Dec 28, 2006

Catemaco nose doctor

We just returned from not-beautiful Lerdo de Tejada, Veracruz where my Popoluca's youngest daughter just finished her internship at the 40 bed federally run hospital, staffed with 22 interns and a few doctors. The fresh doctor was smart and on her last day opted for some free elective surgery to remove some stuff from her nose.

Medical training in Mexico is somewhat different from the US and nothing like ER. High school (bachillerato) is followed by 5 years medical school and one year internship. Then the new doctor is obliged to provide one year of medical service, usually in a one person clinic, usually in the outback.

The new doctor and her improved nose are now looking in the hills and valleys surrounding beautiful downtown Catemaco to find an adequate location to continue her solitary on the job training.

I wish all her patients well.

Dec 26, 2006

Catemaco spending spree

The work forces in beautiful downtown Catemaco are raucously celebrating the increase in the Mexican minimum wage in this area of 1.6 US cents to 47.6 pesos per day.
Actually, the daily minimum wage is calculated on a monthly basis, so the actual minimum wage will be 334 pesos for a 5 1/2 day work week, 61 pesos per work day.
At current exchange rates that is US $ 5.62 per day. So of course everyone is thankful that they have to work only 1/2 of a day to buy the equivalent of a gallon of milk, or 1/5 of a day to buy a 5 gallon water jug, or another 1/5 to buy a kilo of tomatoes. The current estimated weekly cost to feed a family of four in Mexico is 289 pesos.

Believe it or not, the minimum wage is intended to be the wage that would be sufficient to support a worker and his or her family for a day. Fortunately, at least by Mexican government statistics, there are only about 4% of employees that earn the minimum. It does not include the 35 million workers who are “disappeared” into the not counted economy - taco stands, shoe polishers, mini stores, peddlers, etc.
But, an increase is much more significant than the measly 1.6 cents that were granted for 2007. Much of Mexico is defined in terms of multiples of the minimum wage. So now the minimum income required to obtain an FM 3 visa went up also. It currently stands at 250 times the minimum wage in Mexico City. Traffic tickets are also defined in terms of minimum wages so the cost for red light running also rose (40 times the minimum wage). Other related items will also increase such as productivity bonuses, income tax brackets, service eligibilities, etc. Most other labor categories, (and Mexico pigeonholes most everyone), are also expressed in multiples of the minimum. So the other 96% of counted employees in Mexico also get pay raises.

But what is really revolting is the multiple of hundreds of minimum wages that are paid to politicians and high end bureaucrats. As an example, the Mexican Department of Transportation in 2005 paid each executive officer an average of 175,332 pesos monthly or 6,130 pesos (US $565) per day which is 100 times the minimum wage. That includes taxes, but does not include year end bonuses, 20 days vacations, and dozens of other benefits.

Many of us lament the poverty of Mexico. We are probably just envious of the many Mexican who are so rich!

Dec 19, 2006

New 45 Peso Bill

Beautiful downtown Catemaco, Veracruz just became a lot clearer to see, financially. A new plastic 50 peso bill has arrived, similar to the now common 20 peso bill.

Like the 20 peso bill, It has a little plastic window, so you can see what you are spending your money on. At the rate things are going in Mexico, they should have made this window a magnifier. (Prices of milk, gas, tortillas, cigarettes, etc. just went up.) Nevertheless, after the introduction of plastic 20 peso bills, supposedly lasting several life times longer than the old crinkly bills, I presume most Mexican money will soon be plastic.

Unfortunately that darn 50 peso bill still maintains more or less the same colors as the 500 peso bill and is easy to spend by mistake. But more than likely you never receive the correct change, in case you are stupid enough to confuse the two.
This is not boring “In God we trust” money, José María Morelos y Pavón, whose portrait graces the bill is quoted “May slavery be banished forever together with the distinction between castes, all remaining equal, so Americans may only be distinguished by vice or virtue”.

As anyone spending money in Mexico knows, any bill with any defect is rejected by most shopkeepers, although the official rules are not as strict:

If you have any of the following bills, they are supposed to be retired by a bank:
Bills that got wet or are bleached.
Stapled bills.

Supposedly the following bills are supposed to stay in circulation:
Bills with spots of fat, blood, paint, etc unless they hide some imprint on the bill.
Bills glued back together with transparent tape.
Bills marked with messages such as “Pedro loves Maria”, but nothing political.
Bills marked with bank stamps.

Throw these bills into the garbage:
Bills fixed with tape that is not transparent.
Bills marked with political messages such as “I love Peje”

Dec 18, 2006

Catemaco Milk

Assorted travel writers have touted the Sierra de los Tuxtlas, Veracruz as the Switzerland of Mexico. And in common with Switzerland, Los Tuxtlas also has abundant herds of milk cows.

But in beautiful downtown Catemaco, milk comes in a bricklike cardboard carton, guaranteed to withstand 140 degree temperatures, last for 6 months, and possibly survive being dropped by a helicopter. Fresh Milk is udderly absent despite thousands of happy cows grazing on what is left of the surrounding landscape.

There is fresh pasteurized milk available in Veracruz City and other towns are known to even have fresh milk delivery, but those bricks are generally a staple in Mexico and most of the world. I used to think that was related to international lack of refrigeration, but, no, the Europeans also like their bricks of ultra high pasteurized milk.

Ultra high pasteurization kills most vitamins, so naturally, those are added back into the bricks. Assorted enzymes are also missing, but what is really beneficial is the absence of all those cow diseases transmittable to humans.

I have abandoned my habit of an occasional glass of milk and usually only splurge after a trip to Walmart where fresh milk is stocked. The reason is probably purely psychological, because I am now perfectly happy to drink my orange juice poured from a brick.

Maybe a retired US dairy farmer or juice bottler could show the locals a few tricks to supplement their survival on government handouts.

Dec 16, 2006

Catemaco Stocks

There is no stockbroker within 100 miles of Catemaco, Veracruz. Nevertheless the vagaries of stock manipulations also effect this isolated community.Primarily me!I used to day trade in stocks and thought I could continue to do so while moving to beautiful downtown Catemaco.

Bad Idea! - at least when I first came here - because both satellite and land based intenet connections were not suitable to by the minute transactions. Instead I learned how to differentiate tree ferns and other vegetable varieties. Connections are a lot better now but I have become addicted to the other green stuff.

The Mexican Bolsa (stock market) recently hit an unprecedented high, which was predictable but is not followable.
The “MARKET” loves governments incapable to make changes affecting business as usual. And that is what the election of Calderon means to the market.

This current 6 year Mexican government is projected to be another Fox presidency without a constituency or parliamentary votes to make any major changes. Mexico’s oligarchs are unitedely stroking their undertaxed wallets, and stock players are betting on appreciations.

Dec 15, 2006

Catemaco Vignette

This was sent to me by a fortunate soul who´s had the privilege of living in Catemaco for 26 years and learned to keep his mouth shut:

He remembers the bank guard for Multibanco Comermex here in Catemaco who, some twenty three years ago, asked him for a shotgun shell, 16 gauge, because he had used the one (1) shell he was allotted to shoot a duck the night before in the lagoon, and was some nervous fulfilling his duties with an empty gun.

Dec 14, 2006

Catemaco Reforestation

According to well informed paternal sources in beautiful downtown Catemaco, a recent attempt to seed by helicopter some areas in the Sierra Santa Marta, which is the southern section of the Sierra de Los Tuxtlas, was successful.

The intrepid founder of the Tuxtlas Defendors organization (DEMATAC), Jessica Hitandegüi Swanson accompanied Mexican navy pilots on their mission to seed scarred areas in the southern sierra by dropping small spheres, filled with germplasm, a bit of fertilized growth medium, and lots of hope upon vacant areas and unsuspecting villagers.

While interviewing some of the affected villagers, many of whom are enjoying acreages of land freely bestowed by the Mexican government less than 50 years ago, a frequent paraphrased comment was “It is a lot of fun watching these balls run down the hills, our cows love eating them. But our children prefer the Chicken McNuggets served in Coatzacoalcos restaurants.”

Reference: Seed Balls

Dec 13, 2006

Ask a Mexican

Sitting here in beautiful downtown Catemaco, Veracruz, trying to warm my bones after temperatures fell into the low 60s (15c., once you live here, it’s like an ice age), I reviewed my list of Mexican blogs, and after the fawning of most Mexicophiles on that list, I needed to refresh myself with Gustavo Arellano’s “Ask a Mexican” column in the Orange County Weekly (Southern California).

Here is a dude who unlike his southern counterparts speaks his loving Mexican mind and provides more insights into Mexico than most anything you can read from either natives or “gapachos” resident in Mexico.

Reference: OC Weekly index of Arellano stories.

