Apr 30, 2011

Catemaco Colon

No, stupid, not that colon.

Christopher Columbus is blessed with the name Cristobal Colon in Spanish. He was the first "white " tourist to get anywhere near Mexico. He should have statues in his name in front of any tourist office in Mexico. Instead he is a disappeared person.

In his place are dozens of statues of so called "revolutionary" heroes in whose names millions of Mexicans were massacred.

Oh yeah, try finding a statue of Hernan Cortez, the second most important tourist to Mexico. There are no statues of him, that I have found.

Obviously, Mexicans do not care about the history of their tourism.

The photo is of a statue I found in Alvarado, uphill. Nearby are some great eateries including one who would like you to worship your ablutions.

Apr 22, 2011

Catemaco Bound

This is just about the death knell for Texas border to Veracruz and beyond  vehicular tourist traffic.

The only good thing may be that those driving up from the south will decide to stay a year or so until that mess clears up.

Ironically, I think I've noticed a healthy upsurge of foreign tourists to Catemaco this winter season. Most arrive via Mexican tour buses, presumably after having flown to Veracruz or Mexico City. Last month, the Veracruz airport showed a significant 21% jump in foreign arrivals. I wish there were better statistics available such as rental car usage, toll road usage, hotel occcupancy, etc.

What the government provides is blown out of someone's nose. I missed  most of the 30 thousand arrivals for the non-brujo weekend and am now counting the supposed 60 thousand semana santa visitors,  half of whom will probably take the shortcut to the San Andrès beaches. Of course there is no clicker lying on that road  that might provide a good indicator.

The major very prominent new presence in the Catemaco area is cops. They are all over the place. Small ones, big ones, skinny ones and fat ones, even one on small heels, most dressed in full black on black battle gear and riding around on the back of pickups and sucking up the current extreme temperatures.

That someone buy them all a nice cold Coca Corona.

Apr 21, 2011

Catemaco's other option

A few years ago a rich dude from Cordoba, Veracruz, acquired 60 or more hectares in the nucleus of the Los Tuxtlas Biosphere, in the eastern mountains of Catemaco, an area so stripped of vegetation, even cows refused to live there.

Mr. Knopflmacher, assisted by the Mexican army, local ecologists and Mexican federal funds proceeded to plant upward of 75 thousand trees and by now the area is well on its way to recover some of the splendor lost over the last 50 years.

He now operates the equivalent of a dude ranch, offering cabins, horses, animal exhibits, communion with nature and isolation. There is no road access. Visitors ride horses or ATV's to get to their destination above the village of  Miguel Hidalgo.

I wish more rich dudes would discover the hills of Catemaco.

Recobrando la Biodiversidad Perdida from Ernesto Macip on Vimeo.

Apr 18, 2011

Catemaco Kidnap

You guessed it. It's been too damn hot to go anywhere lately and I project that attitude to continue until early June. So, of course, I become prolific.

Mexicans not living in the border areas are generally not concerned with narco killings. In most of the other states, including Veracruz, their pet peeve is extorsion and kidnapping.

An acquaintance/friend of mine operates a branch of one of the larger hardware building supply stores in Los Tuxtlas. He was kidnapped a few years ago and his family paid out a huge sum of pesos. Curiously, most everyone in Catemaco knows who did the job, but they have never been prosecuted.

He now is accompanied by a bodyguard wherever he moves, changed his house with 6 foot fences to a new one with 10 footers, has 3 live-in bodyguards to protect his family 24 hours a day, and has not eaten in a public restaurant in several years.

He says it's a cost of doing business, and he thinks he would have the same problem wherever he might move in Mexico.

Curiously his cost of business is not reflected in his pricing. He is extrordinarily competitive with other chains of building materials, which compared to the US, are robber barons.

Even more curious is that almost all kidnappings are male. Kids and wives are generally immune, except for the recent kidnapping of the mother of a grocery chain owner, by what turned out to be previous employees..

Catemaco is not New York City with dozens of roads leading in and out. Police road blocks and inspections are everywhere. No wonder that locals think that the ones guarding the roads are in cahoots with the kidnappers. Here and everywhere in Mexico.

Even more curious is the absence of newspaper coverage of kidnappings. I would say that possibly one in 5 is reported. And the ones reported rarely have a follow up.  Families of crime victims use the Mexican system of paying to suppress their names in news papers.

That is possibly why there are so many of them in Los Tuxtlas and elsewhere. Where else can you make money by not publishing?

Update: Yesterday 21 March, they found the body of the last local kidnap victim, see Catemaco Diario

Apr 17, 2011

La Panga

For many years, La Panga was Catemaco City's finest civilized entertainment locale for adults.

