Excellent analysis of last year’s major earthquakes in Mexico:
Some parts of Mexico have been working on Christmas for most of the year… For example, the manufacturing of beautiful handmade Christmas tree decorations is the main industry today in the former gold and silver mining town of Tlalpujahua in the state of Michoacán. The production of Christmas ornaments in Tlapujahua has a great series of photos by Arturo Toraya of Notimex, showing some of the steps involved.
As the accompanying text explains, “Making baubles for Christmas trees is the main source of jobs in the town, which is now one of the top five producers in the world. Due to their quality, 90 percent of the total production is exported to the U.S. and Canada. There are 200 family workshops in the town with seven-hour shifts, and each worker can make up to 550 baubles per day. Each workshop decorates about 500 per day. Red, blue, green and yellow are the top selling colors in Mexico, while black, brown and grey are more popular in the U.S.”
The village of Tzintzuntzan, on the shores of Lake Pátzcuaro, also in Michoacán, is another settlement where Christmas seems to be a year-round source of inspiration. The village handicraft market is a cornucopia of straw work in every conceivable color, design and size, which make ideal Christmas decorations or gifts.
Happy Christmas from Geo-Mexico! – ¡Feliz Navidad!
There are now at least nine cable cars (teleféricos) for tourism operating in Mexico :
- Durango City, Durango
- Copper Canyon (Barrancas del Cobre), Chihuahua
- García Caves (Grutas de García), Nuevo León
- Zacatecas City, Zacatecas
- Hotel Montetaxco, Taxco, Guerrero
- Hotel Vida en el Lago, Tepecoacuilco, Guerrero
- Orizaba, Veracruz
- Puebla City, Puebla
- Torreón, Coahuila
All these cable cars are primarily designed for sightseeing and tourism, rather than as a means of regular transport for local inhabitants. In addition, there is at least one urban cable car in the Mexico City Metropolitan Area designed for mass transit:
The Durango teleférico, inaugurated in 2010, is 750 meters long. It links Cerro del Calvario in the historic center of the city with the viewpoint of Cerro de Los Remedios. It cost about $70 million to build and its two gondola cars can carry up to 5000 people a day. Parts of the ride are some 80 meters above the city. The system was built by a Swiss firm and is one of only a handful of cable cars that start from a historic city center anywhere in the world. (The Zacatecas City cable car is another).
Copper Canyon (Barrancas del Cobre) in the state of Chihuahua
The Copper Canyon teleférico starts alongside Divisadero railway station in Mexico’s famous Copper Canyon region, and runs 2.8 km across a section of canyon, up to 400 meters above the ground level. Inaugurated in 2010, it is the longest cable car in Mexico, cost $25 million and can carry 500 passengers an hour, using two cabins (one traveling in each direction), each able to hold 60 people. It is a 10-minute ride each way to the Mesa de Bacajipare, a viewpoint which offers a magnificent view of several canyons.
García Caves (Grutas de García) in Nuevo León
The Garcia Caves are located in the Cumbres de Monterrey National Park, 9 km from the small town of García, and about 30 km from the city of Monterrey. The caves are deep inside the imposing Cerro del Fraile, a mountain whose summit rises to an elevation of 1080 meters above sea level, more than 700 meters above the main access road. The entrance to the caves is usually accessed via a short ride on the 625-meter teleférico, which was built to replace a funicular railway.
The Zacatecas teleférico, opened in 1979, is 650 meters long and links the Cerro del Grillo, near the entrance to the El Eden mine on the edge of the city’s historic center, with the Cerro de la Bufa. It carries 300,000 people a year high over the city, affording splendid views of church domes, homes, narrow streets and plazas during a trip that lasts about ten minutes. On top of Cerro de la Bufa is an equestrian statue of General Doroteo Arango (aka “Pancho” Villa), commemorating 23 June 1914, when he and his troops successfully captured the city after a nine-hour battle.