Dec 11, 2006

Deadend Catemaco

So you wake up one morning in beautiful downtown Catemaco, Veracruz and your street has turned into a dead end. A hive of workers apparently spent the night building a fair size slum shack in the middle of the street to celebrate the 475th anniversary of The Virgin of Guadalupe of Tepeyac.

According to my Popoluca partner, this particular neighbor is famous for an annual ritual and invites the entire town to free food, worship and hot chocolate. Invite is not the word, there is one of those giant loudspeakers on wheels cruising the neighborhoods belting out invitations.Meanwhile apparently a dozen women slaved over rolls of colored paper, creating exquisite flowers, while their male friends are driving my dogs nuts with illegal Iraq sized firecrackers.

By now the downtown streets and the basilica are a parking lot of arriving worshippers, who ran, pedaled or bused into town from places as far as several hundred miles away. Since the reason for these pilgrimages lies in a personal commitment people made during the year to express their thanks, this Virgin must have made a lot of people happy this year.

So tonight, I, too am invited and can’t wait for the goodies. My Popoluca will do the praying. Later on we’ll have the chance to get rid of our 10 peso coins or (tamales by the cash deficient) to hordes of child troubadors repeatedly singing a single refrain from the Guadalupana.

And if we stay up long enough, by midnight the entire town will be singing Las Manañitas. Tomorrow, it will be a rare street that does not have something similar to my dead end happening throughout the day.

AND THEN, a few days of quiet (I hope they ran out of firecrackers) and then the posadas begin on Hanukah (only coincidentally occuring on the 16th of December this year), and this sleepy little village will not rest till after January 6th.

I am considering moving to Oaxaca.

Dec 8, 2006

Catemaco Coffee

Veracruz produces about 20% of Mexico’s coffee. Most Mexican coffee producers died of starvation a few years ago when coffee prices plunged substantially below production costs.

The uptown Catemaco, Veracruz area grows a lot of coffee, which is now in cyclical price renaissance again. Other areas of Veracruz are almost famous for their coffee, especially around the Coatepec area.

Right now, I have a coffee bush hidden among my other plants and my Popoluca is plucking the seeds. It looks like I might get two whole cups of coffee from my bush after I investigate how to roast just a little bit of coffee.

There actually is an uptown Catemaco coffee brand, but there is no way that I know that you can taste it without visiting Zapoapan de Cabanas in the hills of Catemaco, which is where my bush came from.

Catemaco Water

Catemaco Municipio (County), Veracruz averages a little less than 3 meters, (10 feet) of rain per year. Catemaco city averages a little less, only 7 feet per year.

In addition there is a 50 square mile fresh water lake in the municipio’s center and several rivers escalade from the Sierra Santa Marta. But Catemaco is facing a municipal water shortage.
Water supply for the municipio, which has grown 40% over the last 20 years, is stretched to the limit. Water is obtained from bore holes into the Laguna Catemaco subsurface but not enough wells have been sunk to properly supply Catemaco City.

Numerous unplanned developments surround the city, with inhabitants, who probably paid less than a few hundred dollars for their piece of paradise, screaming for potable water supply, electricity, drainage and paved roads.

Water pressure in Catemaco depends on electric pumps, which at present have not enough water supply to reach the higher areas of Catemaco. As a consequence, many residents in those areas have to tolerate water shortages several times a week.

A proposal to construct and connect a gravity fed water supply from the reaches of Santa Marta is in the project stage. Meanwhile water pressure anywhere in Catemaco is almost anemic.

Monthly water bills are presented to consumers, frequently at or near the cut off date. Cutting off water, as opposed to cutting other utilities such as electricity and telephone, is a non-event. One can apparently live for years without paying a water bill. As a consequence the local water management agency (CMAS) lacks the finances to both maintain and improve the water system.
Catemaco water may or may not be fit for human consumption. Nobody ever says anything and anyone who can afford to do so, buys bottled water for consumption from seven different providers making frequent home deliveries and averaging 10 - 15 pesos per 19 liter bottle.
One bottle may last 2 people on average one week, in effect increasing the water usage bill per month to 127 pesos, including the minimum 55 peso utility fee.

Drilling a well in the immediate Catemaco aerea is relatively cheap and effective. These wells are hand dug to about 10 to 15 feet and usually provide dozens of shards of historic occupation. Their water quality is subject to the conditions of the laguna water, namely unpotable.

Dec 5, 2006

Catemaco Apocalypto

As predicted, Gibson loved the alleged blood lust of the Mayas and apparently did a Halloween 13 theme on those unsuspecting Indians.

Rave reviews are now pouring into the media, ranging from American Indians proud for his using “native Americans” and Yucatan Mayas “proud to listen to their language on film”, plus remarkable farces about the jungles of Veracruz, which in actuality were “second growth” forests now inhabited by tourists.

As a local yokel, I am mainly concerned with the gold mine that Catemaco is expecting, about which most previous press releases were very much absent.

About two weeks ago the Spanish press starting picking up on Apocalypto, mentioning Catemaco. It was not until today that the English press did the same.

Hopefully the film will create the same touristic benefits to Catemaco that the previous major “Medicine Man” and a few minors did for Catemaco.

To see previously posted mentions of Apocalypto in this and related blogs, including a review of the film’s beginnings in Catemaco, read here:
Catemaco News Apocalypto Review

Personally, I am dying to see the complete film, which should be available in Mexico in a counterfeit version within 2 days of its public release.

Dec 3, 2006

Catemaco Holidays

If you have high blood pressure, stay out of Mexico!

There are only 7 official, legal holidays in Catemaco and the rest of Mexico. Plus an extra one, every 6 years for the presidential inauguration.

But try to find a major government official or judge or transact major business on maybe an extra 40 illegal holidays. GOOD LUCK!

Starting December 12th, after singing the Guadalupana, official Mexico goes into hibernation till around January 6th.

Then there is Easter which stretches a whole week, and of course the Day of the Dead, which is actually two days, and 5 de Mayo, which is always good for a parade, and Mothers day which never gets moved to a Sunday unless absolutely necessary, and visiting dignitary day, when noone wants to be seen working, and every village’s saints day, which might actually might last a whole week, plus Navy day when boat people in Catemaco cook giant soups, and, and, and…
Oh yeah, I forgot summer vacation, mid July to end of August.

During the illegal holidays, you may actually find some government people working, but if your concern requires an “executive” signature, I wish more good luck to you. Of course, the common working people in most businesses work most every day, legal or not, and usually do not get paid those holidays.

Yes, it is wonderful to be in Mexico, especially if you are rich, a politician, or have a management job in government.

Dec 2, 2006

Catemaco Luck

Catemaco has many billiard tables, but no poker tables. No horse, dog, auto or turtle races. The only unofffical races are the lancha operators racing to see who gets the tourists first to monkey island. There are no “numbers runners”, no slot machines in the grocery stores, no clandestine bookies taking football wagers, no native Indians buying fancy cars off their reservation casinos, and no little old ladies spending their grocery monies on bingo.

Gambling is outlawed in Mexico.
Except to the alleged journalist killer Jorge Hank Rhon, currently Tijuana mayor, and his chain of off track horse betting, sports wagering and now bingo parlors “Caliente”. Despite initiatives to legalize slots and casino-class gambling in Mexico, casinos are still forbidden by law, with the usual loopholes.

Caliente controls 80% of the gambling market in Mexico, but recently began being hounded by another small company and the almighty televison chain Televisa which miraculously obtained permits to open a competitive chain of betting parlors. Meanwhile, Caliente is well represented in Veracruz with casinos in most major cities, including Xalapa, Veracruz City and Coatzacoalcos.

Advocates of fulltime casinos contend the gaming palaces will aid tourism in US-Mexico border cities and Mexican coastal resorts. That’s probably why someone in the Veracruz government permitted a US promotor to pay out more than a million dollars to buy a dilapidated ferry from the Virgin Islands to convert into an off shore casino in Mexico.

Unfortunately the promotor hired a captain unfamiliar with Veracruz waters, and soon after the ship’s arrival, it managed to ground itself upon one of the many beautiful fragile reefs protecting the Veracruz shore.
As of today it stills sits there. Maybe Hank Rhon hired a dive team to cement the ship onto the reef.

Meanwhile the poor, who lack the fancy clothes of the gamblers at Caliente, are limited to buy national Mexican lottery tickets. Biggest jackpot is 30 million pesos.
Big deal!! - the government take is 150 million. And the ticket costs 30 pesos, about 2/3 of the minimum wage in Catemaco. Most of the usual Mexican lotteries pay out much less, and cost upwards of 400 pesos to get a chance at the top win.

Dec 1, 2006

Catemaco Blood

Among the usual culture shocks foreigners experience in Mexico are lurid newspapers. Crime, generally speaking, is under reported in Mexico.