"Panga" means small ferry in Mexico, elsewhere it describes various fishes.

Built on stilts within the Catemaco lake, the place offered a great view, especially on moon lit nights. Live music on weekends stayed on the romantic side and the owners¡ selection of piped in music was remarkable. Their liquor selection was excellent, and after beating them over the head, they even began serving coffee in the winter. Regular clients were primarily from San Andrès plus a small cadre of Catemaco connoisseurs.

Historically Catemaco has had numerous "things" built on stilts along the lake shore, but they disappeared, until in the very late 1990's, the then owners of the Hotel del Lago received a federal concession to build in the lake across from the hotel.

Some time after 2005, the then municipal administration sued to revoke the concession, but lost. A while later the owner ran into legal problems and fled to the Yucatan while trying to sell the place for 1.5 million pesos. Deterioration set in, the music stopped and regulars disappeared.

Just before the Catemaco flood of 2010, half of a La Panga was decapitated and its pier and flooring became dangerous to tread.  Local rumors now claim the owner leased the place, or maybe she sold it to the former secretary of Catemaco tourism, famous for promoting discos with noise levels of rocket testing facilities, and his then boss, famous for trying to turn the Malecon into a beer orgy.

Significant reconstruction has been under way for several months and should be completed soon.

I sincerely hope La Panga retains its original format, and reverts to being one of Catemaco's most attractive landmarks.

See more of La Panga (mañana)
when it is finished

Apr 16, 2011

Apr 14, 2011

Catemaco Noise

Zoning laws are a mystery in Catemaco. You may be living on a quiet residential street, and wake up one morning with a tractor repair station or a cantina as your neighbor.

Add your neighbor's rooster or his newly bought boom box blaring at 100 decibels, and you'll regret you left New York City.

Daytime noises are excruciating. There is a tourist train zipping along the Catemaco centro with full blast loudspeakers of obnoxious music. (He piped it down after I repeatedly made fun of him in my Spanish news pages).

Then there are the two local intermittent news rags who cross town in beaten up junkers peddling mostly gruesome news. The most recent aberration was their peddling "two killed" news among the tourists along the Malecon on one of the busier weekends.

Add to that any merchant who has a vehicle and a giant loudspeaker and let him loose on the streets of Catemaco peddling his wares.

The traditional noises of Catemaco are slowly disappearing like the tenor of the peanut seller, the tinkle of the knife sharpener, the whiste of the pine oil seller and many more.

For a while Catemaco was inundated with motorized tortilla sellers, whose moped beep beeps drove me nuts to the point I stored eggs on my patio to throw at them.

I don`t even want to mention the 3 cantinas within a rock throw of my current house. By now I have memorized every song on their juke boxes blaring way beyond my bed time.

The Zona Rosa of Catemaco in the last few years has begun to emulate Cancun with second story open air discos, probably hearable in Veracruz City. I bitched and bitched about them, too and apparently you can now only hear them within a 6 block range.

I don't really consider this objectionable noise, but the cacaphony of the birds along the Malecon in the early morning and late afternoon, put all the above noises to shame. And of course they shit on you when you walk below them.

I also have the pleasure of  a troop of tourist promoters congregating on my corner. On a busy weekend, their screams of "lancha, lancha" and general mayhem add to the local noise industry.

Way after midnight, the Malecon is in full swing as Catemaco's Daytona speedway, and there are dozens  of damaged post, fences, and landmarks to show their mettle. Of course there are no cops and sooner or later I expect to listen to the funereal music of death announcers also adding to the Catemaco noise mileu.

Fortunately, in the last years, the incidence of firecrackers has diminished in beautiful downtown Catemaco. For many years I was pretending to live in a war zone and diving below my desk when something sounding like a 200 mm mortar exploded in my living room.

Of course there are local inhabitants like the Fool on the Hill who still think Catemaco is a quiet little town. Of course he only has the crunch of his neighboring rock crusher to enjoy while reading this.

Apr 9, 2011

Catemaco Facebook

Facebook is the worst aspect of the internet since Al Gore invented it. I thoroughly dislike the site because of its conformity, restrictions and unintelligible set of instructions to do anything beyond a basic profile. Heck AOL groups was better than that 15 years ago, and I have been desperately waiting for GOOGLE to come up with a Facebook killer. But I suspect I missed the lancha.

