The US is ending its year on an economic high note with rising wages and cooling inflation, yet many in this country talk about “bad vibes” when referring to the year ahead. How can this be, economists ask, when things are looking so chipper on paper? For many Americans, the stubbornly high cost of living across the States is feeding this sentiment. Over the past two years it has inspired record numbers to move to Mexico, which is more affordable than the US. And there is little sign of a slowdown. In fact, the stars seem to be aligning south of the border: Mexico will elect its first female leader in 2024 and the country will continue to capitalise on the abundance of tourists, as well as more North American businesses ‘nearshoring’ manufacturing closer to home. Take Tesla, which has plans to open a new gigafactory in Monterrey.
There remain innumerable challenges for Mexico, from cartel criminality to creaking infrastructure, but it is still an opportune moment for the country to stride a little more confidently on the world stage. In recent years, however, its leadership has been remarkably demure. The outgoing president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, deserves credit for overseeing a tenure in which millions of Mexicans have been lifted out of poverty. Yet Amlo, as he’s known, has also boasted about the brevity of his foreign visits, having made fewer than 10 of them – and never once outside the Americas. He has, at times, come across as chippy in his dealings with world leaders.
Whoever takes over from Amlo must go on a global charm offensive. Fortunately, Mexico has no shortage of great ambassadors, including chefs, singers and sharp entrepreneurs, who are spreading its reach far and wide. But if things go awry in elections north of the border, there might well be a vacuum in North American leadership in 2024. That’s where a fresh voice on the continent could cut through. If Mexico seizes its moment, it could come out from behind the clouds – and shine.
Christopher Lord is Monocle’s US editor. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.
As the skiing season is now in full swing, you might find yourself enjoying some pristine powder on the Alpine slopes. But who do you call if you take a wrong turn in the mountains? In Italy, volunteer search and rescue organisation Corpo Nazionale Soccorso Alpino e Speleologico (CNSAS) is always on hand to rescue stranded climbers and save the lives of avalanche victims. Established in 1954 as a nationwide rescue corps, it now operates in 21 regions across the Alps, Apennines and Italian islands.
In Trentino alone, it can count on about 700 volunteers should anybody need help at altitude. “Volunteering is rooted in Trentino; mountain life is based on helping each other,” Gianluca Scuri, a volunteer, tells Monocle on a recent visit. While the service comes with emotional challenges, clubbing together offers members support and companionship in dangerous surroundings. “I go climbing with lots of these people,” says group instructor Luca Bertolla. “It creates empathy. Without it, rescue interventions become more sterile – and less safe.”
For more on the CNSAS volunteers, pick up a copy of our seasonal winter newspaper Alpino, which is available to purchase now.
Colorado-born cartographer James Niehues has been putting some of the world’s best-known ski resorts on the map since 1987. His hand-painted trail maps document more than 225 of the most well-known ski resorts across North America, Australia, China, Chile and Serbia. Years later, skiers all over the world continue to use them – sometimes decades after he first painted them.
Niehues’s four to five-week process involves taking about 100 aerial photographs from high above the mountain range. He then sketches these landscapes comprehensively from his studio in Denver before using watercolours to transform the sketch into a painting, opting for gouache pigments. Niehues’s art has been threatened by satellite technology but he emphasises that computer-generated designs cannot recreate the precision achieved through sketching and painting. More than a functional tool, his work also celebrates the mountains’ spectacular scenery. “I can show the beauty that you see when skiing, which is a major part of the experience,” he says. “That’s something that computer-generated images won’t pick up on.”
The hot springs in the town of Yamanouchi, in Japan’s mountainous Nagano prefecture, are unlike any other. Here, at the Jigokudani Monkey Park, the bathers are not tourists or wellness enthusiasts but Japanese macaques. Once thought of as a nuisance to farmers, these macaques draw crowds of travellers, contributing to the town’s ¥18bn (€110m) annual tourism revenue. Businesses in Yamanouchi also benefit from their presence. Though the monkeys come to the park on an almost daily basis throughout the year, the tourist flow isn’t steady.
“Because they live in areas where it snows, Japanese macaques are called ‘snow monkeys’, and many people assume that they can only be observed in winter,” Atsushi Takizawa, sales manager at Jigokudani Monkey Park. “So we are working on attracting more customers from spring to autumn.” But for now, winter remains the peak season for tourism in Yamanouchi – despite the freezing temperatures. With this in mind, visitors would be wise to follow the snow monkey’s lead and warm up in one of the town’s many hot springs.
For more unlikely finds, insights and ideas from our global network of reporters, buy a copy of Monocle’s seasonal winter newspaper ‘Alpino’, which is available to purchase now.
As the year draws to a close, here are our favourite photos from some of the best affairs stories in Monocle.
Ulaanbaatar’s Government Palace and Sukhbaatar Square. From Monocle’s September issue, which explores the geopolitics of Mongolia.
Beach on Gorée island, off the coast of Dakar. Snapshots of life in Dakar from Monocle’s November issue.
Atlas Air’s – and the world’s – last new 747 Boeing Everett factory. From Monocle’s April issue. We visited the factory in Everett, Washington, where Boeing has built the 747 for more than 50 years. We saw the last of its kind before production came to an end.
Monocle’s editor in chief, Andrew Tuck, looks back at some of his favourite interviews and reports from 2023 on ‘The Urbanist’.