But if a juicy bloody event occurs, newspapers compete on who can publish the most gore. None of the political correctness of hiding naked women under counters applies to the category of titillating red dripping gore decorating news stands.

The Mexican crime rate is three times higher than the US, and it has been so, since even before the drug related killings began. Violence is pervasive in the country and is possibly a counter weight to the typical usual Mexican sense of courtesy and good manners.

In perspective, Mexicans have been killing each other in enormous numbers, starting with the war of independence in 1810 to the
Cristero Rebellion ending in 1929 and the most current bloodbath at Tlatelolco in 1968.
But Mexicans are a valiant people, a disproportionate number of them in the US forces are now uselessly getting themselves killed in Iraq.
They are also a nasty people who kill contrary opinion journalists. Another one died yesterday.

Nov 25, 2006

Hairy food in Catemaco

The last few years, beautiful downtown Catemaco has been graced with an annual "Conservation Week" event which mainly helps to display the conservation efforts of its community leaders, including dozens of government organizations who earn a salary for involving themselves in Los Tuxtlas.

To me the most magnificent specific event was the gastronomic "tour de force" of the cooking abilities of the uptown beautiful Catemaco communities. Especially the ability by the sponsoring Government organizations to talk these uphill impoverished communities into providing giant shrimp with all the trimmings at 5 pesos per plate.

I am no fool!

I ate most anything I could get my mouth around. And that includes some stuff I never thought would cross my lips.

And, WOW !!, most of the food was delicious, except for that tamale stuffed with little slippery fish.

Nov 23, 2006

Counting Catemaco

Mexico is a declared democracy with a constitution which has been amended around 80 times in less than 90 years, and is subject to be further massacred at a moment's notice. The statistics/experiences presented here are not necessarily true of anywhere else in Mexico, although I seriously doubt that.

The election for presidente (mayor) of beautiful uptown and downtown Catemaco, Veracruz occured September 2004, and the mayor occupied his (stripped by the previous administration) office on January 1, 2005. He, (no woman was ever elected), was to retain the office for only three years (Mexican constitutional law prohibits reelection of any government official to the same office, until the passage of one elected term).

On January 2, 2005 began the election campaign for the next mayor of Catemaco. At present there are 26 candidates for the mayor job, distributed among various parties.

The population of Catemaco as of 2000 was 45,383. The municipio is on a minor downward spiral according to population statistics provided by INEGI, the Mexican statistics agency. Thus statistical figures are staying fairly constant.

According to INEGI, in 2000, the Catemaco population above the age of 15 was 21,842. Considering that the minimum age to vote in Mexico is 18, and there was a total population of 45,383, minus 21,182 which were less than 15 years old, minus the proportionate count of those which were less than the minimum age of 18, (2,913), that left a remainder of 20,628 voting age adults.

In the last presidential election (2006) the Catemaco vote count was 17,137. That is an amazing 83 percent of adults (not registered voters) who voted in Catemaco. Registered voter statistics are almost impossible to obtain in Mexico, because they would possibly present 150% voter participation. (I am probably just a stupid foreigner that does not understand Mexican statistics).

In 2004 the municipal election for mayor of Catemaco was won with 6,444 votes of an alleged 17,235 voters.

In 2006 the new Mexican president was elected with a similar less than majority vote.
Mexico is a representative democracy which does not require a majority to win anything. This was never important in the years during which the PRI (party in control of Mexico for 60 years) controlled the government, because they controlled EVERYTHING no matter which way the vote was counted.

Since 2000, when the PRI first lost the presidential office, this lack of majority in anything, has stuck Mexico in a quagmire of indecision, while China usurped its US markets.

Nov 18, 2006

Catemaco banking

There is one inept office of Bancomer in Catemaco, and 3 other banks have ATM machines, one of which, Banorte, has a permanent cash shortage.

For any serious bank action you get to visit San Andres Tuxtla. There you learn that to do any serious banking, maybe Veracruz can help you, or maybe Puebla, but more than likely Mexico City.

That behemoth of neoliberalism, Walmart, known in Mexican financial circles as Walmex, just received approval to start banking in Mexico.

Personally, in my book, Walmart has not added anything special to Mexican retailing, except for putting spikes up the butts of Mexican national chains, and fooling their shoppers with their "lowest prices" campaign. Perhaps they will do the same to local banking, because all of the Mexican banks need a very LARGE spike .

Curiously, there is only one major bank remaining in Mexican hands. All others are multinational conglomerates, whose overseas or US customers would probably start a revolution over the local fees and inept handling of accounts.

So sorry to say, Muy Bienvenido "Banco Wal-Mart de Mexico Adelante".
What a name!

Biosphere Reserve of Los Tuxtlas

39 pages of pretty pictures, statistics and charts, stored on a Veracruz government server which takes long minutes to load.

I think they do that because the Veracruz government thinks there is a superfast Telmex broadband connection in every casita in the state. That is right after putting "two chickens in every pot" as US president Herbert Hoover said in 1928, and proceded to do.

Take the time though, please. It is an excellent presentation.

Catemaco UFO

A strange round object was recently sighted just south of beautiful downtown Catemaco, Veracruz near the edge of Laguna Catemaco.

Catemaco has a history of visits from outer space, which may or may not be the subject of a further blog entry; dependent on whether my abductors will allow me.
Meanwhile, check out more strange object spattered around the Catemaco landscape.

Nov 17, 2006

Jibbletits of Catemaco

Beautiful downtown Catemaco has its share of jibbletits, and many were celebrating the recent enactment of the first legal acceptance of homosexual unions in Mexico, after 100's of years of homophobic repressions.

There is still a worldwide problem about how to properly address communities outside of the heterosexual mainstream. Usually they are classified as GLBT or GBLT, jibbletit, a brown paper sack for gay, bisexual, lesbian and transexual content.
Mexican laws specifies that a union of a pair of people be done in a civil court. The new law, at present only effective in Mexico City, also gives the rights of a civil union to unmarried couples, which is probably the more worthwhile but less newsworthy aspect of the law.

The religious elements in Mexico, of course, are having a fit.

Catemaco Migra-ine

Living in beautiful downtown Catemaco, Veracruz has a few problems specific to only gringos with FM3 visas.
An FM3 visa holder has to visit the immigration office once a year which requires two days.
I have now discovered a new wrinkle which might require an extra two days. Within the FM3 visa it states that a change of address must be recorded within 30 days.

Like the fool that I am I requested a change of address with my request for an extension of my FM3 visa. The foolish part, of course was that I mentioned that I changed my address more than 30 days before I requested the extension.
So, naturally, in their usual helpful way at this government office, they did not inform me of the penalty for not informing them of my change of address within 30 days.
So today I had to pay a 500 peso multa (fine) for my failure to lie.

And it dawned on me, that some stupid FM3 foreigner living in different hotels in beautiful Catemaco, while seeking a home, would legitimately have to pass more time in Veracruz City than living in any other place in the state, while filing change of address forms.

I do believe that the Veracruz City government tourism office has bribed the Mexican Immigration office to enforce that change of address rule. Otherwise, I would not expect a Mexican government agency to be so stupid.

And if you wonder why I posted these stupid photos, it is because it is absolutely forbidden to take photos within the immigration building, which is really a very beautifully restored historic building. So, naturally, accidentally, my camera clicked.

Nov 16, 2006

Catemaco Press

Aside from the local mayor sending out thugs to rough up a news anouncing wagon, journalists in Catemaco and Los Tuxtlas, Veracruz are doing well. Most receive hand outs from whoever is looking for a political angle.

Others in Mexico get killed because they missed an angle or two. The former editor of the Mexican national newspaper Exelsior was just murdered.

Coming right upon the killing of a journalist in Oaxaca, many periodistas (journalists) are probably thinking of changing their occupation to ecologists. They talk almost as much. But at least they only seem to shoot them in Brazil.

Update 11-22-06
Investigative reporter slain in Veracruz

Nov 15, 2006

Catemaco Corruption

Mexico possibly has one of the best governments anyone could buy. And cheap, too.

In the 1840`s, the then Mexican president tried to sell what is now most of the southern US. ( Mexicans love to forget that fact). In the 1960's another Mexican president bought Acapulco, or at least the part worthwhile having. A later one, turned out to be one of the richest men in the world.

That's the big stuff.

The little stuff is that many municipal employees or their mothers buying two cars and a nice house within a year of their getting a municipal job, on a usually considerably less than 25,000 pesos a month salary. Of course, everyone knows that they skipped their lunches.

Corruption is so ingrained in small town politics in this part of Mexico that it is usually shrugged off by locals as "asi es." (that's the way it is)

Both Mexico and the state of Veracruz are working hard to establish a system of government transparency. Equally, there are just as many local computer programmers working hard to circumvent the system.

