Tuesday, February 10, 2009


In the third chapter there’s a paragraph:

‘The sheer incline, like the rest of the trail to Dulce Nombre de Culmí, is covered in dense groves of pine and oak, with a scattering of other trees——splendid mahoganies, Spanish cedars, balsa ceibas, guayacos, rosewoods, and chicozapotes. The forest formed a tunnel, usually soft-lit through the leafy canopy but now darkened by the torrential rain. On the floor and between the stones, water trickled in muddy streams toward the valley over a mile below.’

The description may not be Pulitzer Prize material but it’s as accurate as I remember from a wretched trek through the Agalta Cordillera in Honduras. I bet you recognized most of the trees: pine, oak, mahogany and cedar are common enough. Balsa ceibas, even if the name doesn’t ring familiar, you might have seen pieces in the hobby section of some stores: feather light strips of wood model engineers use to build aircraft or ships. But, what of the chicozapote?

The sap of this splendid tree was milked and known to Aztecs as ‘chicle’; women and young folks chewed it to clean their teeth.

As the popular story goes, in the year 1866, Mexican general Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana gave a kilogram of chicle gum to Thomas Adams, a dentist in New York City. After a year of experimentation, Adams marketed his first commercial chicle chewing gum, and the chicle industry was born.

The primary ingredient in chewing gum was the latex sap of the chicozapote tree. This sap was collected by native workers who came to be known as chicleros. They collected the sap by using a machete to cut v-shaped diagonal slashes in the bark of the tree. Latex would run down the slashes into bags at the bottom of the trunk, which were picked up by the chicleros the next day.

After heating the latex to reduce the water content, it was formed into blocks and sent to factories in the United States. From about 1880 until the late 1940s, chicle was the most important use of the chicozapote tree. The industry declined after World War II, when cheaper synthetic substitutes were found for chicle, but has never stopped entirely.

There you have it. Next time you chew gum, remember that the orginal stuff was milked from trees.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

No Queen

Sadly, no posts for a full week. I’m off to London, to visit the pussycat.