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.