The proverbial "asi es" conditions affect monetary shortages in every level of government, from so called paracaidistas, (parachutists who only drop in for kicked back paychecks), to the traditional under the table 10% rebate for any municipal construction work.

Officially (there is no officially, just a estimate) Mexico loses 10% of its possible government expenditures to bribery. On a local level I would venture a guess of a lot closer to 20%.

Considering this theft of money, multiplied by a dozen of previous administrations, can anyone imagine how much better many of the affected communities could be, without of course the former municipal president's castles in town or Cancun, Huatulco or wherever they hide their money?

Nov 14, 2006

Catemaco Weather

There is no weather in beautiful downtown Catemaco. Neither is there weather in Los Tuxtlas, Veracruz.

I have no idea how the natural disaster agencies of the state of Veracruz religiously declare assorted municipios, including Catemaco, disaster zones. They must be using fortune teller crystal balls, or possibly have a direct line to local brujos, because there is not one single weather station in Los Tuxtlas.

And Los Tuxtlas have such wonderful variations as 2 to 5+ meters ( 6-18 feet) of annual rain, and storms often just below hurricane strength.

I am amazed that Yahoo, and assorted other websites, list weather reports for Catemaco, San Andres Tuxtla, and other usually weather impaired places in Los Tuxtlas.

The closest rain counters are in Minatitlan/Coatzacoalcos and Veracruz city. Both several hours distant. The former dozen weather stations around Los Tuxtlas were closed in the early 1990's because of budget cuts. There is a radar station near Alvarado, which apparently lacks the budget to turn on the electricity for more than a few days a month.

This shortage of weather information not only affects Los Tuxtlas. The large urban area of Cordoba, Orizaba also lacks adequate information.

Los Tuxtlas have a unique weather pattern because of the height of its gulf shore volcanoes which disrupt the Gulf of Mexico air flow. And while the sun may be shining in Veracruz or Minatitlan, the inhabitants of Los Tuxtlas scurry to save their belongings from torrential rain or howling winds.

Simple automated weather stations are available for less than 1,000 dollars. One would think the Reserva Biologica de Los Tuxtlas, or the Estacion Biologica de Los Tuxtlas, or even one of the local municipios or even one of the local newspapers could afford to buy and maintain one of those instruments.

Needless to say, locals listen to the Veracruz state weather reports, and half the time, haul their lanchas on shore without attending storms, and the local farmers huddle around their milpas while the sun is shining.

That is ok. The municipal presidents are experts at declaring their counties disaster areas: come rain or come shine.

Mexico Blogs

While most of the world began blogging, Mexico slept.

Blogging in Mexico did not substantially increase until the 2006 Mexican elections. Apparently that event excited the literate cockroaches of Mexico, and now there are hundreds of blogs attempting to vindicate a defeated candidate, or enthrall readers with revolutionary doings.

English and other non-Spanish blogs have also sprouted, and several happily circumvent article 33 of the Mexican constitution desgned to turn foreigners into deaf mutes. lists most of the Mexican blogs, currently almost 5,000.

Aside from blogs, there are thousands of political columnists in Mexico, usually supported by a physical newspaper or internet news rag. Most Mexican columnists have not discovered the benefit of independent logs because they depend on their patronizing news sources.

Beautiful downtown Catemaco is at present saddled with only one blog. And that blog is in English for shame!

That may be related to the local Mexican monopoly of TELMEX, the local phone line operator, who can take up to 2 years to install a telephone/internet connection next to a house that already has an existing phone line.

Nov 12, 2006

Catemaco Mail

Ok, so today I got nailed for a propina (tip) by the same mailman who has been delivering 66.66% of my mail for the last few years. The other 33.33% never arrived here. Must be a problem in AmeriKa, said the local postmistress.

In 1931 the Mexican government instituted the Dia del Cartero (Mail carrier day) allegedly to honor 2 Mexican postmen who used their uniforms to cover their mail to protect it from rain, after some revolutionaries dynamited the train they were riding.

Curiously, in my first Mexican sojourn in the mid 1960's I received all my mail, including my subsistence check. In the 2000's in beautiful downtown Catemaco, Veracruz I get maybe 6 out of 10 pieces of mail, and fortunately do not depend on subsistence checks anymore.

I don´t want to be too critical of the Catemaco mail, because I might only get 2 out of 10 pieces. Fortunately most of my local bills arrive by private carrier.

For more or less guaranteed delivery, several international carrriers, including FEDEX, UPS and DHL, plus Mexican companies like ESTAFETA and Multipack are nibbling on Mexico's delivery system.

Unfortunately their postage stamps only come in 100 peso and much higher sizes.

Nov 11, 2006

Catemaco Duck Burgers

Are you tired of the same old menus while floating around Mexico? Deep fried fish in who knows what sauces or oils, imported shrimp from environmentally destroyed Gulf coasts, meat from the deforested Tuxtlas?

Here is your alternative: DUCK BURGERS.

The Casa de Caballos restaurant in beautiful downtown Catemaco offers genuine home fed good looking ducks slaughtered for your pleasure and served on hamburger buns with all the proper condiments. These are fairly delicious morsels. And with enough condiments one can hardly taste the difference between duck or any other meat product, such as imitation turkey flavored hot dogs.

It is duck migration season in beautiful downtown Catemoo. Formerly millions swarmed here, but because of surrounding habitat destruction and hunger of neighboring communities, the number of ducks cluttering around Laguna Catemacos are diminishing yearly.
As with any wildlife, bigger or faster than a rat, most anything edible has been consumed to extinction in Los Tuxtlas.

Those duck burgers served in Catemaco come from local ducks bred for human consumption. They are guaranteed not to have USA multiple entry visas.

Nov 10, 2006

Don Gringo

In beautiful downtown Catemaco, I have finally joined the nobility. I now find myself among the ranks of Don Juan, Don Corleone, and Don Quixote.

Derived from the Latin "dominus", meaning master or owner, the shortened "Don" and "Doña" entered the Spanish mainstream as an address of respect for mostly noble folks. A few other international organizations have also usurped the title, namely the American Mafia, British university professors, and a few Christian religious orders (Dom).

A recently met Spaniard was visibly upset when he heard me addressed as "Don (plus first name)". Obviously I was not noble enough for him.

In Mexico usage of "Don" has degenerated to where nowadays most everybody is a "Don". It is only used in combination with a first name and generally reserved for somewhat older people and those with a little political or economic clout. So when I look for the shoeless peasant providing me with tree cuttings, I look for Don Jose, and when I speak to my older maid I call her Doña Maria.

The Spaniards, though, are stuck to applying "Don" to real blue blooded nobles and mailing addresses.
Ironically my name is neither Don nor am I a real gringo. I picked up the nickname when after someone addressed me as "Hey Gringo", I replied the equivalent of That is Don Gringo to you".

Nov 8, 2006

Catemaco - Vista Hermosa

The only remaining forested corridor connecting the Los Tuxtlas biosphere reserves of Volcano San Martin and the Sierra Santa Marta lies north of Laguna Catemaco, Veracruz encompassing a range of small volcanic hills separating the laguna from the Gulf of Mexico.

Access to that region is inhibited by the condition of its access roads. One village accessible with a high lift vehicle is Vista Hermosa, an almost abandoned hamlet with breathtaking vistas along its route.
Most remarkable are the views of both Laguna Catemaco and Laguna Sontecomapan from the same road, while bird watchers long ago discovered the many species in its forests.

Midway on the roller coaster road is heavily jungled Cerro Pipiapan, topped by communication antennas. Access to the top is via several hundred rock steps leading to a platform which unfortunately at present is overgrown.

Nov 6, 2006

Catemaco Food Chain

Mexican President to be Felipe Calderon Hinojosa
Net worth: 8,800,000 pesos
Salary: 960,000 pesos Term: 6 years, ending 1 Dec 2012
Basic Campaign expense: 600,000,000 pesos

Veracruz Governor Fidel Herrera Beltrán
Net worth: n/a, declared but not published
Salary: 1,200,000 pesos Term: 6 years

Federal Senator from Veracruz Arturo Herviz Reyes
Net worth: n/a
Salary: 1,600,000 pesos Term: 6 years, coinciding with presidency

Federal Deputy from Veracruz Marina Garay Cabada
Net worth: n/a, known to very wealthy
Salary: 1,800,000 pesos Term: 3 years
State Senator for San Andres Tuxtla Nemesio Dominguez Dominguez
Net worth: n/a Salary: 720,000 est. Term: 3 years
Mayor of Catemaco Sergio Cadena Hernandez
Net worth: n/a Salary: 300,000 pesos, est. Term: 3 years
estimated campaign cost: 3,000,000 pesos

Average Voter Jose Jimador Herradura
Net worth: n/a Salary: 55,000 pesos annual, Term: life sentence
current minimum wage is 48 pesos daily

Nov 2, 2006

Catemaco Buses

A few months ago I made some notes on bus crashes in Mexico and this is how it began:

Fortunately no major bus crashes have occurred in or near Catemaco, Veracruz for several years. That is a wonderful record. Nevertheless bus crashes are daily occurrences in Mexico and are usually barely included in news broadcasts.

