We are in Catemaco, in eastern Mexico. Built on the shores of the eponymous lake, the town has a long history of fishing, even though nowadays, the town’s main economic activity is tourism.
In the 1970s, tourism to Catemaco spiked massively owing to the fame of Gonzalo Aguirre, a renowned sorcerer who lived and practiced in the region. During his lifetime, Aguirre performed rituals for politicians, actors, and business leaders. He also organized a witchcraft convention that brought together the country’s top shamans for a black mass.
After his death, the annual witchcraft conference remained a regular fixture, and is now a three-day event held in March each year. Much like voodoo and macumba, the magic practiced in this town is directly based on the beliefs of the region’s sizable population of African descent.
As well as its spiritual dimension, Catemaco is the best town from which to explore the heart of the tropical Mexican Gulf destination, Los Tuxtlas Biosphere Reserve, a haven for wildlife containing kingfishers, parrots, iguanas, crocodiles, anteaters, and porcupines.
In addition to a variety of plants and animals, many locals believe the rainforests of Los Tuxtlas to be inhabited by all sorts of magical creatures like naguales, powerful witches who are able to transform themselves into jaguars or pumas and prowl the forest at night, or chaneques, tiny, forest-dwelling sprites that guard the forest and frighten away intruders.
The most common (and the best) way to appreciate the lake’s islands and landscapes is through guided boat tours. And in fact, many of the town’s fishermen have now switched to this trade.
In Catemaco, built at the behest of local philanthropist Agustín Moreno Benítez and installed in 1989, a large golden sculpture of a man carrying an oar is dedicated to fishermen. It is know as Estatua del Pescador (Fisherman’s Statue), and it is at the center of the town’s yearly Fisherman’s Day celebrations on May 30. The golden sculpture, that pays tribute to Catemaco’s old and new trades, is located near the Plazuela del Brujo (Warlock’s Square), which is named after Julián Moreno Benítez, one of the community’s traditional healers.