Dec 31, 2008

Catemaco to the Yucatan

With haunts of the "south will rise again" southern Veracruz sugar cane farmers have successfully cut the only roads leading from the rest of Mexico to the Yucatan. After first blocking the bridge leading from Catemaco south to Acayucan/Villahermosa, they have now also blocked the cuoata (toll road) south of Acayucan.

This is a political gambit involving the payment of price supports to sugar mills. It is also a pain in the butt for anyone traveling these highways. Usually these common blockages last only a few hours, until the Veracruz governor sends in some sugar coated promises.

We recently round tripped the Yucatan from Catemaco to Villahermosa, Campeche, Merida, Tulum and Chetumal/Belize. Once you get the hell out of Veracruz, the roads are surprisingly good, only marred by long stretches of new road construction. Highways are very well marked and frequently give you a choice of different mileages to the next city. Speed controls are almost non existant and we often puffed along at 100 miles per hour.

Once out of the majorcities, you need to be a mind reader to know which turn to take. We proudly got lost trying to find Celestun, leaving Merida, short cutting from Chichen Itza and entering Tulum from the inland side. The worst nightmare was trying to leave downtown Chetumal.

All in all, we had a wonderful trip and the only pertinent advise is to NEVER ask a Mexican pedestrian for directions. Their usual sense of courtesy does not allow admitting they don´t know and instead they will fabricate some twists and turns to keep you happy. This is especially true in rural areas where the concept of roads is frequently presumed to include horse trails.

My Popoluca taught me the most pertinent trick. Hire a taxi to lead you where you are going! It works.
Photo: "My historic ruins" of Uxmal

Dec 30, 2008

Catemaco Crime Wave

Naturally someone had to upset my enjoyment of the Christmas shenanigans in beautiful downtown Catemaco. A good friend who had left the so called "war zone" of Oaxaca for the peaceful environs of Laguna Catemaco called desperately wanting to borrow my machine pistol for the next few days.

Apparently he is being victimized by an extorsion phone call demanding the magnificent sum of 15,000 pesos or they'd kill his family. Naturally I rushed my phone recorder, caller ID equipment and a bottle of Johnnie Walker Green Label to his rescue. My gun, unfortunately was glued to my fingers, so I had to call another friend to share his arsenal with this poor under gunned soul.

I've been somewhat following the frequency of phone extorsions in Mexico, so it was no surprise to me that the local police commander calmly stated something like "Oh, yeah, we have reports of 6 of these calls today, with 4 from your colonia (neighborhood)". As an afterthought the corrupt greedy SOB mentioned he would be willing to negotiate a settlement.

After hearing that, I thought to myself that the recent report of 110,000 of these type of calls in Mexico City this year, were probably a Florida undercount.

There are unfortunately no statistics of how many victims actually paid, or whether anyone, anywhere was hurt because of one of these calls.

Nevertheless, it is a frightening experience to receive one of these extorsion calls, and that is why I was so willing to share the local rarity of my green Johnnie Walker, but not my gun.

Dec 26, 2008

Catemaco Monster

"early in 1969 the good citizens residing around Lake Catemaco in Mexico began to see their pet monster again"

Apparently John A. Keel in his book "The Complete Guide to Mysterious Beings"  mentions a huge black serpent with two heads being sighted in the laguna.

Does anyone have the complete description?

Dec 18, 2008

Dec 15, 2008

Catemaco corruption

After years of being involved in a property possession fight, we finally received an official judgement declaring us owners of the contested property.

This legal maneuver, occupying more than two years was never a priority to us so we never paid the customary bribes to advance its case in court. NOW after finally receiving an ultimate court decision in our favor, the frigging judge who is supposed to officially publish the judgement wants 20,000 pesos.

Guess what? We paid him.! Just another beautiful downtown Catemaco vignette.

Dec 13, 2008

Catemaco Virgins

I have never seen so many Virgins in my life.

Beautiful downtown Catemaco was overrun by thousands, or maybe 10's of thousands of placard bearers in the last week. Most all featured a likeness either on their sweatpants, foreheads, windshields, mobile phones, etc. of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Spirituality seems to have soared in Catemaco in the last few years. Maybe this has something to do with global warming, or the lower than average temperatures in Los Tuxtlas.
The Catemaco Virgen celebration is not just a local phenomena. Pilgims regularly arrive here by the busloads from most of southern Mexico. During the festivities surrounding her various "anniversaries", thousands of impoverished pilgrims arrive on foot treks from the communities south of Catemaco in the Santa Marta volcanoes where apparently there is a Virgin statue shortage.

The religious folks, throughout the week, run their processions before 6 am, the more sleepy taxis and driveable religious vehicles have their fun in the afternoons and the party crowd does their thing with beauty contests of virginal high school students in the evening. All are accompanied by choruses or the equivalent of bull horns or oom-pah-pah music.

I should have posted this on one of those "I love Mexico" blogs where people love reading about the shenanigans of the have-nots of Mexico, before returning to their quiet, isolated life in mortgaged homes in Anywhere, USA.

PLEASE! if this keeps on going, invite me!

A little history: The shrine of the Catemaco Virgin

Photo: Diario Eyipantla

Catemaco Crime

Beautiful downtown Catemaco is allegedly becoming a retirement home.

The ZETAs, one of the most feared drug gangs in Mexico, are supposedly declaring Catemaco a protected turf without the reported Mafia style protection rackets and kidnappings now so popular on the Mexican gulf coast.

Welcome home ZETAS!

They can not be any worse than the corrupt national and state politicians who have scooped up prime pieces of real estate in Catemaco and Los Tuxtlas and stolen a large percentage of Catemaco's yearly fiscal budget.

Current US newspapers are in a frenzy over Mexican drug related killings. What they, and most foreign tourists, forget is that Mexico is an extraordinarily violent country. Fortunately most of the violence is bestowed on fellow Mexicans, leaving gringos virtually unscathed.

Murder rates traditionally have been 3 to 4 times higher in Mexico than the US! And that includes flawed Mexican statistics which are know to to depend on bullets in the heart to be reported as heart attacks.

So who cares about a few thousand druggies wasting each other!

I know you don't believe me, so here are the somewhat outdated statistics:

Dec 6, 2008

Movies of Catemaco

There is no reason to come visit us in beautiful downtown Catemaco. Just stay home and enjoy the local scenery portrayed in dozens of films, TV shows, and documentaries.

Here is a sample of some of them:

Apocalypto (2006)
USA, director: Mel Gibson, star: Rudy Youngblood.

Piedras verdes (2001)
México, director: Ángel Flores Torres, star: Osvaldo Benavides.

Hijos del viento (2000)
Spain, director:José Miguel Juárez, star: José Sancho.

Nanciyaga (1998)
México, director: Julio Fons, star: Felipe Fulop.

Ámbar (1994)
México, director: Luis Estrada, star: Martin Altomaro.

Enfermeras en la Linea: El accidente del vuelo 7 (1993)
USA (TV), director: Larry Shaw, star: Lindsey Wagner, Jennifer Lopez.

Medicine Man  (1992)
USA, director: John McTiernan, star: Sean Connery.

Mina, viento de libertad (1977)
Cuba / México, director: Antonio Eceiza, star: Pedro Armendáriz Jr.. 

Muerte en el jardin,  (1956)
France / México, director: Luis Buñuel, star: Simone Signoret.

Sombra Verde, (1954)
México, director Roberto Galvadon, star: Ricardo Montalban
See More: Movies of Catemaco 

Dec 4, 2008

Catemaco Recipes

I hope you enjoy the home cooking in beautiful downtown Catemaco as much as I do.



You get the drift, I hope

Source: Venavernos

Nov 26, 2008

Catemaco Toilet Training

After living in Catemaco more than 6 years, and several houses later, my Popoluca finally put her foot down and demanded I abide by the toilet customs of Catemaco and most other provincial burgs in Mexico.

Namely, I now wipe my behind with tissue in my right hand, then bring the tissue into vision and carefully, with both hands, fold the brown missile and dump it into a container on the side of the toilet.

This supposedly will stop my plumber from making his frequent visits to clean out our sewage pipes. This plumber, whom I have affectionately renamed Don Fuga (Mr. Leak) claims that pipe cleaning is the source for his fortune which now includes a motor bike.

Most local houses have at least one, and usually more concrete clean out stations, and the game usually is to find out which one is stuffed.