(67 died, 23 died, 7 died, etc.- these were mostly inter- village travelers or pilgrims, not worthy of mentioning by occurrence.) The number of bus traffic dead are substantially above the air plane dead of Mexico, but barely receive international mentions, possibly because major bus owners are political tyrannosaurs in Mexico.

Along with the rest of Central and South America, no exact statistics are available on the number of crashes or dead in any of these countries except for the occasional news blurbs in the major newspapers.

And, believe me, there are dozens of crashes every week! Anyone who ever had the chance to ride a third class bus in either Mexico or anywhere in the world will attest to the adrenaline flow incurred by travelling so called "chicken buses", called thus, because of the prevalence of livestock carried on the bus, and the suicidal attitudes of its drivers.

The major bus lines (first & second class) of Mexico have now placed a speed limit on their chauffeurs and created an almost safe sentiment of traveling across Mexico. Just remind the other unregulated bus driving fool traveling 75 miles per hour down the hill with 70 people aboard.

Wednesday night, 7 passengers died after their second class bus plunged off the bridge in Alvarado, 90 km north of Catemaco. That bridge has been a nightmare of construction for more than 3 years, with the only visible results being airconditioned toll collection booths. That bridge also controls beautiful downtown Catemaco's access to the north.

Do a Google search: "Google Search - bus crash mexico -"new mexico" and get a real appreciation for the number of passenger deaths on Mexican highways on this "Dia de Muertos".

Oct 31, 2006

Catemaco & Unesco

UNESCO recently added the Los Tuxtlas Biosphere to its 502 MAB (Man and Biosphere Programs) network of international protected reserves.

Although most ecologists in beautiful downtown Catemaco, Veracruz consider this enrollment a long overdue acknowledgement of the precarious situation of the Tuxtlas fauna and flora, many others are flabbergasted.

Said one lumberjack from the village of Santa Marta, high up in the Sierra, ” ..they are cutting our lifeline! every tree I can chop down buys me a new tire for my pickup truck and some extras for my kids.” Added Captain Vandammed, a landlocked gringo retiree in Catemaco “Oh dear, I’m here for the carne del monte (hunted meat)! If they cut off my meat, I might as well move to Machu Pichu”.

Local ganaderos (cattlemen) are considering protest strikes to assert their rights to convert Los Tuxtlas into potreros (cattle ranches), while hotel operators worry that someone might actually build a competitive functional eco-resort on one of the hauntingly beautiful volcanoes of Los Tuxtlas.

One of the local presidentes (mayors) was heard to mumble ” I have enough problems trying to declare Catemaco a pueblo magico, now they have to throw the whole Tuxtlas at me?”

Meanwhile the local gravel pit operators headed by Repechaje Quirino are desperately seeking to buy unaffected lands to continue flattening the Tuxtlas landscape while maintaining the Los Tuxtlas construction boom. And a former Catemaco president, now heading a road building agency, remarked “We will not succumb to this foreign usurpation of Los Tuxtlas! All our wonderful projects to provide the area with functional roads will be discontinued!”

Meanwhile concerned people both in Mexico and the world breathlessly await the outcome of this political infighting now apparently so common in this impoverished country, (except of course, the rich enclaves on par with French suburbs).

Catemaco's El Huerto Ecoclub

El Huerto Ecoclub is the forerunner of the ecotourism bus tours from Mexico City to communities on the Santa Marta slopes in Catemaco, Veracruz.

This is a private venture devoted to environmental education, occupying several acres on Laguna Catemaco, about a mile south from the city. It specializes in annually hauling hundreds of “poor little rich kids” from the upper classes in Mexico to Catemaco and teaches them to sail and to appreciate their environment. Although occupying beautiful grounds with facilities which would shame most Catemaco hotels, the club is intensely private and rejects any local involvement. Management is paranoid about neighbors taking photos, so here are 150 photos taken by a kid attending the ecoclub.

Supposedly owned by a French expatriate former sailing champion, the club also owns a temascal installation near the Catemaco Hospital, and also provides organized tours to other parts of Mexico and Europe.

Aside from possibly purchasing perishables in Catemaco, the club has no effect on Catemaco, and most locals hardly know about it, except for the small colorful sails occasionally cheering up Laguna Catemaco.

More photos & references: - Group Tourism

Oct 29, 2006

Catemaco Days of the Dead

The Days of the Dead (Dia de los muertos), November 1 & 2, are again creeping upon beautiful downtown Catemaco, Veracruz. And as usual, local newspapers lament the conditions of their community graveyards.

The Day of the Dead is a unique Mexican holiday combining aspects of Halloween (All Saints Day) and Thanksgiving. Its origins may be in observations of the Aztec “Lady of the the Dead (Miccailhuitontli), or simply a celebration of when everyone knows the weather seasons change in Mexico.

The holiday, (two of them, neither one is legal), is particularly popular in Southern Mexico, and provides countless tourists with photos in Oaxaca.

Broadly, the holiday consist of families welcoming their dead back into their homes with small altars decorated with photos of the dead and religious bricabrac, visiting and decorating the graves of their close kin, and having a smorgasbord for living family members related to or acquainted with the dead ones.

Dozens of flower sellers usually clutter the streets leading to a cemetery, and their flowers and the above ground sepulchres popular in Mexico, create some great photo opportunities.

Bakeries go ballistic on this holiday and create various shapes of breads for the living, including “Pan de Muerto”, bread stuffed with representative figures of the dead, “El Muñeco”, bread shaped like a corpse, and “La Cara”, a confection topped with fruits. All of these breads are outrageously delicious and contribute to the obesity epidemic in Mexico and among resident gringos.

After the holidays, the graveyards are usually ill maintained, mosquito infested junk yards, devoid of most respect for neither the dead nor the living.

Oct 21, 2006

Catemaco Birds

Not a day passes without someone quoting that beautiful downtown Catemaco and Los Tuxtlas, Veracruz have 500 plus some bird species , including sea birds, migratory birds, birds that were blown in by a wind, birds that noone has seen for 100 years, and others.

The recent NAOC (4th North American Ornithological Conference) in Veracruz produced a lot of Mexican and US birders visiting Catemaco. I found them in Montepio, Playa Azul and the roads above Coyame.

Here is a list of birds that have magically disappeared in Los Tuxtlas and Catemaco, the pueblo magico. - Extinct, Rare & Endangered Species in Veracruz, Mexico

Oct 14, 2006

Catemaco Cut and Dice

Cesarean sections instead of natural birth are a gift for women fearful of pain, late for an appointment, concerned about fatty tissue, or actually having a health problem requiring this surgical intervention.

The procedure is also alleged to increase complications in both mother and baby, and additionally to create havoc with financial planning among the parents, especially among the lower economic stratum of society of which most of Catemaco consists.

In beautiful downtown Catemaco, Veracruz, I recently counted three cesarean sections. (Big deal! These were the only pregnant women I knew in Catemaco. So I studied the subject a little.)

It turns out that Mexico has a 34% cesarian rate, well above the 29% US rate, and substantially below the 50% rate in South Korea. Mexican private hospitals are way above the 50% rate of cesarean versus vaginal deliveries.

So I asked my intern doctor, daughter of my resident Popoluca. Yes, most cesareans are performed not because of necessity. Yes, people pay bribes to have the operation performed. Yes, many gynecologists prefer to perform cesareans to not interfer with their social life when attending interminable labor pains.

A cesarean birth delivery is indicated if either the baby or the mother’s health are in danger. The UN (United Nations) maximizes the percentage of live births subject to cesarean intervention to 15% as the probable percentage of needed intervention.

Unfortunately no exact long term studies have been done on the differences between cesarean and natural births. Folklore heavily leans to the natural birth side, so the use of cesarean methods, at present, seems to be a judgment call.

As far as an impoverished country like Mexico, and especially its provinces, cesarean operations are a heavy duty consumer of available health resources. In that impoverished environment, cesarean births cost Mexico millions of pesos more than natural births.

Those three babies in Catemaco are doing great. One paid 1,600 subsidized pesos at the Catemaco Hospital, another paid 6,000 pesos at the Mexfam clinic, the third paid 10,000 pesos at a private sanatorium.

