Aug 29, 2011

Catemaco Reads

There is a new kid on the block of English news in Mexico. Edited by a Dutchman and describing itself a delivering "Independent News from the Heart of the Americas",
The Voice of Mexico recently began publication as an online only service.

Here are a few more :
Inside Mexico - monthly

A good daily news aggregator is the:
and a thoughful weekly:
and almost English daily business commentary from

In addition there are hundreds of blogs, mostly geared more towards entertainment than news.
I recommend a feed of mostly news blogs I established for my personal reading:

More personal blogs can be found at 

Aug 28, 2011

Catemaco Gay

A day ago or so the Mexican presbyterians disavowed their association with the US presbyterians because of gay concerns.
Who cares?. Actually I do not know if there are any presbis in Catemaco.

What is more pertinent is that Mexico City came out of the closet and declared itself gay friendly a few months ago.

Catemaco, too, should raise its banner and declare itself  gay friendly.

Gays, speaking generally, have more than the average disposable income, enjoy natural wonders, cultural activities and nooks and crannies.

Catemaco qualifies, and could use the business.

What's missing is a boutique hotel declaring itself gay friendly. Actually what's missing is a boutique hotel.

Meanwhile, most of the raunchy cantinas along the federal highway crossing Catemaco serve transvestites as part of their offering.

Catemaco qualifies as a gay destination and should seriously consider promoting itself  as such.

Aug 19, 2011

Catemaco Orphanage

Before I settled in Catemaco I had gotten a whiff that there might be an orphanage here. It took me a few months until I found it. I had previous experience supporting children in the Far East with "Catholic Relief Services" and damaging some of them with another affiliation and I was looking to find a place to put my 2 cents.

In 1995, a religious señora donated one hectare, (2.5 acres) on the outskirts of Catemaco to a charitable agency to establish a home for children without homes.

The receiving agency was the brothers of the Order of Mercy, a catholic monk organization founded in 1218, The Order had begun operations in Mexico City in 1984 and now houses several hundred children there.

A holding facility, locally called "Casa Hogar", with 6 rooms and a supervisor quarter were constructed on the large terrain in Catemaco, a few kids were imported, and then the continuity of the project died.

The monastic order has been trying to enlarge the facility to accomodate more than 100 children, primarily from Los Tuxtlas , BUT, because of changing land values in the last 10 years, survivors of the original donor have been fighting for posession of the property.

For the last 9 years, as far as I know, my Popoluca and I have been the only local private presence supporting the children with electric and electronic equipment, school supplies, food, etc.

In a small way they are supported by the local catholic church organization, and of course by their substantially larger Mexico City Order . According to the "father" supervising the Casa, that support is "negligible".

Originally  I had thought that these childrens were all orphans. Most are not. Instead they were collected from damaging environments, such as child abusers and  violent parents.

I have followed some of  them for the past 9 years and am happy to see some achieve university status.

Meanwhile there is a group of children that need support, and yes, they are tax deductible!

Casa Hogar Villa Nolasco, AC

Photo: Taken in 2005. Usually when I am building something, I invite the kids to work for a stipend, that time, cleaning my beach.

Aug 16, 2011

Catemaco Tourism - part 5

I chuckled when the Catemaco tourism director recently admitted to a 40% occupancy rate instead of the expected 80% during the recently deceased tourist season. He blamed it on newspapers that reported that it was raining in Veracruz, and of course on insecurity. Even at 40%, I think he was stroking his thing. 

Insecurity, though is really becoming a cause celebre. This last month Veracruz City and State has been horrifying with murder rates not seen since the 1980's when the targets were politicians instead of narcos. I expected it, but I would much rather have been wrong.

Of course the director did not mention that less than 2 years ago, the principal paid for attraction in Catemaco raised its rates from 50 to 80 pesos per person for a boat ride to see monkeys.

The key element of Catemaco Tourism is boat trips around the Catemaco Lake, across Laguna Sontecomapan and to a much minor degree, along the coast.

