Dec 28, 2010

Jolly Catemaco

It is not the season to be jolly in beautiful downtown Catemaco. At least for considerably more than half the municipal employees.

As of January 1st, a new mayor is in town and every one of them is at the whim of politics to either continue to be employed or to join the unemployed.

There is no functional civil service in Mexico. And the consequences are as can be expected: generally inefficient, corrupt, unfriendly, brow beaten and kowtowing to their superiors.

Mexican municipal governments separate their workers into three classes, base, confianza and elected.

"Elected workers" are the elected officials. In Catemaco there are 5, the presidente municipal (mayor), 4 regidores (councilmen) and 1 sindico (comptroller+/-). Effectively only the mayor is of importance. All are significantly over paid in relation to the median wages of their electorate. On the municipal level they are elected for three years, and cannot be reelected until 3 more years have passed.

"Confianza" employees are generally all the bosses and sub-bosses of departments, technicians and specialty workers. Their pay schedule is considerably below that of elected workers but way above the "base" employees. They are appointed by the mayor. Well substantiated rumors claim that  many contribute a percentage of their salaries to their political bosses. Although the mayor appoints most, significant interference is exerted by superior level politicians.

"Base" employees are generally the peons of the system, mostly near minimum wage workers, doing mostly menial jobs. Unless temporarily contracted, after 6 months they have lifetime tenure, and are damn hard and very expensive, to get rid off. They are entitled to form one, and only one, union.

Obviously the temporary nature of elected and confianza workers is problematic. Their only hope for future employment is related to their political connections.

Elected workers only continued employment rests with the next level government, which is the state, in case of municipal employees.

Obviously the best interest of elected and confianza workers lies in themselves instead of their community. The results are obvious to anyone familiar with Mexico.

Dec 23, 2010

Casa de los Tesoros, Catemaco

The daughter of the former owner, fondly known as Fool on the Hill, of the best handicrafts store in southern Veracruz, La Casa de los Tesoros, reopened her parent´s dream after 20 years, below the basilica, in an upstairs locale with a grand view of the plaza.

The store now includes a limited bistro menu featuring bagels, novel omelettes, great wines, desserts and Japanese tea.

Despite monthly buying trips to Oaxaca, Guatemala and other trinket centers, she now has a hard time keeping her shelves full.

Meanwhile, because of the convivial atmosphere, most Catemaco newcomers and foreign tourists have made the "Casa Lost" their favorite home away from home.

Mexico 30

The Santa Claus lookalike who had been kidnapped seven months ago, apparently paid a 30 million dollar ransom. This kidnap has to be the Mexican joke of the year.

Pemex plans to spend 30 million pesos to compensate the up to 30 deads of the recent gasline explosion which supposedly resulted from an illegal tap which supposedly costs Pemex 3 and a half billion pesos per year.

Mexico just handed out its first life sentence to an 18 year old. Up to now the maximum was 30 years.

And of course there are more than 30 thousand drug war related deaths.

Chedraui is keeping Walmart on its toes. The Veracruz based chain plans 30 more stores next year in Mexico, plus some in the US.
And on the world wide scene: 30 died near Christmas Island.
Merry Christmas

Dec 21, 2010

Catemaco Fire

Just the day before yesterday I walked onto the dock and noticed its deteriorating condition with missing and loose planks. As usual I was accosted by one of the resident winos for a handout. Today at 2 in the morning, the son of my Popoluca came racing into the house grabbing my fire extinguisher and  yelling "the dock is burning".

In 2006, a local Belgian quiropractor and sailing enthusiast promoted the idea of a Yacht Club in Catemaco, assuring that 200 sail boats would arrive and make the Laguna a sailing center. He found some support in government circles, and  a Veracruz  government agency approved plans to solicit construction of a marina at the end of the Malecón of Laguna Catemaco. And then the project died.

Apparently the Belgian and some unknown associates then went ahead and constructed a dock and a palapa, a little north of the Koniapan hotel. Sometime later ownership apparently changed hands, and the dock is now supposedly owned the by the son of the owner of  Nanciyaga, who also manages the sewage running down Catemaco streets.

For about a year, the Belgian, who owns the only sail boat anchored in the Laguna, stationed his boat next to the dock until it sank from the side effects of a tropical storm passing over the lake.

Meanwhile the vaunted dock found absolutely no use and became a favorite hangout for the dozens of winos that congregate in the area and the occasional kids who used it as a dangerous playground and diving platform.

