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.

americans-in-mexico-2010-graph

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. 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! [Based in Mexico City, The News – thenews.mx – was the closest thing to a national daily in English, with distribution points in many parts of the country, but ceased publication in early 2016.]

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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.

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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!

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Oct 282015
 

The 2015 survey of connectivity by Mexican consultancy Gabinete de Comunicación Estratégica (GCE) provides further support, if any were needed, of the north-south digital divide that we have commented on several times previously.

GCE carried out a telephone survey of 49,600 people, across the entire country, including respondents in the 76 largest cities. Respondents ranged in age from 18 to 50; 48% had a university degree and about the same percentage was categorized as “lower middle class”.

The survey question was “¿Cuenta usted con conexión a Internet?” (Do you have a connection to the Internet?)

At city level, Cancún was the most connected city. The two cities sharing the lowest levels of connectivity were Tlaxcala and Acapulco.

Cyber-connectivity in Mexico, 2015. Data: GCE 2015. Cartography: Geo-Mexico

Cyber-connectivity in Mexico, 2015. Data: GCE 2015. Cartography: Geo-Mexico

At state level (map), Baja California Sur led the way in terms of Internet users (84% of respondents claiming access to the Internet), followed by Nuevo León (81.5%) and Baja California (80.4%). (Note that the likely margin of error in results is plus or minus 4%.)

Guerrero is at the other end of the scale, with just 49% of residents online. After last-place Guerrero came Zacatecas, where 53% were connected, and Oaxaca with 55%.

Most Internet users in those three states used a desktop computer to connect. On average, most Internet users spent an hour or two a day online and social networks were the most popular destination for 20% of respondents. Facebook led the way among those networks with 74%, followed by WhatsApp with 12% and Twitter with 7%.

Another question in the survey asked which was the most trustworthy source for information: the Internet, television or newspapers. The Internet won with 28%, television came second with 25% and newspapers trailed with 24%. Frederico Berrueto Pruneta, general manager of GCE, asserts that, “What we are seeing is a very clear tendency where the Internet has won the battle over television, which had already won against newspapers”.

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Oct 232015
 

Follow-up, 28 October 2015: In the event, Hurricane Patricia did not cause anywhere near the catastrophic damage that it might have. This was partly because it was narrower than most hurricanes of its size and happened to continue on a path that missed the major resorts of Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo, and partly because it then rapidly lost strength as it smashed into the Western Sierra Madre (Sierra Madre Occidental), though it did bring torrential rain to many areas. This post-hurricane report in the Mexico Daily News summarizes the impacts.

Post-hurricane photos and video:

Original post:

As of Friday morning (23 October), Hurricane Patricia is a Category 5 hurricane, the highest rating possible, and “now the strongest ever hurricane to hit the eastern north Pacific region”, according to World Meteorological Organization spokeswoman Clare Nullis, citing an update from the US National Hurricane Center (NHC).

Hurricane Patricia’s central pressure of 880mb is the lowest for any tropical cyclone globally for over 30 years.

The maximum sustained winds associated with Hurricane Patricia are up to 325 km/hr (200 mi/hr), “enough to get a plane in the air and keep it flying”.

hurricane-patricia-2

Hurricane Patricia is heading towards land at 16 km/hr (10 mi/hr), and is currently predicted to make landfall somewhere close to Manzanillo in the state of Colima, later today (Friday 23 October).

Map of Pacific Coast beaches. Copyright 2010 Tony Burton. All rights reserved.

Map of Pacific Coast beaches. Copyright 2010 Tony Burton. All rights reserved.

Hurricane warnings are in effect for several towns along the Pacific coast, including the major resort of Puerto Vallarta. Puerto Vallarta has established 18 shelter locations to house evacuees.

People living in the coastal areas of the states of Nayarit, Jalisco, Colima and Michoacán are all likely to experience severe impacts from this hurricane. The hurricane could cause a significant storm surge up to 2 meters high along much of the coast, and potentially up to 6 meters high in some bays such as Barra de Navidad-Melaque, and neighboring Cuestacomate.

hurricane-patricia

Officials are warning residents to prepare for torrential rain (in excess of 300 mm is expected in some areas), exceptionally-strong winds and power outages, and are readying emergency shelters. Air traffic is already being affected, with delays reported for various domestic flights.

Mexico’s national water commission, CONAGUA, reports that the government has 1,782 temporary shelters available in the states of Michoacán, Colima, and Jalisco with a combined capacity of more than 258,000 people. Around 50,000 people should have been evacuated before the hurricane hits land, according to Mexican Civil Protection agencies.

Once it makes landfall, the hurricane is expected to weaken quickly, though inland areas, such as Guadalajara and the Lake Chapala area, will receive heavy rain.