Surprisingly it seems most Mexicans understand that when a large container sits along a toilet, it is the equivalent of a "NO FLUSH THE PAPER" command, and an acknowledgement of the shortcomings of the local septic system.

Not surprisingly, this pinche foreigner does not understand why after happily flushing for 6 years in other parts of Mexico, he has to learn new tricks.

Nov 13, 2008

Catemaco medicinal plants

Ending yesterday, a Veracruz educational agency offered a course in beautiful downtown Catemaco about medicinal plants, possibly sponsored by the local governor as his response to the local witches (brujos) endorsement of his candidacy for the next presidential race.

My Popoluca, whose father was a known minor brujo, decided to attend. As her homework or perhaps thesis, she was obliged to portray some local medicinal plants.

To my absolute surprise, within half a day, our house began filling with samples of local vegetation supposedly having curing effects. I lost count after 50 and escaped to Veracruz City to avoid to be possibly being used as a guinea pig.

The still remaining knowledge and use of plant lore is simply amazing to me in this small town known for witchcraft and assorted other esoteric endeavors. But now I am looking at my Popoluca bruja as a possible source for a hair loss remedy. Yet I am hesitant, she might turn me into a toad.

Photo: One of many displays of the local medicinal flora.

Nov 12, 2008

Catemaco machetes

+`l`´This one really got me.

Here I am in beautiful downtown Catemaco and almost no week passes by without the machete slashing  of  someone in Los Tuxtlas. The majority of these machete slashed victims are women. This is not a serial killer at work, just the usual macho at work.
In the last few weeks,  many women of LosTuxtlas got what they deserved. AT least in the minds of associated psychopath machos of the area. Usually these crimes are directly attributable to family members, usually supposedly cuckolded husbands.

How the hell does this area pretend to protect its environment if they can´t even protect its women.

Nov 7, 2008

OT - Mexican Fence

Mexico City, MX – Mexican lawmakers today proposed a 700 mile border fence to keep Americans from illegally entering the country. Recent economic conditions in the US have sent tens of thousands of Americans over the border seeking employment.
Read more: The Edwards Report

Nov 6, 2008

Off Topic - plane crash in Mexico City

A Learjet 45XR crashed onto the upper parts of Mexico City's Reforma, missing the presidential palace by less than 2 miles. Passengers included the equivalent of the Mexican vice president and drug tzar.

I have watched and followed assorted plane crashes and am absolutely dumbfounded by the lack and conflict of information being published on the internet.

First they get the type of aircraft wrong, 25D instead of XR. Then they retract a flight controllers statement, Then they ignore bystanders reports of flames from the plane before it crashed. Then they ignore its flight pass and altitude, etc.

Either Mexican newsmen are ignorant or lazy. Within 24 hours I should know what exactly was the aircraft, what is its history,  where was it last maintained , and specifically what SHOULD have been its flightpath over Mexico City..

Instead I am reading verbose repetitive bullshit without an ounce of investigative journalism promoted by Mexican news agencies. And to add insult to injury, every twinkling left winger or former PEJE (last presidential candidate)  supporter is now waiving internet flags of murder in high places.

A few fact checks revealed the plane as of 2002 was in the hands of a Baja Mexico consortium. As of 2007 the plane was not registered on the Mexican presidential books.

But to me the most possible lead in ascertaining the reasons for its crash are in the plane's call letters XC - VCM (equivalent to a license plate):
XC  are the  call letters for Mexico
VCM  are the call letter assignation for individual planes in Mexico, translated a: victor-charly-mike.
XC in Mexican flyer's languages is translated as: eXtra coca. And Coca is not the nose sprudel Coca Cola produces.

Of course the Mexican government will do its utmost to reveal the reasons for this particular plane crash, probably in line with the last 2 crashes which killed major Mexican officials without revealing their causes.

At present , the 2 black(one orange) boxes are in US hands. No matter what will be revealed, I am sure  the devil USA in one way or another will be responsible in the forthcoming  liturgy of PEJE and his press.


Oct 22, 2008

No Name Waterfall in Catemaco

This is one of the many magnificent waterfalls in Los Tuxtlas that are almost invisible to most tourists and residents. Located on the road to Miguel Hidalgo, 25 kilometers from Catemaco, the waterfall is only prominent during the rainy season, and then only after a few days of heavy rain. At that time the roaring white waters set off clouds of fog which draw the eyes of the passerby to its existence. Curiously the inhabitants have no name for the falls and say that it is not accessible except to bushhogs. When the movie Medicine Man was shot in Catemaco, Sean Connery supposedly used a helicopter to film there. Time to rent the movie again.

Sep 26, 2008

Catemaco weather

The rainy season on the Veracruz Gulf Coast is in full swing now, and as usual, dozens of communities are innundated and isolated, major roads are breached, bridges are washed away and the civil defense forces are having a field day.

Apart from the rain, most of the annual problems stem directly from poor planning, inadequate construction techniques, and corrupt road builders from hell.

The Mexican national weather service apparently ran out of money 10 or more years ago and is only maintaining statistics on rainfall in  major cities. So noone really knows how much rain has fallen in Catemaco and Los Tuxtlas.

Anecdotally, the owner of the Hotel Tepetapan claims 4 inches in his rain gauge in the last 2 days. Other tell signs are how many fishing boats are parked on the Malecon sidewalk, and how many big rocks have washed down from the hills in front of the La Ceiba restaurant.

The best indicator, though is the dock leading to the La Panga bar in the laguna. If the dock is flooded, then we had some major rains. So far, I can still walk across with dry feet. Therefore the rains locally have not been that heavy.

Nevertheless, within the last week, the Toro Prieto bridge washed away, the new coast road at Playa Hermosa was cut, the new road from Catemaco to Montepio was destroyed in 2 places, and the road from Catemaco to Zapoapan swallowed a tractor trailer. The road to Las Margaritas is flooded as usual and the village is drowning and clamoring for their yearly relief package.

The hydroelectric plant and its dams in Tepetapan actually control the water level of the lake, and after letting it rise for more than 3 feet within a week, finally relented and opened the sluice gates so my feet would not get wet crossing to La Panga.

I am still waiting for the BIG rains.

Sep 17, 2008

Dog killer of Catemaco

Rumors of an oven to burn killed dogs in Catemaco have surfaced.

Catemaco has a large number of street dogs. The most noticeable ones are the ones with 3 legs and a fourth one dangling, others with skin resembling craters on Mars, more with eyes so full of pus their vision possibly equals Picasso. Many ramble with the ties that they escaped from.

In female heat season, dozens of male dogs with stupid looks on their faces pursue usually tiny female conquests in all of Catemaco's colonias.

Whenever the street dog population gets to the point where locals begin complaining, an undocumented kill program goes into effect. Poison is laid in hidden areas, midnight stranglers walk the alleys, and for a few days the downtown area is surprisingly free of canine mascots usually well fed by uncollected garbage from the butcher shops of the central market.

I am one of the dog killers of Catemaco.
Of six canines I rescued from Catemaco streets, only 3 survive.

My first love, "Pinche Perra", a husky, now more than six years old, found me near Playa Azul, and only took a week to stop biting me.

The next puppy dog "Bobbi" broke my Popoluca's heart after rescuing him from certain death near the Canseco bridge and healing him only to see him run over by a speeding taxi on the Malecon.

"Hellman" puppy named after someone said we should name him "Mayo", was thrown over my fence in my beach resort in Escuinapan. 800 pesos of veterinary bills restored him to life and later he went to live to a hopefully happy live with our electrician.

"La Pulga" chihuhahua arrived as a left handed present from someone who had too many of them. I hated the little useless monster and forced the family to give him away.

Adult "Bobbi 2", came with an abandoned house we rented and proved his wildness by biting our neighbor. He remained almost uncontrollable except by his boss, me, until I moved him to my beach resort where he promptly dug through 3000 pesos worth of dog proof fences and fought with a highway 180 truck and lost.

"El Guapo", possibly the ugliest dog in Catemaco, wagged his hairless tail at me when moving to our offices on the Malecon. He was living in a culvert in front of us and I mistakingly fed him once after which he refused to budge from my side. So I spent 80 pesos on anti mange medicines and some antibiotics and within 6 weeks he was growing lots of hair on his almost bald body and gained 8 pounds. My Popoluca by then was getting uppity about my hairy and diseased strange dogs and I moved him and "Pinche Perra" to the beach resort and they lived happily for a while. He liked sleeping atop the screen atop the well there, unfortunately, the screen, possibly rusted, broke and he fell into the well. It was a rainy Sunday, when noone was there, and I still imagine him swimming in circles and howling before drowning.

