Dec 28, 2007

Poor Catemaco

While I was not looking, Catemaco, Veracruz suddenly became richer.

The municipio moved up from #1209 to #1303 on the descending poverty scale, out of 2445 Mexican counties. And it has now joined the glorious ranks of medium poverty places just one rank below low poverty.

In addition, only 64% of the working population now earns less than 2 minimum wages per day (95 pesos), while just 5 years before the report, 82% were in that position. Furthermore, only 23% now live in houses with dirt floors and only 43% of those older than 15, have less than an elementary education.

Beautiful downtown Catemaco has thus become the richest county in Los Tuxtlas, distantly followed by neighbor San Andres Tuxtla at #1107 and really poor neighbor Soteapan at #141.
The local and state governments are fighting almost daily over responsibility for this magnificent achievement since they were published.

Personally I attribute it to my having arrived here and my spending a lot of money on the proverbial wine, women, song and construction projects. A few more benefactors like me, and Catemaco would probably rise another 10 points.

Meanwhile though, I will bet anyone 12 3 pound mojarras, that Catemaco is in the top 1% in the world of number of Christmas light bulbs per inhabitant, (excluding Chinese light bulb factories). Arriving in Catemaco now is almost like entering a “magic village”.

At least until the helpful locals steal the rest of the decorations, which are now disappearing daily from the 1/2 mile stretch before entering downtown. This is obviously an attempt at decreasing the 2 1/2 peso per KW electricity cost for the municipio.

Now that is what I call Christmas esprit!


Reference: CONAPO -Índices de marginación 2005
http://www.conapo.gob.mx/publicaciones/indice2005.htm

Dec 8, 2007

Catemaco quetch

I have turned into a cripple.

The vaunted Telmex Prodigy broadband internet service is now often only available at dialup speeds. Complaints to Telmex are useless because the problem is intermittent, and when the line is checked, the service is on par. Five minutes later it is in the stone age.

Temporarily I tolerate this bullshit, although I do not understand why Catemaco users are not planning a revolt.

For the last few months I have been busy renovating our new casa/office and trying to heal my right writing arm whose tendons are very resistant, without much time for chit chat..

Meanwhile my right hand index finger is still functioning and I give that wholeheartedly to Carlos Slim, presidente of TELMEX.

Catemaco paper towel holders

I introduced my Popoluca to paper towels.
Big mistake!

Now, everywhere I look, shelf surfaces are covered with paper towels.

Paper towels are almost unavailable in Catemaco. Until the invasion of Walmart/Aurrera and Soriana I made monthly trips to Veracruz to purchase humongous quantities of paper towels and toilet tissue that appeared to not disintegrate within sight of water.

Purchase opportunities near Catemaco have improved, and I now feel the soft touch of whatever on my butt, BUT I still cannot find one of those 1.99 dollar paper towel holders.

I realize I could easily make one with 3 pieces of wood, two nails, less than a pint of paint, concrete anchors, assorted screws and nails, etc.,
-- instead our "in use" roll of paper towels slumbers upon the massive knife holder I purchased at Sam's Club 5 years ago, which still has instruments that I or possibly a coroner would never use.

Obviously this a market niche that the Chinese have not yet exploited. Possibly one of the social benefit agencies in Mexico could declare a paper towel holiday, similar to other agriculturual festivities which have almost as much application, and provide everyone with free towel holders, and as usually forgetting that "it's between that counts."

Nov 29, 2007

Catemaco BULL

...The bullfight, known in Spanish as the corrida de toros, the fiesta brava, or tauromaquia, is a famous facet of Mexican culture...Now, with the announcement of the first known cloning of a fighting bull, the corrida tradition moves into the world of contemporary genetic manipulation...The cloning is being carried out by ViaGen, a Texas livestock cloning company...You might call them NAFTA clones – taken from a Mexican bull and cloned in Canada under the auspices of a U.S. company.
READ: Will Cloning Change Bullfighting in Mexico? By Allan Wall

Nov 24, 2007

Catemaco almost

The new Catemaco http://www.tuxtlas.com/ office is almost ready.

And 3 months after requesting a transfer of telephone lines, dozens of man (woman) hours, expending political pull, kissing ass, about 50 dollars in phone calls and a dozen trips to San Andres we now have a telephone with internet service again.

We began with: service may be available in 2 months, then changed to no lines will be available, then to maybe we can do something, then to perhaps if you talk to soandso, then to next week, the to the installation 10 days later.

This was a hell of an improvement over the next to last time, when we waited 2 years for a phone line.

Does anyone want o play monopoly with Carlos Slim of TELMEX?

Nov 8, 2007

Catemaco History

He came dancing across the water
With his galleons and guns
Looking for the new world
In that palace in the sun.
On the shore lay montezuma
With his coca leaves and pearls
In his halls he often wondered
With the secrets of the worlds.
And his subjects gathered round him
Like the leaves around a tree
In their clothes of many colors
For the angry gods to see.
And the women all were beautiful
And the men stood straight and strong
They offered life in sacrifice
So that others could go on.
Hate was just a legend
And war was never known
The people worked together
And they lifted many stones.
They carried them to the flatlands
And they died along the way
But they built up with their bare hands
What we still cant do today.
And I know shes living there
And she loves me to this dayI still cant remember when
Or how I lost my way.
He came dancing across the water
Cortez, cortez
What a killer.

Mytube: Neil Young's Cortez the Killer

Nov 7, 2007

Catemaco relief

Thousands of Catemaco inhabitants are responding to publically announced requests for relief from the inhabitants of flooded Tabasco.

Trailers are being filled with used goods, and other trucks are preparing to wade into Tabasco, repeating the phenomena in hundreds of neighboring communities.

Where the hell will they deliver all this used clothing to in Tabasco whose inhabitants' remaining clothes have been drying rather nicely in very warm sunny weather.

The relief organizations in Mexico, primarily centered around the government agencies of "Proteccion Civil", DIF, and the the private Mexican Red Cross are notoriously corrupt, and known to only deliver a percentage of their receipts to the needed.

The disappeared percentage usually appears on the black market or as a supposed gift from corrupt politicians.

The potential flood havoc in Tabasco has been predictable for more than 3000 years and has variously been addressed by assorted Mexican initiatives. The last one was initiated by the Fox administration 3 or 4 years ago for more than 3 billion pesos was never funded.

Instead currently, a multi billion peso tunnel under the Coatzacoalcos river is being funded to channel more traffic into the Tabasco region.

The news reports are now clamoring more than a million displaced peoples. That figure is substantially higher than any number ever emitted by the Tabasco government, known to inflate figures like any other agency in Mexico.

The question of providing help to the needy still remains problematic.

I want to help, but I'll forsake giving my clothes to a future used clothes seller or my money to an agency I do not trust.

So, instead, I ignore the whole mess, and pray for a way to add my little bit to the Tabasco relief effort that I know will go to the intended needy.

Nov 2, 2007

Catemaco to Tabasco


Knocking on some of the remaining wood in Los Tuxtlas, the local rainy season has been extraordinarily mild so far. North and south of here, the story has been different.


Much of the state of Tabasco is now flooded. The Cuota south, and the bypass for Villahermosa seem to be open. and the shortcut to Chiapas is so far unaffected.



Global warning is getting the blame for the rain. Students of history, though, will have noticed that prehistoric civilization of the area occurred mostly atop earthen platforms providing nice views and dry bedding.

Meanwhile more than 55,000 families are affected, and relief efforts are under way.
For each peso you send, these banks will add another one:

Oct 27, 2007

Catemaco wildfires.

I was surprised to not read imagined Mexican newspaper headlines like "US burns Mexicans", or some such nonsense, about the recent deplorable death of 4 illegal border crossers in the wildfires of Southern California.

Usually, the Mexican press blames the US for anything else ranging from the weather to inflation.

What was nice to read though, was the help of Mexican fire fighters legally crossing the border to California to help their US brethen to fight those terrible fires.

Catemaco fortunately is now in the rainy season and too soaked to sponsor any fires. Come the dry season, though, Los Tuxtlas, especially the Sierra Santa Marta, becomes a cinderbox, with 1000's of acres going up in flames each year.

Oct 19, 2007

Catemaco Unemployment

"MEXICO CITY, Oct 19 (Reuters) - Mexico's jobless rate was a slightly lower-than-expected 3.87 percent in September, the government said on Friday, below August's 3.92 percent."

This is a recurrent eyebrow raising news story, especially when considering the US or European unemployment rates way above 6 %.

I have been doing a lot of construction in Catemaco, and have had upward of 20 people working for me at one time. Usually I employ 1 to 4 to keep land clear, do minor remodeling and chores.

My main man, now almost 5 years with me, earns 650 pesos cash weekly, plus lots of bennies, about 800 pesos a week.

Part time workers I hire at 550 pesos a week, no bennies, for a 5 1/2 day work week.

To the Maestro de Albañileria (no clear interpretation - essentially bricklayer and construction foreman) I am now paying 1200 pesos per week. This is the same kid that I started at 450 pesos 5 years ago as an assistant.

