Canadian woodsmen watch out for bears: not dangerous trees.

We’re in a Mexican beach restaurant. Brian’s career as a log home builder comes up and our server is enthusiastically discussing woodworking and chainsaws. This is unusual.

He pulls out his phone and shows us photos of beautiful wood railings, wood furniture, wood floors and other wood projects that he’s created for new homes and condos near Cancun.

The natural characteristics of the wood balance the severity of concrete construction. Mayan rustic meets modern luxury. It’s gorgeous.

“What kind of wood do you use to build log homes?” he asks.

Brian discusses the merits of Douglas Fir and Western Red Cedar. Our new friend describes the difficulties he encounters working with the extremely hardwood native to the Yucatan, dulling blades on the sawmill and teeth on the chainsaws, these local woods are dense and heavy for their size.

Suddenly our Mexican woodworking professional asks “Have you heard of Chechen?”
“No,” we say, shaking our heads.

He proceeds to tell us about a local tree that is occasionally encountered in the jungle with sap so dangerous that it causes skin to blister with a severe and long-lasting rash.

“The Mayans used to tie captured Spanish conquistadors to the trees and leave them,” he tells us. “At first they would think. Okay, this isn’t so bad. But soon they would be in agony and die a terrible slow and painful death.”

It’s dark out. He speaks English with great flair. We are suitably horrified.

“But,” he goes on, “Wherever the Chechen grows there will also be the Chacah tree. This is the antidote.”
After two mango margaritas, we are not sure if we are hearing the truth or a well-told story.
Back at our small local beach hotel I immediately google the Chechen tree.
It’s a fact!

The Chechen Tree and the Chaca Tree are often found growing near each other and are most commonly found in the Riviera Maya and Caribbean islands. While the Chechen tree is poisonous, the Chaca tree has a nectar to neutralize the poison if you have touched the Chechen tree.

A Mayan legend explains why these trees are found together.

“Two great warrior princes were brothers of enormous strength and skill but of completely different nature. The younger brother, named Kinich, was kind and merciful and loved by all, while the elder brother, named Tizic, was sullen, and drew strength from the hate and anger nursed in his heart. As legend has it, they both tragically fell in love with the beautiful Nicte-Ha. The brothers declared a battle to the death to see who she would choose.

The battle was longer and more hideous than the world had ever seen. The Earth was torn and the Heavens went into hiding. Eventually both brothers died in each other’s arms. In the afterlife, they begged the gods for forgiveness, and a chance to return to the world of the living and see their beloved Nicte-Ha once more.

The gods granted their wish and Tizic was reborn as the Chechen tree, which seeps black poison from its branches and burns anyone who touches it, and Kinich was reborn as the Chacah tree, whose soothing nectar neutralizes Chechen’s venom. They solemnly watch over Nicte-Ha, who having died of grief, was mercifully restored to life as a beautiful white flower.”

Our vacation has taken an educational turn.

We return three more times to the same restaurant (El Merkadito del Mar in Puerto Morelos) because we love the rustic vibe, casual beach location and big menu with excellent seafood and authentic Mexican food.

Each time we learn more about the various wood species favoured by the woodworkers in the Riviera Maya and see more photos. Construction photos are followed by beautifully finished woodwork, and our Mexican log home enthusiast has found someone to discuss his other job—obviously his passion.

One photo shows a floor made from Chechen wood. The men must wear protective clothing and masks while they cut the tree and saw the lumber while the sap is active. The raw wood is set aside to dry. When the sap is completely dry it can be used safely, it’s amber and chocolate brindle appearance making it unique and exotic.

Chechen is slightly oily and extremely rot-resistant, valuable characteristics in the tropics. The two-toned grain pattern is prized for fine furniture. As a precaution, though, it is recommended that a dust mask, gloves and long sleeves always be worn when working with it!

He had hoped to invite us to a job site to see his work and get Brian’s advice on some chainsaw technique, but the opportunity didn’t work out. Maybe next trip!

It’s important to select the correct wood species for every project from a log cabin to wood furniture. The abundant supply of Douglas Fir and Western Red Cedar in British Columbia provides us with the best logs possible for your new log home and skilled craftsmen know how to handle each correctly for a beautiful and long-lasting finished product!

Thankfully Canadian woodsmen don’t have to worry about encountering any tree as venomous as the Chechen! After learning all about this dangerous but fascinating tree, we’ll likely complain less when we get cedar slivers!