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Oct 222015
 

It is easy to forget how rapidly transportation systems have changed since the horse and buggy days. The completion of the Mexican stretch of the Pan-American Highway (i.e. the part from the U.S. border to Guatemala) in the late 1940s was a significant turning-point in the development of Mexico’s road network. The highway made previously remote areas more accessible. It also served as a symbol of unity and Mexico’s progress into the modern era.

The official route of the Pan-American Highway through Mexico is from Nuevo Laredo in Tamaulipas south to Mexico City along Highway 85, and then continuing on Highway 190 to Oaxaca and the border with Guatemala. Various northern “spurs” were later added, including one from Nogales to Mexico City along highway 15, the route used by Richardson’s expedition:

Mexican section of Pan-American Highway, 1941 (from Richardson's Adventure South)

Mexican section of Pan-American Highway, 1941 (from Richardson’s Adventure South)

Prior to its completion, only a handful of intrepid souls had dared to attempt driving the entire route of the Pan-American Highway through Mexico. The most noteworthy expedition was the three-man Richardson Pan-American Highway Expedition of 1941. Amazingly, with only occasional assistance from mules, trucks, passers-by and boats, this expedition successfully drove all the way from Detroit in the U.S. to Tierra del Fuego, Chile.

The three men – christened “The Three Damn Fools” – were journalist Sullivan Richardson, Arnold Whitaker and Kenneth C. Van Hee. The car they used was a 1941 Plymouth 4 door sedan, serial No. 15031250, engine number P11-214804.

In the words of Jim Benjaminson, who (years later) helped track down the whereabouts of the car:

 “The Richardson Pan-American Highway Expedition is perhaps one of the greatest automotive stones of all time. In scope and magnitude it surpasses those pioneer automobilists that first crossed the United States at the turn of the century The Richardson Expedition crossed not only this country but encompassed the area spanning two continents-crossing trackless wilderness, endless mud, uncharted territory and obstacles of every sort that Mother Nature could throw against them.

The men of the expedition, Sullivan C. Richardson, Arnold Whitaker and Kenneth C. Van Hee were many times called “Three Damn Fools” by friends and foes alike. It is a title that was perhaps fitting, considering the almost insurmountable odds against their succeeding -but succeed they did -and now that title is worn proudly- The Richardson Pan American Highway Expedition was perhaps the last great automotive adventure undertaken on the face of this earth.”

Oaxaca section of Pan-American Highway, 1941

Oaxaca section of Pan-American Highway, 1941. (Richardson’s Adventure South)

Oaxaca section of Pan-American Highway, 1941

Oaxaca section of Pan-American Highway, 1941 (Richardson’s Adventure South)

Some idea of the difficulties they encountered can be gleaned from these photographs taken south of Oaxaca, where one 80 km (50 mile) stretch (pictured) took them 25 days to complete! Today, that same section is an hour’s drive along smooth asphalt…

The whole epic story, complete with photos, can be read online here. The story and photos originally appeared in issues #135, #136 and #137 of the Plymouth Bulletin (1982).

Sullivan C. Richardson: Adventure South (Arnold-Powers Inc., 1942).

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Oct 192015
 

While updating our posts on honey recently, we took a look at which brands of Mexican honey sell overseas and how these brands are labeled. Let’s take a closer look at two of them.

Alasia Honey from the Yucatan

Alasia Honey from the Yucatan (click to enlarge)

First up is Alasia Honey, labeled as “Pure Mexican Yucatan Tropical Forest Honey”. The smaller print says that “This Mexican honey is from the tropical forests of the Yucatan peninsula, the ancient heart of the Maya people, where beekeeping has been a spiritual art for thousands of years.” Great description, and sounds pretty accurate in all respects. Native Mexican honeybees were, and are, important to the Maya people, and the natural vegetation of most of the Yucatan Peninsula is, indeed, tropical evergreen forest.

Next up is Asda Mexican Fairtrade Organic Clear Mexican Honey:

Asda Fair Trade Mexican Honey

Asda Fair Trade Mexican Honey (click to enlarge)

Anytime the “Fairtrade” name is used, most people assume that it is likely to be more respectful to the producers, and probably also assume that any further description will be culturally sensitive and geographically accurate. This is only partly true for the Asda honey. Below the Fairtrade symbol, it says “Guarantees a better deal for Third World Producers.” The term “Third World” slipped out of fashion (for good reason) a long time ago, so hardly counts as contemporary development terminology.

The small print along the bottom of the label says, “Specially sourced from farms in the remote areas of the Mexican Sierras”. Hmm… really?? There are several areas of high relief in Mexico that are named “Sierra” (“Mountain Range”), the two major ones being the Western Sierra Madre and the Eastern Sierra Madre, both well to the north of Mexico’s main honey-producing states. Most organic honey in Mexico comes from the Yucatán Peninsula, where there are no Sierras. Hence, the claim that this honey originates in “remote areas of the Mexican Sierras” is, at best, geographically ambiguous, and at worst, geographically inaccurate.

