Remembering Coming to Cayo for Chicle

Looking for work

Well, I was born in Corozal and I grew up in town. All that I learnt in Corozal was to operate trucks. And I started operating trucks and I decided one day when a man has family, he has to know many different types of job to defend him in life. And so I made up my mind to come in San Ignacio, to learn this chicle work. And those days in 1968 the chicle was just the price of twenty-five cents a pound. In 1968.

And then I come here. And it’s a new place that I reach in San Ignacio, I never know any one. And I come in Bullet Tree because I know a little of Spanish from Corozal. I learn my little bit of Spanish and that take me to here in San Ignacio, in those times. So I meet a little old man name Mai, who is my daughters’ father-in-law right now, and he’s the one that taught me about the people, how it goes in the village, and how the work goes. And if you are a working guy, you can live here. But if you are a guy that DON’T work, you can’t live here in San Ignacio, because things here in San Ignacio are very poor. There are no jobs. Only the job that’s here in San Ignacio is to cut the sapodilla, which is the chicle. So one day I went, and he told me that he was going to help me with a spur and a rope. And he give me my food, and I came and learnt about the chicle. So he brought me up here to Pilar.

Chicle North of Bullet Tree Falls

In those days Pilar road is just a little small trail opening in the bush. Where the Mr. Balam is right now we call Champon Bajo. That’s the name where that pasture is, Champon Bajo. I drank water there out of the track where the horse walked, and after I got tired, I decided to see the next camp of chicleros. They collect their drinking water with those broom leaves, that I show you. Those leaves, they double them, and they put them in the trail, the horse tracks, and they dive out that water, and they drink that water out of the horse track because water is very hard to get, while coming to Bullet Tree cutting chicle. We were just depending on water where we see the horse walk. In the trail, well, those are water we drink, till we reach camp here in Pilar. Then, we slept here in Pilar one night and we walked up the next day to Tutu, and from Tutu we go to Camaron, going close the border. Camaron is close to the border, and Tutu is close the border.

Learning to be a chiclero

I came to learn this chicle work, as I say before. You have to go to the tree and watch the tree, what type of tree you cutting. Oh, and my teacher who taught me named, …. Ham, …. Leopold Heinz. That’s the man that taught me to cut the chicle, and to sharpen my machete. Ahaa, you can go from tree to tree. And if you know, you already learn this job, because it’s only like a new chiclero. And old chiclero can go and cut a tree and give some nice, pretty cores. It’s not like you, you learning the job. You have take very good time, and keenly know that what is down, and clean under the tree very clean, in case you fell from that chicle tree, you will NOT get hurt on these pegs [stakes]. You have to cut all these pegs, and you have to watch underneath because you have a lot of sap. You have to be on the watch for snakes, because the snakes, they like to live under the sap, the dry sap that fall from the tree. They like to go underneath and hide themselves. And right there, when you go to put your bag to receive that chicle, you can get bitten by that snake.

Well, if the trees are close, they are, how do you say, about five meters from the next, six meters two meter it all depend on how you meet the ridge [grove] of sapodilla. And so that’s the way the chicleros walking, and do their little cutting, where they walk, they test their trees before they bleed a tree that isn’t good. They bleed a tree first on the root, and they see if the milk run through the sap. That’s a good tree. They will cut that tree. But if the milk don’t run when they test the root of that sapodilla, they will not cut that tree. They will leave it for the next season to go and cut that tree. And for the true trees side on side, you have to come down of one and hook on the next tree. So that’s way this chicle work.

Bleeding the chicle Sap

And you have to have your machete razor sharp, like a guillotine, that it could burst the cut. Because the cut you put on this chicle tree, we always make the cut like a cross, going forward right, left, right left until it go almost, how do you say, if in the tree in full height. And we use the same machete, that the old people know that we use machete to build these chicle. And we have them razor sharp. And the man, he cutting, as I say while going: right, left, forward till he get to the first limb upstairs. You get to the first limb, you have your bag, your chicle bag sticking into the root of the tree with a nail, or with a stick plug, hooking up with the string you have tying your chicle bag.

And when they get there, sometimes they have to tighten their spur, and the spur has to be very sharp, to be very sure in the sap of the tree. Because it can skid off, and then you can cut your own rope. So you would be very careful when you climbing this sapodilla trees, because this chicle tree is a tree that has a lot of sap. If you don’t pay attention what you’re doing, you can get hurt. Because your spur can slide, and you have to secure your spur. And if you don’t have padding for your feet, you have to go and cut those escoba leaf and put for your padding on your knees and on your ankle, down below you feet. So that’s the way this chicle work have been set up, in the time of rainy season.

