Lessons from Troncones

Getting beyond first impressions in a coastal Mexican village

The author is a former editor of the CN&R. To learn more about Troncones, go to www.troncones.net.

My family and I recently vacationed in the village of Troncones, population 600, located about 25 miles north of Zihuatanejo on the Pacific Coast, in the Mexican state of Guerrero.

At first glance Troncones seems to be a classic example of exploitation. Wealthy foreigners have bought up most of the beachfront properties and built beautiful retirement villas and boutique hotels, while the locals live away from the beaches in modest houses.

As I learned, though, it’s not so simple. On balance, the influx of foreigners has been good for Troncones. The newcomers have brought money and employment.

As our housekeeper, Libo, told me, 30 years ago there were no jobs in Troncones. The men went inland to work on farms, and the women sold tortillas on the streets of Zihuatanejo. “We were extremely poor,” she said. “It’s much better today.”

Originally Troncones was an ejido whose residents owned the land—nearly 4,000 acres, including the beachfront—in common. In 1994 they divided the land among themselves, leaving some for collective uses (schools, a church, a clinic), selling the beachfront land to investors, and using the income to buy more land for farming.

The foreigners who moved in have been respectful. Troncones is no Cancun. Its beachfront structures are designed for beauty and comfort, not size. Viewed from the beach, they blend in nicely with the tropical vegetation.

More important, the newcomers have been good citizens. One man, an American retiree, started a community library, complete with Internet access. Another, who worked for a company that made playground equipment, obtained new play structures for the village’s two schools.

Some got together and formed Ola Humanitaria, which raises money for school supplies and improvements, specialty care for children in need, scholarships, and bus money for high school students to travel to Zihuatanejo. Recently, they helped fund new stands at the community soccer field.

Working with locals, the foreigners have set up an Animal Humane Society, which rescues injured wild animals and provides free spay and neuter services. They’ve also supported construction of a village water system.

No question about it: Troncones is a two-tiered community. But the prevailing attitude is “a cada quien su vida”—to each his own life. The people of Troncones seem to agree that differences are not good or bad, right or wrong; they’re just differences.