Day Trips
Eyipantla Falls, Lake Catemaco, and Nanciyaga

Photographs and Text by John Todd, Jr.

Eyipantla Falls
Even though Lake Catemaco is close to the Gulf of Mexico, the water from the Lake doesn't flow directly into the Gulf and wanders west around the back side to the Papaloapan river and eventually on to Alvarado. Eyipantla Falls is along the river that starts at Lake Catemaco.

Lake Catemaco and Nanciyaga
Lake Catemaco and the nature preserve at Nanciyaga are beautiful. Nanciyaga is where Sean Connery´s movie "Medicine Man" was filmed in 1992. They brought the Indian actors up from Brazil for the film. Mel Gibson also filmed a lot of his movie "Apocalypto" in October 2005 at Nanciyaga.

In spite of the movies, I always enjoy these trips to Los Tuxtlas and it´s better to spend the night there and waking up early for a walk along the water front is a special time.

How to get There
How to get There
Go south from Veracruz past Alvarado, Angel R. Cabada, Santiago Tuxtla, and San Andrés Tuxtla.

About 5 miles after passing San Andrés Tuxtla begin looking for a sign on the right, "Salto de Eyipantla".

Take a right, passing through a couple of little villages. After about 8 km. you´ll find the Falls.

If you don´t take a right at Eyipantla and continue south on the main highway another fifteen minutes you will arrive at beautiful Lake Catemaco.

The Market Eyipantla
El Salto de Eyipantla and Market
If you do take the right to Eyipantla Falls, the drive is approximately 10 km.

We drove into the spacious parking lot, and hired one of the kids to watch the van.

On the way from the parking lot to the Falls, there were some little stalls selling colorful dresses and shawls.

We had to stop for awhile and browse the little shops, and talk to the people.

Near the stalls is a bridge with a close view of the falls.
The Falls of Eyipantla
Hanging Bridge
New Bridge to the Lookout
Close to the Falls
The Falls of Eyipantla
242 Steps Down to the Bottom
The Market
242 Steps Down to the River
You can also walk down the 242 steps to the river where there are small restaurants in the mist of the falls.

About half way down the steps I had second thoughts. The way back up would be a long one.

But, I went anyway and I was glad I did. To walk in the mist was fun.

On the way back up, I had to stop a rest a couple of times, but made it back fine.

Lake Catemaco
Lake Catemaco was formed by a volcano. Fed by natural springs, the water is always clear and clean. This area is the heart of the Olmec Culture, the first in Mexico which began around 600 B.C. flourished and died out around 200 A.D.

From the little town of Catemaco we will take a motor launch trip to the ecological reserve of Nanciyaga. Along the way there are various interesting things to see.

View of the Lake from Our Table
Lake Catemaco
From Eyipantla, we drove back to the main highway and took a right. About 10 minutes down the road is the town of Catemaco, next to the lake.

It kind of looks like pictures of Lake Como in Italy.

We find a parking place in front of the one of the restaurants. It´s lunch time.During the week there are few people so we had the restaurant to ourselves.

After a great lunch of pescado al mojo de ajo at the Restaurant La Ceiba, we went looking for a launch. There are plenty of good restaurants to choose from.
Our Waiter
Fish in Garlic and Butter Sauce
Fish in Butter and Garlic Sauce
The restaurant has a good choice of fresh water fish and seafood.

This is called "Pescado al mojo de ajo".

It was lightly sprinkled with onions and garlic and was delicious.
Leaving Catemaco Behind
Enrique, Our Launchman
A Boat Trip
Since there were plenty of boats to choose from, we chose Enrique Ortiz Pérez, who is experienced.

He told us he would show us the best of the lake, and take us to Nanciyaga.

Nanciyaga is a beautiful nature preserve where Sean Connery´s "Medicine Man" was filmed.

The next time you go to Catemaco, try to find Enrique and say hello for me.
Virgen del Carmen
La Virgen del Carmen
La Virgen de Catemaco
Along the shores is a little shrine dedicated to the Virgin del Carmen.

A statue of the Virgin was found in this little cove, and it is now considered a shrine by many people.

The original statue is in the local church in Catemaco.
La Isla de las Garzas
La Isla de las Garzas
Stork Island is full of cormorants and storks, even in the daytime.
The First Idol
Welcome to Nanciyaga
At the far end of the lake, we pulled up to the boat dock in front of some thatched buildings nestled in the jungle.

As we got out of the boat, Juan Carlos, our guide at Nanciyaga welcomed us to Nanciyaga.

He took us to where we paid the entrance fee of about $3 and took us to see the first artifact.

Along the jungle trails Nanciyaga has replicas of many idols representing different aspects of the life of the Olmec Civilization.

Archeologists are working on deciphering the hieroglyphics.

The first idol is little strange.

It has the face of Buddha, the beak of a duck, and the wings of a bird.
A Closer Look
A Swinging Bridge
We proceeded up the trail to a swinging bridge.

A little dog followed across after us, and really shook us up with his bouncing little walk.

Each little step produced a large bounce.

I heard somewhere they caution people about taking dogs across a swinging bridge.

Now I know why!
A Swinging Bridge in the Jungle
A Native Hut
A Peaceful Stream and Hut in Nanciyaga
Mineral Water Springs
There are many springs at this end of Lake Catemaco, and the swinging bridge was over a flowing stream of mineral water.

Later we would have a chance to taste it.

In the background, at the source of the spring, is a picturesque little hut nestled in the shade of the jungle.

