Jan 29, 2011

The Catemaco brujo's granddaughter

The kid is strange. But what can you expect when the daughter of the most famous brujo in Catemaco marries a hippy gringo and her daughter gets raised in Texas. The brujo and the gringo are dead.

Here are the kid's ramblings:
Crzy Down South

Jan 26, 2011

Gringo Lions in Catemaco

Veracruz newspapers are falling all over themselves praising the appearance of the governor's wife in Catemaco for the initiation of the international eyeglasses campaign "First comes Vision" (la vista primero). In the fine print they mention something about Wisconsin.

So I did a little research.
Apparently the Wisconsin Lions Club for the past 10 years has made annual pilgrimages to Mexico to deliver eyglasses and provide vision examinations to thousands in impoverished towns. Usually they pick three towns in Veracruz, and this year it was Catemaco's turn.

Thousands of Lions are involved in Wisconsin collecting eyeglasses throughout the year. The collection is then turned over to trained inmates in the Wisconsin prison system for repair, regrinding and refurbishing.

 A team of mostly retired Lions, including several ophtalmologists, then make the annual trips, to distribute the up to 10 thousand pairs of eyeglasses, and work 12 hours days for up to a week to fit them to their wearers.

This year their Wisconsin Lions Foundation also collected 13 thousand dollars to donate to schools for the blind in Veracruz that were damaged in the recent floods.

Here in Catemaco they are being assisted by fellow Mexican Lions. And of course they created a great photo opportunity for a dozen politicians and functionaries to steal the limelight.

These Lions deserve heartfelt thanks and a lot of respect for demonstrating the humanitarian heart of the US people that is nowadays so overshadowed by negative reporting in foreign lands.

Thank You Lions. ROAAAAAR.

Visit their page 

Jan 24, 2011

Catemaco Mayor

After I came to to beautiful downtown Catemaco almost 9 years ago, a Populuca enchanted me and for a few years I did not see straight.

My Popoluca is a political rabblerouser who had led attacks on the municipal palace and otherwise made a municipal nuisance of herself in earlier years, while also having been instrumental in seeing her candidates elected.

So, I thought, let's run her for presidente municipal (that's equivalent to mayor), thinking that a respected woman, in a magnified person to person campaign would have a good shot to be elected.

What will it cost, I asked? 2 to 3 million pesos they said. In a county of 45 thousand where almost all make less than 10 dollars a day, that has no TV station, no radio, and no newspaper, and where 60% do not or barely read, I asked!

Yep, they said. And to guarantee a win would be more like 5 million.

So I started counting my pesos, and had some more discussions with my Popoluca. She had some wonderful ideas to eliminate waste in governmental activities, focus on supporting the underprivileged of Catemaco, initiate a preservation effort for the area, and similar feel goods.

But also she wanted to put her family to work, skim off the contractors doing work for the municipio and amass a fortune to pay me back and prepare for the next political campaign.

Instead I took her to California to go shopping.
I won, (financially, that is).

Catemaco River Boat

A hundred years ago, one of the few ways to get to Catemaco, was by a paddle steamer from Alvarado up the San Juan River to about 30 km west of San Andres Tuxtla. From there, I imagine, horse drawn transportation  provided connection to the city. Almost nothing is known about that segment of local history.

Naturally a gringo promoted the trip. Maybe he owned a local horse trailer park.

You can also read: 

PS - the photo is from 1903 posted by AguaPasada

Jan 16, 2011

Catemaco Scare

Those police gooneys in face masks and hauling automatic weapons did it again. Two nights ago they surrounded  the city hall and scared the citizenry. As usual nothing happened officially and was not explained to the public the same as two similar events in the last few months.

Unfortunately that happened after the Mexican army killed 12 with no survivors in Xalapa, the state capital, but only confiscated 8 weapons. And then a Veracruz police commander was kidnapped, and then 2 people were bullet holed in Costa de Oro, and then, and then...

My Popoluca who was visiting in Xalapa was scared to death and thinks someone is sending a message to the governor.

Curiously, the entire Catemaco police department left December 31st without even a kiss goodby. The Veracuz state police is now providing security. If that is permanent, who knows? Residents are not allowed to know. Of course there was a rumor that some faction was trying to buy the local police department which apparently upset the new local mayor.

Does any of this affect my daily lifestyle? No!
But I get really peeved at the AFI & AVI (Mex FBI), State Police and Army combat units invading my city and not telling me what for. Officially the latest statistics (15 Jan 2011) show Catemaco with 4 drug war killings since 2007, and the state of Veracruz  with 463. Not bad compared to the country as a whole which had a total of 34612.

Now a Veracruz government official is proposing schools institute classes to provide survival instructions for shootouts. Gee, I already get laughed at when I fall down when I hear firecrackers.
I guess I should now learn to stay away from all Mexican security personnel. That really will make me feel safe.

Update: Demonstrating again why Veracruz inhabitants believe in their justice system as much as in Santa Claus:
24 hours after the Veracruz police commander was abducted, the governor issued a statement that the Mexican Federal Judiciary (PGR) had arrested the commander. 12 hours later PGR denied having the commander in custody.

Jan 13, 2011

Clean Catemaco

The major news event in beautiful downtown Catemaco today was the delivery of 16 chintzy new brooms and accessories to some of the sweepers of Catemaco streets.

These sweepers are the heart and soul of Catemaco. Without them the city would look like a  mismanaged McDonald parking lot.

Of course, to deliver the sixteen brooms, 8 municipal government officials showed up on a platform, while 6 of the construction crew, who erected the presentation platform, idly waited to dismantle the platform for the next performance.

