Making a Living in Xilitla | Mexico | Living in Mexico

Making a Living in Xilitla

Xilitla is economically undeveloped, to put it mildly. There's no industry here because transportation links are poor, there's no real skilled labor base and there's no capital. Income derives primarily from agriculture (coffee, oranges), and trade in goods and services to support farmers. There's a trickle of tourist dollars, but not enough to register on the econ-o-meter.

There's some investment in real estate.


Here's a nice little rental that brings in maybe fifty pesos per week. Plus a chicken. Small, but what a view!

Someone else is thinking a little bigger. This place is going to be a hotel.


I dunno. The best hotel in town, the eight-bedroom Posada El Castillo, looks like it gets maybe 60% occupancy, if that. And this place probably is going to have to live off the overflow from the Posada, unless they're going to try to compete on price. It's probably being financed with out-of-town money. It's hard to imagine that anyone who really knows Xilitla would attempt it.

The region does boast an extraction industry: shale quarrying.


That man in the yellow shirt is quarrying blocks of shale with a chisel and hammer. He's doing it the old-fashioned way: one rock at a time. He's one of about a dozen independent operators in or near town. He doesn't own his quarry; it's on the highway right-of-way. Property of the State. But the government likes to have him there because he's removing rock that might otherwise slide down onto the road. I'm sure he makes substantially less than $5 per day.

If you want to make the big bucks, you have to go into retail. A produce market is a good entry-level business.


This one is housed under a black plastic tarp in a space that would ordinarily be used for parking along the street. Minimal start-up costs. I'm guessing that one of the proprietor's indirect expenses involves paying "fees" to someone in city government. Every night, the owner takes down his tarp and rolls a length of chain-link fence over his vegetables. By the way, when was the last time you saw wooden vegetable crates?

Those are unusual mangos behind and just to the left of the pineapples. They are small, yellow-orange with a rose blush. You can't buy them except in eastern tropical Mexico: too delicate to ship long distances. Too sweet to miss, too, so you should come here just for a taste. This guy is selling his for about 40¢ US a pound. How you eat them is you squoosh and squoosh one with your hands until the flesh liquifies. Then you bite off the end and suck out the insides.

There may be better margins in meat. This outdoor carnicería looks like a low-investment business. Apparently Mexican meat doesn't need refrigeration.


The guy behind the table is chilling out with his newspaper. The whole operation is laid back and surprisingly wholesome-looking.

As a contrast, carnicería shown below is indoors. The owner is paying rent and you'd expect a higher class store than one located out on the street.


But you would be wrong. I wouldn't knowingly eat anything that came from this place. The tub in front of the butcher is for cooking carnitas: pig boiled in lard. I love carnitas. And since the meat is boiled for a long time at very high temperatures, it's got to be safe, right? At least I keep telling myself that. Of course, it's not safe for the arteries. My coronary arteries are cringing just looking at the tub. The butcher, you'll note, is engaged in that activity common to all of Xilitla's butchers—reading the newspaper.

Selling shoes is good. Mexicans love shoes. Every small town has several shoe stores. In cities, shoe stores are often located in the high-rent district—jammed right up against the main plaza.


You can see what the big sellers are in Xilitla: huaraches. These are less than $5 US per pair. Real leather, too! I think.

The pinnacle of retail, though, is a hardware store. Mexico is a country where people make stuff, fix stuff. They buy hardware like crazy. Hardware stores are always mobbed. Although self-serve places like Home Depot are coming into the cities, their quality and service is just as bad as in the States: cheap plated screws in bubble packs, moronic clerks that didn't make the cut at McDonalds. But in small Mexican hardware stores, the proprietor assists you, and he knows his clavos.


This hardware store offers something you won't find just anywhere: a small, industrial-grade coffee mill. We're in coffee-growing country, and small operators grow, harvest, roast and grind their own. It's really good coffee, too, judging by what I was served at Posada El Castillo.

But not everybody comes into this place to buy a coffee mill or a heavy-duty flash water heater or asphalt floor tile. So the owner of this store is hedging his bet. Those shelves in the back hold a complete selection of liquor. You can always get sales with liquor.

Hardware stores are capital-intensive businesses. You have to lock up so darn much money in inventory. For those with essentially no working capital, service businesses are the answer.


Find a wide spot on a street, make yourself a tall chair and table, sling a tarp, and you have a barber shop. This is one in a row of three barber shops. A hand painted sign on the wall says the space is reserved for the barbers: no parking, cabron. More "fees" I bet.

If all else fails, you can always be a milkman.


It's probably the only job that pays worse than quarrying shale. But hey. It's a living.