So now it's just me and my "Pinche Perra" who sleeps under my bed, under my computer station when I am there, in my truck when I let her, or wherever I decide to sit.

She is smart enough to never to do anything that I need her to do against her liking and is a real pain in the ass. The only time she listens is when I say attack, and she pretends to know how to bark and bite. O yeah, and "vamonos" when she knows she can jump in my truck and hang out her face to the wind and visit strange places with lots of doggy smelly.

Unless a do good organization in Catemaco provides a canine shelter, I will support the killing of street dogs in Catemaco. There are just too many of them. I would like this to be done humanely, without strangling or poisoning them. A crematorium is a functional step. Dogs that lived, walked and ate with us while unconditionally loving us, and were abandoned for one perverse reason or another, deserve better than to just be killed and dumped into the garbage.

Jul 19, 2008


The formerly best loved, read and respected "The News" of Mexico City is now online

Founded in 1950 by the Novedades newspaper consortium, the paper lasted till 2002 when Novedades went broke.  In late 2007 "The News" reopened.

Read a wikipedia article about the fascinating news business in Mexico.

Link to the new "The News".

Jul 12, 2008

Make my day in Catemaco

The rainy season is now in full swing, Surprisingly the month of June was the wettest in my personal history, but the strength of rains was the weakest. To make up for that, last night the first major rain hit. "Major" is defined by whether I can drive along parts of the Malecon pretending I am in a mine field of wash downs. Meanwhile though, the rest of the state of Veracruz has been and is being heavily damaged, with the no-haves being the usual victims.


The apparently color blind mayor of Catemaco is in the process of painting anything he likes in RED. Sort of reminds me of "High Plains Drifter", an old Clint Eastwood movie.


After 6 years Catemaco tourism is booming. A 2 room B&B recently opened plus a 5 room motel/whore house on the carretera.


A local hotel owner (Prashanti) is spending more on internet promotion of his dinky hotel on the shores of the laguna than probably the entire tourism secretariat of Veracruz


My dead mom told me never to say anything negative unless I could pay for it. So I'll skip the next dozen comments.-----------

The Tuxtlas airport pipe dream is still being discussed. Location is downhill from San Andrés, far enough so that going to Veracruz would not make much difference for those coming to Catemaco.


At last count Catemaco had more street festivals or street closures than people earning more than 20 dollars per day. What a way to keep the ignorants happy!


A favorite pastime of political expression in Mexico is blockading highways. Veracruz in the last few months is really excelling here. The road to Eyipantla waterfall was closed for most of a day. Xalapa was inaccessible from the port city. Cordoba was isolated. Coatzacoalcos was stranded. The Tehuantepec Ishmus as usual suffered several disruptions. Don´t none of these jerks know who they voted for?


Mexico to my benefit is still affording me my gas guzzling SUV by subsidizing the cost of the gas that those magnificent Mexican economists import from the US (40% of total consumption).


Another magnifico ingeniero from the Biosfera (local biosphere reserve) bitched about continuing deforestation of the area at the tune of 8500 acres per year after scrounging more than 10 million dollars over many years from international do gooders. Add a few more bucks and we can buy the whole kaboodle.


Property taxes in Catemaco were raised to approximately the cost of 6 happy meals at McDonalds. But a new state gimmick went into effect whereby the expected tax returns from vehicle registations were mortgaged for 15 years, with a mickey mouse up front payment that the local mayor will probably spend to paint RED the surrounding hills.


Local Piratas (pick up truck taxis) joined the political fray by parking their vehicles demanding to be allowed to stuff 12 or more passengers into their pickups without seat belts.


The newest restaurant in Catemaco closed after 2 weeks. Two months later a new owner opened it again this week. Meanwhile though, a Sushi bar opened in San Andrés.


A third department store wants to enter San Andrés. More 50 brands of hot dogs and no unscented toilet paper and yawning cashiers.


The first vehicle inspection office opened in Catemaco. Prices seem to be fixed at around 300 pesos if you don´t pass.


The federal highway police painted all their cars dark blue. Why? Who the hell knows. (The current political party is medium blue!)


Possibly the most courageous person in the world was who ate the first oyster. Directly followed by a dweller in Catemaco who ate a tegogolo. (fresh water snail). Meanwhile despite numerous contamination reports, sales of those local slimes are booming possibly because of their alleged aphrodisiacal qualities.

Photo of  Tegogolo: Christian Bernardo Velasco


The most prime property still undeveloped on the Malecon in Catemaco, possibly valued at several millions of dollars, just added 5 bathrooms to accomodate a parking lot that will probably be used less than 40 days a year. Of course they pay their property taxes in happy meals.


The local mayor had his brothers arrested apparently because they wanted to complain to the visiting governor.


A curious aspect of local journalism is describing an influential owner's property as a "conocido" (known). Such as "the accident occured in front of a hotel "conocido", or "politicians had lunch at a restaurant "conocido". That stops none of these toilet papers from publishing the most gruesome photos of local crime, accident or rape victims, including names, ages, and possibly their grandmother's maiden name.


Most of the current news items were published in Spanish on Catemaco Noticias.

Catemaco Update 2 of 2

One of my favorite foolish friends in Catemaco, allowed his wife to crash her car against another without insurance 7 months ago. On Sunday morning, 7 months later, the local process servers tried to arrest her.
My foolish friend naturally arranged to pay the complainant the 16000 pesos damages.
Current cost apart from 16000 pesos damages:
15000 pesos bribes, including a 6000 peso bond for the damages already paid.
And it is not finished. And yes, he now has insurance!

Jun 20, 2008

Escaping Catemaco

A young mother and daughter from Catemaco drowned a few days ago while trying to cross the flooded Rio Grande desperate to illegally reach the land of milk and honey.

About the same time a bus load of Cubans arrested in the Yucatan waters were freed by the usual skimasked artillery equipped commandos that no one ever catches in Mexico. And then for the worm in the Mezcal, 18 of these Cubans then successfully by-passed the dozen miltary inspections on the infected highway to the US Texan border and presented themselves for their "Get out of jail free" card.

They should throw them back into the Rio Grande.

Jun 4, 2008

Viva Catemaco

Apparently a recent visitor to Catemaco took happy pills.

May 21, 2008

Catemaco Ramblings

Do they eat dogs in veracruz?
Dog slaughterer reveals taco secrets in a Google translation

Defaunation of Los Tuxtlas? Ever heard that word?
Former head of Los Tuxtlas research station laments the killing of wildlife

9 meter human skeleton found in Los Tuxtlas.
The story was published in the local Periodico de Hueyapan.
Hunters found the bones about 20 miles south of Catemaco and local Popoluca Indians claim they belong to the legendary "Ata-nike-kulkuwati", a fearsome creature prowling the Los Tuxtlas mountains for womanizers and their distinct smell. The 9 meters is probably the result of yokels using an American tape measure marked in feet instead of meters.

Still stuck on 17 Olmec heads! Latest counterfeit head sold for millions
Google Translation of l Universal article

Do you need a Mexican friend?
A nutty blogger from San Miguel Allende takes a closer look

May 15, 2008

Catemaco immigration

After anyone has been living permanently in the Mexican provinces for a while, the joy of "HAVING TO" travel twice a year to a nearby major city with an immigration office to renew an FM2 or FM3 visa becomes a major hindrance to enjoying Mexico.

Many choose to go the route of becoming an "imigrado" which basically gives them absolutely no more privileges than their FM status, except they do not need to waste their lives and money on yearly renewals of their visa.

Some opt for Mexican citizenship, especially those in the zones not fit for foreigners to buy (50 kilometers within the coastline and 100 kilometers within the border).

This choice of citizenship is usually available after having spent 5 years of residence in Mexico on FM visas without any notable blemishes. It also requires a knowledge of Spanish , a few other
quirks, and a penchant for waiting for eternity.

Apparently, like most anything in Mexico, citizenships are for sale. A dimwit monolingual bigot resident in Catemaco, Veracruz apparently recently received his citizenship after paying someone on the Mexican west coast 70,000 pesos to arrange for a passport.

So now he can buy property along the Mexican coast and save himself the fideocomiso costs, now running around 600 + dollars per year less the 2 yearly trips to renew an FM visa less the outrageous annual fees that Mexican immigration charges to annually renew visas.

