Apr 282014
 

Environmental noise is everywhere in Mexico, from traffic and fiestas to garbage collection and gas delivery. For more examples, see The distinctive sounds of Mexico’s towns and cities and The Sounds of Mexico. The traffic whistles made by police are an important subset of the sounds in any Mexican town or city. They have a mini-language of their own, explored in this MexConnect article: Did you know that different traffic whistles in Mexico mean different things?

This 3 minute Youtube video is a fun introduction to some of the Sounds of Mexico City though it must be admitted that some of the sounds are far more melodious than others:

Sounds and whistles may be very useful, but exposure to environmental noise can have deleterious effects on an individual’s well-being. Research in many countries has supported legislation to limit people’s exposure to loud noise on the grounds that such exposure can seriously damage health. Working days are lost and the resulting healthcare costs are considerable.

For example, a Spanish group, The National Association Against Noise Pollution, claims that the volume of music blasting out of automobile speakers makes many of that country’s younger generation “candidates for deafness”. The Association has lobbied for “coherent and efficient” legislation to prevent this modern urban environmental problem. It wants buildings with improved sound insulation and building codes which take account of the “sound maps” of each city.

Environmental noise, even if not sufficiently loud to damage our hearing, can make communication much more difficult, not to say frustrating, and can also interfere with our concentration, increasing the likelihood of potentially dangerous situations in the workplace or on the road. Excessive noise can increase stress and provoke fatigue.

What level of noise is safe? Three factors come into play. First, how intense, or loud, the noise is. This “noise level” is relatively easy to record and is measured in decibels (dB). The second factor is how long the noise lasts – the duration of any particular noise makes a huge difference to its effects on our hearing system. This is also relatively easy to quantify. The third factor – our individual susceptibility to noise – remains extremely difficult to predict in advance, meaning that noises that prove innocuous for some members of the family may permanently damage the hearing of others.

The following list indicates the peak decibel level (dBA) of various recreational and environmental noises:

  • Normal breathing: 10
  • Average home interior: 50
  • Conversational speech: 65
  • Vacuum Cleaner: 85
  • Lawn Mower: 95
  • Video Arcade: 105
  • Car horn: 110
  • Center of Guadalajara: 110
  • Screaming child: 115
  • Chain saw: 125
  • Automobile Stereo: 125-155
  • Fireworks (at range of 3 feet or 1 meter): 162
  • Hand gun:  165

This list clearly suggests that it is unwise to spend all day mowing the lawn or vacuuming your house, let alone using a chain saw or cruising the streets with your car stereo turned up high!

The World Health Organization (WHO) currently considers that 65 decibels (65 dB) should be the maximum noise level to which people are exposed for any prolonged period of time such as a working day. It estimates that at least 120 million people worldwide, mainly city residents, are suffering from hearing problems caused by exposure to excessive noise.

Mexico’s official noise norm NOM-081-SEMARNAT-1994 was first published in 1995 and follows the WHO guidelines. By comparison, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards are a maximum 8 hours exposure to 90 dB, 2 hours exposure to 100 dB, 1 hour to 105 dB or 15 minutes to 115 dB.

noise-chartIn November 2013, Mexico modified the technical details attached to its noise norm, and issued a new chart (see above) showing the maximum permitted noise levels in a variety of different settings. Note that the limits apply to “fixed sources” of noise, not to the occasional passing vehicle with loud-speakers!

The new rules are welcome. As John Pint eloquently puts it in New Federal Norms list decibel limits, this legislation “gives ordinary people a chance to defend themselves from Acoustic Terrorism.”