La Bufa is also the setting for a curious children’s New Year legend involving a giant cave housing a great palace with silver floors, gold walls, and lights of precious stones. This palace is inhabited by thousands of gnomes, whose job is to look after the future “New Years”. Each December the gnomes choose which “New Year” will be given to the world outside… (For the full story, see chapter 21 of my Western Mexico, A Traveler’s Treasury)
Hotel Montetaxco, in Taxco, Guerrero
This hotel teleférico is a convenient link between the hotel, set high above the city, and the downtown area of this important tourist destination, best known for its silver workshops.
Hotel Vida en el Lago, in Tepecoacuilco, Guerrero
A second hotel in Guerrero also has its own teleférico, running from the hotel to a viewpoint atop the Cerro del Titicuilchi.
A 950-meter-long cable car, using 6-person cabins (see image), began operations in the city of Orizaba in Veracruz in December 2013. The cable car goes from Pichucalco Park, next to the City Hall in downtown Orizaba, to the summit of Cerro del Borrego. which overlooks the city. The 8-minute ride affords outstanding views over the city center.
Initial construction of the teleférico in the city of Puebla, in central Mexico, was halted in 2013, amidst considerable controversy about its route and the demolition of a protected, historic building (the Casona de Torno) in this UNESCO World Heritage city. The original route was 2 kilometers long and linked the historic center of Puebla with a nearby hill, home to the forts of Loreto and Guadalupe. In 1862, these forts were the site of the famous Battle of Puebla, at which Mexican forces proved victorious over the French, a victory celebrated each year on 5 May (Cinco de Mayo).
When it proved impossible to inaugurate this cable car in time for Mexico’s 2013 Tourist Tianguis (the largest tourism trade fair in Latin America), authorities boarded up the partially-completed structures (3 metal towers and 2 concrete bases) to completely hide them from public view. Construction resumed in 2014, but only of a 688-meter-long stretch which cost $11 million to build. This section, which includes a tower in Centro Expositor, the city’s main exhibition center, was officially opened in January 2016. The 5-minute ride costs about $30 pesos ($1.60) each way.
Torreón, Coahuila (opened December 2017)
Italian firm Leitner Ropeways constructedTorreón’s cable car. (Leitner built Mexico’s first cable car for regular urban transit in Ecatepec in the State of Mexico). The Torreón cable car runs 1400 meters between Paseo Morelos in the downtown area and the Cerro de las Noas, site of the large sculpture El Cristo de las Noas, reputedly the largest statue of Christ in North America.
The system will initially have nine 8-pasenger cabins giving a capacity of about 380 passengers an hour each way. The cable car cost between $9 million and $10 million. It was originally due to enter service in December 2016 but finally opened in December 2017. Users pay about 3 dollars for a round trip (about 5 minutes each way). City officials hope its completion will provide a welcome boost to Torreón’s fledgling tourism sector.
[Note: This is an updated version of a post first published in 2014]
- Passenger cable car for Mexico City (updated Jan 2016)
- Will Mexico City add cable cars to its mass transit system? (Apr 2013)
Mexican farmers in Tlaxcala are now growing their own Christmas trees. Environmentally-conscious consumers can purchase them, decorate them, and then replant in their gardens! Times are changing! Enjoy ~
Previous Geo-Mexico posts related to Christmas:
Following on from his (self-defined) “success” in growing cacao in Mexico, American businessman Jim Walsh is now promoting his own brand of “mezcal” – Kimo Sabe – and is talking up a project to help 1,000 farmers in Zacatecas.
