Mexico’s scenery: spectacular aerial views

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Dec 102015
 

The award-winning video team at PostandFly.com.mx continue to produce some powerfully-evocative short videos focusing on Mexico’s extraordinary scenery.

Many of the individual clips in this video were filmed in Baja California Sur, with occasional forays into Chihuahua and central and southern Mexico:

For those that like to match names with places (that’s what makes you a geographer, right?), here is the list of places in order of their appearance in the video, with a few clues to act as “landmarks” along the way:

1Bacalar, Quintana Roo21Puerta del Cielo, Queretaro
2Isla Partida, Baja California Sur22Guerrero Negro, Baja California Sur
3Guerrero Negro, Baja California Sur23Playa Escondida, Nayarit
4Isla San José, Baja California Sur24Acapulco, Guerrero
5Bacalar, Quintana Roo25Isla San Francisquito, Baja California Sur
6San Ignacio, Baja California Sur26Isla Partida, Baja California Sur
7El Cielo, Tamaulipas27Basaseachi, Chihuahua [waterfall]
8Isla Partida, Baja California Sur28Xicotepec, Puebla
9Basaseachi, Chihuahua [waterfall]29Caleta y Caletilla, Acapulco, Guerrero
10Isla Coronado, Baja California Sur30Islas Marietas, Nayarit
11Isla Partida, Baja California Sur31Angel de la Independencia, Mexico City
12Basaseachi, Chihuahua [waterfall]32Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco
13Punta Colorada, Baja California Sur33Estrella de Puebla, Puebla
14Bacalar, Quintana Roo34Guadalajara, Jalisco
15Cholula, Puebla [church on hill]35Arco, Los Cabos, Baja California Sur [marine arch]
16Laguna ojo de liebre, Baja California Sur36Tlaxcala, Tlaxcala
17Laguna ojo de liebre, Baja California Sur37Taxco, Guerrero
18Loreto, Baja California Sur38Guerrero Negro, Baja California Sur
19Loreto, Baja California Sur39La Paz, Baja California Sur
20Tequila, Jalisco [railway track at 1:49]40Isla San Francisquito, Baja California Sur

Want to learn more about some of these places? Before resorting to Sr. Google, try our site search function.

Enjoy!

Other video resources on this site:

Will UNESCO give World Heritage status to Lake Chapala?

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Sep 072015
 

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

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

Where is Lake Chapala?

Map of Lake Chapala

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

Why should Lake Chapala be declared a World Heritage site?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posts related to Lake Chapala:

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

Want to read more?

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

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

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

The geography of the Spanish language: how important is Spanish around the world?

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Aug 242015
 

The Index of Human Development ranks Spanish as the second most important language on earth, behind English but ahead of Mandarin.

Spanish is the third most widely used language on the internet (graph), although less than 8% of total internet traffic takes place in Spanish. Spanish is the second most used language on Facebook, a long way behind English but well ahead of Portuguese.

Languages used on the Internet (2015). Source: Internet World Stats

Languages used on the Internet (2015). Source: Internet World Stats

According to El español, una lengua viva – Spanish, a living language, a report from the Instituto Cervantes in Spain (which promotes the Spanish language abroad via language classes and cultural events) there are about 559 million Spanish speakers worldwide. This figure includes 470 million native speakers and an additional 89 million who have some command of the language.

While Mexico remains the world’s largest Spanish-speaking country, with about 121 million Spanish speakers, second place belongs to the USA, followed by Colombia. The USA has an estimated 41 million native speakers of Spanish plus 11 million who are bilingual; Colombia has 48 million Spanish-speakers.

In terms of economic importance, the report’s authors calculate that Spanish speakers contribute 9.2% of the world’s GDP. About two-thirds of Spanish-linked GDP is generated in North America (USA, Canada and Mexico) and the European Union, while Latin America (excluding Mexico) accounts for 22%.

The main concentrations of Spanish speakers in the USA are in the states of New Mexico (47% of the population), California and Texas (both 38%), and Arizona (30%). 18% of New Yorkers speak Spanish and, somewhat surprisingly, more than 6% of Alaskans are also Spanish speakers. Interestingly, the US Census Office estimates that by 2050, the USA will have 138 million Spanish speakers and could then overtake Mexico as the largest Spanish-speaking nation in the world. This assumes that current predictions for Mexico’s population increase over the next 35 years hold true.