Catemaco Lake tourism began with the introduction of southeast Asian monkeys to a small island within the lake in the 1970's. Fishermen soon discovered the profitability of hauling tourists to see these monkeys, and by now there are more than 154 permissions to operate tourist boats on the lake. 52 of those are owned by cooperatives, 102 others are owned by 39 individuals, (based on outdated statistics from 2000).

All but one of the boats is operated with environmentally damaging 2 cycle outboard engnes. All the boats were apparenty produced on the same set of 2 molds, with mostly 12, plus 16, 20 and 24 passenger configurations. None of the boats have flush decks, none are suitable for anyone with the least handicap, none provide adequate ingress and egress, and none are weather proof.

Almost all boats are shabby, uncomfortable and driven by taciturn drivers, most of whom are not owners but employees.

Additionally they have pretty much wasted and destroyed much of the Catemaco shoreline with flotsam, glass shards, every boat repair and maintenance chemical available and just your nice general household trash from visitors.

Current tariffs for the 1 hour tour are 80 pesos per passenger with a minimum of 450 per boat, including 6 passengers. Other rates are negotiable, and the 100 or more shills promoting the rides are reputed to rip off the unaware.

Because of inclement weather, boats operate perhaps only 2/3 of the year.

The best experiences I ever had on the lake were the rental of a now gone catamaran, shared with friends to many destinations on the lake. The Cat failed, first because of importation legalities and then because of partner squabbles.

Personally I would like to see a a few 50 to 100 seater party boats on the lake, suitable for lunch, dinner moonlight and "see the monkey" cruises.

So called "six pack" and larger weatherproof cabin cruisers with comfortable seating, an ice chest and onboard toilet would be a welcome addition. Even a few captained speed boats would  do wonders for well heeled  visitors.

A few rental Hobie Cats would really look great on the lake, and a few rental captained sail boats would do wonders for the lake`s skyline. But please, dear god, pass a law against unthrottled rental jet skies. 

I agree with a past proposal to erect a boat pier in the laguna on La Punta (proposed, studied, and supposedly funded in 2006), but ignored by succeeding administrations. Even a local Belgian's idea of importing a few hundred sail boats was a good, but I thought unfeasible, idea. 

The idea of a boat pier is wagging its tail again this year, with supposedly an 11 million peso construction going up near La Ola restaurant. At best this is a band aid, and a political rip off.

Catemaco needs a Marina/harbor with seawalls to keep the small boats out of harm's way. If you have ever seen teams of up to 20 men sweating and cursing to haul each of the 150 plus boats on shore before a dozen weather events, you would understand my suggestion.

Of course, I would like to see most of these boats disappear to be replaced with less and bigger boats with lower rates for the big ones.
But that would mean a political war in Catemaco.

Meanwhile something that would really help would be to prepare an accurate script describing the stops and sights of the boat trip, and forcing operators to memorize the script and convey it to passengers. And  shucks, maybe one of them could advertise a trip in English or German or whatever.

Soon: Catemaco Lanchas - in Spanish

All my posts on the subject of Catemaco Tourism are drafts for Spanish transformations  and  meanwhile serve to annoy local politicians and tourism promoters who read them in Google translations. I keep publishing and disappearing them while footballing items with a few friends. Readership of regulars of the blog, compared to the thousands of my regular publications mostly in Spanish, is so minute, I care less who else reads it. See all parts:

Catemaco Zeta

Update: Aug 16, 2011
The violence in Veracruz state has now become something to write home about. Fortunately not in the Veracruz City - Acayucan corridor, including Catemaco.

Go ahead and cry in Spanish:
now in English:

Update:  July 11, 2011
Los Tuxtlas were / are happily in the Los Zetas containment area. I think, in the past, they treated the area as a retreat and laid low. Nevertheless there have been dozens of wannabee's representing themselves as Zetas trying to extort local business people.

There have been local shootings, but because of the intransigence of both the local press and institutions, nobody knows whether anything was narco related.

