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.