Considering all that - maybe this dimwit was a smart Catemaco bigot.

Catemaco invasions

One of the favorite pastimes of have-nots in beautiful uptown Catemaco and the rest of Mexico is a game of "invasion de predio". Loosely translated as "invasion of property" the game is to occupy a parcel of land that appears unoccupied or is known to be in the dire straits of Mexican title laws, usually because of inadequate intestate property rules or infrequently because of land hunger for federal or private lands by impoverished native peoples..

This game is usually supported by "haves" with political power who play this game for political reasons, namely future vote getting and a share of the profits.

These invasions occur in such touristic places like Cancun and Baja California but are much more popular in unmentioned corners of the other 30 states of Mexico.

A common version of the game starts when a few or few hundred persons decide to take posession of a piece of property by entering it, setting up a shack, fencing it and frequently posting armed guards (usually machete bearers). Usually it requires the knowledge of someone well versed in the local politics and deed registrations to pick properties to be invaded. And frequently that involves local government officials intent on vote getting and a share of the profits.

If there is no legal contest to the invasion, usually within a half dozen or more years, squatters receive titles to these properties.

If there actually is an owner, often sparks begin to fly to the point where land squabbles produced some of the highest kill rates in Mexico before the advent of the drug war madness.

A legal contestation will drag through courts 2 , 3 or more years. Many property owners therefore avail themselves of extralegal means such as paid off federal or state police agents to dislodge the invaders. That's where often the bloodshed comes in.

I have watched two of these confrontations in Catemaco and am now personally involved in one. And I do not understand the legalities which allow this perversion of land ownership from an owner's viewpoint, except under the Mexican concept of "guilty until proved innocent". Simply producing a current deed and getting the local sheriff to evict the squatters does not work here.
The legal machinery goes into motion and unless very well oiled with payoffs will cause nightmares to property owners.

So next time you see giants walls or fences around most every piddling piece of unimproved terrain in Mexico, maybe these remarks will provide you with a reason for their construction.

May 14, 2008

The white rats of Catemaco

It is almost impossible to see a collection of photos of beautiful downtown Catemaco, Veracruz without a closeup photo of small white herons. And it is also almost impossible to walk along the shore of Catemaco without personally encountering some of the habits of these lovely birds.

Dozens of benches invitingly placed to enjoy the spectacular views of the lagoon are now wrapped in white. Many previously green trees now resemble scenes of snow in Minnesota. Hundreds of feet of walkways previously colored a pretty terracotta color are now covered in white effluent. And so are the Malecon railings presumably designed to stop visitors from chasing after the poor birds and wringing their necks.

These so-called garzas (cow birds, garza ganadera, bulbulus ibis), were originally blown in from Africa to the Caribbean in the early 1950's and by 1963 had established a foothold in Mexico. By now these illegal immigrants have occupied most of tropical humid North and South America.

These birds love nesting along open water, but do not like to eat fish. Their main diet is small insects and anything that moves, including small lizards and mice. Although relatively small, about 20 inches tall and weighing less than a pound, the bird's digestive system would proudly belong to an ostrich.

Ranchers love these birds because they spend their days hanging out around cows catching insects and picking off ticks of their livestock. They nest communally and rear between 2 and 3 chicks once a year.

And they have become a plague in Catemaco.

The Catemaco community has made numerous efforts to control the garza population, ranging from the importation of squirrels, long strings attached to branches to shake the birds out of trees, firecrackers, bells, etc. The only practical solution has been to reduce their nesting trees. I will not say that is the reason for the horrible deforestation of Los Tuxtlas, but it certainly is one of the reasons for the disappearance of trees on properties near the shore of Laguna Catemaco.

I am personally being affected by these little monsters. One crapped on my head yesterday. And today one dumped on my Popoluca.

I intend to get even!

Here are some inexpensive proposals for the local government to consider and implement:

1) Nutritional Studies have been conducted of these birds, and although meagerly fleshed, their nutritional value should be promoted as a welcome addition to the pots of the many poor people in Catemaco. At present no one eats these birds, just their gummy eggs. The larger Chachalaca wild birds are the preferred choice of local gourmets. Local chefs should seriously consider promoting the garzas as local specialty dishes such as "garza a la tachagobi, garza Veracruzana, and even garza tacos in a mole sauce. After all there are 1000's making a living here selling fake monkey meat and slimy snails.

2) The competing drug & political cartels expending their ammunition in most communities of Veracruz should be invited to Catemaco for target practice. Hopefully that will improve their aim and decrease the bird population.

3) All small boys instead of being stuffed with teeth rotting candies and other sweets on Children's Day should receive personal slingshots. There are enough pebbles along the laguna shore to provide ammunition. And little boys require no training in the use of these inexpensive tools.

4) Nesting trees should be replaced by plastic folding trees as used in some of the Apocalypto jungle scenes. Perhaps Mel Gibson could donate a bunch.

5) The local government is lately hell bent on throwing parties on the streets of Catemaco. These parties should be moved under nesting trees and the SUV-sized loudspeakers should be turned skyward to disturb the resting communities of garzas.

6) Ultralight aircraft should be used to intercept Garzas returning from their feeding grounds and chase them back to Africa, or maybe San Andrés Tuxtla.

7) More tree branch hanging ropes should be installed and the hundreds of shills lining the Malecon accosting tourists with boat tour or brujo spiels, should be compelled to forcefully yank on a rope to shake some branches after each uttering of "lancha, lancha."

8) Politicians bus in hundreds or thousands of poor neighboring villagers to attend glorification events. These events should be relocated underneath nesting trees and the villagers should be invited to bring pots and pans to bang on. The political speeches will probably stun the birds and after falling off the trees can then be stored in the pots and carried back home.

9) Down pillows are the preferred luxury head rests of those who can afford them. At present cheap Chinese labor produces them. The federal and Veracruz government which are falling all over each other trying to create sustainable development should seriously spend some of the zillions of pesos being mostly wasted and teach the poor crowds how to pluck garzas, preferably the little ones before fledging which have the softest down. A Catemaco Pillow factory would be a welcome addition on the economic front of Los Tuxtlas.

10) Fidel, the Veracruz governor is apparently handing out free red paint (his party color). Catemaco has already applied hundreds of gallons painting lampposts and railing to better show off the color combination of white poop on red. The next step should be to paint the nesting trees red. This should confuse the garzas and will possibly redirect them to other places.

Meanwhile, I strongly advise you to wear a hat in Catemaco and not to park anywhere where the black or grey pavement is actually white. Then you will have a very enjoyable visit to our paradise.

Photo: misplaced source

May 7, 2008

Catemaco breakfasts

After being a while in beautiful places like downtown Catemaco, the variety of restaurant breakfast choices in provincial Mexican "burgs" drives me up the wall.

Same old stuff, huevos rancheros, mexicanos, revueltos, omelette, with or without cheese, mushrooms, ham, and occasionally chorizo or longoniza, with maybe green or red sauce. Huevos Motuleños are an abnormal treat.

Damn , I would love a McDonald´s breakfast burrito or a BurgerKing croissanwich.
And I would die for a Waffle house breakfast burger scattered, smothered and covered with hashed browns.

Just before I would kill for:
two+two+two - two eggs, two pancacakes, two bacons or sausages at the IHOP
Lox, creamcheese, tomatoes, and onions on a sesame bagel at any deli
Blueberry pancakes with fresh cream at any pancake house.

Something simple like: Buttermilk Pancakes, Home style Bacon and Sausage,
Creamy Cheddar Potatoes, Country Grits, Biscuits and Butter available at any "greasy spoon".

Steak'n eggs with fried onions, mushrooms and Texas toast served at any hicktown off ramp
Eggs Benedict as served in the Shark and Tarpon Club in North Miami.
And refills! Wonderful free coffee refills!

But, how about some nice homemade tortillas, flecked with chipotle and wrapped around pig innards, or some nicely sauteed shrimp with chorizo in a quesadilla.

At least that would wake up my customary local restaurant breakfast menus which have almost no relation to what people actually seem to eat in their homes.


Ok - you are what you eat, or so they say. I guess now I am a tortilla.

Catemaco Submarines

A new transportation route has finally opened for the access starved neighborhood of Catemaco and Los Tuxtlas. After being saddled with second class roads connecting to major cities, an air field preserved as a cow pasture and a port on the edge of destruction, relief seems to be arriving from Colombia.