Near Catemaco (about 40 miles away and often mentioned as being in Los Tuxtlas), is a killing field around Rodriguez Clara through which probably no tourist has passed in the last 12 month. Crime and killings, mostly political in that area,  are SOP going on for 30 years and totally unrelated to the popular narco gangs.

Los Zetas, who supposedly control southern Veracruz, are now threatened by both the Gulf Cartel to the north and associates of  the Sinaloa cartel to the south.  Outbursts of violence have occurred in Veracruz City, Coatzacoalcos and Xalapa.

At present the incidence of violence in southern Veracruz is significantly higher than it was a year ago, but not anywhere near the figures in the border states, and, personally, nothing to write home about.

First publication: Nov 2010
An abridged history of the narcos in the Tamaulipas to Catemaco corridor.

Mexico has long been used as a staging and transshipment point for narcotics, undocumented immigrants and contraband destined for U.S. markets. During the 1980s and early 1990s, Colombia was the main exporter of cocaine. When enforcement efforts intensified in South Florida and the Caribbean, the Colombians formed partnerships with the Mexico-based traffickers to transport cocaine through Mexico into the United States.

Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo known as "El Padrino" (The Godfather) in the 1980s became the first drug czar in Mexico to control all illegal drug traffic in Mexico and the corridors along the Mexico-U.S.A. border.

In 1988, Félix Gallardo began to plan for retirement and convened the nation's top narcos to assign them their respective markets in Mexico. The control of the Tamaulipas (US border in Texas) corridor - then becoming the Gulf Cartel - would be left undisturbed.

Juan Nepomuceno Guerra, a bootlegger and smuggler from the 1930's is credited with founding the Gulf Cartel in the Texas border areas in the 1970's. During the 1980's and 1990's, his nephew Juan Garcia Abrego expanded the business to include Colombian cocaine.

Félix Gallardo was arrested in Mexico in April 8, 1989. and is still in a Mexican high security prison where he enjoys reading his website.
Juan Garcia Abrego was arrested in 1996 and extradited to the US.
Juan Nepomuceno Guerra died in 2001 and never spent a day in jail.

Upon Juan Garcia Abrego´s arrest, Salvador Gómez, assumed control of the cartel. In 1998 he was presumably assassinated by Osiel Cárdenas Guillén, earning Cárdenas the nickname "El Mata Amigos" (The Friend-Killer), who then assumed control.

Cardenas was arrested on 2003 and extradited to the US. Leadership of the cartel then passed to Heriberto Lazcano and cronies.

Los Zetas
Osiel Cárdenas in 1997 had hired Lieutenant Arturo Guzmán Decena, an ex-special forces officer of the Mexican army alleged but not verified to have been trained by the CIA in Georgia. He was soon joined by 30+ other soldiers. They became the enforcement arm of the Gulf Cartel, responsible for most of its violence

Guzmán Decena known as Z1 (Zeta 1, a radio code used by the federal police) was killed in 2002 and succeeded by Z2, Rogelio González Pizaña.

With the arrest of Osiel Cárdenas, Los Zetas in 2003 began its separation from the Gulf Cartel to increase their personal income and initiated a gang war with their former employers, while expanding the geographic reach of  their enterprise to include Veracruz and  to include extorsion, robbery and kidnappings, along with drug smuggling.

The then leader of the Zetas, Rogelio González was captured in 2004 and Z3, Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, then took control of the Zetas.

In 2008 the Zetas formed a collaboration with the Beltrán Leyva gang and the Juarez and Sinaloa Cartel.

Early 2010, more serious confrontations between the Gulf Cartel , now again supported by the Sinaloa Cartel,  and Los Zetas exploded and are the basis of most of the horror stories coming from the Tamaulipas - Veracruz corridor.

Supposedly the 30+ original Zetas have been joined by several hundred other former military or police agents. Most of the original Zetas are still alive and roaming freely.

Affect on Veracruz.
Veracruz has remarkably not been affected by major narco violence. (Although occasional headlines blast shootouts and killings, they are no more than the norm in Veracruz violence, which, compared to the rest of Mexico is unimpressive.

