What’s That In The Trees?

It might be Jorge, a local palm tree cutter
BY: CATHY WATKINS

Jorge Ignacio Valle Arce has been climbing palm trees in Los Cabos since he was eight years old. He started trimming them when he was 12, and it’s how he makes his living now as a grown man.

Jorge has no fear when it comes to scaling the palm trees, which are 30 to 40 feet tall. With so much experience, he’s an expert palm tree climber and very fast. The only equipment he uses is a rope, boot spurs, and a machete.

palm.JPGAs he works his way up the tree, you hear the “crunch, crunch” sound of the spurs stabbing into the tree. He holds on to the spikes sticking out of the tree with his bare hands (ouch, that must hurt, but he wears no gloves). In a matter of seconds, he’s shinnied his way to the top and anchors himself to the tree with a long rope. He leans back a little and trusts gravity to hold him tight. He takes out his machete, gives several big whacks and before you know it, 15 green and brown palm fronds have fallen to the ground in less than a minute.  And then, just as quickly as he shinnied up, Jorge shimmies back down. Only three to four fronds are left on the tree when he’s done, which really opens up the view. It looks a little bare to some people, but those are the cranky people who think palm trees look like utility poles to begin with.

Jorge works with his uncle Jose, his brother Ignacio and his nephew, also named Jorge. The elder Jorge climbs and trims the trees while Jose carries large bundles of leaves over his shoulder to the truck. The bundle is heavy, and he sweats profusely as he works in the hot sun. No doubt he aspires to the more glamorous job of trunk shimmier. 

Nothing goes to waste. They use the cut palm leaves to make palapas and pergolas. After the devastation from Hurricane Odile, there was a lot of work for them, and the team worked every day helping with the cleanup and construction of new palapas. They usually build 20 to 30 palapas a year. A roughly 16 foot by 16 foot palapa uses 2,000 leaves and costs around $1,300 USD.  

The group often works in the Misiones del Cabo development where Gloria, the secretary for Misiones, calls Jorge “el chango (the monkey)” because he’s a skillful climber and at ease in the trees. Every year, their job at Misiones grows since the palm trees continue to grow taller and the local maintenance crew only trims the shorter ones. Their workload at Misiones has gone from 60 trees to 80 trees, and now they are up to 100 trees. It takes them two to three days to trim and haul off the leaves from 100 palm trees. Their day begins at 8:00 or 9:00 a.m. and finishes by 5:00 p.m. at the latest, and Jorge earns around $200 dollars for the job. Those are pretty good wages for around here.

Jorge’s work clothes are tattered jeans, a short sleeve shirt and a ball cap. He wears a rope tied around his waist, with his machete in its leather holster on his left side.  A leather band is wrapped around under his knee, and fastened to this is a piece of metal that goes from the inside of his knee down to his foot, wrapping under the boot and looping back up to the ankle. A triangular boot spur is attached to each side of the metal at the bottom of his boots. This metal contraption eventually cuts through the bottom of his boots, and he has to buy a new pair of boots every three months.   

When asked how long he will continue to trim palm trees, Jorge says, “I enjoy the work and will keep on until I can’t haul my ass up there anymore.”

He tells us you should prune about every six months or once a year to keep your palm trees clean and pretty. It’s time to prune when there are brown dead fronds hanging down. Unpruned palm trees can be a safety hazard, as well as unattractive. Pruning also helps to eliminate the debris dropped from the flowers and fruit which can be dirty.

The Valle brothers’ prices are very reasonable, so if you need to build a palapa or have your palm trees trimmed, find a Spanish speaking friend and call Jose at 624-106-7511 for a quote.