That is still a lot cheaper than liposuction.

Oct 7, 2006

Catemaco Dog Walk

Green spaces are an anomaly in beautiful downtown Catemaco City, Veracruz, located amidst the lush splendor of the Sierra de Los Tuxtlas. Possibly the beach side of the Malecon could be considered a green area, but that beach is usually just a boat parking lot. So where can my dogs poop?

A beautiful spit of land called “La Punta” juts into Laguna Catemaco from the city’s northern end. About a quarter mile (500 meters) of pristine shore line stretches between The Hotel Koniapan and the Restaurant Gorel in Playa Espagoya/ Play Isla.

Early mornings I love to run my dogs through the area. (Incidentally I did not arrive here with dogs. They adopted me here.)
If I walk at the break of dawn, the sonorous rumblings of the Howler monkeys on Isla Agaltepec fill the air. The path is often just a foot wide, and when the laguna is full, as occurs only after heavy rains, the path leads through water. The first time that happened I had to carry one of my dogs. The other dog apparently has a water hound in his ancestry.

Tegogoleros usually are hard at work here diving for their famous Catemaco snails, and frequently dozens of shore birds watch their antics.

At the beginning or end of the trail, depending where I entered it, a large tree provides shelter for a large wino community. That would be a nuisance anywhere else, but here in Catemaco they are gentle human beings who greet me with choruses of “Buenos Dias“. By then the path widens into a dirt road which then becomes paved in front of the Hotel Koniapan.

By now, the dogs have to disappear because further passing into Catemaco is inadvisable. Every city block has a few canine owners resentful of any intrusion. Fortunately I just live a block away.

Beautiful downtown Catemaco wants to be even more beautiful by extending its Malecon a mile further north, across this particular dog walk and through some trespassing construction on Laguna Catemaco shore.
The project arose from a royal edict by Catemaco’s current mayor.
The cost of the project is alleged to be in the neighborhood of 70 million pesos. So Catemaco floated a 16 million peso loan in 2005, repayable in 10 years. The funds allegedly are for part of the Malecon construction. Meanwhile in 2005, the municipio (county government) also spent 750,000 pesos for studies of the project, and added another 316,395 pesos this year. Legal costs are piling up because most property owners along the route have filed amparos (injunctions) against the project. Most of the property along the route is owned by outsiders from Catemaco, including some very rich ones from San Andres Tuxtla.

A nice old lady from Mexico City is allegedly demanding 10,000 pesos per square meter (11 square feet) for her little piece of Laguna front. Since Mexico mayors are limited to a single 3 year term, it looks rather doubtful that the Malecon expansion project will start in the current term, and the next mayor will have enough trouble thinking about paying back the 16 million peso loan while scheming his own projects.

So my dogs will probably have a beautiful dog run for a while longer.
Many more photos: - - Events - Dog Walk

Oct 4, 2006

Catemaco Restaurant News

Hardly a day goes by in beautiful downtown Catemaco without a change in the local restaurant industry.

At present the move from plastic to wood is in full swing. Apparently the makers of Corona Beer plastic chairs discovered it was just as cheap to have underpaid Mexican labor make wooden chairs and tables than shipping plastic chairs from China.

Aesthetically these wooden chairs are more attractive than the plastic ones. Comfort-wise they are questionable especially after reading the article on big American butts. Mexico - Land of Little Butts.

Don Alfredo, the giant of the Catemaco hamburger business has finally opened a new locale, “Casa de los Caballos”, behind the cathedral, corner of Hidalgo. He has maintained his “bohemian atmosphere”, offers a pleasant place to snack and chat or play a mean game of chess, and is in serious competion with the church goers on weekends at 5 in the morning.

Another former hole in the wall, within the strip mall buttressing the cathedral, has changed hands. It now occupies triple the space, pays 8,000 pesos in rent, and offers Sunday buffets. So far I have not made it beyond breakfast, barely, at “La Nueva Percherona”.

The former Tanaxpi restaurant, lately known as a furniture store, has changed hands again. I hope no tonto puts in a farmacia or diaper store. It’s amazing what incompetent rich people decide to start as a business here.

Don Marcos is back attending his business at “Restaurante Melmar” below the fountain of the Catemaco plaza, after extensive surgery. His tacos de cochinita pibil are as good as ever.

The wonderful cooking lady of (”El Caracol”) who moved her mini seafood restaurant near the highway at the Catemaco hospital to a mega location behind the Hotel Playa Cristal, has lost me as a customer. Not because of her food, which is still good, but probably because it was more fun to eat with the exhaust fumes at the edge of the road than in a formal setting.

Nanciyaga almost lost me as a breakfast customer after their pastry chef experimented with a new type of cinnamon roll without cinnamon. After international complaints, he hopefully came to his senses.

“La Changada” on the malecon recently remodeled to accommodate all those people that never go there. They held an independence day party and hired one of those noisy mini-car announcers and some musicians, and filled up. Good for them! Unfortunately the place continues like a ghost town, despite being a pretty place to sit and watch the laguna across the street.
Without mention, another dozen eateries either opened in Catemaco or changed ownership. Most of them should change cities.

The owner of the chicken joint across from the Catemaco hospital, (”El Xalapeño”) is so busy and I guess so rich, possibly because he opened another joint in San Andres)), he closes whenever he feel like it, which is usually when I want his chicken. I desperately need a replacement.

And why do I have to travel to San Andres Tuxtla to eat churros?

Sep 30, 2006

Catholic Catemaco

On early Sunday morning hundreds were leaving beautiful downtown Catemaco to attend canonization ceremonies in Xalapa, Veracruz.

Rafael Guizar y Valencia, who became a saint yesterday, was known in life for his piety and kindness to the poor. Born in 1878, he cared for the wounded and dying in Mexico’s 1910-17 revolution. Ordained bishop for Veracruz State while in Cuba in 1919, he was variously driven out of his diocese and exiled, including a 2 year stay in Texas during Mexico’s late 1920’s bloody catholic rebellion.

In 1931 the Governor of Veracruz ordered Guízar’s arrest and execution. After the bishop appeared at the governor’s mansion and challenged the governor to carry out the execution himself, the governor backed down.
He died in 1938 and was reburied at the Xalapa, Veracruz cathedral in 1951. His popularity continued rising through 1995, when he was beatified (first step to sainthood).
Catholicism requires two attributable miracles for a saint to get his halo. Restored fertility of a sterile woman and remission of an invitro hare lip clinched Saint Rafael Guizar y Valencia’s title. In addition a posthumous excavation in 1951 allegedly found his body preserved.

He joins Mexico’s other 27 saints, including Saint Felipe de Jesus, a Mexican monk who was crucified in Japan; the possibly never existent Saint Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, alleged to have socialized with the “Virgin of Guadalupe”, Mexico’s revered patroness, and 25 saints appointed wholesale by Pope John Paul II who canonized 482 people and beatified 1,338 – more than all his predecessors over the past 500 years combined.

Although app. 85% of the population of Mexico is officially Catholic, less than half are considered practicing Catholics.

The church is in crisis. Many Mexican Indians are abandoning it to become evangelical Protestants. The church cannot even recruit enough Mexican men to serve as priests and its moral influence is waning, similar to what is occuring north of the Rio Grande.

The Catholic church had been one of Mexico’s prime blood suckers from conquest to the Mexican Revolution, resulting in an extreme antclerical constitution in 1917. After that Revolution, another war started in Mexico, the so-called Cristero War of rebelling catholics (1926-1929), in which the government closed churches, forbade the people to worship, and killed priests caught giving mass. Thereafter during the PRI’s long authoritarian rule, church and state were kept strictly separated.

Only after a constitutional change in 1992 did Mexico establish diplomatic relations with the Vatican. Nowadays relations between the two are at an all-time high, with Vicente Fox the first openly practicing Catholic president of Mexico, and the previous Pope having made 5 trips to Mexico.

Mexican’s catholicsm has helped convert most southern US States into bastions of their faith. So now “missionary” can be used interchangeably with “illegal alien”. Even a Santo Pollero (Saint Illegal Alien Smuggler), has been added to the “missionary” litany.

¡San Rafael Guízar y Valencia, ruega por nosotros!

Garzas of Catemaco

In beautiful downtown Catemaco, Veracruz, the second noticeable item, right after shills hawking “lancha, lancha” are big white birds (Garzas, cattle egrets) hawking “krah krah”.

These former illegal immigrants from Africa first appeared in Veracruz in the late 1950’s, but since then, they have replaced many other locally nesting species. There are entire areas on the Catemaco Malecon painted white with bird dung, and most locals know to only cross these areas with umbrellas or large hats.

Occasionally an innocent tourist parks in some of these areas and returns to find his former red car to be converted into a Daliesque scheme of red and white blobs.