We don’t know which honey tastes better, but we do know which has the more honest and culturally-sensitive labeling!

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Oct 152015
 

Since we first reported on Bicycle manufacturing in Mexico in 2010, a number of things have changed.

At that time, the website of the National Association of Bicycle Manufacturers claimed that its 14 member companies produced about 3 million bikes a year and employed, between them, 4,000 workers. Today, the group has fewer members – 12 – who make “over 2 million” bikes a year and provide 3,000 jobs.

Stamp of Bike exports

The Mexican bicycle manufacturing industry looks like it has to overcome a tough problem. Recent press reports suggest that the total number of bicycles produced nationally fell to around 1.8 million in 2014. Manufacturers are blaming the uncontrolled imports of less expensive bikes made in China. Gunter Maerker, a representative of the National Association of Bicycle Manufacturers, argues that manufacturers need greater protection from Chinese imports, which have an average cost of about 7 dollars a unit, compared to a unit cost of production that is closer to 20 dollars to make a bicycle in Mexico.

Domestic manufacturers sold 1.5 million bikes in the national market in 2014. Mexican manufacturers believe that sales of imported bikes equaled or exceeded that number. The fall in national bicycle manufacturing has already had impacts on suppliers of components since national bikes are made largely of domestically-manufactured parts (along with some items sourced in China or Taiwan).

Mexican bicycle manufacturers are also worried about the implementation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), agreed in principle earlier this month, but still needing formal approval in all signatory countries. The 12 countries involved are Mexico, the U.S., Canada, Chile, Peru, Australia, Japan, Brunei, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and Vietnam.

China has had no part in TPP discussions, but it is feared that Chinese manufacturers may triangulate their products into Mexico via signatory countries such as Malaysia or Vietnam.

In 2015, the National Association of Bicycle Manufacturers lists 12 bike manufacturers:

  • Bicicletas Cinelli – Santa Catarina, Nuevo León
  • Nahel – Durango, Durango
  • Goray – Torreón, Coahuila
  • Grupo Veloci – Zapopan, Jalisco
  • Rebimo de Guadalajara – Zapopan, Jalisco
  • Bicicletas Mercurio, Mérida, Yucatá and San Luis Potosí (they acquired the famous Acer-Mex Windsor brand in 2001)
  • Bimex – Mexico City
  • Magistroni – Mexico City
  • Benotto (primarily a distributor) – Mexico City
  • Grupo Oriental – Mexico City
  • Corporativo La Bici – Mexico City
  • Bicileyca – Yauhquemehcan, Tlaxcala

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Oct 122015
 

A recent OOSKAnews report says that Mexico City’s water authority (Sacmex) is seeking to purchase 27,835 more water meters that it plans to install in coming months. Sacmex supplies water to around 2 million separate addresses, of which 1.4 million are already metered. The latest purchase is part of Sacmex’s plan to ensure that 100% of connections to the water system are metered. Sacmex’s current budget includes $3.5 million for an additional 40,000 meters.

sacmex

At present, users without a meter pay a fixed bi-monthly tariff based on the building category, and intended type of water use (domestic/industrial/commercial).

Funding for the meters will be part of a $200 million World Bank-supported “Program to Improve the Efficiency of Operating Organizations” (PROME) which has already financed various projects across the country for urban areas with populations over 20,000. Projects already funded by the Progam include more efficient pumps, the updating of user databases with geo-referencing technology, and studies to gauge the robustness of indicators such as water pressure, water quality and leak detection.

Sacmex is also working on other distribution issues. Earlier this year – see Water in Mexico: a human right that is currently subsidized and wasted – Sacmex CEO Ramón Aguirre Diaz said that the agency required $430 million to combat leakages in the system (currently estimated at around 40% of supply), and claimed that a long-term program to fix the problem would be introduced next year.

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Oct 082015
 

Which are the most livable cities in Mexico? In an attempt to find out, each year the consultancy Gabinete de Comunicación Estratégica (GCE) publishes its National Quality of Life Index. For the 2015 version of this index, GCE polled more than 30,000 people in 55 cities about their housing, education, transport, cleanliness, recreational opportunities, security, natural beauty and local attractions.

Cities mentioned in this post

Cities mentioned in this post

Which city came top? The top-ranking city was Mérida, which scored 83.3 out of a possible 100 points, followed by Saltillo (79.6), and Aguascalientes and Mazatlán (tied at 78.8).

Which cities came bottom? The five cities rated least desirable were Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Ecatepec, Acapulco, Ciudad del Carmen and Chilpancingo.

Which cities rose most in the rankings? The cities which rose most in the rankings from last year were Saltillo, which rose five places; Tijuana, which jumped 21 places to #25, and Tlalnepantla, which improved 13 places to #36.

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