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Apr 262014
 

A 200-million-dollar industrial development project known as Plataforma Logística de Hidalgo (PLATAH) in the central Mexican state of Hidalgo is being promoted as the nation’s latest industrial growth pole. The site’s major advantages are its proximity to Mexico City (30-40 minutes away by road) and its location alongside railways and the Arco Norte highway, which link the region to ports on both the Gulf Coast and the Pacific (see map).

platah-locationPLATAH is being developed by the Hidalgo state government in association with Artha Capital. In its initial stages, a 340-hectare site in Villa de Tezontepec, near Tizayuca, includes industrial sites and multimodal transport interchanges, supported by commercial areas and facilities for education, healthcare and business tourism.

PLATAH is projected to generate up to 10,000 new direct jobs. It is claimed that by providing employment in the region, the industrial park will reduce the need for workers to migrate or commute elsewhere for jobs, saving an estimated 8 million man-hours a year. The first factories in PLATAH are expected to be operational by early next year.

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 Posted by at 6:12 am  Tagged with:
Apr 232014
 

The resort of Cancún in Quintana Roo is celebrating its 44th birthday this year. Local officials have arranged a series of events between 19 and 27 April, including an exhibition of vintage cars, to mark the occasion.

The construction of the purpose-built resort Cancún, planned by the Federal Tourism Development Agency FONATUR, began in 1970:

The tourist part of the city has thrived. Cancún now has more than 3000 condominium units, luxury shopping centers, restaurants, museums, discos, bars, an international airport and more than 150 hotels, with 35,087 hotel rooms.

In 2013, some 14 million visitors passed through the airport. Hotels had a profitable 2013, with an average room occupancy of 77.2%. Visitors to Cancún contributed an estimated 4.36 billion dollars to the local economy. Tourism provides direct employment in Cancún for around 52,600 people, and indirect employment for 175,000.

Cancún by Arthur Gonoretzky (Flickr)

Cancún by Arthur Gonoretzky (Flickr)

There is a less rosy side to Cancún. Besides the obvious adverse impacts of so many tourists, there are many other issues arising from the extraordinarily rapid growth of tourism in this area. For example, see Beach erosion in the tourist resort of Cancún, Mexico.

For a fuller discussion of the issues associated with 40 years of tourist development in Cancún, see “Ending a Touristic Destination in Four Decades: Cancun’s Creation, Peak and Agony“, which appeared in a 2013 special issue of the International Journal of Humanities and Social Science.

Tourism aside, perhaps the biggest single issue is in the “regular” city of Cancún (as opposed to the tourist zone). Cancún city (2010 population: 628,000, but sometimes claimed now to be more like 800,000) is where most supporting services are located, and most workers live. The city has grown so fast that it lacks sufficient services and fails to offer a good quality of life for its residents.

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Apr 212014
 

Recent reforms to the energy sector have meant that Pemex has had to define its priority areas, those areas where it wishes to continue exploration and development. At a later date, it is then possible for the government to ask for bids from other oil companies, and award contracts to explore and develop oil and gas fields in other areas of Mexico. The first stage is known as Round Zero.

In March, Pemex published its portfolio of areas for exploration for “Round Zero” (Ronda Cero), with preliminary data for 2P (proven, probable) and 3P (proven, probable, possible) reserves as of the start of this year. 2P reserves totaled 24.174 billion barrels of crude equivalent, while 3P reserves totaled 43.8 billion barrels. The figures, slightly lower than the equivalent figures from January 2013, have not yet been confirmed by independent auditors.

Map from Pemex "Round Zero" document

Map from Pemex “Round Zero” document

46% of probable reserves are located in Chicontepec (Proyecto Terciario del Golfo) in Veracruz, and 43% in offshore regions including the Akal, Balam, Ayatsil, Maloob, Kunah and Tsimín fields.

56% of possible reserves are located in Chicontepec, and an additional 34% in offshore regions.

Want to learn more?

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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.

 Posted by at 1:09 pm  Tagged with:
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. [Update: 9 May 2014: A second earthquake of magnitude 6.4 on 8 May has caused the bridge to collapse completely. The bridge, known as “El Cuajilote” is located at km 111 of the federal highway between Acapulco and Zihuatanejo.]

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.

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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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