The journey to Guatemala
The adventure brought our team to Guatemala, where one can see how a rubber tree seed becomes a latex mattress, latex mattress topper or latex pillow. After having arrived in the capital, Guatemala City, our team continued their journey by car to the plantations which are located approximately two hours east of the big city. Throughout the whole drive, there seemed to be one synonymous setting after leaving the capital: green, tropical sceneries wherever you looked and bumpy roads!
And suddenly they were surrounded by thousands of hevea brasiliensis rubber trees and rainforest. After being welcomed by very open and warm management and staff, they were informed that the rain forest was part of the plantation and is protected by the certification as it had to remain untouched. This was also the first part of the tour: a walk through the rainforest which included waterfalls, caves and wild animals. The rain forest was still so pure that everyone was drinking water from the small creeks that flow throughout the massive forestry.
The second part of the tour around the plantation was showing how the rubber tree seed becomes a full grown natural source for latex. Nature is full of surprises and the rubber tree seed is one of them! The rubber tree does not form seeds directly, but a kind of pod which contains several seeds, mostly two or three. Once the seed has formed, it will one day fall from the heights of the tree. Having hit the ground, the pod explodes and shoots the seeds in to different directions, which in turn increases its chances to grow.
After the trees have grown out of the nursery stage, they are ready to be tapped. The carvers begin their work in the early hours of each day, shortly before sunrise. This is done by a special carving technique, which according to the plantation managers, takes a while to master. Wrong carving would lead to permanently damaging the tree, leaving scar-like markings. Consequences of that are that the tree produces and gives less of the desired white sap. Healthy trees on the other hand, will be fruitful at the very least for the upcoming 15 years.
What struck the team immediately was the positive atmosphere around the whole plantation, regardless of whether it being the plantation managers, farmers or the carvers. Not only did they seem content and satisfied with their lives and jobs, but there was a real mentality of care towards nature. This had not come from the certification but had already been there much longer. The certification merely helped communicate the way that the locals felt and cared about their lands. The rain forest had to remain untouched on all ends.
After a few days on the plantation, the team wanted to discover where latex had its origins. The first people to have used latex were the Mayans, which is why they flew to the north of Guatemala to see the remains of one of the largest Mayan cities: Tikal. There, they discovered that the Mayans had two main uses for the white rubber tree sap. First of all, they used the liquid to form large rubber balls, which weighed between 3 and 5 kilograms, which would in turn be used to play a form of basketball. Special about this game was that the Mayans would use their shoulders rather than hands! The second use of latex for the Mayans was for making a sort of cement. They would mix the latex together with water, lime stone and soil until it would become a paste. This is the very same paste which still holds together the thousands of stones which form the temples today – even after more than 2500 years!
The Vita Talalay team had returned back to the Netherlands with a whole new perspective and understanding of where and how Vita Talalay’s FSC certified latex is produced. They set out to Guatemala to find out more about the FSC certification and latex plantations, but returned with knowledge of much more.