In 2007 the surrounding are was again heavily promoted as the site of a 30 million peso marina project. That also died.

Apparently the fire was caused by firecracker, common this time of year, and dangerous because Catemaco has no fire department. Now, I presume, for the next few years, Catemaco will just have another eyesore encumbering the beauty of Laguna Catemaco.

Catemaco is for the birds

181 species of them in 3 days. See Robert Straub's trip report here.

Dec 20, 2010

No more beautiful downtown Catemaco

Because of the recent self imposed disappearance of Catemaco News readership (change of internet address) and also because I am bored stiff  when it is cold and rainy here, I now plan to extend my comments beyond beautiful downtown Catemaco to include Veracruz and the rest of Mexico.

Aside from entertaining the occasional gringo reader it will also provide some foreign insight into Mexico to those locals who use the Spanish translation feature.

My primary English sources, aside from Google are:;
Latin American Herald,
El Economista column of Roberto Mena
Mexico Feeds by
For Mexican sources, I use:
Catemaco Diario Enlaces

Guillain Barré.

34 cases of a form of the rare paralyzing disease of Guillain Barré were recently diagnosed in Cordoba, about 120 miles northwest of Catemaco.

Dec 19, 2010

Catemaco Prohibition

I am one of the dinosaurs who still smokes in beautiful downtown Catemaco and today I was hit with the price of 40 pesos per pack after a recent federally imposed  price increase. About 80 % of that price is federal Mexican taxes.

Where are the Narcos when I need them? Many of the older ones started as bootleggers during the alcohol prohibition days of the US. Tobacco should be a fertile ground for them.

I remember enjoying 10 bucks per carton days in Baja California when the San Diego price was US 25.

COME ON NARCOS, there is more money in tobacco than dope!

Catemaco "BOOM"

May all gods forgive me, but I chuckle about the regular explosions occurring around México. This has nothing to do with narco wars, just the incompetence of Mexico to regulate itself.

The recent news of 15 deaths involving a robbery of a Mexico oil pipeline is just a  minor figure in the statistics of gas pipeline and tanks explosions, petroleum explosions, fireworks explosions, and even car explosions.

Here in beautiful downtown Catemaco, events are relatively quiet this year, with only the occasional  similacrum of an Afghanistan bomb sounding fire cracker being exploded.
For several  previous years, I seriously wanted to buy ear muffs to protect myself and my dog, except of course for the occasional touristic fireworks that sometimes are superlative when some governmental tinhead decides to sponsor one.

Meanwhile everyone is anxiously awaing the burning of the "viejo" at the end of the year in Catemaco.
That is when hundreds of houses in Catermaco plant a manequin of an old man in front of their homes, stuffed with junk and fireworks to explode on New Years eve.

Just make sure your car is a block away, if you can find one that's not occupied by a manequin.


Dec 18, 2010

Catemaco Volcanoes

For being a little hick town in the middle of nowhere, Catemaco has a plethora of natural beauty almost unequaled anywhere in the word within a 30 mile diameter.

Rocky coves hidden on the desolate Gulf coast, sand dunes harboring endangered turtles and plants, fresh water lakes teeming with fish, a coastal lagoon, pine and mangrove forests, orchid riddled jungle, majestic waterfalls, kayakable rapids, raging rivers in the rainy season, and mostly overlooked although hitting you in the eye, a series of majestic volcanoes.

They are actually my favorite spots in Los Tuxtlas, mostly bereft of tourists but welcoming any lover of nature. But an article I wrote about them was well hidden in the pages which are only read by connoisseurs. Now it's in the touristic section:

Dec 13, 2010

Catemaco Movies

The last movie theater in Catemaco closed 10 or more years ago. San Andrés hung on a little longer until about 6 years ago.

This weekend San Andrés reopened with 2 screens and Harry Potter, a block north of city hall.

Meanwhile Cafe de Nadie above the bank in Catemaco features a Tuesday movie night with mostly "artsy" choices.

Dec 11, 2010

Catemaco Blurp

There is no news from beautiful downtown Catemaco, unless you want to include some 9 foot stick figures walking around neighboring San Andrés, a few patches of the side walk of the Malecón offering to swallow tourists, some outrageous promises from the in-coming mayor, the up-count of snowbirds passing through the nearby gringo haven, or a few thousand pilgrims running around to bless the local Virgin.

On the crime scene, everything is quiet. The usual 'hubby slashed a wife or friend with a machete story' is going strong and the not so usual, young woman "hanged herself"  nearby is still  going on. That actually seems to be becoming a minor habit here.

