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Cobbler Shoe Repair in Mexico

PALENQUE, Mexico- It has been my experience that cobblers are amongst the most honest, genuine, humble, and proud craftsmen that I have regularly had the privilege to encounter in 11 years of travel around planet earth. Time and time again, I walk into the street side hut, sidewalk bench, or into thee small store fronts [...]

PALENQUE, Mexico- It has been my experience that cobblers are amongst the most honest, genuine, humble, and proud craftsmen that I have regularly had the privilege to encounter in 11 years of travel around planet earth. Time and time again, I walk into the street side hut, sidewalk bench, or into thee small store fronts of shoe repair men all over the world and I am immediately received warmly, the price of the labor and supplies is quoted to be ridiculously cheap, and the work that ensues is high quality.

All too often hiring someone to do a job for you when traveling is a tenuous activity, one full of — often rightful — mistrust. When I take my boots into be fixed I hardly even ask the price anymore, as I have never been charged over a minimal amount of money for a shoe repair anywhere in the world.

I occasionally have my boots and shoes repaired. I would like to keep the activity of shopping for new boots something I reserve for doing once every four years. I only chuck my boots when I absolutely have to (ironically, I just had to do this yesterday). When my soles begin to flap, when my boot leather begins to wear, I look for a craftsman to repair them — they abound in dark little dens the world over, working humbly by hand with simple, steel, ancient, tools.

Mexican cobbler

Mexican cobbler

On this occasion in Palenque, Mexico it was my wife, Chaya, who needed the hand of a cobbler to put her soles back on. Her Teva sandals were flapping in the breeze, she tried to strap them back together with a rubber band to no avail, it was time to go to a professional craftsman. I looked up and saw a worn down yellow sign that said just what we were looking for:

Reparaciones de Calzados

Shoe repair

shoe repair shop mexico

Shoe repair shop sign in Mexico

I stopped my wife in her tracks, pointed at her floppy sandal, and called her over to the man sitting behind a little booth with a roughly made tin roof over his head. I asked him if he could fix my wife’s shoe. He scooped the sandal off of her foot in a swift motion, and, without ever pausing to look at it, he began tearing off the sole. He knew right off what needed to be done.

“Wait!” my wife called out, “I need that to walk home in, I will return with another pair of shoes on my feet. My wife did not wish to stumble around Palenque with one sandal on one sandal off.

No need, the cobbler explained. I am going to fix it right now, it will only take a moment. He now had the sole removed from the sandal and was scrapping away the layers of dead glue with some sort of metal file.

mexican-cobbler-repairing-shoe

mexican cobbler repairing sandal

“How much is this going to cost?” I asked more out of concern that I knew that neither my wife nor I had any small money, and even busy stores and shops are disinclined to cashing 200 peso notes.

The cobbler looked at us almost without an expression. He said that the charge would be nothing as matter of factly as he began working on the shoe. With a little urging we got him to say 10 pesos, around 75 cents.

The shoe repair was completed almost as soon as it had began.

“I can just walk away in it?” my wife asked.

Yes.

“The glue doesn’t need time to dry?”

No.

I then had to explain how we did not have the proper denomination of money to pay him. He laughed as I asked if he had change for a 200 peso note. Of course he didn’t, nobody in Mexico does.

Cobbler tools

The Mexican cobbler's tools

He told us to not worry about paying him. He was serious. He went on to the next pair of shoes in his line up to work on.

We told him that I would return with his 10 pesos when we got change. I did. He took the coin as uncaringly as when he told us that there would be no charge for his service.

Cobbler guild all over the world similar

If this event stood on its own then I probably would have taken this Mexican shoe repairman to be another really genuine, nice person that you meet every once in a while traveling. But I can’t. I have had similar experiences with shoe repair men all over the world. In Darjeeling, India myself and a friend had some invasive work done to our shoes before going hiking in the Himalaya by a shoe repair man who worked on a street corner from only a little stool and a small box of tools. He also did not want to be paid for his service, and when he finally named a price it was incredibly slight. I had a similar experience in the jungles of Peru — I had the soles glued and sewn back onto my boots (complete with a complimentary shine) for a fee so nominal that it would scarcely have purchased much of anything at all.

Guilds attract certain character types, mold others

It is interesting how certain trades tend to attract or mold certain caste-types of people all over the world. Taxi drivers tend to be similar everywhere, so are mechanics, bus drivers, school teachers, police men, fire men, construction workers, soldiers, bank tellers, call center employees, the list goes on. When amends are taken for particular cultural contexts, the myriad of global professions have honed lifestyles that are more or less similar between country, between society.