Apparently Colombian drug lords are mass producing submarines for shipping their merchandise along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, while hugging the coast lines. At present the scheduled itineraries include the Yucatan, from where it is just a short snorkel to Catemaco, and then the Texas coast. Presumably these vessels costing around a million dollars US each will be able to accomodate passengers on their return trip.

Possibly to accomodate this future traffic or at least the stampede of sail boaters from the Texas and Florida gulf coast intent on anchoring in Veracruz, the Governor today announced the building of a marina in the port of Veracruz as part of the nautical ladder supposedly extending to Belize. Catemaco, (that is La Barra) must be next on the list.

And I can't wait for a travel agency to offer submarine trips from Galveston or even Miami to Catemaco. What a way to see the Gulf of Mexico!
Photo: Mexican spoil sports

For more information check out, one of the finer low key sources for Mexico insights.

May 1, 2008

Catemaco Puente

Catemaco lives off puentes (bridges).
Puentes are the equivalent of a US long weekend, such as when a holiday falls on a Friday, vacations begin Thursday afternoon.

Mexico adds a little quirk to that system so that when a holiday falls on a Thursday, vacationers head out the door on Wednesday noon till  next Monday morning. Of course this only applies to government officials above the rank of peon (low level worker), much of the upper educational infrastructure and anyone else who can afford it or get away with it.

So the Mexican federal lawmakers passed another one of their new laws in 2006. Many legal holidays that fall on a weekday are now supposed to be celebrated on the next Monday.

This has been a heaven sent gift for Catemaco, because many of those who previously abused puentes have decided to accomodate the new regulations by holding fast to the original holiday and now adding the new holiday on Mondays to their extended vacations. So now think Wednesday noon to Tuesday morning for the original one day holiday.

Naturally many of the hotels fill up in Catemaco, and of course the weasely hotel owners charge the high season tourist rates.

Did you ever wonder what the productivity statistics are in Mexico?

Apr 25, 2008

Catemaco welfare

At times I actually get some rare thought provoking feedback from blog readers. The last one was a curiosity about social welfare programs in Mexico and specifically in Catemaco.

So consulting my notes and a little Googling:

Half of Mexico's federal social welfare funding is concentrated in a program called "Oportunidades"

Most of the state of Veracruz's social welfare programs are concentrated in an agency called DIF - Desarrollo Integral de la Familia (Integral Development of the Family).

In addition, the Veracruz Department of Civil Defense also assumes a large role in doles for the needy.

All municipios have their own DIF departments.

Oportunidades is the most popular program, apparently available to people without political connection (rare in Mexico) and provides stipends related to the educational status of children. In Catemaco 4,368 out of app. 11,000 families (2007) receive benefits of 200 to 2,000 pesos per month.

DIF of Veracruz, a sub-agency of the Veracruz Department of Health is the main provider on a state level. The agency is run by the wife of the Veracruz governor.
Although studded with many worthwhile programs, apparently none are uniformly applied and depend on political influence to be accessed. Nevertheless there are free milk, free breakfast, aid to the infirm and the aged and other typical relief programs. Their cost is nebulous.

The Civil Defense Agency typically provides help to the needy in disaster areas. And annual heavy rains, storms and flooding make this a very busy agency. Unfortunately just as annually there are news stories of politicians hoarding and hiding supplies provided by the agency to be used for political favors.

On a county/muncipal level, DIF again is the provider of local social programs, usually funded by state resources but presented as funds coming from the local administration. And that is about as transparent as a moonless night on Laguna Catemaco.
Catemaco's entire federally assigned budget for 2008 is 74.8 million pesos, about 1,600 pesos per person per year. Oviously few municipal funds are available for social welfare programs. Anecdotally, a last resort for many locals is a direct plea to the mayor for cash help to defray costs of surgery, burial or just possibly starvation.

Local benefits bestowed from who knows whose funds include free boats and motors, cement to replace dirt floors (program called Piso Firme in conjuction with CEMEX, a giant Mexican cement conglomerate), scholarships for needy children, raffles of refrigerators, candy and presents for Christmas, free seed for farmers, sheet metal roofing and dozens of others.

Health care is technically free and people are dying to get some of it. Clinics are understaffed, ill equipped and lack medications.

Electricity costs are heavily subsidized by the federal government on a staggered usage scale. Water, too, is inexpensive in its basic category.

The most popular welfare item is a despensa, a plastic sack filled with about 100 pesos of basic groceries often available to most anyone expected to attend the hundreds of annual political events.

Basically - (considering the minimum wage of less than 35 dollars a week)- social welfare programs often almost double the magnificent income of many of the most impoverished provincial Veracruz inhabitants.

Short description of Oportunidades
DIF of Veracruz

Apr 24, 2008

Krishnas en Catemaco

A coterie of Krsna devotees have settled near Las Margaritas on the south shore of Laguna Catemaco and

"...I think it will be called simply Catemaco Ayurveda Institute, or Instituto Ayurveda de Catemaco in Spanish. We will offer healing water from Las Margaritas Spring through Internet stores on Amazon, Yahoo and eBay. We also will plant a lot of Tulasi, and offer the leaves and extracts as products...

The Lake Camp and Retreat Center are now ready to receive visitors.

Catemaco Ayurveda Institute -Esoteric Teaching of the Vedas

Apr 20, 2008

Back to the cave in Catemaco

A pair of Italians finally showed Catemaco what do with one of the most beautiful spots in the pueblo. They dug out a cave, introduced the only draft beer cooler in town and turned the cave into a wine cellar.

Tapa style snacks are served along with flamenco flavored music.
Finally a pleasant place to while away an evening in beautiful downtown Catemaco, Veracruz.

More details: La Ostería - Enoteca y Cervecería

Apr 19, 2008

Rumbo a Catemaco

"Drive through Catemaco, but don´t slow down".

Inside Mexico Magazine reporters wasted 10 hours driving to Catemaco, apparently never left their hotel, and now relieve their frustrations with an article.

Source: Inside Mexico, page 15

Apr 17, 2008

Catemaco Sister City

Apparently unknown to most residents of Catemaco, Veracruz, the city of Catemaco has a sister city in Texas, namely South Padre Island.

Since no international organization lists this unique pairing, I suspect it was instigated by a local RV park operator from South Padre island who snuck in here to marry a local señorita.
Since Catemaco is land locked, and South Padre is an island, it would have made more sense to mate Catemaco's beach La Barra with that other beachtown. So I guess that's why we have not received any used fire trucks, junketing politicians or other treasures that US sisters frequently provide their impoverished hermanas.

South Padre Island - sister city of Catemaco

Sister Cities International

US Mexico Sister Cities

Apr 10, 2008

Catemaco Casa Rosa

It took two immigrants from southern Germany to finally establish a bread & breakfast inn in Catemaco, Veracruz.

Offering southern hospitality, 2 kingsize bedrooms, french toast for breakfast and a glimpse of beautiful downtown Catemaco, the couple is embarrassing most local hotel owners with their ridiculously low rate of 199 pesos per night.

Stop by and practice your German.

Casa Rosa of Catemaco

Mar 31, 2008

Catemaco toilet training

Anyone familiar with the provinces of Mexico may have noticed the pervasive stench of feces and urine in many locales off the tourist track or even along it.

Public sanitation is not one of the priorities in Mexico. Touristic communities depend on private providers to collect their daily bread from tourists spreading their cheeks. Since many of those in-country tourists barely afforded the bus fare, the frequent choice is ablution in public places.

But it is not only the tourists. Communities stage mega events, inviting 100's or thousands of people without providing sanitary facilities.

Beautiful downtown Catemaco, Veracruz is no different. Sewage problems dating back 10 or more years are ignored, and sponsored municipal and private events oblige vistors to use the waters or beaches of Laguna Catemaco.

My attention focused on this absolute necessity when reading an internet survey from Diario del Istmo, a major newspaper in a neighboring city, with several miles of municipal beaches. When asked whether to construct public bathroom facilities, 3000, almost half of the internet respondents, answered "NO".

I think I made my point about Mexico lack of interest in public sanitation.

Mar 29, 2008

Catemaco smoke

Mexico used to be one of the last remnants in the world allowing smokers to blow carcinogenic substances into their neighbor's face.

For that matter, a group of ladies at a local hangout in beautiful downtown Catemaco, chided me as a damn gringo polluting their atmosphere on an open air patio, while two blocks away, shit was rolling down the street from inadequate sewers.

So now, after tolerating 50% increases in my vice, I find out I may actually be generating an increase to the Mexican economy.