The last few weeks I needed about a dozen short term workers to move stuff, chop greens, etc.
I wound up with six. Apparently it is tobacco chopping season which pays the glorious sum of 450 pesos per week (no bennies), slightly above the Mexican minimum wage, but the work lasts for several weeks.

None of these occasional workers have unemployment insurance or are registered at any office that maintains statistics in Mexico.

The Mexican unemployment statistics are based on contributors to the IMSS (social security system), which covers less than 30% of official Mexican workers, and includes mostly larger enterprises, such as Ford de Mexico, and numerous smaller companies who paid insufficient bribes to be taxed.

3.87 % is a lie, try 25 %.

Oct 12, 2007

Los Tuxtlas moving up in the world


With earth shattering speed the Mexican department store chain Coppel, mostly famous for selling shoes, has raised the first commercial elevator in San Andrés Tuxtla, surrounded by 3 floors of merchandise and a 12 car parking garage in place of a former old hotel in the city center.

Even faster was the arrival of the first international fast food chain "Italian Coffee Company", destroying a historic building on the central plaza, and filling mugs with lattes brewed with coffee from anywhere but Los Tuxtlas.

I am looking forward to the arrival of Taco Bell.

Oct 10, 2007

Drive your U boat to Catemaco

As predicted, on an annual basis, the road south from Catemaco towards the Yucatan and Guatemala is today under 6 feet of water near Covarrubias, on the road towards Acayucan / Villahermosa.

Take the "cuota" to bypass Catemaco and catch us next time.

Happy Trails.

Update:
Road is open again. Come on down!

Sep 30, 2007

Children for sale in Catemaco and other musings

Beautiful downtown Catemaco, Veracruz neighbors the municipio (county) of Soteapan, possibly the oldest known continuous settlement in the Americas.

Soteapan is actually famous for nothing. The county of 26,000 people is primarily inhabited by Popolucas, alleged to be remnants of the OLMEC empire. In southern Veracruz, the county is infamous for owning and turning off the water from the well field of Pantillas, providing water to the major downhill city of Acayucan.

Historically, Soteapan is famous for battling the encroaching Aztecs, kicking out the French invasion in the early 1800’s and shedding blood in the the years of the Mexican revolt against Porfirio Diaz in the early 1900`s.

Geographically, the county occupies most of the western slopes of the Volcano Santa Marta and has done an excellent job of exterminating both historic wildlife and vegetation to the benefit of cattle ranchers and small agriculturists. Despite all these avaricious efforts, the county offers several gorgeous waterfalls and access to the heart of the currently remaining rain forest along the slopes of the upper volcanoes.

Access from Catemaco, though dating back to pre Cortes days, is in the horse and buggy stage, with a deviated 40 kilometer dirt road leaving to the uplands of Soteapan from near the village of Benito Juarez, (Las Margaritas on Laguna Catemaco). Further access is along a recently paved highway from Acayucan.

Oops, I forgot to mention the child sales. This was supposed to be a long article on the subject after a local newspaper published assertions of that continuous heineous practice among the Popolucas resident in Sonteapan.

EUROTRASH
Beautiful downtown Catemaco, Veracruz counts Eurotrash among its population.
Now, the Euro is possibly the strongest currency in the world, which makes its owners the richest travelers in the world. That status was previously abused by those from the US dollar domain. At present Europeans hold the mega bucks in Mexican tourism, although they have a hell of a time trying to change their currency in most places in Mexico.

The term Eurotrash possibly originated on the envious US eastcoast in the 1970’s, when primarily pretentious Germans started hitting American shores with their new found strength in the “Deutschmark”, one of the forerunners of the Euro currency. Since then, the term has degenerated to something similar to “White Trash”, and is being applied more and more to young Europeans travelling the Americas on shoe string budgets, and getting themselves involved in local politics, like the Zapatistas.

Catemaco has its share of those.
PS - Before you get uppity! - Eurotrash also refers to a social and musical fad.

Catemaco Eats
There are dozens of mom and pop grocery stores in every nook of Catemaco. Most stock substantially less merchandise than the shelf on the sides of a cashier of a US convenience store.
Air conditioning and freezers are still novelty items in most of these businesses, though refrigeration has made inroads primarily to keep soft drinks, ham & hot dogs cool. Only some of the butchers are investing in “High Tech” gear.

Chicken is the number 1 item of consumption here. They are usually the size of a large pigeon and when sold in parts are chopped into pieces disrespectful of their bone structure. Nevertheless, Colonel Sanders would probably cry in his beard over some of the wonderful recipes coming from the many hole-in-the-wall chicken vendors.

Meat is essentially of the grass fed variety and includes culled animals. Organically these meat cuts are good for you, just don´t expect anything rated “prime” or “choice”

After seeing all that green in Los Tuxtlas, I would expect lots of fresh vegetables here. Instead, it seems the delivery truck that apparently supplies everyone arrives on Wednesday, and by late afternoon you have your choice of wilted lettuce for the rest of the week. The selection is limited to basic basics, except for exotic spices and novel (non costumary US) fruits.

Canned goods are plentiful within a limited spectrum of tastes, that is if you like 50 brands of beans and chile.

Frozen foods are still not available in Catemaco. Neither is fresh milk, or fresh orange juice unless you squeezed it yourself.

Bakeries are plentiful, and after shooing away a few hundred flies, many delightful inexpensive pastries are revealed. Tortillas and bolillos (hard rolls) are the staple of bread here, along with Pan Bimbo which I believe is made from bleached recycled newspapers. The Pan Bimbo taste seems to be universally acceptable. The company has a large profitable operation in the US.

Expositions in Mexico
I am frequently astounded by announcements of the number of expositions exposing the wonderfulness of the peoples, history and landscape of Catemaco and Los Tuxtlas.
Of course these exhibitions are in strange places like Paris, San Diego, Hicksville, USA and Mexico City.
Both Catemaco and San Andres Tuxtla have directors of tourism who are either hidden or lost in often unattended cubicles.
One would think, that among the elementary school exhibitions of finger painting, there might be an interest in some upscale exhibitions in Los Tuxtlas.

La Punta
Catemaco´s Malecon ends after the Hotel Koniapan. From there it is an uncomfortable footpath along the beach to another Gorel restaurant blocking most of the federal beach zone. Thereafter a dirt road leads through Playa La Isla past the cave of El Tegal where the Virgin Mary allegedly appeared and snakes through to Espagoya where the beach is blocked again by a tobacco baron from San Andres Tuxtla.

That footpath is really a worthwhile walk. There are wonderful views back to Catemaco and forward to Isla Agaltepec. The rocky shore line and lava shelves remind of the fragility of our existence, and all the beach birds are in paradise. At the top of the rainy season, you will get your shoes wet on the walk.

There is a “proyecto” in the works to extend the Malecon through this area. A beach boardwalk and bicycle path would be a lot cheaper and would keep Mother Nature a lot happier.

Swimming in Catemaco
Only few inhabitants of beautiful downtown Catemaco know how to swim. That is despite the county having 15 gorgeous miles of gulf beach front, plus another 50 kilometers of lake front. Fortunately it is only a few visitors that drown occasionally.

Nothing like the 59 poor souls that reportedly drowned in the Rio Grande while trying to cross to the US. (*30 drowned last year)
Can anyone imagine the response in the western world to that kind of death rate on a single river? By now the river would be paved or have a pontoon bridge every 100 meters. Instead, the Mexican government is now handing out GPS locators to help illegal border crossers find their way through the desert. Probably a lot of these will be found on the bottom of the river, along with the owner.

That is almost as intelligent as the local mayor providing 300 free replacement fiberglass fishing boats and lately 60 free 30 horsepower motors to the fishing folks around here who have already decimated their livelihood by overfishing.

Oh, and incidentally Catemaco also has a Rio Grande which most of the year is a rapid, rock strewn mountain stream encumbered with waterfalls, including the majestic Eyipantla, scene of the movie Apocalypto’s water frights.

Since the river is also Catemaco’s toilet I wonder whether any actor went apocalyptic.

Catemaco Location
Beautiful downtown Catemaco occupies several hills and vales along the shore of Laguna Catemaco, and because not enough people took the opportunity to run for the northern border, its hillsides are now Mexican versions of Levitz towns without the relevant infrastructure.
The concepts of common sense, city planning, or zoning restriction apparently never occupied the minds of Catemaco municipal politicians.

So now, where in the good old days, rivulets ran off the hills to meander among the placid waters of Laguna Catemao, these rivulets have been channelled, diverted, ignored, and blessed by Catemaco inhabitants. And now Catemaco inhabitants are paying the price.

About a dozen times annually, heavy rains begin torrid rivers carrying tons of garbage, soil and rocks, beginning in the destructed Catemaco hill sides, and then coursing through the narrow streets of Catemaco.
Dozens of homes have been built upon these waterways, including the city’s largest nightclub and a dilapitated bar on the laguna’s shore. Entire city blocks have been cemented over annual rivers, containing who knows how many rats, plastic bottles or diapers.