What has been less reported is the fear factor created in Veracruz by the the extortion of businessmen in entire cities, their kidnappings, and the increase of general organized crime without excessive killings all attributed to "Zetas".

At present Z40, Miguel Treviño Morales is supposedly the commander in Veracruz. He attained that position supposedly after a major shootout at a race track in Veracruz in 2007, which included a major property owner from Catemaco.

The Los Tuxtlas area has seen no violence directly attributed to the narco wars, but is affected by the general sense of insecurity in Mexico, which, locally, is attributed to actions of Los Zetas, but more than likely is of the home grown variety.


Aug 11, 2011

I love my Catemaco maid

I inherited my current maid from her sister who is now a relatively well paid full time nanny to a rug rat in Xalapa with my family.

I am now desperately trying to keep the cost of my smoking habit below the cost of my current  6 day,  6 hour a day, maid.

I probably won´t, but who cares, there are another 1000 young women prepared to slave over dirty laundry and dishes for less than my smoking habits.

Just another way to enjoy beautiful downtown Catemaco.

PS - if you did not recognize the sarcasm, you must be living in Vallarta.

Aug 4, 2011

Catemaco worms

This is a repost from 2007

My dogs fairly regularly produce feces with wiggly things and we rush them to the veterinarian.

My Popoluca regularly deworms herself and is incredulous that I prefer not to do so, and she thinks it is an outright lie when I tell her I have never been de-wormed in my adult life.
Since she also knows a few gringos, we have compared notes. Now she is convinced that Mexican worms do not like gringos.

Beautiful small town Catemaco is not that far removed from the days when shoes where a luxury, and topless bathing in the laguna was the norm. And a trip into the higher surrounding sierras will reveal that to still be the norm in many riverside communities.

Parasite infection is a serious problem in rural children in Mexico and the Mexican health system has serious preventative and control measures in place. But apparently the message that once you took all those preventative measures and reached adulthood, that ritual practice of de-worming became unnecessary, has not filtered down, or maybe I am missing something

And the drug producers are happy.
Or maybe I have worms and don´t know it.

Today's headline August 2011

And BTW - she forced me to swallow a cure all for whatever supposedly wiggles in me, and I have been constipated since.

Aug 3, 2011

August 2011 Catemaco

The rainy season is now in full swing, thank G. It was getting a little to dry for my taste.

Of course the first major rains wiped out a bridge to the south and left Catemaco incomunicado again. It is incredible how inept both the federal and state governments are in maintaining their vaunted tourism infrastructure.

On the remaining tourism front, the 3 1/2 hotels under construction were not smart or rich enough to finish their floors to reap the high season's benefits. The former dilapidated La Panga has been reopened after a solid and expensive remodeling job and is becoming a mecca for the evening crowd, and Catemaco's favorite cantina "Los Caballos" is moving to a possible location on the Malecon.

The last few months produced some remarkable festivals in Los Tuxtlas, and local mayors fell all over themselves importing high priced performers, totally out of line with local disposable income. Nevertheless, the underlying festivals, such as the annual celebration of the Virgin in Catemaco, the Jarocha music festival in San Andrès and the street fair in Santiago kept locals happily jockeying between cities.

Of course there are no accurate statistics on actual tourism in Los Tuxtlas, so you have to take my word for it. Business is weak, despite oodles of publicity. The only bright spot, but not particularly profitable, are the increased number of tour buses, many filled with Europeans, mostly spending just a few hours on the Malecòn.

Some new movies have been announced to partially use surrounding locations later this year and next. That always creates some interest.

Unfortunately, Veracruz has seen an upsurge in violence in the past  months which is actually penetrating into Google English news searches. Most of the real goodies barely make it into the state papers, because I think there is a concerted effort to low key the situation for the tourist season. Still a far cry from the major violent states in Mexico, but exasperating, nevertheless, and I hope the situation improves. SOON!

