Nov 27, 2010

The Corn Trail from Catemaco to Soteapan

There is almost no functional access to the Sierra Santa Marta from Catemaco. The Brecha del Maiz, corn trail, is supposed to fix that.

Still under construction after 4 years, the road was heavily damaged by the weather events of late 2010. Right now the road is passable.

I recommend the trip for any adventurous soul in Catemaco who wants to see and know more about an area of Los Tuxtlas that holds most of its indigenous history, is totally impoverished, out of the mainstream, and ignored by Veracruz and Mexican politicians.

Travel the Corn Trail

Nov 26, 2010

Catemaco Gas

Along with gasoline, the behemoth PEMEX also controls the LPG supply (liquid petroleum gas) of Mexico. Distribution, though, is in private hands, and is alleged to be controlled by Mexico’s famous handful of family oligarchs.

Mexico is not self sufficient in butane and propane, the two major ingredients of LPG gas. More than 5% of Mexican gas stocks are flared, (burned), instead of being captured. Any shortage in stocks is covered by imports from the US. Piped natural gas installations, although considerably more cost effective, are still a rarity in Mexico. The great majority of Mexican homes depend on gas cylinders or residential stationary tanks, for both cooking and water heating. Mexico is the world’s largest consumer of residential LPG gas.

Catemaco, Veracruz is served by 2 gas companies, which maintain irregular route service to exchange tanks. The system is inconvenient, wasteful, incompetent, corrupt and expensive.

1. - To initiate gas service, the user must first buy his own tank, which can then be exchanged for a gas company tank. (600+/- pesos for a 20 kg tank)
2. - If you exchange that shiny new tank, you will receive a banged up, rusty cylinder.
3. - At any time, if there is a problem with a tank, the company will exchange it free. If there is a problem with the valve, the user is charged.  Guess the percentage of tanks versus valves!
4. - This is cash country. If nobody is at home to pay for the exchange, no tank is delivered.
5. - If you carry your own tank to the gas company and it is still 1/3 full, you will be charged for filling the whole tank.
6. - As with gasoline, you may be charged for 20 kg and only receive 18.
7. - There is no delivery or pickup service on Sunday, and both companies take long lunch hours, open late and close early.
8. - There is no delivery service by appointment, except for stationary tanks.
9. - The LPG price is fixed by the government once every month, and is roughly based on international pricing. 201 pesos per 20 kg (Nov 2010)
10. - Caloric content of Mexican LPG (BTU, the actual heat potential) is kept a secret from Mexican consumers, so price comparison with electricity is not functional, but it definitely is cheaper.

Gas Tanks come in 3 basic sizes, plus some smaller portable tanks, 10, 20 and 30 Kg. Theres is also a 45 Kg tank  which weighs almost as much as a Volkswagen. Catemaco’s most popular tank is the 20 Kg version which weighs as much as a skinny muchacha. (100 lbs+/-)

The 20 Kg tank is recommendable for consumers filling their own tanks. A typical installation of 2 x 20 Kg tanks plus a two way valve will cost almost 2000 pesos, including a handtruck and a wrench. Filling your own tanks saves the aggravation of messing with abused valve systems and often having to pay for them. (Incidentally I have yet to locally find a slip valve system to install on my tanks instead of the cumbersome left turn wrench system).

LPG gas is odorless. Methanethiol is added to create a noticeable foul smell in case of leakage. Mexico had a very major LPG gas explosion about 20 years ago and minor ones every week.
At present (Nov 2010) the cost of LPG gas is roughly 10 pesos per kilogram. That is approximately 20 pesos per gallon. Current US price averages US $ 2.50+ per gallon. In my experience a 20 Kg tank costing 200+ pesos (Nov 2010), lasts 2 people about a month, using a stove, but no oven, a hot water heater and an electric washing machine. One important observation is that the tank(s) will only be empty when whoever changes them is taking a shower!

LPG gas is also popular as an alternative fuel for many trucks in Los Tuxtlas, and supported by 2 filling stations with short hours. The fuel LPG is cheaper than the home LPG because it is not taxed as much.

Note: Repeated from 2006 after editing.

Nov 24, 2010

Laguna Encantada, near Catemaco

A short drive from beautiful downtown Catemaco lies a picture perfect lake in which an Indian princess supposedly sacrificed herself to assure fresh water for her people.

Nowadays brujos (witches) use a cave near the lake's edge to hold satanic masses, sacrifice whatever is available and other bewitching stuff.

Nov 20, 2010

Catemaco business for sale

The local gringo haven is for sale. Please hurry up and take the owner out of his misery before the price goes up again.

For 2 million bucks you get 2 gorgeous acres on  330 feet of the Catemaco river, studded with pimienta and bougainvillae trees, 7 rental casitas and apartments plus lots of spaces to park trailers, all enclosed by huge walls.

The rental units are usually fully rented to non-Mexicans, and the compound is the only functional campground and RV park within 100 miles north or south, making it almost an obligatory stop for anyone traveling the torturous Los Tuxtlas highways.

The facility also includes a huge restaurant setup, 2 luscious pools, restrooms and laundry facilities. With the addition of a few more rental units this could be a real money maker.

