM says that more than 50% of all the avocados consumed in the world come from Michoacán. In the town of Tancítaro, one of the main centers for avocado-growing, APEAM estimates that nine out of every 10 pesos can be traced back to avocado production. Mexico’s avocado industry employs more than 300,000 people in total, 100,000 directly and over 200,000 indirectly.

Many avocado farms are quite small. Mexico has more than 12,000 avocado producers with individual farms under five hectares in size. As noted in this previous post, the clearance of land for avocado cultivation can barely keep up with the ever-increasing demand.

Problems with drug cartel activity continue. As we noted a few years ago, narcos insist on their cut of the profitable avocado business and have made life difficult for growers, traders and truck drivers. The Wall Street Journal has reported that this makes Michoacán avocados the equivalent of African blood diamonds. Avocado producers reportedly have to pay cartels up to 1,000 pesos (US$60) a hectare to avoid problems.

Cartels aside, export success looks set to continue for a while longer, since China and South Korea have now opened their markets to receive Michoacán avocados.

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Apr 182016
 

Only weeks after the suspension of hotel construction work in the Malecón Tajamar area of Cancún due to the wanton destruction of mangroves, work on another major hotel project in Cancón has also been stopped.

This time, it is the building of Riu Hotel’s 95-million-dollar, 530-room, Hotel Riviera Cancún, with two 70-story towers, that has been halted. The project is in the Punta Nizuc area of Cancún’s Hotel Zone, off Boulevard Kukulcán. A judge has now ordered that the project be permanently suspended because it infringes a federally-protected zone that extends 100 meters from nearby mangroves in the Nichupté protected area.

Cancún by Arthur Gonoretzky (Flickr)

Cancún by Arthur Gonoretzky (Flickr)

The judge also ruled that Fonatur (the National Tourism Development Fund) had illegally sold a beach access road to benefit the Riu development. In addition, the municipal government of Cancún had approved a change of land use category (zoning) for the area in order for the hotel construction to begin. The original zoning limited construction to a height of only three stories.

According to press reports, Luis Riu, the president of the Riu hotel chain, claims the issue has nothing to do with mangroves but is about political influence, and because the wealthy owner of a neighboring hotel had been upset at not acquiring the land himself.

Despite these local successes, it is unlikely that this latest setback to hotel construction on the coast really signals a sea-change in Mexico’s attitude to unbridled development of its shoreline. There are still numerous other projects underway in other parts of the country that endanger local habitats, as well as many more major projects on the drawing board. Even so, it is encouraging that the judicial process is showing signs of siding with environmentalists and those seeking to ensure that Mexico’s magnificent coastline and scenery survive its grandiose tourism development plans.

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Apr 112016
 

According to ECOCE, a non-profit environmental grouping of 24 food and beverage firms, representing more than 80 brands such as Peñafiel, Bonafont, Herdez, Jumex and Coca-Cola, Mexico is the world’s leading recycler of hard plastic PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles and containers.

Mexico has 14 PET recycling plants, the construction of which represents total investments of around US$314 million.

Ever wondered what thousands and thousands of crushed plastic bottles look like? Try this short video showing the processes involved in a PetStar PET-recycling plant:

In 2015, Mexico produced 722,000 metric tons of PET, of which 364,000 tons (50.4%) were recovered for recycling. This rate of recycling is well ahead of Canada (40%), Brazil (42%), the U.S. (31%) and the European Union (21%). Recycled PET, worth about $250 a ton, is reused to make bottles, containers, and various textile products.

60% of Mexico’s recycled PET is destined for the national market, the remaining 40% is exported to China, the U.S. and elsewhere.

Source:

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Apr 072016
 

In August 2012, in The value in Mexico of unpaid work in the home, we saw that a study by the National Statistics Institute (INEGI) based on 2010 data had calculated that routine work done in the home (almost 80% of the time-value involved comes from women) was worth about 2.9 trillion pesos to the Mexican economy each year, equivalent to more than 20% of Mexico’s GDP. The INEGI calculations included the costs in time/labor needed to meet the demands of the home, and the net salary that would be paid for someone undertaking similar tasks.