– “The collaborative partnership will create over 100 new agave farms, as well as work with existing agave growers to greatly expand their cultivation capabilities, generating over 1000 new jobs in the state. “
– “The replanting of wild agave on a grand scale, championed by the Governor and the experienced agri-business executives at Kimo Sabe, is the key to long term sustainability of a vibrant mezcal industry,”
The details (ie the company’s own press releases) can be read here:
- Award-winning Kimo Sabe Mezcal Poised To Lead The U.S. Market
- US Spirit Company Kimo Sabe Building Bridges With Mexico
The claims on their website include:
“Kimo Sabe, unlike any other spirit, uses sound technology to homogenize the molecules in the spirit. This makes the liquid clean and smooth from the first sip to the last note. “
“Along with the energy of the sound waves, agave plants are like solar panels, they absorb sun during the day and grow at night. Harvested after 8 years of sun absorption you are drinking SUN and SOUND energy – a natural stimulant!”
Such statements echo the sensationally non-scientific claims they made for their “Intentional Chocolate”, that their “breakthrough licensed technology… helps embed the focused good intentions of experienced meditators and then infuses those intentions into chocolate”.
Those unfamiliar with Mr Walsh’s previous agricultural experience in Mexico may want to first read about Maya Biosana, before jumping up and down in delight at his latest venture:
- Maya Biosana or Maya Bio-Insana? Chocolate megaproject in Quintana Roo
- Exclusive: Quintana Roo cacao megaproject collapses.
We’d love to be proved wrong this time, Mr. Walsh, but we’re not holding our breath.
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 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.
Note: This post was originally published in April 2010, updated in April 2014 and republished in 2017.
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.
In 2009 Feike de Jong walked the entire perimeter of Mexico City to capture the strange scenery of its fringes. The 800-km trek took him 51 days.
These two Guardian articles tell the story of his trip:
- Cockfights in the edgelands: the man who walked Mexico City’s perimeter
- The very edge of a city: Mexico City’s deepest hinterlands – in pictures
The author’s ebook Limits: On Foot Along the Edge of the Megalopolis of the Valley of Mexico, with the full story and more images, is due to be released later this year.
Want to learn more about Mexico City?
Twice a year, at the spring and fall equinox, the sun is positioned directly over the equator, giving everywhere on the planet twelve hours day and twelve hours night. The spring or vernal equinox, which heralds the start of spring, usually falls on 20 March or 21 March, and is celebrated in many parts of the world as a time of fertility and rebirth.
Mexico is no exception, and here are the nine most magical places in Mexico to celebrate the spring equinox:
1. Chichen Itza, Yucatán
The Mayan archaeological site of Chichen Itza, between Mérida and Cancún, is a very popular place to witness the spring equinox. The Kulkulkan temple is a masterpiece, built according to precise astronomical specifications. At the equinoxes, the sun=s rays in the late afternoon dance like a slithering snake down the steps of the pyramid. Spectators may not realize that this pyramid has amazing acoustical properties as well:
The astronomical observatory known as El Caracol (“The Snail”) at Chichen Itza has features aligned so precisely that they helped the Maya determine the precise dates of the two annual equinoxes.
2. Dzibilchaltún, Yucatán
Dzibilchaltún, in the state of Yucatán, about 20 km from Mérida, is much less well known but equally fascinating. The rays of the rising sun (spectators arrive before 5 am) light up the windows and entrances of the Temple of the Seven Dolls in a spectacular display.
3. Great Temple, Mexico City
The Great Temple (Templo Mayor) in Mexico City marks the spot where legend says the Mexica priest Tenoch saw the promised sign of an eagle on a cactus indicating the original site for the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan. The city was renamed Mexico City when the Spanish conquistadors defeated the Aztecs and eventually became the largest city in the western hemisphere. As the sun rises at the Equinox, its rays shine precisely between the two major temples at this historic site. This spectacle, probably once reserved for the priests, can now be enjoyed by all.
4. Teotihuacan, State of México
Teotihuacan (“the city of the gods”) is the single most visited archaeological site in Mexico and an outstanding location to witness the spring equinox. Within easy day trip range of Mexico City, Teotihuacan was once a bustling city housing an estimated 200,000 people. It holds a special place in Mexico’s archaeological history since it was the first major site to be restored and opened to the public ~ in 1910, in time to celebrate the centenary of Father Miguel Hidalgo’s call for Independence.
