In the past, the mainstay of both San Andrés’ and San José’s economies was chicle, the sap of the sapodilla tree, used in the manufacture of chewing gum. The arduous and poorly paid job of collecting chicle involves setting up camps in the forest, and working for months at a time in the rainy season when the sap is flowing. Today natural chicle has largely been superseded by artificial substitutes, but there is still a demand for the original product, especially in Japan. Other forest products are also collected, including xate (pronounced “shatey), palm leaves used in floral arrangements and exported to North America and Europe; and pimienta de jamaica, or allspice. Harvesters (pimenteros) use spurs to climb the trees and collect the spice, they then dry it over a fire.

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