But, where else can you get cheap lake site property by building atop of a river?

Sep 28, 2007

Catemaco as usual

Mexican and US news go ballistic whenever the phrase"hurricane" occurs.

Tropical depressions, tropical storms, etc, usually are fifth page item like "Storm hits Mexico, thousands die".

Northern Veracruz is experiencing a double whammy of different storms. Major highway travel seems to be un-interrupted. Off roads should be avoided, same as the rest of the year, except this time around you should be driving a u boat to avoid problems.

Southern Veracruz is fine as usual, until a bridge or a hill caves in without notice.

This is the same "international" highway connecting Texas to the Yucatan and also Guatemala for the past 100 years.

Did you ever wonder what "international" means?

In Mexico it seems to imply sharing the same road conditions as fourth world countries.
Happy Trails.






,

The Mexican border fence sucks

Building a multi billion dollar fence to decrease 8 million illegal border crossers to 6 million or so is something a corrupt Mexican government would do.

Instead the vaunted US Homeland Security Agency is spending its mega bucks to do the above.
There a hundreds of laws on the books to control tax paying employers in the US. Apparently 99% of the sections concerning employees are NOT enforced. Else where do those statistics of millions of illegal employees come from.

Personally, I believe that the entire border should be eliminated. And after everyone except overpaid Mexican politicians holding their bags have left Mexico for the US streets paved in gold, the company RAID should provide giant bug bombs to disinfect the country to prepare it to be annexed by the state of “New Mexico” and be renamed “Old Mexico”.

Sep 27, 2007

Corny Catemaco

I am not a corn fan. While traveling through Navajo territory, or junky southern towns I will occasionally slaver over fresh cornbread smothered with butter. Even the occasional Denny's will slap me a bite. The rest of the time I ignore corn.

Corn, of course is the staple food of Mexico. Corn is also the staple food of most farm fed animals in the world. So how can Mexico compete with BUSH endowed and subsidized US competitors?
Simply, Mexico cannot compete. Although Mexico is known to have over 400 varieties of corn, most of the varieties grown make hand made tortillas and feed burros in mostly non economical dimensions.

They say the white corn is for animals or Mexicans and the yellow corn is for corn-on the cob freaks in southern food restaurants or US supermarket aisles.

So I did a little taste test.
First I defroze my genuine Mexican Walmart special yellow corn, then I shucked my freshly shucked locally purchased white corn and chopped off the ends to make it appear similar.
Then I microwaved both of them for 3 1/2 minutes.
And slothered them with butter and salt.

Then I blindfolded 4 non- Mexican volunteers for a taste test.

All said I used too much salt!

Aside from that none noticed a difference between yellow and white.

SO much for Mexicans and animals.

BTW - The customary way of serving the equivalent of Mexican corn-on-the cob, is with sloshes of mayonnaise and red pepper. YUMMY but guaranteed to zip your cholesterol to heaven.

Sep 26, 2007

Blogs in Mexico

A while ago, in one of my manic episodes, I paid attention to English blogs in Mexico and constructed a list of more or less any blog available in Mexico.

After reading most of them for a while, I became dead bored with the frequent "Hail Mexico" scenarios, and I plopped my favorite blogs onto a feed reader so I could skim the cream of my preferred crop.

Over the last few months my feed reader has almost become a wasteland. My favorite bloggers seem to have vanished. Blogs like MarkinMexico, the Mexfile, etc, just can´t get it up any more. So I ran a quick survey, and found a dozen new "Hail Mexico" types. Yuck.

A mad housewife or twisted transsexual, I can´t tell which, is the only new blog I found worth plugging onto my reader, http://www.vidalago.com/wordpress/.

Meanwhile here is the old list, which should keep a newbie happy for a while. http://www.tuxtlas.com/news/blogs.html

Catemaco Deads

A gringo died last night in beautiful downtown Catemaco.

He had been living in Catemaco longer than I.

I knew him by sight, but along with most of the rest of the local close knit gringo community, we never spoke to each other. Only local Europeans hold love fests in Catemaco.

The projected funeral seems to be going to be a quick dip & tuck.

So here is a nice "Tuba along" to say good bye to the Catemaco gringo, just in case the Mariachis don´t catch him..
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PE85pJmNwL0

Now we are down to 9, or maybe 21, or at least 15. Shucks! We need some new blood.

Sep 25, 2007

Catemaco feet

Catemaco only has 500 or so registered "native Americans", " Indios", Amerindians or whatever is the currently politically correct way to address survivors of the European onlaught of the Americas. Just south of here are a few 10's of thousands of those peoples, ranked among the most impoverished in Veracruz, or Mexico.

So finally, after 511 years, the white folks have begun making shoes for them, because apparently they have bigger toes and wider feet. At US 4.28 per toe these shoes are not cheap, but the NIKE shoe manufacturer will contribute its profit on the Air Native N7, wholesale price US$ 42.80 to "tribal programs".


A current "tribal program" in the Catemaco neighboring counties would probably be to replace the "chanclas" (plastic flipflops, about US 70 cents) worn by the majority of the Los Tuxtlas "aborigines" and thousands of fellow poor mestizo campesinos.

Amerindian population levels in the US are so low, Nike might want to expand is social service programs to US and Mexican mestizos which are much more populous. I am now beginning to wonder what their average toe size is.

Photo: http://www.kenlight.com/photos/tothepromisedland/feet.jpg

Sep 24, 2007

Mexican Racism

Mexico is really a unique country.
Racially, that is. There is no other nation that has managed to absorb the interbreeding of races like Mexico has done.

From the first European shipwrecked sailor on the Yucatan shores impregnating an Amerindian woman, to the present race to whiten brown skins in surgical parlors, Mexico has been and is on the fore front of racial integration.

Don´t tell that to the Mexican intelligencia though.
Since Mexican Independence, except for the marvelous exception of the Zapotec Indian Benito Juarez, the Mexican political and economic elite has been as white as snow, except for those whom rumor mongers maligned, usually after death, of having had a brown ancestor or two.

Statistically, though, as a nation, Mexico is the forerunner of the end of the Caucasian race despite all the blondes on Mexican TV. No other south American country incorporated its Amerindians in its European population as Mexico has done. Other countries adopted extermination policies or promoted excessive white immigration.

Mexico instead promoted full integration.
It took a while for half, quarter and other breeds to get their rights and it is still debatable whether a brown face qualifies someone as a bonafide political candidate in federal elections in Mexico. But in the general sense, (such as saying black and white Americans have the same rights), the racial isue is a nonsequitur in Mexico.

Unless you are an Amerindian, of course. Then you occupy the lowest rang of any ladder this country can provide, except of course for the magnificent Benito Juarez and others who mostly proclaim Indian roots before but not after elections, in order to avoid being invited to tea dances.

Sep 23, 2007

On the way to Catemaco - Arbolillo

A few years ago this windswept village on the coast of Veracruz between Veracruz City and Alvarado on the way to beautiful downtown Catemaco was not even worthy of a "tope" (speed bump).

Since then, beginning with a lonely restauranteur offering fresh shucked oysters and other succulent seafood, the village has boomed and now maintains almost 20 competing "eating" palapa & concrete establishments a good baseball pitch from the shores of the Gulf of Mexico.

Competition is so hot, entrepreneurs import women from nearby Tlacotalpan, famous for their beauty and outstanding attributes, to provocactively wiggle at passing motorists.

Where those fresh shucked oysters come from, I have no idea.

But thank G., there are a now a few speed bumps to focus motorists attention.

Licking Catemaco


Photo: Haras de la Gadelière

During the HOT days in beautiful downtown Catemaco, which are now fortunately becoming less frequent, my household salivates over a chance to lick on a "percherona" ( giant icemilk concoction on a stick).

I never questioned the name until recently when I searched for the name, and mostly found horses.

Apparently Catemaco and Los Tuxtlas are famous for this delight of mostly frozen fruit flavored ices, wrapped around a stick, about 1 1/2 inches square, 3 inches long, and wrapped in a plastic sleave. Probably other towns have the same thing but don't use the name.

Percheron horses are some of the largest and heaviest in the world. During the Middle Ages in Europe they were the equivalent of modern tanks. The horse name is French, and that country has an almost worse history of messing with Mexico than the US. So I sort of wonder why those things are not called "Buffalos" or something.

¡Ni modo! If you want to slurp off one, bring a bath towel! The napkin that comes with those delicious monsters is only good for the first 3 licks.

Sep 21, 2007

Retired

Mexico was crowned as the world's best place to retire in 2007 by International Living Magazine.

Amazing! The rest of the world must be in a pretty sad state.
The world's top retirement havens in 2007

Ironically, rich Mexicans seem to think the US is the best place to retire, and for the same reasons.
Mexicans buy Miami real estate

Sep 16, 2007

Truckin..

WASHINGTON: A U.S.-owned commercial truck became the first to drive deep into Mexico on Friday, days after the U.S. Senate voted to quit funding a program allowing Mexican trucks to do the same in the United States.

