Dec 31, 2009

Catemaco Wrapup 2009

Nothing really exciting happened in beautiful downtown Catemaco during 2009.

On the tourism level, three tiny house based hotelitos are now offering rooms from 149 pesos per double and up. The hotel Las Brisas added a few rooms and a handful of ecotouristic enterprises popped up around the Laguna. The coast saw a new small hotel in Playa Hermosa, and a tourist train now zips around Catemaco.

Bus fares went up again, the promised airport and heliport are at a standstill, and the owner of the Hotel Prashanti now intermittently offers sightseeing flights over the Laguna and the surrounding volcanoes.
A new road opened to Punta Puntilla at the northern end of Los Tuxtlas, but the existing road network was ignored and is now again in deplorable condition.

Shopping improved exponentially with the opening of mini versions of two chain stores in Catemaco, Aurrera and Coppel. La Casa de Los Tesoros opened with a nice selection of handicrafts from throughout Mexico, finally giving tourists a chance to spend some serious money.
In the last month of the year a promising good Spanish restaurant opened, but my favorite place closed earlier in the year after struggling for 4 months.

The city government as usual excelled in idiocies, tearing down the welcome arch to the entrance of Catemaco and painting  red the curbs and guard rails of the Malecon.

Weather was benign, with a mini drought extending the dry season in the spring, less than usual rains in the summer and fall, and the absence of major storms and washouts.

Crime stayed about the same with a few murders and the usual extorsions and kidnappings so common throughout Mexico. Rumors of Mafia style rackets intruding on the city are whispered but not reported.

Politics enthralled most of the underprivileged with massive vote buying during the mid year elections and 10's of thousands of political handouts of chickens and food baskets setting the stage for next year's elections.

Population growth seems to be absent, but there do seem to be a few extra gringo snowbirds in town.

Prices kept creeping upward and the Guadalajara Reporter renewed its survey, tracking  food costs.


Dec 21, 2009

Catemaco Lamp Posts

Did you know that Mexico's most famous pyramids at Chichen Itza are actually privately owned and the Mexican government is having a hell of a time trying to turn them into a "patrimonio nacional".

"Patrimonio Nacional" is one of those famous catch words in Mexico. Basically it translates to national assets. This applies to lamp posts as well as pyramids. So if you crash into a post when leaving your favorite cantina you will likely be accused of having damaged "Patrimonio Nacional" and will go to jail, unless you carry big bucks or an insurance carrier with 24 hour service.

On the local level I am constantly surprised to learn that anything worthwhile seeing is actually in private hands or access is controlled by them.

Most notable are the red rock cliffs on the way to Catemaco. Many travel writers have erroneously described them as Olmec workshops, without knowing that the 100 or so owners of the ejido (co-op) of Angel R Cabada actually own them and make a fortune off the cliff's gravel, when roads are constructed anywhere near there.

The georgeous Eypantla Waterfall is actually a 50 year concession to the 102 ejidatarios of the nearby pueblo. Every entry fee from the up to 2000 visitors per day goes into their coffers, and unless the local government chips in, not one centavo is used to keep the tourist facilities in good state.

Poza Reyna (aka Poza Reina), a magnificent set of rapids and cascades along a river about 15 miles from Catemaco is definitely Patrimonio Nacional, in the sense that 5 meters along the side of a river's highest flood level is federal property. Instead, a super rich owner from San Andres collects 30 pesos per person to cross his private property to get to the river. He graciously provides an outdoor toilet and parking.

Cola de Caballos, a magnificent waterfall, featured in numerous commercials and publicity drivel about Los Tuxtlas, is another case. Access is  through private property with up to 10 cattle gates or an obligatory hike through ejidal land that slithers down a dangerous precipice while collecting guide fees . Although federal and state sources are spending 10's of thousands of dollars to accomodate an ecotouristic project, apparently no pesos are available to provide a few steps and public access.
There are a dozens of similar locales in Los Tuxtlas. By the time I add all the nitpicking private fees within the so called Biosphere Reserve to the measly 20 pesos that the "vaunted" reserve keeps unsuccessfully trying to collect, a few days  in Los Tuxtlas can financially mount up to a day in Disneyworld , Orlando.
Tht is not only true in Catemaco, but throughout Mexico.

