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.

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,

Meanwhile here is the old list, which should keep a newbie happy for a while.

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..

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.


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


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


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.


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.

(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!
Líder maximo de Catemaco, 2008-2010.
May he reign in peace.