Catemaco: If this driver ever returns to the US - he will be able to tell so many horror stories about road conditions, federal police rapes and military halts, that the US Senate can close its squinty chauvinist eyes and ignore the whole subject in the future.

The current blah blah over the interchange of border crossing privileges for trucks is ridiculous.
Any Mexican trucker that has survived a few years on Mexican roads would cream any US redneck 18 wheel driver. Current safety inspections on the Mexican border would make anyone on the Canadian border flinch.

Mexican long haul trucks are primarily of US origin and maintenance standards are on par with any entrepreneurs' necessity to protect a multi hundred thousand dollar load.

rollem...

Electric Catemaco

This is not a lie!

I was awakened this morning around 3:30 by a humongous thunder storm.

So I flipped on my computer muttering to myself how great beautiful downtown Catemaco's electrical service is, and that I should mention something positive about it despite the apparent haphazard connections crossing every street and in front of most homes. After all, in my five years in this town, through storms and hurricanes, I never had a major outage.

Famous last thoughts!
By the time I had raided the local ice machines to guard my food treasures imported from far away Veracruz city, electrical power returned at 3 pm, and I took back every nice thought I ever had about the electric company.

It also did not help to read my 2653 peso electric bill for 864 KW of TWO months service, with an unused AC. That is 2.9 pesos per KW, app 26 cents per KW.

Average US cost per KW is 9.5 cents per KW, including a few energy pigs like California and New York. Average US consumption is above 800 KW PER MONTH. Obviously I am only half ass average.

Isn´t it wonderful how cheap Mexico is to live in?

Actually electricity is cheap, if you live like the majority of low electricity consuming Mexicans (think cold water showers, hand washed laundry, 40 W light bulbs and outrageous propane gas bills).

Those Mexican consumers who depend on heavily subsidized utility bills, whose charges are staggered in categories and by consumption, regularly cause small civil wars when users get moved from a highly subsidized category to a lower one. And that includes a bunch of gringos who brag about their utility bills in their first blog posts.

Sep 15, 2007

Death to the gachupines in Catemaco

Mueran los gachupines! Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe!" ("Death to the Spaniards and Long live the Virgin of Guadalupe) was the battle cry of Miguel Hidalgo when he called for independence from Spain for Mexico the morning of September 16th, 1810.

The event is now commemorated September 15 in the evening as the "Grito de Dolores" (`Cry of Pain' or 'Cry of Dolores', the town where Hidalgo first shouted it, depending on how nationalistic you feel). This is possibly because many Mexicans have a hard time relating to events occurring early in the day. (Oops, I lack a quote for that one, except for a superficial judgement of my appointment schedule with bureaucrats, but not workers.)

The actual "grito" (shout) ocurred at church service on the morning of the 16th of September.

BUT, to honor Porfirio Diaz, Mexico's favorite dictator for most of the end of the 20th century, the holiday was moved up half a day to celebrate his birthday in the evening and the event has now been institutionalized to occur near midnight on September 15th. The event has now become a two day holiday, the first day to issue shouts, and the second to recover from hang-overs.

Beautiful downtown Catemaco restaurant owners and flag sellers are supporting this welcome diversion. They offer customary recipes such as champurrado, pozole, chiles nogados and other life threatening delicacies on the eve of September 15th, for surcharges of up to 500 pesos to surviving "gachupines" with reservations, and discounted flags of Mexico at roughly one dollar per square foot.

VIVA MÊXICO, CABRONES Video
(English lyrics garbled translation)

Sep 14, 2007

Catemaco Matresses


To fatten the Mexican treasury, lawmakers approved 2 new laws to enhance Mexico’s economic development.

ONE - they raised the gasoline tax - because they are bleeding the monopoly PEMEX oil company to death, and TWO - the Mexican equivalent of the IRS will collect 2% on any deposits totaling more than 25,000 pesos per month, probably because one third of the Mexican economy neither files nor pays taxes.

Consequently beautiful downtown Catemaco will see a surge of the traditional financial institution “Under the Mattress, S.A.”, and local merchants are hustling to place their orders.

Sep 12, 2007

Catemaco History


On the eve, or one of those mañana things, of Mexican Independence (Sept 15/16), read the history of:
La Batalla de El Alamo in garbled Google Spanish, and then
The Battle of the Alamo in Wikipedian English.

And then! Grab a six pack of Corona and holler a toast to the Texicans.

Oops, the Mexicans only seceded Texas, etc. They kept the rest of Mexico.
That is why there are almost no Six Packs of Beer in my part of Mexico.
Common Mexican beer drinkers prefer their beer lukewarm in quart size bottles.
A real culture shock!

Catemaco BIG is beautiful

Being rich, handsome and driving a giant SUV is possibly the biggest status symbol in Mexico. (Probably in the US, too). Unfortunately the rich to poor distribution in beautiful downtown Catemaco is a little out of whack.

Catemaco, of course, is a tourist destination, so the frequency of Cadillac Escalade, Mercedes, BMW, Hummer, and volcanic dimensioned Ford and Chevrolet models may be excused as neighboring cities visitors out for their weekend SUV drive.

But, in my almost daily walks around Catemaco City, I see a lot of these cars parked in front of homes, possibly worth half as much as the car. Of course I cannot see the cars behind the customary 8 feet walls that any self respecting Mexican will erect to revert to his possible "gachupines" (Spanish born) roots.

Nevertheless my latest table napkin calculations show that there are more expensive cars in Catemaco than what the Catemaco government receives as its allowance from the state and federal governments. (Less than 6 million dollars).


And here I thought I was living in an impoverished area of Mexico.


Sep 10, 2007

"Booming" Veracruz

Mexican politicians recently went into apoplexy over supposed US mercenaries being hired for Veracruz. The issue is now being fueled by the chip-on-shoulder fringe of the usual supposed Mexican “inteligencia”.

At issue is a help wanted ad by a US contractor to provide services to fly unmanned aircraft in the state of Veracruz. No objective was stated but presumably this would involve drug field and gas pipeline inspections.

Mexico has about as much experience in flying unmanned aircraft as flying space shuttles, namely NONE. The only qualified technicans to fly unmanned aircraft are the “mercenary” veterans of US army field operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other exotic tourist destinations.
Those mercenaries would have been very welcome yesterday, before someone decided to blow up 6 pipelines in Veracruz.

It is about time that Mexican politicians pass a law forbidding native Mexicans to mess with Veracruz !
Mexico Says US Recruits Mercenaries

Sep 9, 2007

Mexico Cucurrucucuuuuu..

The new 20 peso bill dropped the proud Mexican eagle for a chicken or a dove, depending on your gastronomic view point.

Next, the bureaucrats of Mexico will probably want to change the name of the country from “United Mexican States” (Estados Unidos Mexicanos) to “Mexico”, to stop this endless confusion of which Estados Unidos Mexicans would rather live in.


Sep 3, 2007

Catemaco Elections

Mexico possibly has some of the best election procedures in the world.
Anyone following the news of the 2006 debacle of a photo finish in the Mexican election and the resultant havoc may question that statement, but judging from what I saw in this current election and several before that, the election procedure is managed about as clean as can possibly be.

BUT, what goes on up to the moment a voter actually casts his or her vote is possibly along the lines of 19th century America, Chicago, or George Bush owned plantations. Vote buying, vote coercion, voter impersonation, etc, is still the norm, and reportedly votes and their corresponding voter identifications were being offered up to 500 pesos each.

Political parties competed with handouts ranging from bushels of eggs, toiletry kits and sacks of concrete to sheet metal roofing. Individuals were threatened with loss of their scholarships, social support, and monthly stipends for failing to vote in the “right” direction.

Nevertheless, beautiful downtown Catemaco, Veracruz did itself proud and produced a record turnout of 63 per cent of registered voters, including a few dead ones, and elected a mayor for the next 3 year term with a 28 % “majority”.

Now, personally, if I took this stuff seriously, I would probably prefer to leave Catemaco rather than to live with the next mayor’s reputation.

But then again, nobody left Catemaco after I moved here.
So what!
VIVA JORGE GONZALEZ AZAMAR
Líder maximo de Catemaco, 2008-2010.
May he reign in peace.

Aug 27, 2007

Catemaco Gun Control

Offically you cannot buy a gun in Catemaco.

For that matter, you cannot buy a gun in the entire state of Veracruz,or in 29 other Mexican states or in Mexico City. The only gun shop in Mexico is in Naucalpan, outside Mexico City in the state of Mexico and is run by the Mexican army. There you have a variety of choices as long as the caliber is less than a 38 special, or a 10 gauge shotgun.

Unofficially, over the last few years I have been offered an AK47 assault rifle popularly known as “Cuerno de Chivo” (Goat’s horn), a couple of 9mm’s, a MAC10, and a sawed off shotgun. Prices are in the arm and a leg range, although I hear the border towns have daily specials.

Incidentally if you travel with an unregistered weapon you better carry a large amount of cash with you. Otherwise you WILL go to jail and stay there.

Mexico is the sixth most violent country in the world!http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/cri_mur_percap-crime-murders-per-capita
And there you thought the home of Rambo was heading the list. WRONG! The US is way down at number 24.