Catemaco Migra-ine 2

"Si Dios quiere", answered the person on the other end of the Mexican immigration phone line in Veracruz City, when I asked them whether they would be open today on Monday.

Considering my yearly problems with this bureaucratic bunch of asinine orifices, I feel like a fool for not having asked whether they would also accept tramites (documents/applications), because when I arrived, the security guard shoved a notice at me stating that as of the 18th of December the office would NOT accept tramites, until after January 6th. So I demanded to see the jefe.

30 minutes later I faced him squatting inside his fully staffed office, and shared with him my opinion of "si Dios quiere". He graciously whipped out his rubber seal and stamped my application for renewal and sent me on my way.

Of course, I will now be an illegal as of the 23rd when my visa expires. And if  you think that I trust this orifice´s rubber stamp to impress those friendly federales and their buddy border inspectors on my way to the border, you probably  think burrocats are highly paid Mexican federal office managers. Fortunately on a local living basis I have never officially been asked to proof my legal residence in more than 7 years.

So I might have to depend on one of  the few kind souls who offered to pick up a camera for me on their way south from gringolandia. Unfortunately no one also offered to pick me up a cute little 4x4.

On the good side, the Veracruz- Catemaco highway  is in the best condition that I have seen in years. An overpass is being build on the Veracruz buypass road at Paso del Toro, otherwise smooth sailing, except for the usual mess in San Andres.

Dec 19, 2009

More Gringos in Mexico

The often quoted  number of legal gringo residents in Mexico has unofficially fluctuated between a hundred thousand and more than a million.

Recently the  Instituto Nacional de Migración, Mexico´s immigration service, posted some official statistics for the first 11 months of 2009. I extrapolated some yearly (12 months) figures:
1 - total original FM2, FM3 and inmigrado documents issued -57,858.
2 - total renewals of FM2 and FM3 - 127,788
3 - Total US citizens receiving their first FM2, FM3 or inmigrado - 10,052 or 17.4 por cent.

I applied the percentage of gringos receiving their first documents to the number of renewals -22,235.
Total legal US nationals in Mexico 32,287.

That number seems extraordinarily low, I had thought more than that lived just in Mexico City.

Dec 15, 2009

For Sale: Free Internet Satellite System in Mexico

I would like to clean my roof off a Starband two way internet satellite system that worked fine for 3 years in Catemaco until I disconnected it because I received a direct phone line with internet access in 2008.

The system consists of a 120cm dish, transmitter/receiver, modem, and an I-link hub to connect more stations. At the time of use, the system used Mexsat 5. The cost was around 60 US per month.
The system has a certified Mexican importation bill.

I wil not warrant that anything works, nor ship the system anywhere. Pick it up, if you care.

Dec 11, 2009

Catemaco Mail Order

Beautiful downtown Catemaco of course has internet access to, and all the other mail order houses. Unfortunately many companies will not ship selected products to Mexico.

I want to buy a replacement digital camera. Amazon quotes it at US $279, but will not ship. Several competing photography dealers WILL ship with prices that are a little higher.

AHA. Now comes the question of why Amazon will not ship and the others will! The answer lies in rules related to country of origin and application of import duties. These rules and duties are so complicated and so subject to interpretations that only a professional customs broker might understand the half of it.

Let's just say, that Amazon thinks that because of these rules I may get an amazing customs bill, because the camera was manufactured in Japan. Other dealers could care less of what happens after they ship an item.
But I really do not know.

There are various ways to ship small merchandise to Mexico, the airborne carriers FEDEX, UPS and DHL, and the US post office. 