Collecting the Chicle Sap in the Bags

Our chicle bag we made out of cotton. And after that we cut that cotton, we melt the candle. We go to the rubber tree, we bleed the rubber tree almost as we bleed the chicle tree. And we take that rubber from the tree, and cook it with some kerosene, that we use for catching fire. That kerosene. So we mix about two quarts of rubber milk about a quart of kerosene. Oil. Cooking that, just like how we turn the …. The chicle in a little small jar. And start to take a broom palm leaf that we use for tying the spur. We take that, and we cut the paint of it, and we paint the chicle bag with the rubber. We get it painted and we leave it in the sun for about three days. And then after this time it gets hard on the bag, so that whenever we cut that chicle milk it doesn’t bleed out of the bag. It holds all of that chicle, it holds it very tenderly.

We make those bags, we have them there measuring about eight pounds, ten pounds. All depending on the size of the bags we make, to hang on different size of trees. Those chicle bags, we call them deposits because that ‘s what we put in them. From trees that have a foot, and trees that have two foot, three foot, give ten pounds of chicle, fifteen pounds of raw milk. The next one that carry, it’s about a foot and a half size. It’s big, it carries about fifteen pounds of chicle, because the trees are big. So whatever time you start to cut that chicle tree, that bag is going to receive all that milk you have, because it’s a big tree so you have to put a big bag. - a big deposit, we call it.

Then we take out of that little bag — the deposit- that we put on the tree, we have big one that carry one hundred pounds of chicle. Those are the big bags, the flour bag that we use. Those days, the bags they bring flour was not nylon bag like now. But those days the bags them, the people, the poor people take them to make shirt. We make shirt out of them to go to the chicle bush. So the chicle whenever time it drop on the shirt will do it nothing, because it’s flour bag. It’s very thick, and so that’s what the chicleros used to wear to go to the chicle. And those old type of pajama pants which is jeans pants, those are the type of pants they used to put on to go to the chicle. And when we receive that chicle, they put it in that big deposit bag that have a hundred pounds. In three days we have a big pile of it. Those old time people, they have some big iron pots, big jars that have four pegs. So, those are the things we use in chicle work.

Cooking the Chicle Sap

Whenever time it get in a grade that it’s getting like, it get water. And get cooked, get brown, because the milk is white, from the rubber, tree it’s white. And whatever time you cook that milk, that rubber is brown. So that brown rubber it give you, take a long stick, and you put it forward in the bag and get it stretch.

Now, stirring this chicle in the pot, you have to stir this chicle till it turns to gum. And when it turns to gum, you going to turn chicle, almost go for three hours, with a lot of sapodilla wood, heavy wood. And after that, this chicle has to continue working. To add some pounds to that chicle, you have to put about six pounds of water to add that chicle to bring it more weight than it should of have. They turn that chicle till the water turn out of that chicle. And after all of that water turn out of that chicle, they throw it out.

And they turn that chicle almost, I say, three hours, they turn it up to see the grade of the chicle, if it’s raw, or the milk is cooked. Because if the milk is raw, whenever time that chicle come out, that chicle to is broken up. It will not stick together like a real gum that is cooked, and get the real grade. And so, that's why the chicleros come to find out that when the chicle is raw they can know by how the chicle is molded.

Molding the Cooked Chicle Gum

And then they start to do this job that I say, molding this chicle. So that when you feel this one that has the water, on the same form that we have mold. This mold going to read about thirty pounds, the one with the water going to weigh thirty-five pounds, that’s the difference between the water and the straight chicle. And so, that is the way the chicleros they have gain a little bit on their labor.

Ahaan, we make the mold, and we stuff all the mold. And we soak the back of the crate before. Then we put the chicle inside. And when we turn over that mold, the chicle will just slide right out and not stick on the mold. You see, that’s the way we do the chicle.

And when the chicle get dry, they can see where the chicle is white and the next chicle is brown. Because that chicle, that milk is raw, it didn’t cook, it’s white. So that’s when they got to the company, the company return back these chicle, and they pay a cheap price because they have to return that chicle over. And pay workman to re-cook that block of chicle, to get down like this next block that is completely cooked. That is the way the chicle work, each season (the rainy season), and each is in the month of August right up till the month of January. That’s the ending of the chicle season.

Looking Back

Oh, whatever time. And then when we get in the bush, we just watch. We just looking for sapodilla, too, that they build, to mix with that chicle, to give him some more weight. And so all these things that I get to learn from the old chicleros. Ahaan ……. I get to like the bush.

Connections in Life

And from those chicle times, until now. I’m STILL here in Pilar, working. In everything while sleeping, it’s very cool and pleasant, here in Pilar. There is nothing to disturb you to see, like it’s a worldly spirit, or something disturbing you from raising. No, here in Pilar you rest very nice,….good as you any where else.

And when the sun is downing over there, and I see the toucan, they come in. It’s …it’s beautiful back here. If you stay back here, ….quiet. You see different birds come in the site. Maybe if they come way from Guatemala. I don’t know where they come from, birds come up to the site, and in the site, and fly and go back.