Presentation platforms are a major fountain of employment for Mexico's unemployed. Here in Catemaco, and I think that is true throughout Mexico, the first major expenditure of a new mayor is the construction of a new platform and background to deliver his speeches.

Usually (at least in Catemaco) the old mayor stole the lumber, so a new plywood and 2x4 contraption is constructed, and if the old mayor also stole the alphabet to post messages, there are dozens of Mexican companies waiting to replace them.

And, of course the city needs a triennial slogan that no one will forget, except for the park benches that were embossed with another slogan in a previous administration.

This year it is "Juntamos adelante". Great words meaning "Forward, together!" Does anyone remember the Chinese Revolution? or the ones from the next to last  Catemaco triennial "Escapate a Catemaco" "Escape to Catemaco"?

Here the favorite background color was red, supposedly indicating the blood spilled in the Mexican Revolution, or lately better known as the juice sucked out of its citizens.

The background on the platforms now is white, (The local Veracruz governor promoted rainbow colors in his administration, but the color of his aorta and its aherents is still solidly PRI red,  although the current mayor surprisingly decided to paint the primary touristic boulevard in a pleasant green.

Jan 10, 2011

The Alvarado Bridge

Almost half way between Veracruz City and Catemaco lies the Illustrous, Generous and Heroic municipality and port of Alvarado, about the size of Catemaco, with app 49 thousand inhabitants. The city received all its titles because of its resistance to the U.S. invasion of 1846.

Located at the mouth of the Papaloapan River and surrounding lagoons, the city was a major bottleneck for north to south travelers in Veracruz. until 1964 when the existent bridge was dedicated. I crossed the 2 lane bridge the first time in 1966 and admired the hulks of the abandoned ferries resting around the 1850 feet long bridge. When I returned thirtyfive years later, they were still resting.

Since then the bridge has been plagued with maintenance problems and is frequently limited to one way traffic and occasionally closed over night. In 2006 a bus managed to fall off the bridge and kill 6 passengers.

The bridge is managed by CAPUFE, the federal Mexican toll road and bridges agency which has created a miniature town to operate 3 measly toll gates.  Replacement value of the bridge is 247 million pesos and I think that may be coming due within a few years, unless they let the bridge fall in the river like many other bridges in southern Veracruz.

The bridge is a boon for Alvarado which receives almost 9 million pesos annually from CAPUFE for being on county property. Users of the bridge pay 19 pesos for cars and 32 pesos and up for trucks. In 2009 more than 1.8 million vehicles crossed the bridge, about 5000 per day.

The bridge is the primary entrance to Los Tuxtlas. Other entries from the north south toll road at Cosamaloapan, Isla and Acayucan also contribute a minor share. Thus the number of users of the bridge is significant in understanding tourism in Catemaco.

The press parrots politicians claiming Los Tuxtlas to be the second or third most visited area in Veracruz, and throw around figures ranging from half to a million annual visitors, and for years I wondered why Los Tuxtlas was not attracting more outside touristic development.

I recently researched the Alvarado bridge in depth with the limited resources the Mexican government provides on the internet. I come up with a maximum of 500 thousand very seasonal visitors per year. No wonder Howard Johnson never learned to spell Catemaco.

You can see my spreadheet here (in Spanish)

Jan 5, 2011

Catemaco Licks

Catemaco abounds in folktales about chaneques which are gnome like creatures supposedly inhabiting most of the landscape, but especially caves and waterfalls. The tales originated with the remaining Nahuas and Popolucas in the mountains south of Catemaco. Most have a violent streak.

If you are an adulterer - stay out of Los Tuxtlas.
Luputìs are black and white spotted tapir like creatures that snare male adulterers visiting a waterfall with a fearsome cold breath, then strip them off their clothes and lick them to death. Sunutìs are their companions, that start off as friendly cats to entice female philanderers, but then turn into mountain lions to devour them. Only intercedence by a chaneque, who will exert a promise of never to screw around, will save adulterers from certain death. To find out more about the weird local creatures, read the book.

It`s the season to be screwing around again in Los Tuxtlas. As of January 1, new mayors took over in all Veracruz municipalities. In Angel R. Cabada, the losing political party stormed city hall, ransacked the place and did not allow the mayor into his office. In Santiago, apparently everything not nailed down was stolen by the outgoing party.

Beautiful downtown Catemaco, as is customary every three years, was the crown jewel of the screwups. The outgoing mayor left the city too broke to pay the electricity bill, and power was cut off to city hall and the central park. To get his microphone to work at his inauguration, the new mayor had to steal juice from a city lamp post. The entire police force left and had to be temporarily replaced by Veracruz state police. And of course the old mayor stole city hall blind, including its computers, much of its furnishings and all of its office supplies. He is now projecting himself as candidate for a federal deputy seat.

On the finger licking side: in my 8 years, almost noone ever recommended a local restaurant. So I was surprised that last week 4 different amigos spouted about a new place serving exactly the same stuff as the the other 30 or so restaurants in town. I checked it out. It's a hole in the wall, with 4 tables occupying the ground floor of a tiny brand new 2 story house. We wound up with 8 sampler dishes, and although they all looked the same as dishes in other restaurants, they were extraordinarily well cooked and tasty including hashed eels, monkey meat and fried guppies. See the menu here:

If you read Spanish, check out National Geographic's January 2010 Mistic Catemaco.

The wether has been schizophrenic zipping from the 90's to the 60's within a few hours. So wear a bathing suit under your parka.

Jan 2, 2011

The Fish Traps of Catemaco

Never seen by hurrying motorists, 2 miles north of Catemaco, lie some of the most beautiful and interesting shores of Laguna Catemaco.

Remaining forest and crystal clear waters await an adventurous tourist