INEGI has just published updated statistics on this topic.  In 2014, unpaid work by women in the home was equivalent to 18% of GDP. This figure means that female contributions in the home continue to make a greater contribution to national GDP than manufacturing (16.7%), commerce (15.5%) or education (4.1%).

The latest INEGI figures show that for every 10 hours that women work (paid or unpaid), men work only 8.3 hours. According to INEGI, the average value of unpaid work by women in the home in rural areas amounted to  51,808 pesos a year (about US$4300 at the then rate of exchange). The value for women married or living with a partner was 61,456 pesos, compared to 26,082 pesos for single women. The average in households which included children under 6 years of age was 60,628 pesos.

Of 29 million Mexicans in employment (in 5.7 million economic units), women account for 43.8% (graph):

% of women in different sectors of the workforce

% of women in different sectors of the workforce, 2014

The figures do reveal a slight decrease in gender inequality since the employment of women is rising slightly faster than that of men, by about 2.0%/year compared to the overall figure of 1.4%/year. In 2014, about 50% of service workers, 34.5% of manufacturing workers, and 11.0% of construction workers were female.

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Apr 042016
 

The world’s first ecological museum was designed and built in Mexico, at the archaeological site of Xochicalco, in the state of Morelos. The museum, about thirty kilometers south of Cuernavaca, was built as part of Mexico’s celebrations to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the voyage of Christopher Columbus.

The project, which overs 12,676 square meters, was begun in 1993. Basic construction was completed in 1994 and the museum was formally inaugurated in April 1996.

Xochicalco is an interesting archaeological site, best known for its astronomical significance. Some archaeologists have made a case that its most lavishly-decorated pyramid commemorates a major conference of astronomers, held here in the eighth century AD, in order to plan a calendar adjustment.

At Xochicalco, the scenic and imposing ruins visible today reflect only a small part of what was formerly a much more extensive city. Numerous constructions, linked by cobblestone tracks, rise above the platforms; they include palaces, temples, ball courts and more than one “observatory”.

Xochicalco remained prominent until about AD1000, after which it was abandoned. When the Spaniards arrived in the sixteenth century, they learned of the ruins, but had no inkling of their astronomical significance.

Two of the many natural underground caves at Xochicalco show clear evidence of architectural modification, with the perforation of an artificial hole or “chimney” from the cave to the ground above. These vertical shafts enabled very precise celestial observations. For instance, the vertical north side of the five-meter-long chimney down into one cave would have resulted in a precisely vertical beam of sunlight on the days the sun is directly overhead.

Xochicalco was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999 and receives about 800,000 visitors a year.

 

Xochicalco site museum

Xochicalco site museum

The challenge in building the museum is that there is no established settlement near the archaeological site, so there was no local provision of potable water, drainage or electricity.

As a result, the local Mexican architect, Rolando J. Dada y Lemus, designed a building that was almost entirely self-sufficient.

The project, which is fully wheelchair accessible. had three components:

  • Access, parking and exterior gardens, covering 4,550 square meters
  • Entrance patio and three interior gardens, 1,237 square meters
  • Six covered exhibition rooms connected to an entrance hall which has a view of the site, restaurant, administrative and service areas, 1,870 square meters

The museum has parking for 70 cars and 14 buses, and can accommodate 600 people at a time.

How is this museum so sustainable?

  • Underlying the museum is a 550,000-liter cistern. For a few months during the winter dry season, water has to be trucked in from a nearby reservoir – this is the only “input” from outside.
  • The museum’s interior temperatures remain moderate all year because there is a 20-cm gap between exterior and interior walls. When exterior walls heat up in summer, that heat has little effect on the temperature of the interior walls.
  • Shallow outdoor pools around the perimeter cool outside air before it enters the building.
  • Skylights, used to illuminate the exhibits, also allow warm air inside the building to escape.
  • Photo-voltaic solar panels provide sufficient power for computers, lights, and the cistern pump.
  • Rainwater is captured and utilized for much of the year.
  • Wastewater is treated and used to water the gardens