The government of Catemaco is obsessed with providing free boats, motors, fish stocks and other supports to more than 1000 registered fishermen around Laguna Catemaco starving for anything bigger than a gold fish.

Those white birds, that shit up and down the Catemaco Malecon are an excellent source of protein and should be considered part of the Catemaco diet. After all, Catemaco has eaten most of its wild life to extinction, and now glorifies monkey meat disguised as roast pork on most of its restaurant menus.

I am looking forward to eating Garza al Tachogobi, Garza frita, Garza a la Veracruzana, etc.

Abstract: The study assessed the proximate composition, mineral contents and in vitro digestibility of meat of cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis) found in the Federal College of Agriculture, Nigeria. It was scarified, defeathered, dissected, oven dried, ground and analyzed using standard methods. The life weight of the samples was 300±10.20 g. The sample contained 76.72% DM crude protein, 0.14% crude fibre and ash 6.41%. It had low level of crude fat (2.14%). The energy level was 365.46 Kcal. …… The nutritive composition of the sample compared with other sources of conventional protein and minerals. Based on these results, it is suggested that nutritional qualities of cattle egret should be harnessed.

Sep 26, 2006

Catemaco Handicap

Political correctness has still not invaded Los Tuxtlas, Veracruz.

The most common term for handicapped people used by locals here is menosvalidos, which literally describes a handicapped person as “less valid”. The Mexican government has moved up a step and is focusing on only the word incapacitados, “incapable ones” which still sounds like an insult to many handicapped people. Puerto Rico at least calls a handicapped person, persona impedida, which loosely translates to “person with impediments”.

Well, at least some building codes have been adjusted to accommodate the “incapable” ones. The new Aurera Walmart franchise in San Andres Tuxtla is a succinct example.
A very modern steel and concrete two story shell features several oversize handicapped parking spaces, and 25 steps to climb to the second floor where the store is located, and a long heavily sloped ramp for shopping cart traffic.

Personally, I have trouble controlling a full shopping cart when rolling down hill. And I sympathize with any “incapable” or “less valid person” trying to either climb the steps, or roll up that slope on a crutch, walker or wheelchair!

Obviously Walmart considers the handicapped and probably the elderly as less valid and less welcome shoppers, otherwise they would have built an elevator!

Fortunately Walmart does not discriminate, they use the same insulting store design in other cities besides San Andres Tuxtla.

But here, in beautiful downtown Catemaco, I hate to say, my 10 miles shopping trip along insulting roads leads me directly to the one floor Soriana store in San Andres.

Sep 22, 2006

Catemaco - Lazaro Cardenas

20 miles away from beautiful downtown Catemaco nestles the idyllic village of Lazaro Cardenas nestled between two tall volcanic hills. The surrounding landscape consists of compound curves severely cut by arroyos. Numerous rapid flowing creeks have created small waterfalls with clear cool water, and the sides of the roads are dressed in bromeliads, ferns and philodendrons.

Most potreros (fenced cattle ranges) are tree fenced and contribute to the significant bird and butterfly population. Once in the village a local guide can be hired for a trail walk to Laguna Zacatal, 3 kilometers away.

The road leading from La Palma is covered in gravel and badly eroded in some places. Several creeks need to be crossed, fortunately all have rocky substratum. Nevertheless only high rise vehicle are recommended.

Two cattle gates partially block the road. The first gate is the dividing line between Catemaco and San Andres counties. Near the middle of the road, a wonderful view of Laguna Sontecomapan beckons in the distance. A bit further along a trail to the right leads to Laguna El Charco, stocked with mojarra. The owner may allow you to bring your fishing gear.


Sep 18, 2006

Catemaco - Ruiz Cortines

All roads south of San Martin Volcano lead to the village of Adolfo Ruiz Cortines. This future major transportation hub southeast of the volcano has recently been graced by the completion of a paved highway from San Andres Tuxtla, after considerable ecological opposition because of its passage through part of the nucleus of the Los Tuxtlas Biosphere Reserve.

The road leaves central San Andrés Tuxtla, then passes by Laguna Encantada, with a very quick glimpse of both Laguna Encantada and Laguna Catemaco framed in the distance. It then serpentinely climbs to a lookout point, equipped with the usual cross and a broad panorama of the northern San Andres plains. Thereafter the road enters the Biosphere nucleus tunneling through remnant jungle.
Most of the year, especially in spring, the sides of the roads are filled with a plethora of wildflowers. At KM 12, the road converts to a downhill run and enters Ruiz Cortines.

City locals have discovered the village and its agreeable climate, 1050 meters high (3465 feet), and have converted it into a mini weekend resort. Two restaurants now serve the community, several viveros offer their plants and an ecological group “Los Clarines” has sprung up to protect and preserve the area songbirds and environment. The village has now joined the ecotourism boom with the completion of its first ecohut.

Three guided excursions are possible from the village. One trails uphill to a pretty area of nacimientos (springs), another trails to a bat cave featuring both fruit and vampire bats, and an all day trip runs to Volcano San Martin Tuxtla, including a hour ride, and a four hour climb, each way.

The ejido was last founded in 1974, after two previous settlements ended in blood feuds. Its originating folks are from San Andrés Tuxtla, who now struggle to survive on mostly volcanic soils among excessive rain and frequent high winds. The village was reponsible for most of the deforestation in the area and current conversion into cow pastures. Chayotes, (a pear shaped, nutty flavored gourd), are still one of the better known vegetables grown here.

From Ruiz Cortines, three dirt roads branch in 3 directions.
One, via Benito Juarez and Cuauthemoc, returns to Catemaco, passing Cerro Mono Blanco. Another leads to Perla de San Martin where the road splits one down hill via Gustavo Diaz and Mario Souza to Dos Amates and then onward to Montepio or Catemaco, the other via a heavily cattle gated trail leads towards El Diamante and further northwest. This road incidentally is in the planning stages to be improved/paved and to connect to the Gulf coastal highway possibly via Los Organos.
The third roads leaves Ruiz Cortines and enters a bit of remaining cloud forest before breaking out into cattle ranches and joining the road from Perla on its way to La Nueva Victoria, via minor hamlets such as another Benito Juarez and El Diamante.

All three or 4 roads are wonderful scenic drives, but recommendable only to high lift vehicles, preferably 4×4 in the rains.

Sep 13, 2006

Catemaco Viveros

Catemaco and Los Tuxtlas, Veracruz are a reservoir for hundreds of botanical species, rarely seen anywhere in the world. Los Tuxtas probably has more shades of green than any painter’s palette. and counts upwards of 2,700 species from 215 plant families.

10 per cent of the area’s tree species plus dozens of other plants are considered unique in the world, and the list of threatened or endangered species keeps expanding.

Catemaqueños love plants. To accommodate them, there are dozens of tiny viveros (landscape nurseries) in the county. Many congregate along the road in La Victoria on the edge of the Laguna. Others crowd the surounding hill sides.

Those not satisfied with local selections may visit Tapalapan, just outside Santiago Tuxtla for tropical fauna rarely seen outside of Veracruz. Orchid lovers are fascinated by the selection in the Orchidario Selva, a few miles south of Catemaco.
20 years ago the Veracruz government established a state run vivero in Pozolapan, stressing its importance to the renovation and protection of the Los Tuxtlas environment. But somehow funds for its maintenance keep disappearing.

Three years ago, in a major press conference, the vivero was proposed to be refurbished with 6 million pesos. Although budgeted twice, that money apparently was reassigned leaving Pozolapan with 6 employees, a foreman, and a manager apparently resident in Xalapa.
Most of the 600 hectares of the vivero are unused and most of the land in use requires maintenance. According to neighbors biological agents necessary for control of invasive plants and insects are not available.

Although almost weekly one Mexican government organization or other expresses its support for reforestation of Los Tuxtlas, presumably the seedlings will be grown in other areas of the state.

Meanwhile, judging by the number of private landscapers, locals are doing their best to keep beautiful downtown Catemaco vibrant and flourishing.

Sep 12, 2006

Catemaco Yellowing

Coconut palms were introduced to Veracruz in the 16th century. Many of the more than 2,600 species of palms are economically important as providers of both oil, fruit, fiber, roofing and furniture. At one point, Mexico was the largest coconut producer in the Americas.

Aesthetically coco palms are what makes most beaches beautiful. That beauty has been tremendously scarred by the “lethal yellowing” disease of coco palms. After wiping out most of the southern palms in the US and the Caribbean, the disease was first diagnosed in Mexico in 1982.

Since then, most Coconut plantations in the Yucatan and Tabasco have been destroyed and many miles of beachfront resemble a hurricane holocaust. The disease invaded Veracruz a few years ago and inexorably is destroying the local palm population.