Gas prices went up again, but they are still substantially below the US 8.76 pesos per liter in Mexico versus 9.74 pesos on average per liter in the US. Do your own gallon configurations (3.74 per liter).

Veracruz has a new governor, and he thoughtfully decided to change all public announcements to be of a rainbow colored hue, instead of the freaking RED of the PRI party that had dominated Veracruz for the past 6 or 71  years. So now there are worriers that the rainbows may be saying that  Veracruz is gay. It sure is! During the annual carnival you can´t walk around the port of Veracruz without getting goosed. (if you have something to goose).

While on the subject of gays in Mexico, Mexico City apparently has now gone all out to declare itself a gay destination, possibly to take advantage of their disposable income which seems to be around twice that of straight travelers.

I can see it now:

Sheeeett, Catemaco has all the attributes of a potential gay city, noisy discos on the Malecon, artsy crafts shops, hairdressers, hindful government officials, blossoming business owners and 101 or more marvelous attractions to stick a nose into.

It also has a whole strip of bars on the main highway running through the town, that attracts vendors with Victoria Secrets catalogs for all the guys that love guys along the strip. Plus it has a natural aphrodisiac made from slimy local water snails, Tegogolos.

Anyway, anything would be better than a bunch of ancient gringos sucking up the little disposable air in Catemaco.

Honorable mention of the month goes to the Los Tuxtlas inhabitants who on at least 4 occasions in the last month blocked both the federal toll road and the federal highway leading south from Veracruz. You have to take pity on the people that do that, because they know that it is the only way to get attention from anything above a local political level. Viva la democracia in Mexico.

Nepotism is another one of those words that is little understood in Mexico. The current elect mayor appointed his wife, to run the county´s welfare agency. If he hads sons he would probably declare them sherriffs a la (what's the name of that movie).

When the boardwalk of Catemaco was constructed, the Mexican federal agency "Comision de Aguas Naturales" took control of  the area that the Malecon was built on. Naturally, a few existing restaurants were grandfathered in.
Over the years, little by little, that terrain was nibbled on and allowed various hotels to monopolize parking areas, and other property owners to increase their front yard.  More damaging though was the profusion of shanty gift shops along the Laguna side of the Malecón.

This last year has seen the addition of a dozen more chintzty stalls along the Malecon, along with the clandestine sale or right of possession of most of the inward side of the Malecón. If the trend continues, there will be no more vision of the potentially most beautiful boardwalk in Mexico.

Oh yeah, before I forget, hit and run accidents killed a few more people in Los Tuxtlas. A few monts ago an  involved driver left his wife and dying baby to avoid facing Mexican justice, same as most involved drivers do. Please, have insurance or lots of money while driving in Mexico unless you want to experience Mexican "justice".

A new restaurant recently opened on the site of a famous local swamp and is not worth commenting, another, a small chain from San Andrés is more promising, but right now it is only hearsay, along with another super market and international chain hotel looking for space to build.

Also, I have been told, that I am planning a seaplane harbor next to the Malecón.

Excluding the local intermittent gringo haven, the local gringo count is remaining at 7 residents plus a few part timers, plus a bunch of non gringos but not Mexicans.

Dec 7, 2010

Catemaco Marsupilami

The French are making a monkey out of Catemaco, or maybe it's a leopard, or a dog.

They recently started shooting the film "Marsupilami" in the jungle of  the "La Jungla" campground and other choice locations around Los Tuxtlas. The main character is a popular French cartoon animal, and I presume the scenes shot here will be backdrops to its antics.

Update: This is one of my more stupid posts on Catemaco News, so I really do not understand its popularity.

Anyway, the movie crowd was here,  and barely anyone noticed them. They bought a mess of potted plants to create stage sets, and upon use, tried to sell them locally for inflated prices. Some of their plaster casts are still adorning local dives.

As of 5 nov 2011 I still do not know if that flick ever hit a screen anywhere.

Dec 2, 2010

Catemaco Kind Soul

I've consolidated all the attractions of Catemaco and Los Tuxtlas from a dozen different chapters into one compact segment.

If there is a kind soul out there who knows how to spell or even better who knows Los Tuxtlas, will it please proofread the segment and alert me to errors and omissions.

Thanks, I'll owe you a cup of homegrown coffee or imported Mezcal.

Catemaco Press

Old Folks Alert!
Nice plug about Catemaco in MexicoConnect
Scouting Mexico retirement scenes