It is truly amazing to measure up your interactions with people from various trades across the planet and see how similar they are. Particular livelihoods seem to attract certain types of people the world over, and then molds them into the character of their world wide guild. Aspects of culture differ greatly between various part of the world, and the basic beliefs and life structure of a taxi driver in Peru may be totally different than one in China, but get into the car with both of them at the appointed time, have a conversation, watch how driver interacts with his co-workers as he sits on his car’s hood smoking cigarettes, note how he handles the money exchange, pay attention to the underlaying aspects of your interaction, and the similarities are startling.

World wide guilds mold their own world wide character. If you want a misty indication of a person’s character when traveling, ask him what his profession is. The culture of the guilds often goes beyond the culture of geography, religion, place, or time.

I have found cobblers to be some of the most modest, honest craftsmen on the planet: from India to Mexico.

Filed under: Central America, Culture and Society, Mexico

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 88 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3411 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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Wade Shepard is currently in: Rochester, New York

10 comments… add one

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  • Paulo Martins September 7, 2010, 10:53 pm

    Dude, why didn’t you ask him to repair your pink sandals? They could do with a bit of TLC…

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com September 8, 2010, 9:24 am

      Hahaha. I wish I did. But, Paulo, there often comes times in life where it is better to give a gift than to have something really precious. So when you return to the finca you will find my pink sandals waiting for you. haha.

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      • Paulo September 8, 2010, 1:20 pm

        Hahahaha!
        When I first got to Oaxaca it was kinda cold at night so my friend gave me a pink pajamas. All I need now is the pink sandals and I’m all set.
        Hahahaha.

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        • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com September 8, 2010, 9:01 pm

          I imagine those pink pajamas suit you well haha.

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  • Rich in Oman September 9, 2010, 4:31 am

    Hey Wade, those aren’t Teva sandals, they are Chaco sandals and they come with a lifetime guarantee.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com September 9, 2010, 10:07 pm

      I suppose you are right. Those lifetime guarantees often mean going back to the USA though.

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      • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com September 11, 2010, 5:49 pm

        I mentioned the lifetime guarantee on choco sandals to Chaya, and she said:

        “Yeah, I know they have a lifetime guarantee, but I need to send them to some f’cking place in Denver to get it.”

        Guess that kills that.

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        • Bob L September 11, 2010, 10:02 pm

          Don’t know about going back to the US, or what these smelly? things are worth, but if it is worth the effort, send them here, I’ll forward them.

          Probably not worth it really, as you show, world pricing on life needs tend to be cheap.

          For what it is worth, when I cared what I wore on my feat I would buy good shoes and take them to a good cobbler to re-sole etc. Long term costs were a good bit cheaper than buying cheap crap and throwing it away when worn, and the comfort and looks were better, plus I was putting local cobblers to work.

          Now I don’t give a crap and will glue my shoes together in whatever manner is necessary to keep them going. I refrain from using duct tape on my “office” shoes though.

          Bob L

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          • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com September 12, 2010, 11:37 am

            Hello Bob,

            Thanks for the offer to facilitate the mailing of the Chocos. But it is my impression that Chaya is the kind of person who likes things for today. I suppose if she sent her sandals away she would need to buy new ones while she waits. Cobbler glue is the ticket now, and it seems to be working alright.

            I also prefer getting good boots that I can repair. Once you go through the time and work of breaking in a new pair of boots, you need to use them. I figure one pair of good leather boots should last through 4 years of travel and daily wear. Those cobblers are clutch when it comes to keeping a good pair of boots going. I suppose a good pair of boots are made to be repaired.

            Duct tape on the office shoes, that would be a good way to get yourself thrown out on the Open Road for sure haha. But there are all kinds of really fancy office shoes out there — especially in Mexico — I think you should get yourself a pair of crocodile skin ones that have the crest running down the middle of them. That’s cool.

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  • Natalie Silva June 1, 2011, 12:29 am

    In my experience, most people that want to get their sandals resoled have an emotional attachment to their footwear, but the more economical and healthy in the long term is often to replace them. It is 30-40 dollars to replace soles on sandals, and a new pair is often not much more than that. Shoes can be a different story, but still, the support life on many footwear is 2-3 years, so consider this when deciding to repair or replace.

    Natalie

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