Isn´t gun control wonderful in Mexico?

Pick out your favorite shooting iron here:
http://www.laarmeria.com.mx/catalog/default.php?cPath=22And then go and pick it up here
www.sedena.gob.mx/index.php?id=123

and then you can join fellow Mexican gun-nuts here.
http://www.mexicoarmado.com/

Aug 26, 2007

Catemaco Trees & Bushes


Catemaco Forensics

Aside from roadkill, laguna floaters, occasional dumped bodies and aftermaths of machete duels, there have only been 8 known murders in the past year in Catemaco. As of today, the valiant police agencies of Catemaco continue doing what they are good at, which is basically riding around in the back of pickup trucks and scratching their balls.

On a recent short ride (100 miles) we had the fortune to be stopped by 4 other Veracruz enforcement agencies which were bereft of pickup trucks but otherwise performed the same functions.

So the local rumors that a next town coroner is now being investigated for diagnosing 2 recently departeds with heart disease, while being afflicted by one or two bullets through those organs, comes as no surprise.

After all, this is supposed to be the witchcraft capital of the world.

Curiously, now the dozens of motor riding brujo (witch) shills usually accosting tourists at the entrances of Catemaco, have gone into retirement. Possibly they did so to avoid heart disease, and probably because their masters all seem to have decided to take vacations.

There is a wicked thought in the back of my head. Could brain disease be diagnosed in some of those hundreds of shills pestering tourists along the Malecon with offers of boat rides and other enjoyments

Aug 25, 2007

Catemaco Bagels

We just returned from a quick bagel trip to Veracruz city, known as Veracruz Puerto to all you Mexicophiles.
A quick bagel trip is more complicated than it seems.
It requires scanning endless aisles of a supermarket for things we were not able to buy in the local Catemaco, Veracruz and Tuxtlas “hood”.
And among the canned foods we found such treasures as wasabi paste, more or less instant blue berry pudding, white spaghetti sauces and chunky canned tuna, among other jewels.
The bakery had just finished baking assorted small but not sweet breads, still on the cooling rack visible behind the counter.
After fighting with the counter agents, my apparent drool alerted a manager to permit me to enter into the hallowed halls of Walmart bakedom and remove a dozen hot breads to slide into my cooler for my 3 hour trip back to Catemaco to reside in my freezer to evoke future drools.
Those 3 hours were pure misery. To satisfy our curiosity we had stopped at the relatively new COSTCO store, for which we had no 35 dollar membership. And I saw things I had forgotten existed, like Ben & Jerry’s, pastrami, baby ribs, cheddar cheese and fresh milk.
We were not prepared to travel frozen and my Popoluca refused to let me buy another 40 gallon ice chest, the one we owned had been forgotten, so I had to settle for one of those 70 peso plastic bubbly ones and stuffed it with mostly Bagels.
Why Bagels? you may be asking.
Preferentially I would love a good black bread, or one of those steinofen gebackene brots.I grew up in northern Europe and eating white bread was next to being excommunicated.The Bagel habit I picked up by osmosis via an ex, Jewish wife, about whom my most fond memories are my kids and lox (smoked salmon +/-).
So now I am getting ready to munch on a genuine Mexican bagel and schmear it with genuine Mexican cream cheese flavored with Chipotle, accompanied by one of those funny shaped Mexican tomatoes and the usual round onions and smothered with something called smoked salmon “Irish style”.
And for this, I left beautiful uptown Miami, Florida?

Aug 19, 2007

Catemaco bodyguard

He is afraid to get near water without wearing a life jacket because he cannot swim.

You should see what he wears while guarding me.

I need a bodyguard like I need an extra toe on my foot. But my Popoluca has been insistent since both family members and familiars began making unexpected obituary notices.

My bodyguard is almost as confused as I am. He thinks that I am his bodyguard, which may be true because he is my Popoluca's favorite son.

Anyway, the two of us have been seen driving a mysterious dark window tinted black SUV throughout the inaccessible areas of Los Tuxtlas, and the word on the street is that we are probably two gay drug lords visiting their plantations. The smart observors think we are buying up Los Tuxtlas at bargain prices and are now tripling their asking prices.

Catemaco is not far from the end of the universe in terms of accessibility. Nevertheless, the pueblo has a relatively violent history. Some of the lurid items are political candidates shooting each other in the thirties, and a multiple homicide brujo war in the 1990's.

Lately, the homicide rate in this village of 24,000 has been increasing beyond the usual machete shlashings of disrespectful friends or family.
Some serious assassinations involving kidnaps, drugs, drugs, and more drugs have been making statewide headlines along with the Catholic church supposedly booing the local brujos.

All that mayhem is gist for chit chat, and boy, oh boy, does Catemaco have chit chat. I seriously think that a loud fart on one end of Catemaco will be discussed on the other end within minutes.

Anyway, today's murder case, involving the chief brujo's son seems to have been converted into a simple kidnap with blood loss.

Nevertheless my Popoluca now wants to add another guard to my entourage.

Would someone know whether there are any used Pope Mobiles available?

Aug 9, 2007

Catemaco to Minatitlan / Coatzacoalcos


Surprise, surprise, the road leading from beautiful downtown Catemaco SOUTH is in good shape.
For those in a hurry, I recommend heading towards Acayucan, passing by the city, and seeking the turnoff to the southern “cuota” Vistahermosa toll road. Going through Acayucan is problematic, and the free road to Minatitlan bustles with heavy truck traffic.

Coatzacoalcos is like the Brooklyn of forgotten days. HINT: First price is a weekend in Coatza. Second price is a whole week in Coatza.

This bustling oil port has few redeeming touristic features aside from a great location on the confluence of the Gulf of Mexico and the Coatzacoalcos river, modern shopping facilities and an attractive “malecon” beach road.

Most hotels are overpriced, but the seafood restaurants at the edge of the river, overlooking the scurrying ferries towards Tabasco may make the city a worthwhile stop.
Adventurous drivers can embark on a ferry to continue a coastal trip south.

Jul 14, 2007

Catemaco - The longest small town bar in the world

The longest bar in the world seems to be a 208 meter monster in Rock island, Illinois, USA.

Runner up is the the agglomeration of almost 300 bars and pubs in the Altstadt of the town where I was raised, Düsseldorf, Germany.

I now waste away in Margaritaville, also known as beautiful downtown Catemaco, Veracruz, Mexico. With a city population of less than 30,000 and an average daily income of about 3 Happy Meals from McDonald, the town boasts of almost 200 cantinas, bars, nightclubs, beer dispensories, etc.

Most of these bars are furnished by beer companies and the city dump, and I would estimate, the number of chairs used, could easily fill in parts of Laguna Catemaco to create a causeway to Isla Agaltepec to really get to know monkeys in their own habitat.

The Catemaco municipio government probably spends considerably more money on drunk disturbances than it receives from licensing fees, yet tolerates an almost daily increase in drinking places.

Go ahead, have a cold one on me!

Jul 13, 2007

Catemaco Lightning

A little unannounced thunderstorm visited beautiful downtown Catemaco, Veracruz yesterday in the very early morning hours and tumbled 60 trees, 70 roofs, and some electricity posts.
Now I have spent many years in placed called boonies, in country, outback, etc., but I am not a country boy. So it came as a surprise to me to learn of the huge number of cattle electrocuted each year around the world.

July and August average 8 thunderstorms in Catemaco. And one of those freaks of nature hit our family mechanic´s life savings invested in a herd of 6 cattle and killed them all. So out came the machetes and the butchering and politicking over who would get the best meat started to broil. Our newly purchased dual AC minivan became the hearse of choice and transported slabs of beef to dozens of family members and other hungry folks.

Of course, the cattle were not insured, and I doubt that insurance was available or affordable to small ranchers. So now the poor mechanic is praying that all our cars require lots of his attention.
Curiously I am now living in a part of Catemaco which was previously a cattle ranch and known as Colonia of the Frogs, before a developer changed it to presumptious Linda Vista. According to my Popoluca the town used to eagerly await the lightning strikes this time of year, because the rancher would donate the electrocuted animals to the populace all eagerly lined up with their machetes at the cattle gates. And then it became party time.

The photo of lightning in Los Tuxtlas is from a forgotten source.

Jul 7, 2007

Buses and roads

Getting killed in a multiple passenger bus by a rock slide has got to be the fickle finger of some vengeful god. Why did he not choose one or two 2 passenger Ford Ranger pickup trucks so popular in Mexico?

The recent disaster of almost 40 dead in a land slide in Puebla, Mexico should be a caution sign to anyone traversing mountainous areas in southern Mexico. Let's not even speak about Guatemala, where death by mudslide is probably more frequent than death by intestinal diseases.

The dichotomy of Mexican roads, waffling between 21st century super highways to narrow 2 lane roads along precipices is just another symbol of 100's of years of corruption in road building and failure by Mexican engineers and their political sponsors to provide safe passage to its citizens.