Background: The price of cigarettes to consumers in Mexico, and Latin America in general, remains low in comparison with other regions of the world. In Mexico, taxes represented 59% of the total price of cigarettes in 2006, compared to 75% or more in many high-income countries. The feasibility of raising taxes on cigarettes in Mexico—to both discourage consumption and increase revenues—is an important policy question.

Methods: Using household survey data, we undertake a pooled cross-sectional analysis of the demand for cigarettes in Mexico. We use a two-part model to estimate the price elasticity of cigarettes. This model controls for the selection effect that arises from the fact that the impact of price on the decision to smoke or not is estimated using all households in the dataset.

Results: The results indicate that price is a significant factor in household decisions concerning smoking and the number of cigarettes smoked. Holding other factors constant, our simulations show that a 10% increase in the cigarette tax in Mexico—calculated as a percentage of the price—yields a 12.4% increase in the price to the consumer, a 6.4% decrease in consumption of cigarettes and a 15.7% increase in the revenue yielded by the tax.

Conclusion: In Mexico, there are strong arguments for increasing cigarette taxes. Revenue raised could be used to further prevent tobacco consumption and to finance current funding shortages for the treatment of diseases related to smoking.

Mar 28, 2008

Bobbi died in Catemaco

A truck killed him.

200 meters of barbed wire fence, reinforced with sheep wire did not keep him in. He wanted the wilds of biting the tires of trucks passing in front of his terrain.

I miss him, and probably so does my pinche perra, my remaining complacent dog.

Bobbi was with me for almost 3 years. Adopted as a street dog, he was known around Catemaco as a street fighter, loving to take a bath in the laguna, and rolling himself in any dead carcasses he could find.

Although I frequently held my nose on approaching him and tolerated his growls, he was part of my family, and I miss him.

This is my last photo of Bobbi, about 2 weeks ago, doing what he loved.

Catemaco in the New York Times

These northern editors apparently tired of Hillary and Hussein bashing and sent a reporter to beautiful downtown Catemaco, Veracruz.

And he fell for the brujo mystique, raw eggs, holy water, bad vibrations and all. He even stuck in a slideshow.

New York Times: Travelers in Search of Mexico’s Magic Find Town of Witches and Warlocks.
Apparently the article was moved to the registered visitor page or something, so here is the reprint.

Travelers in Search of Mexico’s Magic Find Town of Witches and Warlocks
CATEMACO, Mexico — To kill a man, Alejandro Gallegos García explains, all you need is a black cloth doll, some thread, a human bone and a toad. Oh, and you must ask the devil permission, in person, at a cave in the hills where he is said to appear.
Assuming you have these things, plus the green light from the prince of darkness, you simply lash the doll to the bone, shove it down the unfortunate toad’s throat, sew up its lips and take the whole mess to a graveyard, reciting the proper words.
“The person will die within 30 days,” Mr. Gallegos said matter of factly, as if he were talking of fixing a broken carburetor. (The toad dies too, by the by.)
“There exists good and bad in the world, there exists the devil and God,” he went on, turning a serpent’s fang in his rough fingers. “I work in white magic and in black magic. But there are people who dedicate themselves only to evil.”
Mr. Gallegos, 48, is a traditional warlock, one of dozens who work in this idyllic town, nestled near the Gulf of Mexico by Lake Catemaco in the state of Veracruz. Like most witches here, he melds European and native traditions in his work, a special brew of occultism he learned from his uncle.
His cramped cement workroom holds an image of the Virgin Mary and a large crucifix with a bloodied Jesus. A six-pointed star is painted on the floor, with a horseshoe to one side and a St. Andrew’s cross on the other. Candles dedicated to various saints crowd his table, most with photographs lashed to them. Some are photos of men and women whom the client wants to ensnare in love. Others are of barren women who want children. Others are of people with maladies from asthma to cancer.
Beneath the table Mr. Gallegos keeps ragged boxes full of herbs, bark and roots that have been used in these parts for medicinal purposes since before Hernán Cortés was a gleam in his great-great-grandfather’s eye.
He has dead bats, used in certain love charms, and ground-up rattlesnake, for curing illnesses. He uses oils extracted from lizards and turtles, the dried tongues of certain fish, coyote skin, eggs, chickens, holy water from the church and less-than-holy water from the lake. He knows dozens of local plants and their attributes. And he wields the tooth of a venomous snake.
“This goes back to ancient times,” he said. “There were witches here before the Spanish. Here there is a mix of everything, even of God.”
Catemaco is known throughout Mexico as a center for witchcraft and, to the dismay of some hard-core practitioners, magic has become a big tourist draw. The town holds an International Congress of Witches on the first Friday of every March.
During the event, a black mass is held at the mouth of the cave where the devil supposedly loiters. An oversize six-pointed star — they call it a Star of David — is set alight, to the delight of photographers. Politicians show up to receive amulets for good luck at the polls. Believers flock to the town to have their auras cleansed.
Sandra Lucía Aguilar, a 25-year-old cashier, traveled 22 hours by bus from Cancún for the black mass. A few days later she found herself in the waiting room of a popular witch doctor known as “The Crow,” hoping for a little black magic to force her errant boyfriend to return.
“I lived with him for five years, and then, overnight, he ran off with another woman,” she said. “I want him back. He humiliated me a lot and I want to humiliate him.”
The Crow turns out to be a slick-looking fellow named Héctor Betaza Domínguez, who wears white guayabera shirts and sits in a candlelit room among effigies of La Santa Muerte, a Mexican icon resembling the grim reaper in drag.
Mr. Betaza says people come to see him from all over Mexico and from major cities in the United States with large Mexican communities. Many simply want “una limpia,” or cleansing, to ward off evil spirits. But a majority of the complaints are broken hearts.
Asked where he learned his craft, Mr. Betaza, who calls himself a “master of occult sciences,” becomes evasive, muttering something about his mother having practiced magic. “This you don’t learn,” he said. “It’s something that you carry in the blood.”
Not everyone is convinced. The Rev. Tomás Alonso Martínez has the unenviable job of parish priest in a town best known as a haunt of the devil and witches. “It’s farce,” he said, “a lie, a fraud.”
In his five years in Catemaco, Father Martínez says he has seen so-called witches practice all sorts of confidence schemes, extracting money from gullible and vulnerable people.
One common trick is to tell someone he is hexed and then remove the hex for a fee. Another is to tell people they are sick, then offer them a traditional cure for an outlandish sum.
“They attribute to themselves power they cannot have,” the priest said. “The fundamental problem that exists with these people is that there are people who believe them. Anyone can set themselves up as a witch.”
Even Father Martínez acknowledges, however, that mixed in with the questionable practices are vestiges of a pre-Hispanic past. The use of Catholic saints also bespeaks a syncretism of beliefs, he notes.
In his church, an icon of the Virgin Mary sits in an alcove directly above and behind the altar. Before Mass, many go to the shrine and pass herbs over their bodies to cleanse themselves. Some leave pictures of loved ones, amulets and prayers.
That syncretism also emerged clearly when Mr. Gallegos performed a cleansing ritual on a recent afternoon. The client was a taxi driver named Santos Luna Cruz who wanted protection from envious rivals.
Stripped to the waist, Mr. Luna stood on a worn piece of velvet in the center of a chalk Star of David. Candles burned at each point of the star. A horseshoe was to one side, a St. Andrew’s cross to the other. Two glasses of water, believed to absorb evil spirits, were placed in front of him.
Mr. Gallegos sprinkled holy water, garlic and ammonia over him. Then, chanting the common Catholic prayer to “the father, the son and the Holy Ghost” and invoking a long list of saints, Mr. Gallegos held eggs to the man’s head and rubbed them over his body.
He scratched crosses with his serpent’s tooth on Mr. Luna’s face, arms, chest and abdomen. He took a live chicken and passed it over his client. He blew the holy water from his mouth in a fine spray at the man, and beat him with clusters of herbs.
When it was over, Mr. Luna, 34, grinned and ran his hand through his wet hair. “I felt very stressed out at first, but now I feel lighter, better,” he said. “I feel like he is taking away from my body the bad vibrations.”

Mr. Gallegos pointed to two eggs that broke during the ritual. “When the egg breaks, it is because it has absorbed the pain inside the young man,” he said.

Mar 22, 2008

You have to be nuts to go to Montepio

Montepio is the best known beach in Los Tuxtlas, about an hour from Catemaco, Veracruz.
Balzapote is a beach about 3 miles south from there. And both photos were taken today!