Want to learn more?

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Aug 132015
 

Like many of our readers, we love looking at maps. It is always interesting to study maps compiled by cartographers working in different countries and different languages. It can also be a great way to learn some new words and phrases in a foreign language.

world-atlas-spanish

This latest resource is therefore well worth recommending. It is an outstanding Spanish language World Atlas, accessible online as a series of three pdf files:

The lavishly illustrated atlas was prepared by experts from the Geography Institute of Mexico’s National University (UNAM). It is aimed at high school students and the maps are complemented by carefully selected info-graphics and informative text.

Exploring these maps is a great way for native English speakers to improve their Spanish language geographic vocabulary!

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Jul 092015
 

The Jalisco state government has released an informative 5-minute video highlighting some of the reasons why Jalisco is one of the best locations in Mexico for farming, business and tourism.

The video can be viewed on Facebook: Esto es Jalisco. This is Jalisco.

Following opening shots showing some of the diverse landscapes of the state, including the Piedrotas at Tapalpa, the majestic Volcán de Colima (whose summit is actually in Jalisco, not Colima) and the Horseshoe Falls near the Dr. Atl park on the northern edge of Guadalajara, the video’s subtitles (in English) turn to techno0logy and innovation. Jalisco is the first state in Mexico to have a Ministry of Innovation, Science and Technology. The state capitol Guadalajara is the center for MIND (Mexican Innovation and Design Center) and was chosen by MIT for the establishment of a Creative Digital City.

Map of Jalisco state

Map of Jalisco. Copyright 2010 Tony Burton. All rights reserved.

The city also has major cultural and sporting attractions, from libraries to golf courses to hosting international events in the Expo Guadalajara to concerts and its own international film festival. It also hosts the world’s second largest book fair (after Hamburg). Its industrial activity ranges from agro-processing (including tequila) to pharmaceuticals, information technology, automotive and aerospace firms to renewable energy enterprises.

Foreign investment in Jalisco has risen by an average of 17% a year for the past decade, with foreign firms finding the state’s geographic position advantageous for serving central Mexico and with excellent trade links to Asia and the U.S.

The state’s leading coastal resort is Puerto Vallarta, but tourism is also important in the state’s interior. Jalisco has five places with Magic Town status: Lagos de Moreno, San  Sebastian del Oeste, Tapalpa, Mazamitla and Tequila.

Jalisco currently accounts for 6.6% of national GDP and the state government clearly expects this contribution to grow in coming years. This professionally-produced video is an excellent visual introduction to one of Mexico’s most important states.

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Mexico’s webcams

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Jun 292015
 

There are thousands of webcams operating in Mexico offering armchair geographers the opportunity to see up-to-date images of active volcanoes, megacities, archaeological sties, small towns and tourist resorts.

Many of the major webcams are listed at Webcams de México, which has several great features once you’ve chosen a particular webcam, including access to prior images for any date and time, or the ability to compile an instant time-lapse video covering any period of time.

Links to webcams listed at Webcams de México:

Explore Mexico via its webcams! Enjoy!

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The River Santiago and the Juanacatlan Falls: from the “Niagara of Mexico” to the “Silent River”

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Jun 112015
 

In summer 1987, while living in Guadalajara, I entertained a fellow UK geographer, who arrived with a long list of places he wanted to visit. Over the next few weeks, we ticked them off one by one. Near the end of his visit, he asked why I hadn’t yet taken him to see the famous Juanacatlán Falls, the “Niagara of Mexico”, despite them being in his “top ten” places to see. “OK”, I said, “let’s go!”

Traffic was heavy and as we drove across Guadalajara, I could see his impatience building. Finally, he asked me, “Where are they? How close are we?” I replied that we were “fairly close” but that I was absolutely certain that he would recognize them before they came into sight. A few minutes later and he screwed up his nose and said, “Ughh. What’s that smell?” “See?”, I said triumphantly, “I knew you’d recognize them before you saw them!”

Juanacatlán Falls in 1989. Photo: Tony Burton. All rights reserved.

Juanacatlán Falls in 1989. Photo: Tony Burton. All rights reserved.

