The Junglewood Story:  The Bamboo Trail

Robert Cook Junglewood founder

careful what you ask for

My name is Robert Cook and until 2010 my work background was construction, mostly home renovations. Over the years, most of my jobs involved residential work and I felt like something was missing. I had a deep longing to travel and be a part of something that would give me meaning. You know the saying “you have to watch what you ask for because you might just get it”? Well, on my way to work one morning someone ran a red light and I got T-boned, and for a while, the world went out of focus and very quiet…

The Bamboo Idea Shoots Up

During my recovery, I happened to read an article about bamboo in Central America and was astounded by the incredible strength and properties of this grass; not the kind that you smoke but the kind that can grow up to and over 100 feet in 1 year. The tensile strength of bamboo is equal to steel and the compression rate is the same or better than concrete. Bamboo produces tons of oxygen and soaks up an equal amount of C02. The turnaround harvest rate is 3 to 5 years and once cut can start up 2 or 3 more shoots on its own. The bamboo plant is used for many things as varied as clothes, food, building materials and now, baseball bats, skateboards, bicycles, pool cues, drum sticks and so much more.

An Unexpected Journey Begins

So whether it was a result of possible brain damage or the allurement of travelling to Central America and exploring the bamboo groves I found myself booking a ticket to Costa Rica.

The first leg of the trip started with a tour from Coco beach Costa Rica to the city of Granada Nicaragua. The transport trucks and cars at the border were backed up for 1/4 mile. We left our ride on the Costa Rica side and crossed the border on foot with ease to be greeted by an associate of the tour guide and continued to the city of Granada in Nicaragua.

While reading about bamboo in Canada I came across Jan Van Bilsen, a cinematographer from Belgium who had lived in Nicaragua for 30 years filming documentaries in Central and South America. While in the jungle areas he was captured by the beauty of the bamboo groves. Jan travels to different parts of Nicaragua sharing information with communities on the benefits of cultivating, planting and maintenance of bamboo.

As you may know the jungle areas from the Amazon up to Mexico are being burned and slashed at an alarming rate to make way for cattle and cocao.

Bob agreed to be my guide and translator for a couple of days. We took a bus from Granada to Managua for $1.00 to meet with Jan at a college pub for some cerveza and to begin my education on Guadua bamboo. It was a great meeting and after several cerveza and picking up Bob who had fallen off his chair, were on our way to meet with Pro Nicaragua. With Jan as our interpreter doors began to open and Pro Nicaragua was excited to help us explore manufacturing bamboo products in their country.

When we finished a day of visiting bamboo groves and searching for machine shops that could work with bamboo we would drink Flor de Cana rum and play pool.

China, here we come

Unfortunately the shops in Nicaragua are not adequate for working with bamboo. China holds over 200 patents on bamboo machinery and has been laminating products for 30 years. China, here we come!

On returning to Canada I mentioned that I would be taking a trip to China to investigate the bamboo factories in Anji and my youngest daughter Kyera volunteered to come along. We flew out of Vancouver and after a 13-hour flight we landed in Shanghai and took the bullet train at 430 kilometers an hour to the city center.

We took a train out to the bamboo manufacturing district of Anji. Gary the #1 son of the #2 bamboo plant on the list picked us up at our hotel drove us to his factory and took us through the procedure of machining the bamboo from the start to finish. In a nutshell it’s split, planed, cured, dried and pressed into blocks, panels, plywood and flooring. The products are strong and have a beautiful finish. I let all this new information sink in and explored as much of China as our remaining two weeks allowed.

On our return to Vancouver I had realized that manufacturing bamboo into building material would be a huge undertaking with a big price tag. I phoned Jan in Nicaragua and shared some of the stories of the road. He suggested a small bamboo bat factory and given the awesome properties of bamboo I thought it was brilliant. When the first bat came off the lathe I phoned a few sporting goods stores and asked if they knew of anyone that would try out the bat. They steered me to a baseball training center in North Van where my oldest daughter Natasha and I meet Michael Crouse from the Toronto Blue Jays. He was happy to try our bat but we couldn’t watch for fear of the bat exploding on the first hit. All we heard was a nice popping sound. Michael had a big smile on his face asking us how we get bamboo bats into the major leagues.

After another year in the shop we came up with a way to manipulate the lamination of the bamboo pieces and designed a bat that would give lots of pop while maintaining a low breakage rate. The pop from our bats has been described by some ball players as explosive.

back to the jungle

Jonathan was willing to translate and continue the quest for Bamboo. I laid out the plan, made a deal with a local Spanish trades school, located the Bamboo and brought it to Canada where my genius friend and carpenter Brian English would build the first guadua bamboo profile bats.