Locally, each year numerous mud and rock slides disrupt the roads leading through Los Tuxtlas. Fortunately no full passenger bus has been affected recently except for a few that fell of bridges and some that missed a curve and plunged down 50 feet.

Fortunately there is a super highway bypassing Los Tuxtlas, at a cost of several days wages for the average local wage earner. That road is so unused and straight, that a blind person could possibly drive it except for those 1 foot deep potholes that unscrupulous Mexican contractors caused to be left behind to remind passing gringos who is boss in this part of the world.

I feel deeply sorry for those mud killed passengers, especially after reading they were mostly impoverished peasants, probably spending an entire day coming and going, to collect the equivalent of a 32 dollar Mexican welfare handout.

Those overhanging cliffs, though, are surely beautiful, especially on the roads through Oaxaca.

It is really a thrill there to stare up to a 1000 foot overhang while navigating a road along a 1000 foot dropoff. What a marvel of engineering that road between Puente Nacional and Oaxaca is. Those Mayans at their Chichen Itza rock piles simply do not compete, irregardless of possibly being declared an international monument today.

Jul 5, 2007

Matamoros to Catemaco

Crossing the border from Brownsville, Texas to Matamoros (Killing Moors) is a breeze along the newly opened border crossing at Puente Internacional. Leaving Matamoros is the pinnacle of further venturing into Mexico. You will be impresssed by fast roads leading through Tamaulipas, the state harboring Matamoros.

You will know you reached Veracruz when the roads turn to crap, smiling politicians laugh at you from most available lamposts, diesel fumes compete with your AC, your average speeds drops to 25 miles per hour and the landscape becomes beautiful.

If towing a vehicle or being otherwise out of the norm, Mexican "Federales" Highway Police Officers are some of the friendliest Mexicans you will likely encounter on Gulf coast roads. Locals usually tip these valiant officers 100 to 200 pesos after making their aquaintance. Usually these encounters have no relations to actual traffic infractions.Our last trip with 2 newly Matamoros purchased vehicle towing another, resulted in 6 traffic stops with a total of 2800 pesos in contributions to the Mexican police forces.

The downhill section from Catemaco to Matamoros produced not a single police stop, but 4 "get out of the car and get searched stops" by military personel. My Popoluca's son accompanying me told me it was because I did not smile enough when questioned.

The Texas to Yucatan highway has been around for several hundred years but has existed only a little more than 50 years in a paved version. Until recently, much of the roads seemed to hark to those previous glory days. Improvement has been slow and Veracruz now counts a dozen toll roads with many terminating abruptly and leading nowhere with signs to Mexico City.

Generally speaking, the roads from Matamoros to Tampico are good, with substantial road construction along a small part of the way.The Tampico bypass is open, but not pleasant! The exit to Veracruz City is only marked by a "Tuxpan" sign, and easily missed.The Tuxpan bypass is also easily missed and will provide you with several opportunities to have adventures on never before seen Veracruz roads. Poza Rica is even better to get lost in. Fortunately the roads between Tuxpan and Poza Rica are pleasant to drive.

A curious aspect of local highway construction is two way toll roads. They are usually accompanied by rather large road shoulders, in place of fifty foot drop offs. The locally acceptable norm for passing a car in in your lane, while there is oncoming traffic, is to demand that the car in front of you drives to the shoulder in order for you to pass in the middle of the road. Opposing traffic usually plays by these rules and also moves to the shoulder, and you can safely pass in the middle of the road, frequently along 34 wheel tractor trailers, unless of course you meet a dumb foreigner like me who did not understand this game and sticks to his lane. In that case you might receive a side swiped mirror as occured to me when I first encountered this type of road near Cancun many years ago.

From Poza Rica to Veracruz is fairly easy going amid an attractive landscape. Bypassing Veracruz on the way to Catemaco is easy and well marked, until you get to the Paso the Toro exit, which might send you to Cordoba. The road to Los Tuxtlas at present is better than it has been in 5 years, which might not be true tomorrow.

Total driving and stopping time is 14 hours, taking advantage of the lack of speed controls, or 17 driving comfortably or 2 days, sightseeing.
COME ON DOWN

Jun 22, 2007

Catemaco Olmec Art

This certainly looks like Mayan or Olmec art.
Actually my neighbors kid did the outline to promote the local hop, skip & jump routine.
Or maybe it was just another neighborhoods kid scribbling on stone with a hammer and chisel, or maybe one of his country cousins trying to sell museum quality pieces to supposedly “rich” but not stupid Catemaco gringos at New York art gallery prices.
Picking up a little archaeological gift is easy in Mexico. Most any farmer plowing his land will find small ornaments. The bigger good stuff has already mostly been stolen and resides in foreign Museums.
But if you like, I will sell you a properly aged copy of an original piece at substantially less than what all those original art galleries charge.
Custom antique pieces will be charged extra, especially if you want something certifiably George Bush from the 8th century BC.









Jun 16, 2007

Drunk in Catemaco

Below the belt of most Mexican rural towns, including beautiful Catemaco, Veracruz, dangles a pair of culture threatening problems, drunkenness and spouse abuse. The two are closely related to each other and form a basis for the extraordinarily high incidence of murders, mutilations and roadkills in the country.

At present federal Mexico does not tax alcohol, aside from the 15% tax added to most consumer products. The concept of sin taxes is not absent in Mexico. The booze manufacturers have just been able to excert their political prowess more than the tobacco companies which are heavily taxed.

Especially at night, the prevalence of public drunks is pernicious in most of downtown Catemaco, as well as many other communities, especially on the weekends and on the highways, despite the efforts of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) which is hyperactive here as well as in the rest of Mexico, providing 9 local refuges in this town of 20,000, and more than 22 in neighboring San Andrés Tuxtla.
Not helping is the cheap availability of rot gut "aguardiente" (firewater, distilled from sugarcane) at the equivalent of a short quart (26oz) of 72 proof liquor for 12 pesos. Even cheaper is the purchase of distilled alcohol from many grocery stores in any amount as long as you bring your own container. If you see a "wino" waving along the street clutching a plastic bag, containing what seems to be water, that will not be his goldfish, but a "churrito" or "boli" of brandless alcohol.
Firewater is the preferred choice of hard core drunks. The most problematic choice, though, is beer.
Mexico has a well deserved reputation for excellent beer quality and was able to fool the US public by exporting a third rate beer to the US market, where it rapidly cornered the "most imported " beer status and drove up the price of limes, Corona.

Corona and a few other breweries in the tightly controlled Mexican economy offer their most popular serving in "caguama" size bottles, (940ml, roughly a quart) for 14 pesos which compares to a similar bottle of Miller's "low life" for US 1.65 which is after the alleged 44% taxes which US alcohol consumes. Obviously Mexican drinkers are being ripped off by their compatriots controlling distribution channels.

The beer companies, aside from almost monopolistic Coca Cola, and Nestle are possibly the best marketers in Mexico and make it possible for any Jose or Juana to open a cantina on shoe strings, receiving free chairs, tables, refrigerators, decor and paint as long as they stick to selling one brewery's products.

The partial benefactors are the county governments (municipios) which charge a relatively high rate for liquor licenses, but not anywhere the huge sums that these licenses cost in the US.
The mayhem, roadkill and spouse abuse are additional benefits which are not included in the license fees and usually get picked up by state and federal funds.

The Mexican government, which is statistics happy, has made substantial studies of the drinking problem in urban areas, but seems to be avoiding the rural areas, where the problem is much more prevalent.

One final comment, which is not an endorsement, is to say that I have remarkably found those public drunks in Catemaco to be generally courteous and non-intrusive compared to many others I have encountered in my travels in other countries.
Cheers.

Jun 13, 2007

Worming Catemaco

My dogs fairly regularly produce feces with wiggly things and we rush them to the veterinarian.
My Popoluca regularly deworms herself and is incredulous that I prefer not to do so, and she thinks it is an outright lie when I tell her I have never been de-wormed in my adult life.
Since she also knows a few gringos, we have compared notes. Now she is convinced that Mexican worms do not like gringos.
Beautiful small town Catemaco is not that far removed from the days when shoes where a luxury, and topless bathing in the laguna was the norm. And a trip into the higher surrounding sierras will reveal that to still be the norm in many riverside communities.
Parasite infection is a serious problem in rural children in Mexico and the Mexican health system has serious preventative and control measures in place. But apparently the message that once you took all those preventative measures and reached adulthood, that ritual practice of de-worming became unnecessary, has not filtered down. And the drug producers are happy.
Or maybe I have worms and don´t know it.

Jun 7, 2007

Mystic Catemaco

Today was one of the annual 10 to 15 magnificent photographic days in beautiful downtown Catemaco.

Usually the laguna and surrounding hills are clothed in what visitors call mysticism, and local photographers call anything else when on their best behavior.

A friend, foolishly living on the side of one of the latent volcanoes, called me this morning to advise me he could actually see clearly to the other side of the laguna.
Previously we had made arrangements to hire a 75 miles away pilot to fly us over the area, but unfortunately his phone had the usual TELMEX message of "afuera de servicio (out of service)".
So I trucked to some of the places which the Veracruz government should declare state treasured views and loaded my digital camera, which promptly went CLONCK in multiple languages.