Apparently the disease is caused by a phytoplasm (almost a bacteria) and transmitted by an ugly miniature cockroach like bug (Myndus Crudus). Repeated injections of tetracycline during the disease’s early stages produce remissions, but no cure.

Most palm species are resistant to lethal yellowing, but most coco producers are not resistant. The exeptions are mostly Malayan dwarf palms and their hybrids.

Veracruz recently initiated a major replantation scheme for coco palms with Malayan dwarfs. Concerned coco producers elsewhere have concentrated on a hybrid species (”Maypan”), which grows more rapidly, is more resistant and produces substantially more coconuts. In addition, small scale coco productions have often been cited as money losing ventures. Nevertheless, Catemaco is now being blessed with 6 hectareas of various coco plantations.

Meanwhile though, anyone loving their palms, should seriously consider planting one of the disease resistant varieties next to the existing palm, which will probably die sooner or later.
(Hello! beautiful downtown Catemaco municipio street beautification department, wherever you are!)

Reference: Lethal Yellowing of Palms

Sep 11, 2006

Catemaco Notarios

Aside from dental visits, municipal licenses and highway police stops, the most painful visits in Mexico are with Mexican notarios. These notarios have absolutely no relationship with American notaries who probably received their rubber stamp titles from Walmart.

In Mexico, a notario is next to god. After completing a law degree and further studies, plus time in an existing notario’s office, he, (very few women), is appointed by a state governor to a specific district, for life. Of course he has to be a Mexican by birth.

A notario is the gatekeeper to all public records in Mexico, including property titles, testaments, contracts, and power of attorneys. Supposedly he is impartial and neutral to all facts. His signature on a document is equivalent to proof of authenticity of the facts visible to him. No more! No Less!. In Spanish he is considered to “dar fe” which really does not translate into English, but more or less translates into “testifying to the truth”.

In Spanish law, the forerunner of Mexican law, he was an absolute necessity for a population incapable of reading. Current notarios, in my experience, still cleave to those god-like attributes.

Beautiful downtown Catemaco does not have a notario.

Instead, Veracruz State has established the 19th district, including Catemaco, San Andres Tuxtla, Santiago Tuxtla, Isla and possibly some other un-reported municipios.
Here we have 9 notarios. 6 practicing in San Andrés Tuxtla full time, 1 in Santiago Tuxtla, and 1 splits his time between San Andres and Isla. The one missing was disbarred a while back and the office has not been filled. Another office, also lacking “fe”, was recently filled by the Veracruz governor.

Although, I read that some states have fixed notarial fees, my personal experience has been unable to extract an exact figure of fees from a notario, and that is after maybe 30 transactions. The answer always is depending on “this or that”. The actual notario fee is almost never divulged. And that fee can be VERY surprising.

After a notario has affixed his signature to a document, supposedly that document is ready to be recorded in the Civil Registy (registro civil), usually done by the notario, but occasionally requiring bribed interference.

Disbarment of regular attorneys is much more frequent than disbarment of notarios. Nevertheless, although a notario is supposedly impartial, and most Mexicans will swear their trust by the limbs of their first-borns, it would behoove any Gringo to double check documents with an experienced attorney. Especially in Catemaco, where the relevant scores of “fe” against inquisition are 9 to 2.

Sep 5, 2006

Catemaco Lagunas

Lagunas are the crown jewels of attractions in the Sierra de Los Tuxtlas in Veracruz, Mexico.

From mystic Laguna Catemaco to jungle rimmed Laguna Escondida and the mangroves of Laguna Sontecomapan, the Tuxtlas have an amazing variety of aquatic paradises.

The terms laguna (lagoon) and lago (lake) are used interchangeably in Spanish to the distress of nitpickers.

Not all of the Tuxtlas lagunas are crater lakes. Most of their depth is relatively shallow. The deepest is 100 feet, (30 meters). Extremely shallow Laguna Sontecomapan is a true lagoon with access to the Gulf of Mexico. Laguna Catemaco was created when lava flow obstructed a valley. Some are only seasonal watering holes. But many others are possibly collapsed cones of small volcanoes now filled with water.

Unfortunately, many of the smaller lakes are inaccessible. From Catemaco though, Lagunas Chalchoapan, Ampopal, Encantada, Amolapan and Escondida are within easy reach.

All these lakes retain the region’s history. Studies of laguna sediment cores have demonstrated 5000 years of agricultural activity in Los Tuxtlas.

The best way to enjoy these lagunas is to sit ashore with a cold Corona beer and enjoy the view. The second best way is to rent a kayak, paddle the shores and visit an island or two. And if you are really enthusiastic, you can walk around them. (50 km around Laguna Catemaco or 2 km around Laguna Ampopal).

Sep 3, 2006

Catemaco Generics

Los Tuxtlas have documented several hundred medicinal plant species. International drug companies have made numerous expeditions into the Sierras to find new pharmaceuticals. And the Popolucas in the Sierra Santa Marta forlornly want a piece of that action. Meanwhile, Catemaco City, Veracruz has about 1 pharmacy per 1000 people, selling the ready to go, packaged drug versions.

After petroleum, mind blowing drugs, terrorism intervention and automobiles, the medicinal drug industry is the most influential business in the world. Huge sums are expanded on research and testing to bring a new drug to market, at which time a branded drug receives 20 years patent protection and its sales price is pitched to the maximum profit.

The cost to 95% of the human population is usually outrageous, and sick and dying people worldwide have to wait 20 years for their chance at an affordable version of that patented drug.

After 20 years, the drug loses its patent protection and any pharmaceutical company can then copy the drug and sell their generic (not patented) version. Usually the drug’s price drops to near its actual cost, which is usually less than a few pesos per pill or tablet.

But that is true only in countries that adhere to international patent rights. Many do not. And counterfeit copies soon appear from many countries. Mexico adheres to international patent law but is also known as a source of much of the counterfeit drug trade in the US.

Mexican health care is split into a private and public sector. Drug pricing and availability was controlled by the usual handful of Mexican oligarchs in bed with international drug giants and with very little desire to provide generic products. Along came Dr. Simi in 1997 with a chain of cheap generic drug stores, along with some changes in Mexican prescription laws, and started a generic drug revolution. By now Dr. Simi is one of the richest men in Mexico, and drug costs have plummeted.

Effficacy of generic drugs as compared to branded drugs has been studied various times, usually paid for giant drug companies. Yes, some advanced composition drugs have shown different effects, but in general, if the chemical composition and quality of ingredients is equal, generic drugs are as effective as patented ones. The few studies demonstrating otherwise have and are being used by drug giants to frighten the public off generic drugs and preserve their profits in their versions.

Mexico is fighting this battle and has implemented laws to oblige public sector doctors to precribe both generic and patented drugs if available. The drug industry is fighting back with high priced private brand generic drugs, which allow pharmacists to double their profits. The physician sector is not immune and known to be receiving kickbacks to prescribe high priced private brand generic drugs.

I fell victim to this fraud recently, because I left my reading classes at home. A doctor prescribed me Italnik, and after my third try, I found a pharmacy who actually stocked it. I then returned home and read the box. Ciproflaxine it said in fine print, made by a small Mexican drug company recently purchased by an international drug giant. And I was about ready to explode because I knew the price of Cipro thoroughly because of former stock ownership of the generic manufacturer Teva/Ivax .

Cipro was originally produced by Bayer AG of Germany and generated several billion dollars in annual sales at prices of more than 4 dollars per tablet. The drug lost patent protection several years ago and is now produced by dozens of generic manufacturers and sells for as little as 25 cents per pill.

So now here I sit in beautiful downtown Catemaco, and like a dummy, I get cheated!
Farmacia Roma charged me 196 pesos for 8 generic cipro pills, named Italnik, at 24.5 pesos per pill.The prescription was for 2 per day for 10 days, total of 20 pills. Thankfully the farmacia’s sales staff does not read well and only sold me 8.

After I climbed off the roof, where I had exploded to, I went to visit Dr. Simi. His Farmacia Similares charged me 70 pesos for 12 cipro pills, named Bacproin, at 5.83 pesos per pill.
To double check, I visited Farmapronto, across the street from Farmacia Roma, who offered me a product named Ciproina at the same price as Dr. Simi.

To be fair, I did not return to Farmacia Roma to ask whether they had a cheaper version!
The Moral of the Story?
1. Carry your eye glasses with you!
2. Do not trust your Mexico doctor!

Without going into too much detail, can anyone imagine the impact of overpriced drugs on more than half the population in Catemaco which earns less than 10 dollars a day? I do not have to imagine; I had to advance money to many of my workers for drug purchases, which went to fatten some pharmacist because those poor workers all “KNOW!!” that generic drugs are not as good as brand name drugs.