See more of the two beaches: - articles

Mar 19, 2008

Gypsies of Catemaco

Gypsies (gitanos) are called hungaros (Hungarians) in Mexico because the first large group of gypsies arrived in Mexico from Hungary. Gypsies began their westward migration out of India around 1000 AD possibly because of tribal mercenary commitments. Like many other migrant ethnic groups they faced discrimination, including 500 years of slavery in Romania and extermination in Nazi Germany and lately ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.

Although the Gypsies call themselves Roma, their commonly used name derives from Egypt, actually Little Egypt, which is what the Spaniards called the Balkan states in the Mediterranean. They usually speak Spanish as well as their tribal dialects, practice Christian religions about as well as Mexican campesinos and their idols, probably hold Mexican Voter registration cards and are stereotyped as fortunetellers and swindlers just like in the USA.
Their nomadism is legendary and commemorated in operas (Carmen), movies, and folktales mothers use to scare their children.

Their first appearance in the Americas began with several Gypsy companions of Columbus, and continued in waves of immigration to countries like Brazil in 1574, the US, (more than 1 million by now) and also Mexico. During the French escapade in Mexico, the allied Austrian emperor exported numerous Gypsies to Mexico to help the French war effort.

In the early 1890´s another large tribe mostly from Hungary arrived intent on settlement. A few years later a second group of gypsies, known as Ludar, arrived intending to cross the US border but apparently preferred the Mexican climate. By 1993 an estimate placed 53,000 hungaros in Mexico mostly in Mexico City and Guadalajara. Zapoapan in Jalisco seems to be their largest community with upward of 50 families living there. In 2001, the Ludar tribe of Gypsies published its memoirs, La lumea de noi. Memoria de los ludar de México.

Hungaros discovered Catemaco, Veracruz in the early 1990's. Other Mexican tourist communities also have influxes of panhandling hungaros (mostly women) and practice the same alarmist counter tactics to evict them as Catemaco has tried various times in the past.

Considering the Catemaco reputation as a haven for brujos (sorcerers), I think it´s kind of nice to see troops of hungaras (women Gypsies) in their long colorful beachwear (or maybe that is traditional costume) accosting tourists on the Malecon to read their palms and peddle chintzy good luck amulets. After all, you never see an identifiable Catemaco brujo walking down the street casting spells.

Update: In early 2010 the "hungaros" left Catemaco, supposedly because of extorsion and kidnapping threats by so called local "zetas".  In late April, a few seem to have returned to challenge their lucrative turf. I wish them luck.

Mar 11, 2008

Women Sold in Southern Veracruz

On your next trip to Catemaco and Los Tuxtlas, bring along some spare change and pick up a nice little souvenir. Of course, it may not fit your baggage.

This recent article from a local newspaper highlights an outrageous practice still common in parts of Mexico. (Excerpted and loosely translated from Spanish).

In the 21st century the sale of women in the state of Veracruz is on the rise, stated the chairman of the State Commission of Human Rights who elaborated that the practice occurs more frequently in southern part of the state, where even parents exchanged their daughters for crops, livestock or money.

On this International Women's Day he claimed that little progress has been made related to human rights for women. This outrageous situation persists and affects females vulnerable to violence in all its forms, and who in some communities still are seen as a mere commodity subject to barter.

The majority of them are minors, whose own family surrender them to strangers to get some economic advantage, no matter what their fate will be, subjecting them to become mere sex objects who are beaten, humiliated, forced to do chores and inappropriate practices.
Source: Diario del Istmo - Spanish

Mar 3, 2008

Official Brujo announcement

Veracruz state and municipal authorities announced that from March 6 to 8 the Congreso de Brujos ( Conference of witches) will take place in the region of Catemaco, Veracruz, Mexico.

In a press conference State Secretary of Tourism, Ivan Hillman Chapoy, explained that during the holidays up to eight thousand tourists are expected to visit who may leave an economic spill of one million pesos.

Among the activities to be undertaken this First Friday of March in one of the most emblematic and mystical parts of the state are included a Black Mass, a very ancient tradition, which will be performed in the foothills of Cerro del Mono Blanco (White Monkey Mountain).

Abdicated former Brujo Mayor (chief witch) Pedro Gueixpal Cobix, explained that the congress will be managed by twelve witches from the area who will conduct personal spiritual cleanings, a mass cleaning in the waters of Laguna Catemaco, numerous ceremonies, dances and lectures by anthropologists.

The Mass will be headed by the current Brujo Mayor Luis Cruz Sipriano "El Indio" and will be in the form of a circle called Steps of Salomón or Star of David. The circle and purification ceremony will be formed by seven acolytes, surrounded by fire fueled with sulfur, along with a black chicken, black cats, a lamb, and giant candles.

Source: Translation of

Mar 1, 2008

Mexican Crackers

Although most Mexicans are aware of the US political states, and probably have a cousin or two working in some of these states, acceptance of a state description, such as el texano, or el rhode islandiano, never made it into the Mexican mainstream.

If it barely speaks Spanish, it's a gringo. And that includes anyone looking or acting non-Mexican, such as French, German or Croatian visitors. Once known, the not-US folks get their own national hooks, like el aleman, el italiano, or etc.

Use of the tem "gringo" is not derogatory in Mexico, except in aggressive conversations usually accompanied by other qualifiers such as "pinche, chingado, or something similar.

The origin of the word "gringo" is hotly debated mostly by other gringos. But no consensus has been reached. Some reach back to Latin and its pejorative of "griego" (used as foreigner) supposedly bastardized to "gringo". Some others claim the term to be related to a popular song during the first US invasion of Mexico "Green grow the lilacs....".

Chauvinism in most cases prohibits the use of "American" for a gringo. After all, supposedly all this continent's people are Americans, although even Amerigo Vespucci in 1547 who is responsable for the name never called anyone that.

Surprisingly though, gringos have been very inventive when addressing Mexicans, usually derogatory, ranging from "beaners" and "spicks" to "wetbacks".

The Mexican chattering classes meanwhile have only made very few functional responses such as "yanki imperialista", but they have never achieved the quality of the black American insults such as "honkey", "white devil" or "cracker".

There seems to be room for the expansion of colloquial Mexican to describe those northern devils.

Catemaco as a second language

Language schools are a flourishing business in Mexico in two versions, teaching English and learning Spanish.

Beautiful downtown Catemaco, Veracruz would be an ideal place for an SASL (Spanish as a second language) location. It is beautiful enough, (some even say magical) and has enough barely used hotel rooms and restaurants, and enough friendly people to victimize with broken Spanish language phrases.

Those seeking to learn Spanish should also be eagerly welcomed by those teaching English in Catemaco. I unfortunately met a "maestra" in charge of teaching English at a local high school, whose command of English was equivalent to my command of Croatian of which I know two words.

As for those wanting to learn Spanish, I know several graduates of two week immersion courses that have been able to say "taco" in Spanish. Now that may be different in some of the more advanced learning centers in Mexico, where degreed students actually learn how to say "enchilada".

The last Spanish language school in Catemaco folded a few years ago, possibly because the Austrian owner's students kept confusing strudels with tortillas.

This should be a wake up call to an enterprising English teacher, wanting to learn Spanish, and looking to spend the rest of his life in one of Mexico's most marvelous locations, contribute to the economy of a third world pueblo, and hopefully earn enough money to occasionally eat giant shrimp (mayacastes) in the foothills of the volcanoes of the Sierra Santa Marta.

Feb 29, 2008

Catemaco Roads

Catemaco is in the middle of nowhere.

22 hours from the border, 8 hours from Mexico City, 4 hours from Veracruz City. So a decision to vacation in Catemaco should obligate the local tourist industry to maximize its welcome of visitors and provide for their comfort. At present, the majority of visitors to Catemaco are tour bus day trippers, who combine a Catemaco stop with other stops, usually spend less than a day here, and have created a thriving public bathroom industry and sanitation department.

Catemaco and Los Tuxtlas are targeted by the Veracruz state government as a major tourism destination and, almost daily, a mention is made about one road or another that is being built, planned, repaired or paved. But tourists, both foreign and national, using their own cars, or dependent on bus transportation, are insulted by the deplorable lack or condition of access roads to Catemaco and Los Tuxtlas.

Only very adventurous tourists will leave the main highway, Mex 180, to enjoy the splendor of so many of the natural wonders of Los Tuxtlas which should result in a stay of several days in the region. Instead, after one night, most tourists drive north or south to spend their money in more accessible locations.