See the link in:

Nov 13, 2010

Blackballed in Catemaco

Getting blackballed in beautiful downtown Catemaco is actually good for you. That is if you are a Mexican of conscription age.

Since 1944, Mexico has required national military service of any male between the ages of 18 and 40. Females were not wanted until 2006 when voluntary enlistment became available.

Males must register at age 18, and during the following year are obligated to attend a lottery where their military service is decided. The lottery is administered by SEDENA, the Mexican Defense Force, and consists of drawing balls from an urn.

A black ball gives the lucky winner a free ride from military service except being on standby until age 40.

A white ball compells the lucky winner to perform military service, generally described by young men as "marching" on weekends, with almost no military training. (A blue ball, sometimes used in Veracruz, lands the winner in the Navy.)

Failure to have a valid "cartilla" (draft card) may obstruct foreign travel, enrollment in some schools and unavailability of some jobs. Since some legal changes in 2002, that likelihood has diminished.

All of the fighting ranks of the Mexican army and navy are filled by voluntary enrollment with a minimum of 3 years for privates.

Remarkably only 189 Mexican military have died among the supposed 28000 war dead in the current Mexican War on Drugs
Probably more Mexican Americans soldiers (based on casualties with Hispanic surnames who must have valid US citizenship or residence and also includes non Mexican Hispanics), are being killed in the Mideast wars than Mexican soldiers in the Mexican Drug War. Total Iraq+ so far: 489.

Nov 9, 2010

Catemaco Hummer

Have you seen a blue Hummer lately? If you have, call the equivalent of 911 in Mexico.

I imagine blue Hummers are as obsequious as Nissan Taxis in Mexico. That's is why probably this particular Hummer will never be found.

Its occupants wacked a local newly elected mayor and his entourage of 2 a day ago in an agricultural town about 50 miles northwest of Catemaco. (See the dead ones and the crime history). That area of the municipalities of Rodriguez Clara, Isla and Tuxtepec probably has not seen a tourist since Hernan Cortes, unless a tourist had to drive through there when detoured during the recent flooding.

The area is famous for killings, kidnappings, shootouts on the streets and just general mayhem. It has nothing to do with the northern drug wars going on in the rest of Mexico. It is its own Oaxaca influenced political and narco killing fields, and  is just one of the areas that has maintained the murder rate in Mexico at almost triple the US rate, even before the "drug war".

To partially see why, read

Anyway, if you´re ever in the area, between Isla and Rodriguez, there is possibly one of the best steak restaurants in Mexico. A little expensive, between 300 and 400 pesos per dish, but definitely worth visiting, especially if you drive a blue Hummer.

Correction: STOP LOOKING - the dead were found inside the blue Hummer.

Update: Certain local bozos go ballistic everytime I mention local crime. Here is some insight from one of my favorite bloggers: Gancho.
(Over?)Attention to Crime
"Out of curiosity, I tallied the number of news stories (excluding op-ed columns) in the front section of Monday's Excélsior that were related to crime, and those that were not. The final tally: 17 were crime-related, 14 not. That strikes me as a high proportion; Excélsior is a bit more sensational than El Universal, but it's not a yellow rag. I'll check El Universal and Milenio's content if I can online, but I imagine that their proportions are not grossly dissimilar."

But apparently the Mexican ambassador to the US does not read Mexican newspapers, as reported by the BBC.
Foreign media 'focus too much on Mexico drug violence'
Mexico's ambassador to the US has criticised the international media for paying excessive attention to the drug-related violence in his country.  Arturo Sarukhan said news organisations gave the impression the whole of Mexico was ablaze with violence.

Nov 6, 2010

Getting out of Catemaco

Don´t get your hopes up, Bozos!

The two young Scandinavian women who lived 4 months in beautiful downtown Catemaco and who studied spider monkeys in the Tropical Fauna and Flora Park left here during the nadir of the Veracruz weather mess.

While here one woman published a few wonderful anecdotes about the area in her blog. Apparently it took her a month to recover, but she finally reminisced about her last day here. A good read!

Nov 5, 2010

The North Shore of Laguna Catemaco

and see Nanciyaga, Amayaga, Coyame, Tebanca, Cuetzalapan, Ahuacapan and Las Margaritas

Nov 4, 2010

Catemaco Brujo Stuff

Seems like the chief exorcist of  the catholic Archdiocese of Xalapa has decided that beautiful downtown Catemaco needs a professional exorcism because of its prevailing malignant spirits.

The chief, who is also famous for whitwashing narco amulets, has invited 10 of his colleagues to clean up the supposed "cradle of witchcraft". Apparently though, he does know his limitations, and recognizes that he may drive out the evil spirts from the geography of Catemaco, but not from us many contaminated locals.
So there is hope.
Read the article in Spanish here.

And of course, a new explorer of "brujismo" has arrived in the pueblo and is adding his two cents:
Day 1 and 2 with the witches of Catemaco.

Incidentally the brujo pages are the individual most popular destinations of readers of, both in English and in Spanish. And they desperately need a rewrite. Maybe next year.