I got a call last night from a new expat who just moved here. He told me he was laid up with the Chechen rash, and had to go to the doctor to get a shot. Well I did not think much of it, and I did not think much more of it. We were supposed to go to Xcalak this week, so I said no problem, let me know when you are better. I did not quite understand what he meant by his rash, and where it came from, and I had never heard of the name of the rash. I thought maybe he just misunderstood, or was some Spanish he was trying to say.
Well this morning I go into town for the cruise ship today, and when I get there, Kane, one of the waiters at the Tropicante, comes up and asks if I heard about “so and so” having the Chechen rash. I said yes, he called me last night and mentioned something to me, but I did not quite understand what he was talking about. He then showed me his legs, and said this is what happens when you get the “chen chen” rash. He had scars on his legs where he had gotten it a couple of years ago.
Now I have been down here almost seven years now. I have trampled through jungles in Belize and Mexico, and brushed up against a lot of plants and stuff, but I have never heard of the “chen chen” rash. I was told it was ten times worst than poison ivy in the USA, and the itching drives you crazy. Kane told me he got it one time going hunting in the jungle, and it took forever for it to go away. He then told me the only cure is the tree that grows right next to it. I thought to myself, this must be some kind of Maya myth, or old wives tale. But he swore up and down, what he was saying was true.
So me with my new Samsung Galaxy device, did a quick Google search on the beach, and damn, he was right. I can’t believe I had never heard of this before, or that nobody had ever warned me about this tree and rash. So me, being me, I have done a bunch of research on this rash and tree, and here is some of it. You might find this interesting and informative if you ever plan on living or retiring down this way.
THE MAYAN LEGEND OF THE
CHECHEN AND CHACA TREE
The Chechen Tree and the Chaca Tree are often found growing near each other and are most commonly found in Cancun and the Riviera Maya. The Chechen tree is poisonous and the Chaca tree has a nectar to neutralise the poison if you happen to have touched the Chechen tree. There is a famous Mayan legend that explains the appearance of these trees and why they are found together.
The Mayan legend tells of two great warrior princes who 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 neutralises Chechen’s venom. They solemnly watch over Nicte-Ha, who having died of grief, was mercifully restored to life as a beautiful white flower.
There is a garden in Xel Ha called The Chacah Garden which was designed to commemorate movie, radio, television, literature, and sports celebrity visits to Xel-Ha. They are invited to plant a Chacah seedling and leave a brief manifest for posterity, engraved in stone.
The Black Poisonwood tree (Metopium Brownie or Metopium Toxiferum of the familyAnacardiaceae) is also known as Chechen, Chechem (Mayan name), Coral Sumac, Caribbean Rosewood, and Cedro Prieto. It is found throughout Central America, the Caribbean and the West Indies. This tree produces beautiful decorative wood used for carving, wood turning, furniture etc. But it has a very powerful defense mechanism against people!
This form of defense is a highly irritating sap, and when human skin comes in contact with it, the result can be quite an ordeal. It starts with a redness, (like a bad rash similar to poison ivy, poison sumac, poison oak and the rest of them…) but often will develop into itchy and burning blisters, and is extremely painful. Depending on the amount of sap and how quickly you treat it, it can remain a rash and be gone in just a few days, or it can develop into a 1st to 2nd degree burn(s).
The cure for a Chechen rash is the most fascinating part about the tree: Chechen can only be cured by the Chacah tree, which always grows nearby. The tall Chacah is easy to spot with bright red bark, and its nectar has the only antidote for a Chechen rash. Chacah and Chechen always grow within a few yards of each other.
So you learn something everyday, and he was right about the Chechen tree and rash.
Thanks for reading,
Stewart Rogers USA-South Carolina