To see more of Catemaco, visit http://www.catemaco.info/media/: and to fly over it. Keep digging! There really is a slideshow of a flight over the Santa Marta's.

Jun 6, 2007

Catemaco Island Fever

Beautiful isolated downtown Catemaco can get on your nerves after a while and a trip to the "big smoke" becomes a necessity.

Usually it is a daytrip to Veracruz City that stills the hungers of a capitalist heart for blueberry jam, roast beef, bagels and other culinary delights. But actually spending time in another city offering different flavored restaurants, cultural institutions and beehive activity is required to maintain a former city dweller's equilibrium.

So we took off a few days and headed for the major Veracruz cities, Xalapa & Veracruz to visit friends and family. The roads were mostly passable, the traffic, except for isolated spots was tolerable, the weather was beautiful and the return trip to Catemaco evoked many memories.
Most notable was the burgeoning in both cities of major road and other construction, the invasion of major international franchises from Subway to Costco, and the proliferation of political propaganda.

Xalapa was refreshingly cool this time of year. Its restaurants have multiplied and its hotels apparently are competing for most pricey in the state. The usually comfortable Howard Johnson Hotel tried to rip me off for 1300 pesos, that last year cost 850 and 4 years ago, 650, without any improvements in the facility. (They buckled and only raped me for 960 with the usual gorgeous view off the fifth floor).

The Xalapa Museum was still worth it after my fifth trip, the sushi in an unnamed restaurant was mediocre and the mole and trout in Xico were still superb, and we only wasted the usual few hours sightseeing the city while getting lost, as usual. (Take a taxi to get around, they are cheap.)
On the return from Xalapa, we stopped for the first time in La Antigua, an exit almost unmarked before the last toll booth on the Tampico / Veracruz toll road. This is actually the home of the first permanent European residence in the continental US, and an insult to any historian of America's history. Nevertheless it is a pleasant place to lunch in one of the dozens of riverside restaurants and even to take a boat ride.Entering Veracruz from the north was the usual mind reader puzzle along a totally screwed up corridor but placed us safely into downtown where, if you are not familiar, the thousands of superfluous traffic signs along Mexico roads are ABSENT.
Fortunately we found our new hotel, and I am still debating whether to recommend it, both for price and comfort, on my list of 12 hotels that I have stayed at in Veracruz City. Try your own luck.

A giant movie theater still provided us with a treat not available in Los Tuxtlas, and of course, I laughed in the wrong parts, because my companions did not get the joke in the subtitles. (I don´t understand how Mexico can counterfeit movies within 24 hours but not provide translations in 48 hours. Yeah, English is difficult!)

Shopping in the "best" Plaza de las Americas was still FAAAAR from any US shopping mall, but still good enough for me to hesitate to return my Popoluca and our credit card to my favorite Veracruz city. (Catemaco thinks it is a city, actually it qualifies as a town).

If you are familiar with Veracruz, bypass it via the Coatzacoalco exit shortly after the last toll booth and drive about 15 miles along a substandard 2 lane highway to Paso del Toro to Los Tuxtlas. If you are not familiar - VISIT VERACRUZ CITY - it is worth it.

Jun 1, 2007

Catemaco Politics

Have you heard any good jokes lately?
Here is a political one from beautiful downtown Catemaco.
7 years ago the mayor of Catemaco was jailed for alleged rape and malfeasance. A new election was called and elected a mayor from a different party.
The old mayor got out of jail on one of those Monopoly "Get out of jail free" cards. These cards are being distributed on a daily basis by the judicial system in Veracruz to participants in the game who either own or have a relative that owns Boardwalk.
The previously jailed mayor won the next election on behalf of a different party than the one that jailed him. This was similar to US agendas that elected convicted drug lord Barry in Washington, DC, USA.
After being in office for 2 years and spouting innumerable urban renewal programs not funded by the Veracruz government which controls most of the finacial strings of small provincial towns, this latest Catemaco mayor tried to buck the existing power structure by organizing a road block of a federal highway, assisted by some of the internationally famous witch doctors (BRUJOS) of Catemaco.
As predictable by any agnostic observer, the mayor's attempt failed and instead landed his community in the proverbial "shithouse" of places that the state government does not send discretionary funds to.
So this mayor, funded by millions of disappeared pesos for improvement project in Catemaco, which miraculously never improved, temporarily resigned to obtain the designation of candidate for his latest party's commitment in its quest for a piece of the Veracruz government.
The Veracruz government, like all Mexican states, elects most of its state representatives to the state government by direct vote. BUT, approximately 1/3 of the representatives are assigned to the participating parties to bestow as they see fit.
The Catemaco mayor, known as the "Little Prince", among his many other less flattering names, failed to gain his party's indirect nomination, known as plurinominal.
So the "little prince" returned to his job as mayor of Catemaco and spent a few weeks of renewing his ties to his political power base.
As of 1 June 2007 he quit again to pursue the nomination of his party as the uninominal candidate of Los Tuxtlas. That means he wants to get elected on the basis of a direct vote, after his party turned him down for an assigned vote.
There are other contenders. But for "the little prince" a victory is absolutely necessary, otherwise his " Get out of jail card free" card will be cancelled and he will have to face a variety of local, state, and federal lawsuits against him, which by quirky Mexican law have not been enforceable while the "little prince" was an elected official.
That is just he story of one Catemaco official. Do you want to hear about the one who watched heads rolls on his mayorial watch, and ascended to legislative heaven and then got roundly trounced by the "little prince" and consequently switched political allegiance to another party which had been fighting him for a dozen years but now accepts him as a viable candidate?
Or is this enough of a joke?

May 31, 2007

Mexico Shut Up


The only English News source in Mexico is discontinued.
Who needs multiculturalism anyway?


May 27, 2007

Catemaco Clean Living

When I first arrived in Catemaco, I spent several weeks trying to locate a washing machine service for my clothes. The thought of having my 30 dollar shirts rubbed between 2 stones in a contaminated lagoon simply did not feel good to my inner skin.
Shortly thereafter I found a human washing machine, who began using my personal waters and rocks to wash my clothes and who was considerably less expensive than the mechanical provider.
More shortly thereafter I splurged and bought one of those single tub electronic washer/dryer combinations for a mega amount of pesos, as my contribution to the Mexican ecology and the profit line of Walmart.
My human washing machine fell in love with the electronic monster and forfeited her cleaning time to watching the spin cycle. -- So I fired her.
The next 2 human attendants never did discover the vagaries of a proper wash and also went on their way. I now have an apparent graduate of a Mexican Technological Institute manning (womening) my machine and am living happily clean for the moment.
Meanwhile, a recent extended walk around beautiful downtown Catemaco exposed eight (8) new machine based lavanderias (laundries), ranging from 2 to 6 machines. And, would you believe it?, there is a dry cleaner only 30 minutes away.

May 25, 2007

Boas on the rocks

Those wonderful folks at DEMATAC have done it again.

Intent on protecting the wilds and wildlife of Catemaco and Los Tuxtlas, they have managed to add a thrill for those exuberating over dangling off a 180 foot cliff above the yawning gulf waters in front of a pirate cave.

DEMATAC decided to release a few boa constrictors in the area to entertain the rappellers.
Now can you imagine dangling off that rope with a boa staring down at you?

Shades of Anaconda!
Just another foible from beautiful downtown Catemaco, just a short drive away from Roca Partida, rappelling headquarters of Los Tuxtlas.

Mar 27, 2007

Catemaco abortion

The Vatican, which is a tiny little country in Italy and supposedly the seat of worldwide catholic hierarchy, is again messing with Mexico, after keeping its mouth shut for several hundred years. Previous Vatican adherents constructed most of those lovely churches across Mexico and none of the roads and in later years were subject to extermination campaigns.

The issue at present is abortion, which as usual avoids the male oriented issue of genocidal masturbation.

Mexico over the last 20 years has made fantastic progress in its efforts to control its population explosion, including unsanctioned monthly infertility injections, standard birth control information and a plethora of other prophylactics.

In the meantime, Mexico has also constructed a bunch of roads.

At present, in the Mexican legislature, a proposal to legitimatize abortion is being discussed, and that is thoroughly upsetting Vatican adherents, who only recently saw pro - homosexual laws being enacted in Mexico. The Vatican is now on the war path.

South East Coast of Catemaco

The southeast Catemaco coast of Los Tuxtlas is still "terra incognito".

Although only a few miles away, (as a Mexican crow might fly), it is a hard 6 hour drive to reach the area from Catemaco - or any other major city in the area. The faster southern section of the coast, near Laguna del Ostion, is now sprucing up with an in progress bridge to connect to Coatzacoalcos. The northern section is still the step child of Veracruz road builders.

Although riddled with presences of prehispanic population, the area encompassing the north of the municipio of Mecayapan is in now a sparsely populated part of Catemaco.
The area was settled via the Mexican land give away programs in the 1960's, and has developed into an ecological disaster zone. Occupying the flanks of the Sierra Santa Marta mostly still starving peasants have shredded the environment of most any tree worth its peso and have substituted black and brown mobile cattle.