The original inhabitants erected marker stones on nearby hillsides to mark the position of the rising sun at the spring equinox as viewed from the Pyramid of the Sun. Many of the visitors at the spring equinox today dress in white and climb to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun in order to receive the special energy of the equinox. There is some concern about the problems that so many spring revelers may cause:
5. Malinalco, State of Mexico
There is no direct evidence that the ancients celebrated the equinox at this location, though the archaeological site certainly has a carefully determined orientation. However, perhaps on account of its accessibility from Mexico City, Malinalco, in the State of México, has become a popular place to see in the spring.
6. Xochicalco, Morelos
Xochicalco, in the state of Morelos, is equally easy to reach from Mexico City and was the site of a very important calendar-related conference in the 8th century BC. It attracts equnox viewers on account of its considerable astronomical significance from pre-Hispanic times.
The site‘s main claim to archeo-astronomy fame is not connected to the equinoxes but to the two days when the sun is at its zenith (directly overhead) here each year, on 15 May and 28 July. The vertical north side of a 5‑meter‑long vertical “chimney” down into one particular underground cave ensures that the sunlight entering the cave on the day of the zenith is precisely vertical. The south side of the chimney slopes at an angle of 4o23′. Sunlight is exactly parallel to this side on June 21, the day of the Summer solstice.
7. Bernal, Querétaro
At the Spring Equinox, this town is invaded by visitors “dressed in long, white robes or gowns, and red neckerchiefs” who come seeking “wisdom, unity, energy and new beginnings”. (Loretta Scott Miller, in El Ojo del Lago, July 1997).
Since 1992, this Magic Town has held events each year from 19 to 21 March to celebrate the Spring Equinox. On 20 March, hundreds of people hike in the evening to the chapel of Santa Cruz, part-way up the Peña de Bernal, the giant monolith that overshadows the town, for hymns and prayers. They greet the sun as it rises on 21 March. Following a ceremony in the town square at noon (21 March), as many as 15,000 visitors form a human chain stretching from the plaza to the top of the monolith. Local attractions in Bernal include small museums about local history, masks and Mexico’s movie industry.
8. El Tajín, Veracruz
The amazing Pyramid of the Niches in El Tajín, Veracruz, is another great place to visit on the spring equinox. Crowds gather here to celebrate the equinox, despite the fact that in this location, there is no particular solar spectacle to observe. Today’s celebrations continue an age-old tradition at El Tajín, which has long been one of the most important ceremonial centers in this region.
9. Monte Alban, Oaxaca
Monte Alban, just outside the city of Oaxaca, was the first planned urban center in the Americas, and was occupied continually for more than 1300 years, between 500 BC and AD 850. Visitors from all over the world, many of them dressed in white, converge on Monte Alban at the spring equinox to recharge their energy levels.
In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, we offer this short list of references highlighting some of the more significant connections between Ireland and Mexico.
Séamus Ó Fógartaigh in his “Ireland and Mexico“, published in Irish Migration Studies in Latin America by the Society for Irish Latin American Studies (based, curiously, in Switzerland) looks at the early links between Ireland and Mexico, including suggestions that the travels of St. Brendan the Navigator may have inspired Christopher Columbus and that the famous “Plumed Serpent” of Mexican mythology may have originated from the deification of an Irish monk.
Much better known are the later links. During colonial times, several of the Spanish administrators sent to New Spain (now Mexico) were direct descents of Irish exiles to Spain. They include the 63rd and last Spanish Viceroy of New Spain Juan O’Donojú (formerly O’Donoghue) who arrived in the New World shortly before Mexico became Independent in 1821.