These reflections represent my experience of driving these roads since 2002, and represent data as of August 2006. Most roads are under the jurisdiction of SECOM, the Veracruz Department of Transportation. Ironically a former mayor of Catemaco unfortunately heads a large branch of that Department

MEX 180 - Mexican federal highway.

This road runs from the US border at Brownsville to Cancun and has done so for more than 50 years. The road was probably in better condition 50 years ago than it is now. The section from Veracruz to Catemaco is a consistent nightmare of pot holes, more than 50 topes, some of which are unmarked monsters, road repairs, washouts, and road obstructions. At any one time, some section is being painted black, which is the local equivalent of paving, and usually lasts less than a year. The section from Catemaco to Minatitlan/Coatzacoalcos is in similar condition.

Access to the Cuota - Toll Road near Catemaco.

The toll road that stretches from La Tinaja to near Villahermosa, aside from being outrageously expensive, is usually in good repair, but also prone to lack of maintenance, especially around the Minatitlan area. Access to Catemaco is via 2 exits.

a) MEX 179 near Isla to Santiago Tuxtla and then MEX 180 to Catemaco. This road at present is fair, after being a nightmare for more than 2 years.

b) A turnoff at Acayucan, then through terribly marked city roads to MEX 180. In one of those famous 5 year development plans for Los Tuxtlas, another access road from near Covarrubias to the Cuota was proposed but never pursued.

The San Martin Circuit Road and coastal highway,

This is a loop road leaving Mex 180 at El Tropico, passing along the Gulf via Montepio, then returning to 180 near Catemaco.

a) Section of Catemaco to Montepio:

The deplorable dirt road in place for more than 20 years, and probably promised to be paved for almost as long, was finally completed in 2007, includings outrageous topes near Sontecomapan, and a heavy collection of pot holes from Catemaco to Sontecomapan. Biologists from the UNAM Biological Station demanded that the section of road passing through their reserve be constructed in a natural manner. The result is probably the worst kilometer of constructed road in the world. Even the Aztecs built better roads from stone.

b) Section of Montepio to El Tropico:

This former dune & dirt trail with frightening river crossings is now completely paved and bridged. Expect potholes and lots of topes.

Eyipantla waterfall.

The road runs from Mex 180 at Sihuapan, near San Andrés Tuxtla, to Eypantla and continues to Covarrubias. The touristically important section to the waterfall, (4.5 km), is recently paved (2007).

Santiago Tuxtla to Tres Zapotes.

Turning from Mex 180 to MEX 179 at Santiago Tuxtla and then proceeding to unmarked Dos Caminos is ok. The touristically important section from the turnoff at Dos Caminos to Tres Zapotes (13.5 km) is another one of those once paved, but not maintained nightmares. It also is on the long promised list of roads to be repaired. Tres Zapotes holds an important Olmec museum and used to have a well attended equinox celebration.

The Laguna Catemaco circumference road

Unfortunately at present this road along the laguna is incomplete, but circumnavigation of the Laguna is only possible via La Magdalena and Barossa, turning a 50 kilometer trip into a 100 kilometer odyssey.

From Catemaco to Tebanca the road is paved, but heavily potholed in sections. From there, a badly eroded dirt road subject to flooding runs to the turnoff to Las Margaritas. From the turnoff via Benito Juarez to La Magdalena the dirt road climbs a steep hill which is hazardous during rains. At the entrance of La Magdalena, the road splits, and if in doubt about which direction the illegible sign indicates, ask someone, otherwise you are on your way to Soteapan.

From La Magdalena the road crosses the proverbial hills and vales and arrives at Barossa on Mex 180, 15 miles south of Catemaco.

Catemaco via Coyame to Lopez Mateos, Miguel Hidalgo and Las Margaritas

Catemaco to Coyame is paved but badly potholed

a) Lopez Mateos - a rollercoaster dirt road leaves Coyame uphill.

b) Miguel Hidalgo - via paved road to Tebanca. The road then turns into badly maintained dirt, subject to flooding and hopefully arrives at a sign leading uphill to Lopez Mateos. It is a very pretty ride but not recommended when wet.

c) Las Margaritas via Tebanca - after the Lopez Mateos turnoff, keep going, stay right at the Benito Juarez turnoff and dead end at La Margaritas. Impassable during heavy rains.

Laguna Catemaco South Shore

The road begins off Mex 180 at La Victoria, 3 miles south of Catemaco, then turns to dirt to Pozolapan, Mimiahua and El Porvenir. It the dead ends because the road bridging the Tepeyaga peninsula before Las Margaritas has been studied and approved but has not been funded.

The El Porvenir stretch is only recommendable to high lift vehicles.

The Santa Marta Circuit Road

Catemaco to Tebanca is paved, then turns to dirt via the turnoff to Benito Juarez and La Magdalena to Soteapan. This stretch is called the "Brecha de Maiz" and has been funded to be paved in 2008. Near Soteapan there are many unmarked intersections and you will get lost if you do not ask for directions. From Soteapan to Acayucan and Mex 180, the road is paved for return to Catemaco.

The Santa Marta Coastal Road

At present this road is a pipe dream because it lacks a connection from Catemaco to Arrecifes.

Only a 4x4 should venture to cross via the barge at La Barra and the fording near El Carrizal, and several other rivers until Arrecifes.

From Arrecifes to Tatahuicapan the dirt road is under construction and some parts are paved.

a) From Tatahuicapan, a partially paved road runs via Pajapan to the unpaved section to Jicacal on the edge of Laguna del Ostion. A bridge from there to connect to Barillas is funded but construction is halted because of environmental concerns (Feb 2008). Crossing is only available via small boats. From Barillas to Coatzacoalcos, the road is paved.

b) The temporary (hopefully) bypass is from Tatahuicapan on pavement via Huazuntlan and Oteapan to Mex 180 south of Acayucan.

9. The Road from San Andres Tuxtla to La Nueva Victoria, via Ruiz Cortines.

The section to Ruiz Cortines is paved and a wonderful country drive, the section to near Los Organos and La Nueva Victoria is passable, but not recommendable. After Ruiz Cortines the road crosses a section of cloud forest with magnificent varieties of butterflies and flora.

Other touristically significant roads:

1, La Palma to La Barra Beach, via El Real, relaxing palapa seafood and beach community, terrrible condition, projected to be paved, 168,000 pesos already spent on just studying the project.

2, Catemaco -Coyame to Adolfo Lopez Mateos, minor community eco resort, uncomfortably passable dirt road.

3, Catemaco -Tebanca to Miguel Hidalgo.

Via beautiful Poza Azul and Poza Reina waterfalls. Passable dirt road - projected to be improved/paved.

4, Soteapan to Santa Martha

- 1200 m altitude, unfriendly villagers block access to trails in the gorgeous mountain surroundings - terrible road condition

5, Catemaco/Montepio Road to Playa Jicacal.

wonderful beach, uncomfortably passable road. same road to Playa Escondida, great views, monkeys and birds, nightmare condition.

6, Catemaco/Montepio Road to Balzapote,

historic port and beach, uncomfortably passable.

7, Mex 180, south of Catemaco, from Barossa to Santa Rosa Loma Larga Community Museum, barely passable.

11. A few of the dozens of other local roads worth sightseeing while preferably driving a 4×4:

1, Dos Amates to Ruiz Cortines, via Perla San Martin - great views, mountain air, horrible condition after recently being reworked.

2, Catemaco to Vista Hermosa, great views, bird watching, tall lookout mountain climbing steps without a view, horrible condition

3, Tebanca to El Bastonal via Rancho La Vikina, great views, birdwatching, horrible condition, supposedly under repair. This road used to lead into the Santa Marta and exit at the village of Santa Martha near Soteapan. That section is now impassable.

4, Mex 180, south of Catemaco, from Zapoapan de Cabañas to Dos Arroyos via El Aguila, one way, beautiful country, recently made passable. A shortcut to La Magdalena is available via El Aguila only for heavy duty 4×4’s.

5, Coyame to San Rafael, beautiful landscape, passable dirt road, recently improved to the cattle gates of a rich politician (2005). Formerly the road connected to Vista Hermosa and Peninsula de Moreno. Both are now dysfunctional.

6, Catemaco to Ruiz Cortines, via Cuauthemoc, great views of Cerro Mono Blanco and bird life, horrible road condition.