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: catemaco.info - 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.
tuxlas.com - 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: - tuxtlas.com - 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?