A generation later, Irish soldiers who chose to leave (deserted) the US army formed the backbone of Mexico’s St. Patrick’s Battalion (Batallón San Patricio) which fought the invading Americans in 1846-48. They are especially remembered for their bravery in the Battle of Churubusco (in Mexico City) in 1847. Their story is well remembered by Mexicans today, their exploits commemorated every year at a ceremony in Mexico City, and the basis of several books and the movie One Man’s Hero. The single, best account is that by Michael Hogan in The Irish Soldiers of Mexico. For a summary account, try “The St. Patricio Battalion, The Irish Soldiers of Mexico” by Jaime Fogarty, published in UNAM’s Voices of Mexico magazine, April-June, 2000.
On the Jalisco coast, the small town of San Patricio Melaque (around the bay from Barra de Navidad and the Isla de Navidad tourist development) holds an annual fiesta that celebrates both the town’s patron saint and the achievements of the Irish soldiers. Nine days of activity (church services, fireworks, parades, bullfights, fairground games) come to a climax on 17 March. (It is sometimes claimed that San Patricio Melaque is the only settlement named San Patricio in Mexico, but that is not quite true, since there are at least three others: two tiny hamlets called San Patricio, relatively close to Cd. Victoria in Tamaulipas, and one named San Patricio de la Mesa in the mountains east of Hermosillo in Sonora.)
In the twentieth century, Álvaro Obregón (family name O’Brien) was President of Mexico from 1920 to 1924. (We will take a critical look at his relationship with the indigenous Yaqui Indians of Sonora in a later post). The city of Ciudad Obregón in Sonora is named in his honor. Artists of Irish descent also impacted Mexico’s national life. They included architect, painter and muralist Juan O’Gorman (1905-1982), responsible for the monumental mosaic that adorns the walls of the National University (UNAM) Library in Mexico City, and a striking, colorful mural in Pátzcuaro that depicts an erupting volcano; this mural was completed just one year before the unexpected eruption nearby of Paricutín Volcano.
Today, according to Wikipedia, there are between 300,000 and 600,000 people of Irish descent living in Mexico, mostly in either northern Mexico or Mexico City.
Dr. Michael Hogan has done far more than most to publicize the links between Ireland and Mexico. In this 8 minute Youtube video clip, he talks to an Irish radio show host about the San Patricios, Irish and Mexican history, music and tequila.
Most of the links we’ve described might never have happened if Mexico had not sent an unwanted export to Ireland in the middle of the nineteenth century. The census of 1841 in Ireland recorded a population of about 8 million. The staple Irish food at that time was the humble potato and Ireland’s rapid population growth during the early part of the nineteenth century was based on the so-called “potato economy”. Ireland was bursting at the seams in 1841, but just a decade later, after the potato famine, the population had fallen to 6.5 million. The cause of the Irish potato famine was a water mold (Phytophthora infestans) that originated in Mexico and crossed the Atlantic in the 1840s, reaching Europe in 1845 before rapidly spreading across the continent to reach Ireland.
If a Mexican water mold had not provoked the Irish potato famine, maybe there would have been no settlements named San Patricio in Mexico today, and no cause to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Mexico! Wherever you may be, have a very Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
In a previous post — The re-opening of the giant El Boleo copper mine in Santa Rosalía, Baja California Sur — we looked at the repeated boom-bust-boom history of the copper mining center of Santa Rosalía on the Baja California Peninsula. The arid peninsula did not offer much in the way of local resources for the construction of a mining settlement. When mining took off, an entire town was needed, virtually overnight. Almost all the materials necessary for the construction and exploitation of the mines and for building the houses and public buildings had to be imported, primarily from the USA.
As the town grew at the end of the nineteenth century, a clear geographic (spatial) segregation developed, which is still noticeable even today:
- Workers’ homes were built on the lowland near the foundry and port
- Higher up the slope was the Mexican quarter where government workers and ancillary support staff lived
- The highest section of town, overlooking everything, was the French quarter.
The contrasts of Santa Rosalía at this time were well summed by María Eugenia B. de Novelo:
“Santa Rosalía was a place of clashing contrasts and situations. It had a scarred backdrop of copper hills, a black-tinted shore, French silks, fine perfumes, crystal, Bordeaux wines and Duret cooking oil, sharing the scene with flour tortillas, giant lobsters, abalone and chimney dust.”