I now have 1500 Facebook "friends". The local mayor has 4400. That makes Catemaco Noticias the second most popular destination for anything related to Catemaco on the Facebook internet. I accumulated  maybe a quarter of these "friends" by fishing for Catemaco residents or natives. But from there it snowballed with "friend" applications pouring in.

Until a few months ago it was very difficult to list Catemaco as a place of origin or residence, that's why the following figures are suspect. Of my 1500 "friends" about 275 list Catemaco as their hometown, another 275+/- list Catemaco as their residence. Obviously there is an overlap, and I estimate that perhaps a maximum of 500 have anything to do with Catemaco. And in true Facebook stupidity the 99 or more percent Spanish speakers whose home or residence is Catemaco, get to read about their town on a Wikipedia English version.

Curiously the mayor's 4400 friends show about the same distribution. And that is noteworthy because it demonstrates the reinforcement that his page gets from the political effort that his PRI party is making to dominate the political aspect of Facebook in preparation for the next Mexican presidential election.

Most of my "friends" seem to have the IQ of one of the monkeys on the islands of Catemaco, and I spend considerable time clicking on the little X next to their names to have them disappear from my Facebook "news wall", so that I don`t have to read their drivel.  But surprisingly there are many with informed commentary and some gorgeous photos. And I actually dug up some old pals and made a handful of new acquantainces.

My objective is for my 1500 "friends" to read my drivel, not the other way around. And that has been successful. Sites that I have linked to on www.catemaco.info have shown considerable increase in readership.

My Facebook sites:
Catemaco Noticias - original, locked, discontinued
Catemaco Agenda - new, open (successor to Don Gringo Notas because it allows comments that I can gleefully delete if they come from river rats.)
Catemaco Tourism - reserved for the nice things of Catemaco

And yes I have a personal Facebook page, but that is so locked and private, that even I have a hard time entering it.

Catemaco Drool

Possibly one of the best videos of the Catemaco mountains that I've seen

Apr 5, 2011

Catemaco Measures

I've been measuring, and so apparently has a government agency in Catemaco, trying to figure out whether water runs downhill. The purported intent is to renew the water supply lines of the city, which relatively has no problem, while the out lying hill communities all still depend on "whenever" deliveries of water by "pipas" (600 gallon water trucks).

About 10 years ago, the state of Veracruz analyzed Catemaco, and promoted the suggestion that nothing over 4 stories should be built in Catemaco. So of course, the first one to erect a 5 story apartment building without an elevator or parking lot was the then and now cacique (political boss) of Los Tuxtlas, Jorge Uscanga.

A few years ago, a now dead gringo, in cahoots with the then mayor, snagged a piece of federal property on the Malecon of Catemaco and began to build what I call the "Hotel Monster". He dropped dead and his daughter is now looking for 7 millon pesos for a concrete abortion. That one too was planned to go above 5 stories.

There are a few homes in Catemaco desperate to have a view of the lake, and some reach as high as six stories.

My current favorite is the owner of a lot, a block west of the Malecon, who happily lived in a one story shack, but apparently got rich off something and is now in the process of erecting a fifth story on his 20x40 foot lot without ever having provided foundations.

But that's O.K. In Catemaco, and the way I see it, in most of Mexico, where you can invent your own building codes, while waiting for the zone's next earthquake, which incidentally has affected much of Veracruz but has fortunately bypassed Catemaco. Or maybe that was because everyone lived in grass shacks, because there is no mortar presence before 1896.

Anyway, as for measures, the Catemaco lake is supposed to be 340 meter above sea level. That varies, by which Mexican rocket scientist you want to believe, by about 50 meters. That little bit of altitude really matters! Because generally the higher you are the cooler you are. The "sea breezes" of the lake help to cool Catemaco from the now intolerable heat indexes in the lowlands of Veracruz.

The Catemaco lake is now near its record lows, which seriously affects the local hydroelectric plant which was responsible for flooding Catemaco a year ago. (supposedy on orders from the then Veracruz governor more worried about down stream flooding).

If you read catemaco.info, you would know that some believe that more water disappears from the lake than gets channelled through its only outlet, the "Rio Grande de Catemaco". Some believe there are cracks in the lake bottom that permit water to sieve out. Again, if you saw the fault map hidden somewhere in catemaco.info, that seems plausible.

Anyway my unprofessional measure of the lake height between high and low is 8 feet, at the extreme, which I have only seen once in 9 years. At present the lake could descend another 6 inches. After that, I will seriously consider that something "pulled the plug".

Update: Ironically a 6.5 or 6.7 earthquake epicentered about 80 miles to the SE shook the area a day after posting this. Some felt it, I didn't. But it was earthshaking news in hundreds of writeups.