Even thirty years ago, long before NAFTA, the Juanacatlán Falls were a sorry sight (and source of a worse smell). Since then, and since NAFTA, they have only become worse. These once-majestic falls, the first Mexican landscape on a postage stamp back in 1899, have been reduced to a trickle of foul-smelling effluent. At the start of the twentieth century, the falls provided hydro-electric power for Guadalajara and turned the wheels of a cotton and woolen mill, the ruins of which now stand to one side.

A recent piece of investigative journalism about the River Santiago, the river which created these waterfalls, makes for disturbing reading. It provides plenty of evidence that the rapid increase in factories along the river, mainly post-NAFTA, may have provided 50,000 new jobs, but has also led to worsening water quality to the point where exposure to the river presents a serious public health risk.

In “River of Death“, Steve Fisher lays bare the terrible reality faced by those living and working close to the river. This is a harrowing tale, with heart-rending testimony from several local residents. On a positive note, the related video, Fusion Investigates: Silent River (below) describes how Sofía Enciso and her family have defied death threats and are determined to confront the factories responsible, while demanding that the relevant authorities take action to enforce federal water quality regulations, and start to clean up the river.

Perhaps the most telling single statistic is that precisely zero companies were fined for failing to comply with water discharge regulations between 2005 and 2011.

In the video, the mayor of El Salto, the main town near the Juanacatlán Falls, claims that the river has become polluted in the past thirty years. I guess he must be too young to remember that they were seriously polluted long before that.

Is it too much to hope that the government, corporations and society in the El Salto area can all come together to remedy this appalling tale of willful mismanagement? Local residents are right to insist on the enforcement of existing water quality regulations and on the implementation of remedial measures to reverse the decline of this major river and its once-famous waterfalls. Even more importantly, urgent measures are needed to reverse the deteriorating public health situation faced by all those living or working nearby.

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Earthshots: Satellite Images of Environmental Change: Angangueo, Mexico

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Jun 042015
 

In 2015, the USGS published a series of satellite images of environmental change [no longer online] of the area around the town of Angangueo in the eastern part of the state of Michoacán (very close to the border with the State of México) and the mountainous hillsides covered in pine-fir forest where the migrating Monarch butterflies spend their winters.

The pine-fir forests are found at an elevation of around 3000 meters (10,000 feet) above sea level. The butterflies congregate in a small number of locations, forming massive clumps on the trees. Any major disturbance, such as a windstorm or excessive snow, can cause the loss of (literally) millions of Monarchs. The overwintering Monarchs need just the right range of temperatures. On the one hand, they must not be so cold that they freeze or are not warm enough to flutter in search of food and water. On the other hand, if it is too warm, they may burn through their energy reserves or need to replenish too much moisture. The canopy of the pine-fir forest provides some protection, but even a partial thinning of this canopy will change the microclimate beneath.

In this post, we will will take a quick look at the images of Chincua reserve. This reserve includes the location where overwintering congregations of Monarch butterflies were reported for the first time in the mid-1970s. This is one of the areas where conservationists fear that the pine-fir forest (appearing vibrant red in the images) may have suffered too much clearing and thinning, which may have altered the area’s microclimate and made it unsuitable for successful overwintering.

When looking at the images, bear in mind that:

    • Red signifies healthy vegetation.
    • Landsat images are always taken in mid-morning, so shaded northwest slopes look darker. Shadows can vary slightly from one month to the next.
    • The images show forest clearance, but do not reveal forest thinning. The consequences of forest thinning (the removal of individual trees) may be just as significant in the context of the annual Monarch butterfly migration.
Satellite images of Chincua reserve, 1986, 2000 and 2011.

Satellite images of Chincua reserve, 1986, 2000 and 2011. Click to enlarge.

In the 2000 image, the Chincua reserve shows some rashy gray areas just above and to the right of the center of the image. These gray areas are not visible on the 1986 image. This may be evidence of a fire, or some other kind of clearing. The 2011 image seems to indicate that the vegetation in that area has recovered, at least to some extent.

A truly detailed examination of these images is beyond the scope of this short post, but high-resolution images (which can be downloaded from the USGS site) will repay a closer study. See, for example, the satellite images of Pelon.