The US post office connects to the Mexican post office and is generally reserved for people that love to pine for lost things. The exception may be US International priority mail, which is reputed to arrive relatively fast (5 to 14 days), usually does not get stolen and, THIS IS THE BIGGY, is reputed to be usually ignored by Mexican customs.

The airborne carriers all charge between 45 and 65 dollars per small package and WILL enter the Mexican aduana (customs). Generally the minimum charge will be the equivalent of Mexican 15% IVA (sales tax), plus, depending on the customs inspectors hangover, applicable duties which  range as high as 1000%  for footwear supposedly flooding the land of huaraches (sandals).

Ok - back to the camera. Should I buy it from B&H for $289, plus $50 shipping, plus $40 IVA and handling for a total of US $379, PLUS a possible duty charge? OR spend the equivalent of  5700 pesos Mexican (app. US $438, which is the cheapest price advertised on Mercadolibre, (the Mexican EBAY)) which has considerable shipping , payment and delivery problems?

After spending sleepless days over the problem, I am now processing a reservation to take a dirt cheap ($ 50) flight from Veracruz City to the Mexican border near McAllen via Vivaareobus, buy the camera at Walmart, pick up some Horseradish, buy some needed 10 dollar polo shirts that don´t shrink and maybe a nice little 4x4.

Quick response from my friend "Fool on the Hill"
Good article.
Well, maybe I’ve just been lucky; but 30 years with the past ten averaging 4 to 5 shipments per month – that’s a lotta luck. I will admit, I have heard some horror stories.
My exception would relate to “. the Mexican post office." . In 30 years I’ve lost mebbe five packages; and way back when, everything came parcel post. Just this month I received an LL Bean order USPS Parcel Post; only way they ship other than carrier.
Defense:  In my first 2 years in Catemaco I lost 1 out of 4 mail packages (2002). The Catemaco post office apparently loves the Fool..

Dec 5, 2009

Catemaco Parades

Beautiful downtown Catemaco seems to have a daily parade to celebrate civic events.

That "daily" might be slighly exaggerated, but not by much. Within the last few days I saw a parade for a local wedding, a celebration of the handicapped, a religious procession and none for the Dia de la Revolucion, which is normally a biggy but was poopooed by the Veracruz government as an accumulator of transmittable diseases.

Normally it seems there is a parade every week by schoolchildren  accompanied by oompapah bands who apparently have nothing better to do than to march through the streets of  Catemaco with signs opposing or supporting social programs ranging from poverty to aids prevention.

Less frequently are parades for politically induced social causes like "No to the Cost of Water" or prevalent political rallies for a paying political representatives, or even public announcement parades of weddings or funerals. A lot more frequent are religious parades, with candle and placard holders marching to support their favorite Virgin.

Aside from keeping kids and their mothers out of school, all of these events add to the remarkably high noise level of this small provincial town, which is also afflicted by the usual outcries of dozens of loudspeaker equipped vendors of pineapples, newspapers, furniture and dozens of other offerings.

Dec 1, 2009

Well, I'll be dammed in Catemaco

I simply could not resist to post that headline to describe a recently discovered  adventure tour on the outskirts of Catemaco, visiting two extrordinarily attractive dams near the city.

Catemaco Walmart

Life in beautiful downtown Catemaco just got more complicated. Today Walmart opened the smallest size store in its arsenal on the main road leading into Catemaco.

The new so called Bodega Aurrera has only about a third of the items in a full size Aurrera and less than 15% of a full size Mexican Walmart.

So now, instead of getting my staples at the local Rodeo mini supermarket, I will probably shop at Bodega because it has a slighly larger selection and some frozen items. I then have to visit San Andres to shop at Aurrera and Soriana to buy the stuff missing in Catemaco. Then of course I have to make a frequent trip to Veracruz to get anything slightly unusal. And after that, of course there is mail order for stuff I simply cannot live without.

AH, progress in Catemaco is painful.