The museum cost 6 million pesos to build, but the energy savings alone mean that all that cost has already been “recuperated”. (Similar size museums have electricity bills of around 1 million pesos a year)

Sources:

Mar 312016
 

The River Atoyac, a river more than 120 kilometers (75 miles) long, in the state of Veracruz, has suddenly dried up. The dramatic disappearance of the river is believed to be due to the collapse of the roof of a cavern in the underlying limestone. This caused the formation of a narrow sinkhole, 30 meters (100 feet) long, that now swallows the river and diverts its water underground.

rio_atoyac-mapa-el-universal

Drainage basin of the Río Atoyac. Credit: El Universal

The collapse happened on Sunday 28 February; residents of the small ranch town of San Fermín heard a thunderous noise at the time. Within 48 hours, the river had disappeared.

The River Atoyac rises on the slopes of the Pico de Orizaba, Mexico’s highest peak. Unfortunately, the cavern collapse occurred only 3 kilometers from the river’s source, leaving almost all of its course dry, with potentially serious consequences for up to 10,000 people living in the river basin who have now lost their usual water supply.

The disappearance of the river will also have adverse impacts on fauna and flora, and jeopardize sugar-cane farming and other activities downstream. The fauna of the river included fresh-water crayfish (langostinos) which were an important local food source.

The municipalities affected are Amatlán de los Reyes, Atoyac, Yanga, Cuitláhuac, Felipe Carrillo Puerto, Cotaxtla, Medellìn and Boca del Río.

The course of the river approximately follows that of federal highway 150D, the main toll highway between the cities of Orizaba and Veracruz.

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Mar 242016
 

A recent National Geographic piece about the U.S.-Mexico border wall has some stunning photos of exactly what the wall looks like in various different places.

U.S. business magnate, and would-be politician Donald Trump has repeatedly promised to completely seal the U.S.-Mexico border with a wall if he is elected President, and has vowed that he would make Mexico pay for the expense. At present, the parts of the border not already walled or fenced off have security via border guards, drones and scanners.

Border fence near Campo, California. Credit: Fred Greaves/Reuters

Border fence near Campo, California. Credit: Fred Greaves/Reuters

The National Geographic article has photographs taken by James Whitlow Delano, who has visited the border several times in the past decades as the walls have gone up.

One photo shows the border wall separating Jacumba, California, from Jacume, Mexico, in the high desert. Until September 2001, several years after the first border barricade was built here in the mid-1990s, “residents of Jacume could cross freely into Jacumba to buy groceries or to work, and children would be brought across to go to school or to the health clinic.” Now, what was formerly a 10-minute walk has become a 2-hour drive through the official border crossing at Tecate.

Another photo shows the infamous Smuggler’s Gulch fence, part of a 60-million-dollar project to ensure security between San Diego and Tijuana by completing a triple line of fencing.

The photos are thought-provoking images of one of the world’s most significant land borders. The situation along the border has changed dramatically in recent years. When the first fences were built, Mexican migration to the U.S. was on the rise. Now, however, the net flow of people between the two countries each year is close to zero:

For more about the U.S.-Mexico border zone, see these related Geo-Mexico posts:

Mar 212016
 

Cancún International Airport (CUN) has opened a new terminal, Terminal 3. The airport is the nation’s busiest for international traffic and second only to Mexico City for national traffic. The airport served a total of more than 19 million passengers in 2015, 11% more than the previous year.

The new 60-million-dollar, state-of-the-art Terminal 3 is exclusively for international passengers, and increases operating capacity by 4 million passenger movements a year. An additional terminal, Terminal 4, is scheduled to open in 2017.

New terminal at Cancun airport

New terminal at Cancun airport

According to federal officials, airport investments in the first three years of the current administration have exceeded 1.8 billion dollars. This has triggered the addition of 260 national and 186 international air routes. Passenger movements in the past three years have risen 33% (to 73 million), while air freight has grown 17%.

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