The French quarter has retained its distinctive architecture to the present day. At one end is the Hotel Francés, opened in 1886, which has an incredibly stylish period interior and still operates today.
The gorgeous architecture of many of the homes of the French quarter is reminiscent of New Orleans. Beautiful wooden houses stand aloof on blocks with porches, balconies and verandas, competing for the best view over the town below. Wooden homes are decidedly unusual in this part of Mexico, which was never forested, and are, indeed, rare almost everywhere in the country. There are so many wooden homes here that Santa Rosalía has long had its own fire department, just in case!
At the other end of the French quarter are the former mining offices, now the Museo Boléo, an interesting museum where interior details are little changed from a century ago. Standing in the main hall, it is possible to imagine the hustle and bustle of former days, as clerks work feverishly to keep up with their superiors’ numerous demands. The mining company attracted workers from far afield. Three thousand Chinese workers arrived, settling the districts still known as La Chinita and Nuevo Pekin.
The most conspicuous landmark in the main part of town remains the former foundry, no longer open to the public. The next most conspicuous landmark is the church of Santa Bárbara. There are serious doubts as to who designed this unusual church, assembled out of pre-fabricated, stamped steel sheets or plates. Most guidebooks attribute the church to Gustave Eiffel, the famous French architect responsible for the Eiffel Town in Paris. According to this version, Eiffel’s design won a prize at the 1889 Universal Exposition of Paris, France, and was originally destined for somewhere in Africa. It was later discovered in Belgium by an official of the Boleo mining company, who purchased it and brought it back to Santa Rosalía in 1897.
The latter part of the story may be correct, but research by Angela Gardner (see Fagrell, 1995) strongly suggests that the original designer was probably not Eiffel but is far more likely to have been a Brazilian, Bibiano Duclos, who graduated from the same academy as Eiffel in Paris. Duclos took out a patent on pre-fabricated buildings, whereas there is no evidence that Eiffel ever designed a pre-fabricated building of any kind. Whoever designed it, it is certainly a unique design in the context of Mexico, and well worth seeing.
Other well-preserved buildings dating back to the heyday of the town’s success include the municipal palace or town hall (formerly a school designed by Gustave Eiffel), the Central Hotel, the DIF building, the Club Mutualista, the Post Office and the Mahatma Gandhi library, currently being restored. The library is in Parque Morelos, which is also the last resting place for a Baldwin locomotive dating back to 1886.
If walking around town looking at the architecture makes you hungry, try the French pastries (and Mexican sweet breads) from the Panadería El Boleo on the main street. With slight hyperbole, Panadería El Boleo boasts on its wall of being the World’s most famous bakery. Expect to queue, but enjoy the smells of fresh baked goods while you wait.
The distinctive history, architecture (and pastries) of Santa Rosalía, assuming they are conserved, should prove in the future to be an excellent basis for the development of cultural tourism to supplement the ecotourism and adventure tourism already in place.
- de Novelo, María Eugenia B. A History of Santa Rosalía in Baja California. The Journal of San Diego History: Winter 1989, vol 35 #1. Includes a link to some wonderful old photos.
- Fagrell, Truls M. Mystery of Santa Rosalia’s Church. The Mexico City News. July 15, 1995.
- Luft, Wendy A. Where Eiffel Towers Over Mexico. Travel Mexico, May-June 1994.
- North of Loreto: Mulege and Santa Rosalía, sun, beaches, hotels and history (Original article on MexConnect).
Want to read more?
- How sustainable is organic agriculture on the Baja California Peninsula in Mexico?
- Desalination plants for the Baja California Peninsula
- Why is the world’s largest salt-works in Baja California Sur?
- The re-opening of the giant El Boleo copper mine in Santa Rosalía, Baja California Sur
Note : This post was first published 11 October 2011.