There is an unexplained gap of federal moneys arriving in Catemaco, and the usual announcement of dozens of construction works by a new mayor in office, have been delayed. Little money is being spent in Catemaco and that also affects the local economy. A few of the streets in the hilly part of Catemaco, which is still mostly dirt roads, are being paved and and are opening up some city sections with great views of the lake.

Beach visits have been fairly strong, particularly in the Montepio region. In another month. they'll be ghost towns again and revert to being wonderful places to visit.

Rancho Los Amigos is running some workshops on Yoga and sustainability and drawing a thimble of attendants. I wish there were more thimbles.

Photo: A mural in the parking lot of the Playa Cristal Hotel

Aug 1, 2011

In Defense of Catemaco Monkeys

In 1974 medical researchers imported a troop of Stump Tail Macaques to populate an island in Laguna Catemaco. The research program failed, but the monkeys, imported from Puerto Rico, but originally from Southeast Asia, thrived in their subtropical environment.

Local fishermen soon discovered that transporting tourists to see these monkeys is profitable.

Over the years, the University of Veracruz assumed the responsibility for the island, but never took a serious interest. Various "support the monkeys" were formed by boatmen, but they also fell into abandon. Occasionally the municipal government allocated some funds to the care of the monkeys. But those funds also dried up.

Nowadays  more than 150 boats plow the waters of the Laguna, loaded with up to 24 sightseers each, for a glimpse of the monkeys. During the holiday season, the waters around the island are a madhouse with dozens of boats juggling for a position to see the monkeys who prefer to sleep 3/4 of the day.

Their only irregular support is bananas, some fruit and tourist junk food fattening them during the holidays, and starving them during the off season.

The monkeys have been inbreeding for 36 years, and are obviously not prime specimens any more. Often they look bedraggled and evoke more sympathy than joy from visitors.

Recently it was announced that the Stump Tailed Macaque monkeys on the island will be replaced by critically endangered Mexican Spider Monkeys.


Mexican Spider monkeys are critically endangered, and holding them captive on a tiny island for the amusement of tourists is contraindicatory to common sense, and probably in violation of Mexican laws.

A 6750m2 island (2/3 of a hectare) is not a natural environment for Spiders who in their home range are accustomed to 100's of hectares. 

Spider monkeys are much more active than Macaques. They also prefer to spend their time in tree canopies and will probably disappear into the trees, and become invisible to tourists. A visit to the holding pens at the University of Veracruz's park in Pipiapan will confirm that.

Preferentially, all the monkeys should be removed from the islands to be returned to their natural habitat, or to a professional zoo or wildlife center, and the island should be allowed to regenerate its natural habitat.

But that is not feasible politically. The monkeys have become a cash cow for a large part of the tourism providers of Catemaco, and are the basis for the success of Nanciyaga.

The Macaques should be maintained on the island. Unfortunately the University of Veracruz, who is technically in charge of these monkeys, has failed in its duties, and there is no reason to believe it will improve in the future.

A foundation to maintain the animals should be established in Catemaco, funded with a fee of a few pesos from every boat visiting the island, from the boatmen who now collect up to and more than 100 pesos per person for the trip and who now collect 8? pesos from Nanciyaga for every tourist they drop off at their docks.

The foundation should have a veterinarian on call, an exchange program should be initiated with another wildlife center that breeds Macaques to improve the islanders' blood lines, and a regular supplemental feeding schedule should be adhered to.

That's my opinion!

To read the opposing one I collected several documents and posted them here:

To read some more about all the monkeys in Catemaco, read

Photo: Wikipedia

Update: The Fool on the Hill had to add his two cents:
I agree, but I believe the best solution is to place the remaining monkeys in zoos or wildlife centers. If that proves impossible, euthanasia is an option. Leaving them on the island, even well fed, is prolonging their inbreeding, suffering and ultimate slow death. The hell with the tourist attraction. Tourists can go see the Virgin’s footprint.

UPDATE; Within the last year, the island's monkey population has shrunk to less than 10, noticeably reported by visitors. Something is going on!