On a recent venture investigating remaining parrot species in the the area above coastal Arrecifes, my faithful truck blew a transmission seal. Perhaps there are 4x4 tow trucks in other parts of the world but in this location the only option was a tractor pull down some nighmare slopes.

Instead I opted for the solution most inhabitants of the area have employed for 50 years and imported mechanics via ocean (gulf) going launch from Sontecomapan near Catemaco.
The effort apparently was so impressive, the Arrecifes community sent me an invitation to return to participate in its annual pachanga (celebration) on May 3rd.
So now we are planning an expedition!

Personally I will allow my unfaithful truck to return to the area while lesser wimps will charter boats from the Sontecomapan embarcadero for the 1 hour ride to Arrecifes. There are no accomodations in the community built upon a bluff above the coastal beaches, and camping gear is required.

The open charter boats seat about 12, and so far we are 18. Two years ago, 6 others drowned on the same voyage. To optimize charter costs we need another 6 to fill the second lancha. Email me if you want to participate.

Mar 19, 2007

Catemaco baptism

Gunfire woke me at 4:00 am in beautiful downtown Catemaco, Veracruz.

So, instead of returning to sleep, I checked the Catemaco News and read about a vague acquaintance being kidnapped, and a few police officers being gunned down near Veracruz City.
By the time dawn broke, the earlier gunfire had turned into a Catemaco police standoff, involving federal, state and municipal police forces trying to dislodge a drunk brujo (witch) from his home just because he decorated a local police vehicle with a few bullet holes.

But it was such a gorgeous day. The first sign of spring after a long drawn out winter full of north winds and freezing Catemacao temperatures of around 70 degrees F (19c).

So we baptized my Popoluca's first grandson and lunched with some family and friends on delicious barbacoa in a restaurant overlooking the laguna.

Upon our return to casa, we found a burglar hiding under my bed. He was just a young inexperienced thief who unfortunately fell several times while we caught him. The resulting turmoil attracted a full fledged street party of men with clubs, the local press, police and inquisitive neighbors.

And some enjoyed the left-over baptismal cake.

Added note: A few days later, the kidnappers killed their victims, and the drunk brujo manipulated the Mexican legal system, and is now suing the police chief to get his car repaired.

Mar 9, 2007

Rich Mexico

Mexico has 7 of them, including the third richest person in the world. The rest are just the usual bunch of oligarchs monopolizing most of the business in Mexico.

#003 Carlos Slim (MEX) 49,000 billion
#158 Alberto Bailleres (MEX) 5,000
#172 Ricardo Salinas Pliego (MEX) 4,600
#194 Jerónimo Arango (MEX) 4,300
#458 Emilio Azcárraga Jean (MEX) 2,100
#557 Isaac Saba Raffoul (MEX) 1,800
#583 Lorenzo Zambrano (MEX) 1,700
#618 Alfredo Harp (MEX) 1,600
#98,075,440 Alberto Ortega 0

From Huffington post:
Alberto,43, Mexico City, Mexico. Net worth: a pair of pet crickets.

Alberto comes from Michoacan where he raised corn on the family milpa, as his ancestors had for centuries. Post-NAFTA, hardscrabble Al couldn't compete with US-Congress-subsidized corn flooding Mexico, courtesy of Archer Daniels Midland. (Best known ADM partner Donald Tyson tragically fell OFF the current Forbes 400 Richest this year: couldn't make that $1 billion mark boo-hoo-hoo!).

Alberto moved to Mexico City where he lives in a drain with wife Concepcion; together they make a peso a week picking over waste at the local Wal-Mart de Mexico, thus trimming disposal costs for the Walton family (total net worth $78 billion, #6-#11 Forbes 400) and fellow Mexican Jeronimo Arango (net worth $4.3 billion, world's #194 richest man).

When Al has a nickel to his name he bets on the ponies, boosting off-track mogul Emilio Azcarraga Jean's bottom line (Net worth $2.1 billion, world's #458 richest man) and dreams of owning a share in a cellphone so he can keep in touch with Concepcion when she has to turn a trick, putting more dough in the pocket of Mexican Tel-com Bandito Carlos Slim Helu (at $49 billion net worth, world's #3 richest man - and that's in dirt-poor Mexico!)

Mar 4, 2007

Catemaco South Coast

Catemaco and the volcanic Los Tuxtlas, Veracruz have so many distinct personalities that at times, because of ease of information access, many aspects are overlooked.

I spent the last week running away from Catemaco brujo-schism rediscovering the forgotten isolated coast of the Los Tuxtlas fronting the Sierra Santa Marta and Volcano San Martin Pajapan to Laguna del Ostion. Touristically, this may rank as one of the least explored areas in Mexico because of its difficulty of access.

At most any point along almost 50 miles, this coast is 40, and usually more, miles from the nearest highway. There is no major city anywhere near these beaches claiming proprietary relationships. All these beaches are isolated, "unspoiled", lacking palapas serving Corona beers, fried fish or sunburned tourists.

Seen from offshore, at any point the entire coast is breathtakingly beautiful.
The stretch from Catemaco´s La Barra to El Carrizal is a cattle rustlers´s no-man´s land, accessible only by a boat towed one car ferry.
The stretch from El Carrizal to Los Arrecifes is so wild, even cattle rustlers cannot find it. From Los Arrecifes to Perla del Golfo, once a day Gulf going fishing boats leave Catemaco's Sontecomapan, catering mostly to the survival habits of those localities in terms of fresh produce and needed supplies.

Further south, all beach communities are served by a backbreaking road leading to the provincial capital of Tatahuicapan, population 6,723, many hours away, unless the roads are washed out.

Near Laguna del Ostion, the touristic situation improves somewhat, with an almost paved highway to the Gulf of Mexico from Tatahuicapan, via Pajapan to several isolated beach communities, terminating at Jicajal, a sea food eating oasis, for visitors from Minatitlan, 50 miles away.

That same road, in the opposite direction leads to Peña Hermosa, the only publicized Santa Marta beach facility, promoting government bungalows and an anemic turtle watching program.
Almost every piece of this 50 mile long coast is literally untouched and cluttered with driftwood.

Catemaco Ejidos

VERY SIMPLISTICALLY - The ejido land ownership concept inherently stopped Mexico from becoming a first world nation and reinforced its servitude to its northern colossus.Very basically, ejido means a conglomerate of people joined in a communal effort, owning common community property and small parcels of personal property. Aside from other socialistic endeavors, this particular effort had its roots in the promises of the Mexican revolution of 1917 representing a revolt against the amassment of land wealth by individual Mexican owners. Basically the idea was to confiscate large landholders lands and distribute it to landless peasants. At present estimates place ejido ownership on more than half of Mexico's arable land.

(the ejido system was and is fairly complex and I would suggest you study it before believing everything I say here.)

The ejido system was destined to fail primarily because of inheritance problems, whereby each original landowner, potentially, would be diminishing the original property to accommodate inheritors. Meanwhile ejido laws were changed so many times, that finally, the Mexican government surrendered, and permitted ejido holders to sell their property.

Nevertheless there are still thousands of ejidos owning thousands of hectares with a very limited number of ejiditarios (actual property owners) and many more disenfranchised family members or workers, working the ejido land in a more or less tenured system. Those landless ejido members have provided many of the illegal border crossers to the USA.

A less debated aspect of the creation of ejidos is their direct contribution to the ecological destruction of Mexico. After the Mexican government became stymied at giving away private property it had to attack the wealth of the public domain and began giving away unexplored areas.

The area of Los Tuxtlas was one of those victims, and starting in the early 1950's, thousands of land hungry peasants were assigned property rights in virgin forests.
The outcome is now painfully obvious with less than 10 per cent of the the original forest surface remaining in Los Tuxtlas. That is probably not much different than the development of Miami, Florida, USA.

EXCEPT, in this case the outcome was government instituted, and as of today, that outcome still obliges the Mexican government entities to support the mayhem it created, in areas more populated by tree rats than people, and each demanding basketball courts, health facilities, meeting halls and social welfare programs for population centers which a long time ago were wiped out in Texas and "other" first world places by the establishment of rural roads, capitalist market economy and the affordability of pickup trucks.

In Los Tuxtlas, the most obnoxious sign of the failure of this system is the condition of the Los Tuxtlas coast. Dozens of ejidos occupy this zone, each more intent than the other to fatten another cow. Meanwhile, municipal service is almost absent, the consolidated strength of the cattle industry has no outlet and it takes a day's travel to sell a cow. Tourism is nonexistent.
Of course, most individual properties, until lately, are extraordinarily fractured and economically dysfunctional on an early 20th century level, where milkers still think that electric milkers sicken their cows.

Meanwhile the area supports a relatively large, almost illiterate population, living on or near the Mexican minimum wage of less than 5 dollars a day, which, if you remember a previous comment, are clamoring for municipal and social services which at the current rate, may be provided in the next century.