The only sound penetrating the silence of the jungle are the calls of the tropical birds that live in the preserve.

Little clay luminarias are placed along the trail for candlelight walks through the jungle.

We proceeded up the jungle trail towards more idols.

At each step along the way, Juan Carlos explained the meaning of each statue.

He said they are replicas, and the originals are in museums or private collections all over the world.
Nanciyaga Trail
Nanciyaga Trail
A Jungle Trail
Juan Carlos leads us through the part of the jungle where Sean Connery´s "Medicine Man" was filmed.

He jokingly told us to keep a look out for Brazilian head hunters with dart guns!

Another Idol
Another Idol
Another idol appears before we get to the Temascal. Each of the idols has fresh flowers placed in front of it.

Off to each side there are luminarias for walks at night along the trails to and from the Temascal.
Decorated Temascal
Temascal Inside
Inside the Temascal
Temascal Oven
Lava Rock Oven
The Temascal
The Temascal is a sweat lodge. Its purpose is to remove toxins from the body and the spirit.

The cleansing ritual, held at night, lasts 3 to 4 hours.

The Oven
Off to one side is the oven where the lava rocks are heated red hot.

Later they are taken to the Temascal where water with aromatic herbs is poured on the rocks to produce steam like for a steam bath.
A Goddess Who Absorbs Toxins
Next, Juan Carlos led us to an idol to a goddess who he said who absorbs toxins. He explained that the black "goatee" represents the "toxins" she absorbs. .

Looking for Other Explanations
The tour guide´s explanation sounded too easy and awhile later, after this trip to Catemaco, I noticed the same tar like substance on some very old clay idols at a museum in Xalapa.

The short explanation was that these idols were used by the coastal Indians in their healing ceremonies.

On these different idols you can see this tar like paint on the mouth, a leg, or on the shoulder, and I wondered what this was about.
An Old Clay Idol Marked with Paint
Another Interpretation
An old folk healer in Veracruz told me the idol would be marked in the areas that needed to be cured, and prayers would be said to transfer the patient´s problem to the idol.

After a short waiting period, the idol would then be thrown into the sea, a river, or simply broken and destroyed, and the patient would be healed.

So, maybe the "Goddess who absorbs toxins" was a queen who had some severe dental problems. Tour guides are good in that they make you think about their easy explanations.
Water Cups
Natural Water Cups
A Taste of Fresh Mineral Water
Next we came to a little spring where the water is fresh, and there are cups made from large folded leaves for a fresh drink of mineral water.

Juan Carlos showed us how the Olmec Indians drank the fresh water in the jungle.

It tasted like a mineral water without the bubbles.
Juan Carlos Shows Us
Our Guide Juan Carlos Demonstrates
Not Bad!
The Triads are in the Background
The Triad with Painted Mouths
The triad of local gods in a swing represent male and female.

The gods are in the background, and they all had old black tar paint on their mouths.

Now I wonder if they had dental problems, too, or maybe a case of bad breath.
A Time for Quiet Reflection
A Time for Quiet Reflection
Our walk through the winding jungle trails of peaceful Nanciyaga is relaxing.

The sound of the tropical birds high in the trees and the trickle of the water from the little streams is what it must be like in the Amazon river basin, hundreds of miles from civilization.

It is a time to look closely at nature which is all around you. and it felt like my own mental toxins are being released, if there is such a thing.
The "Brujo´s" House
A Visit to the Shaman´s House
Many local people come to Catemaco to visit a Brujo or Shaman who practices magic.

Towards the end of the walk is the house of the local "brujo" and he accepts gifts of $100 pesos for a brief "despojo", or "cleansing" ritual with aromatic smoke to get rid of any evil spirits you might be carrying around with you.

3 Kinds of Magic
There are three kinds of magic: Black, Red, and White. Black is to put curses on people, Red and White are for good things or healing.

The Red Magic Brujo accepts money or gifts in exchange for his services. The White Magic practicioner doesn´t accept anything and considers his healing as a service and shouldn´t start charging until he is 60 years old.
Lake Catemaco
Time to Start Back
I looked at my watch and it was time to catch Enrique´s launch back to Catemaco. Our last stop was the Isla de los Monos, or Monkey Island.

La Isla de los Monos
There are about 25 monkeys living on the island right now. Native monkeys can be found in the remote areas of Veracruz, but these monkeys are from Indonesia, and were used for studies at the University of Veracruz.
Monkey Island
At the conclusion of the project, they didn´t know what to do with the monkeys and released them on the little island in Lake Catemaco.

Tourists feed them and they are very tame. They will even climb into the boat for food.

Last Minute Shopping
There is some time left for last minute shopping at the many little stalls in "downtown" Catemaco, and to take some more pictures before we leave for Veracruz.

The girls bought bottles of the special mascara mud in powder form that takes years off your appearance. The guys bought a couple of key chain souvenirs to take home.
Lisa Church
Taking Last Pictures
Colorful Church
Restaurant in Veracruz
A Kilo of Fresh Shrimp in Veracruz
By the time we got back to Veracruz it was dark and we decided to stop at one of the restaurants for a bite.A kilo of fresh shrimp to peel sounded good!

While we peeled shrimp and dipped them in Thousand Island sauce, I was thinking about seeing Sean Connery´s "Medicine Man" again and maybe Mel Gibson´s Apokalypto, and look for the gods with black paint on their mouths.

Once you´ve been to Catemaco movies will have a new meaning.