“Hola…bracelet or ring for your pretty lady?” the man asked struggling a bit with his English pronunciation.
Standing on a beach in Cabo, Mexico in early July 2014, a vendor dressed in white and wearing a brown straw hat to shield his face from the hot sun approached us as we walked towards the ocean. We had just finished having our favorite Mexican afternoon snack of chips and guacamole along side two skinny margaritas.
Moments later the vendor asked the very same question to a young couple holding hands walking ahead of us – also referring to the woman as a “pretty lady.”
“No gracias,” they politely replied and kept strolling.
He continued to ask other tourists walking in his direction the same question – word for word in broken English – all responding, “No gracias.”
A sucker for checking out authentic goods from local vendors from anywhere we are, I walked over to take a peek at what was inside his large black briefcase while my husband, Chris, followed close behind me.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Pedro, how much does this one cost?” I questioned pointing to one of the larger silver bracelets.
“Ah for you pretty lady,” though all the while directing his eye contact towards my husband, “I give it to you for 600 pesos.”
Doing the conversion rate in my head quickly, I turned to my husband and said “40 bucks seems reasonable for this bracelet, what do you think?”
Chris knowing all too well that in Mexico you never accept the first offer by a local vendor, quickly countered with $25. Pedro responded with $35. We happily agreed to buy the bracelet knowing it was probably still overpriced.
Chris went back to our room at the resort to get money to pay Pedro while I stayed with him on the beach.
“Are you from Cabo?” I asked.
“No, I travel here for work. I live with my family just outside Mexico City.”
Surprised by him traveling so far away for such a long period of time away from his family (roughly, a 24 hour drive from Cabo to Mexico City), I asked him if I could learn more about him being a salesman on the beaches of Cabo. I told him I would return the following morning to sit down with him before he got started working; I didn’t want to take him away from the few tourists that were on the beach that day knowing it was the peak afternoon time when couples tended to walk along the beach. He seemed excited and surprised that I asked him for more of his time.
Just then, Chris returned and paid him for the bracelet.
The following morning I met with Pedro under a straw hut before he got to work. He explained that he’s been coming to Cabo for 26 years to work. He was my age (43 years old) and married to his wife for 20 years. He spends 3-4 months selling on the Cabo beaches, then heads back home to Mexico City for 15-20 days to see his family. He and his wife have 4 children ages 19, 18, 16 and 11.
Surprised that he traveled so far from Mexico City for such long stretches of time away from his family, I asked him why he came to Cabo specifically.
Pedro explained in broken English, “Business very good here. Many, many tourists…once, I made almost $400 US dollars in single day! But then nothing again for 2 weeks.”
“Sometimes I don’t make any money for an entire week, but my average is $100-$150 US dollars a week here.”
“I encourage my kids to go to college and to continue their education. I tell them I don’t want it to be as hard for them to take care of their families someday.”
Pedro explained that his 18-year old daughter works in an Internet café locally and makes $40 a week to also help with supporting the family.
“I may not have much money, but I am a happy man. I stay focused on taking care of my family. God, good health and my family is all I need,” he said.
After meeting Pedro that morning, Chris and I left the beach and went up to the pool area at the resort and shared his story with a few other hotel guests sitting near us. Many of them went down to the beach to buy his wares after hearing his story. Admittedly, we were happy to help drive a little bit of extra business that week for him.
Only two months after meeting Pedro, on the evening of Sunday, September 14th, 2014 Hurricane Odile slammed into Baja Pennisula in Mexico along the entire corridor between San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas. The hurricane was the 2nd most powerful hurricane to reach Cabo since 1967. Sadly, there has been minimal news coverage of the devastation and the impact to the Mexican people, their homes, their businesses and their families’ survival. Much of the news coverage centered on how difficult it was for the American, Canadian and European tourists to get out of Mexico due the many roads, most resorts and the airport all being destroyed in the path of the storm.
Many of the locals in this devastated area support themselves and their families on tourism dollars. In fact, Mexico is ranked 3rd in the world for employment through tourism, China and Indonesia being 1st and 2nd, respectively. Mexicans’ make a living and support their families from jobs connected to tourism. The average server or waiter in Mexico makes about $300-$400 a month (this is salary/without tourist tips), and the average hotel worker depending on role, makes somewhere between $50 and $100 a week. Most salaries are based on a six day work week. This is why tourism dollars and generous tips are so important. Research indicates that a family of 4 requires about $1000USD per month to survive – this is without a vehicle or owning a house.
The Mexican locals of Cabo and those who travel there for work like Pedro are trying to rebuild the community and in many cases, their lives. For them, it’s not just a paradise for tourists to come and visit, it’s where they work to support themselves and their families.
“Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you nothing about,” is a favorite quote of mine and a reminder to keep perspective that those around you may be facing hardships and have incredible circumstances in overcoming those hardships. In the scene below, Will Smith’s character is fighting to land a job to earn an income to take care of himself and his son. With a single lucky phone call, he sells hard and gets the break he needs.
In the case of Pedro and the entire community of Cabo, my hope is that we find a way to help them overcome the hardships and get the lucky break so many desperately need right now. To give a helping hand or provide resources, and to stop writing about the tourists’ struggles who narrowly escaped the devastation left by Hurricane Odile. Rather let’s write about the impact of the storm to the Mexican locals.