January 22, 2013 11:11 AM EST
For over 30 years, Benito Hernandez and his wife have lived in an odd sun-dried brick home with a huge 40 metre (131 feet) diameter rock used as a roof. The dwelling is found close to the town of San Jose de Piedras, a remote community located in the arid desert of Coahuila, some 80 kilometres (49 miles) from the border with Texas. The residents of this remote and sparsely-popluated town make a living from planting and collecting the small desert Candelilla plant, which is native to the area. The plant or shrub, which usually has a bluish-white cast to it and is rarely more than a couple of feet high, is used to make Candelilla wax, used largely in the chewing gum industry as well as the cosmetic industry, with more than 20 other industries depending on it. Candelilla wax is used in candles, polishes, adhesives, anti-corrosives, plastics, matches, integrated circuit boards, lubricants and precision moulding applications. The existence of this plant is was what attracted settlers to this region including Hernandez, his parents and brothers who started visiting the area 55-years ago. Hernandez found the large rock formation while he working collecting Candelilla plants. Since the tender age of eight, Hernandez started visiting the large rock and decided to make it his home. When Hernandez was a child, people were able to claim land by settling on the premises for long periods of time. It took Hernandez 20 years to finally legally own the land. He also had to struggle to beat off others who wanted the land, which is ideally located close to spring water from a nearby-mountain, the source of fresh and clean drinking water. "I started coming here when I was eight-years-old to visit the Candelilla (harvesting) fields and I liked it here. I liked it and then I continued visiting every three to four months. I wasn't married and I didn't have a family yet but I liked it and I had to keep coming to put my foot in (on the property) because lands here are won through claiming them," Hernandez said. Over the years, Hernandez used sun-dried bricks and cement to build walls and local wood for the windows and doors in order to keep the cold out and safe keep his belongings. "Harvesting fields of the Candelilla plant started cropping up and we started building a roof for the house using ocotillo (desert plant ) and and mixed soil. When we moved in we started arranging things and added rock and sun-dried brick," he said. Hernandez's wife uses a rustic wood burning stove to cook food inside the house. The electric supply in the house is unreliable with no sanitary sewers. During the harsh winter months, where temperatures drop below 0 °C (32 °F) in the Coahuila desert, the family suffer because the spring water freezes over. The unrelenting weather and land conditions also make finding jobs and proper education opportunities difficult. "It gets very cold here and we struggle to get food. We have to work hard here on the Candelilla (fields). That's the only job we have. That's what we live from." The Candelilla plant doesn't produce much wax during the wet and winter periods, so supplies are unreliable at this time of the year, affecting Hernandez's livelihood. Other families living under similar rock formations have decided to move to more comfortable communities. Nevertheless, Hernandez decided to stay with his wife where he has brought up seven of his children. Six are already married, some with children of their own. Only one still lives with Hernandez. His other children work on nearby harvesting lands and live in nearby communities although they visit their parents frequently.