Finally, it is worth remembering that the Monarch as a species is not endangered. There is, indeed, a year-round population of Monarchs in central and western Mexico that is non-migratory owing to the ready availability of milkweed, the only plant on which female Monarchs lay their eggs, throughout the year. It is only the butterfly migration that is considered an “endangered phenomenon”, and all three countries involved (Canada, USA and Mexico) have now instituted programs to try to ensure its long-term success.

Satellite monitoring of the areas of importance to the Monarch butterfly should help identify the key areas on which conservation efforts need to be focused.

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May 182015
 

We have frequently commented on the importance of migration channels linking specific towns in Mexico to particular places in the USA.

quinonesIn his latest book, Dreamland: The True Tale of Americas Opiate Epidemic, journalist Sam Quinones, one of our favorite writers about Mexico, describes the fascinating details of how one particular migration channel – from the small, nondescript town of Xalisco in the western state of Nayarit, to the city of Denver – has fueled an innovative delivery network for black tar heroin, a network that now spreads its tentacles across much of the USA.

Quinones relates the work of narcotics officer Dennis Chavez, who joined the narcotics unit of the Denver Police Department, and was determined to understand the reasons behind the escalation of black tar heroin dealing. Chavez listened carefully to his informants and a key breakthrough came when one particular informant told Chavez that while “the dealers, the couriers with backpacks of heroin, the drivers with balloons of heroin”, all looked very random and scattered, they were not. They were all connected. “They’re all from a town called Xalisco.”

Indeed they were, and the system they had set up was enterprising, innovative, and designed to avoid undue attention.

Read an excerpt:

This excerpt from Dreamland: The True Tale of Americas Opiate Epidemic, published on Daily Beast, explains how “in the 1990s, innovative drug traffickers from Mexico figured out that white kids cared most about service and convenience.”

Sam Quinones’ latest book is a gripping account of many previously murky aspects of the U.S. drug scene. It should interest anyone who wants to understand the human stories behind drug trafficking, international migration and globalization. A must-read!

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Ground subsidence in Mexican cities

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May 112015
 

The sinking of parts of Mexico City into the former lake bed on which much of it is built is well documented, but to what extent does subsidence also affect other Mexican cities?

Estell Chaussard and her co-authors considered this question in their article entitled “Magnitude and extent of land subsidence in central Mexico revealed by regional InSAR ALOS time-series survey.” Subsidence, often resulting from over-depletion of ground water, has a range of human impacts, including decreased supply of safe water, an increase in flood risk, and a greater hazard threat from building or street failure.

In their time-series analysis of more than 600 Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR) images of central Mexico, the authors found evidence of significant subsidence in seventeen cities, including sixteen cities with a population of 100,000 inhabitants or more. The cities affected (with their population in parentheses) are listed here from east to west:

  • Puebla (2,500,000)
  • Mexico City (21,000,000)
  • Toluca (427,000)
  • Querétaro (825,000)
  • San Luis de la Paz (101,000)
  • Celaya (266,000)
  • San Luis Potosí (936,000)
  • Morelia (537,000)
  • Salamanca (144,000)
  • Irapuato (317,000)
  • Silao (147,000)
  • León (1,400,000)
  • Aguascalientes (735,000)
  • Zamora (186,000)
  • Guadalajara (3,800,000)
  • Ahuacatlán (6,500)
  • Tepic (261,000)

Their analysis suggested that the rates of subsidence over a two-year period were nearly constant at most locations, typically between 5 and 10 cm/yr. (In contrast, subsidence in Mexico City was around 30 cm/yr, in line with previous studies.)

ground-fissures

Ground failure by groundwater withdrawal subsidence. Credit: Natural Science, Vol. 6, No 3, 2014.

An earlier study – Subsidence risk due to groundwater extraction in urban areas using fractal analysis of satellite images – had found that the intense groundwater pumping regime in Irapuato for urban supply and agriculture (the area is one of Mexico’s main strawberry-growing centers) had resulted in 18 subsidence fault systems with a total length of 27 km, causing damages to more than 200 houses.

Meanwhile, previous work in nearby Celaya – Subsidence in Celaya, Guanajuato, Central Mexico: implications for groundwater extraction and the neotectonic regime – found that subsidence in that city was due to a complex combination of factors, and not entirely due to excessive groundwater extraction. Most earth fissures in the Celaya area were related to pre-existing structural features, and the authors suggested that thermal springs also appeared to play a role.

References:

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