Thursday, August 15, 2013

Pipas on the Brain

All morning I had pipas on the brain and was hoping to see my pipa dealer in passing.  Puerto Viejo pretty much has one road so the chances of running into someone you want to see is quite great.  If you are avoiding someone, I'd tell you to take the back roads, but there aren't any really so you either have to suck it up or put that invisible cloak you have to use.  Lucky for me, the pipa man was out and about.  I saw him biking towards me as we were both about to cross a small bridge in opposite directions.

"Tienes pipas? (Do you have pipas?)"  I shouted at Guapo as we were passing each other on our bikes.  The telltale bag slung over his handlebars, that was once probably a bag of fertilizer or feed, had little lumps in it signifying his wares.  If you took Guapo and his bag of pipas out of the Caribbean you might think he's got a bag of bocce balls as they are about the same size and weight.  However, if you've ever tried to crack open a bocce ball and drink the inner contents, you'd be hard pressed, to say the least.

Since I've lived in Puerto Viejo, it's still kind of a novelty to me that I can buy pipas (young coconuts) for 300 colones each (about 60 cents) and consume them twice a day.  They're a superfood, you know.  They're Popeye's spinach of the Caribbean.  I don't even want to think about how much I used to pay to treat myself to a coconut water in the states.  Maybe $2 or $3, maybe more.  And who knows what other artificial crap might be in those drinks.  Because we live in a global economy, because the local food movement is moving forward at great momentum and because I worked on organic farms for many years in Vermont, mostly every time I eat something, I think about the true cost of it in terms of labor, sweat, gasoline and miles.  Guapo's pipas are picked from trees around Puerto Viejo and then he bikes around selling them and that makes them taste even better.  Sweat and labor yes, gasoline no.  And miles?  Only with two pedals propelling him forward.

My friend, Molly- one of the many locals who has
given me a tutorial on how to open a pipa

The only thing about buying pipas this way is you don't always have a constant supply.  Sometimes I run out and don't see Guapo around for a few days.  I can feel my muscles waning, my energy diminishing, my fingernails breaking, my hair falling out, without my twice daily fix of pipas.  I like to roll out of bed early in the morning and pop one open first thing.  The second is my afternoon snack.  It's taken me awhile to master opening them.  I used to think I needed a machete as often people on the sides of the road selling them have said tool and open it that way.  If you have the young pipas though, that are peeled of their huge green husk (that part you need a machete for and if you're not an expert, don't bother), you use the blunt side of a knife and whack it a few times on the sweet spot.  They all have a sweet spot, it's a matter of figuring out where it is.  This is done with practice.  It took me ages to get it down.  I just kept asking locals how to open them and eventually, after being shown numerous times, I got the rhythm of it.  

The idea with buying many at a time is you can have them in the fridge and they are a refreshing, delightful drink to cool the body temp a few degrees when it's furnace hot here.  Once you open it and drink the delicious, not too sweet nectar, you can scrape the pulp off the sides and eat that too.  Sometimes I get pipas where the pulp has hardened (I think this means they are a bit older) and you can also take this off and eat although it more challenging to remove from the husk.  I typically fish my thumb under it and slowly pull it up.  Sometimes, I even cut up the pulp, if it's hard, and put it in my salads.  It's kind of bland, unlike the water, but the health benefits are so numerous I don't care if the flavor of the hardened pulp isn't making my taste buds drunk with hedonistic pleasure.

And they make the best
snacks at the beach
I saw Guapo when I was heading back to my new home in Playa Negra (I am subletting an apartment for a little while, more on that in another post).  My backpack was full to the brim with my computer, the power cord and an extension cord (darn computer doesn't work unless it's plugged in), a notebook, my wallet and a filet of marlin that I had just bought not five minutes earlier.  There wasn't room for pipas.  The wire basket on my new green bike (well, new to me at least; it came with the apartment I'm in now) has some holes in the bottom.  Guapo carried three over and looked into my basket as if it was a well with a deep, endless bottom.  He looked up at me.  "Dis not gon fit...hang on, hang on."  My mind jogged to where I might find a piece of cardboard nearby to put on the bottom of the basket.  Guapo was ten steps ahead of me in the department of quick thinking.  He walked across the street and grabbed a few big, waxy leaves from an almond tree.  He piled five or six on top of the holes and then loaded my basket up with seven pipas.  I opened my wallet and happily handed over 2,100 colones, the last of my cash.  Guapo looked at my basket again and told me to get something to cover the pipas so they wouldn't get so hot in the midday sun.  He seemed genuinely concerned about the well being of his sold pipas; as a good business man should.  I assured him I was on my way home and would be putting them in the fridge right away.

As we biked our separate ways, I looked down at my basket full of pipas and then I looked to my right at the ocean.  The sun has finally returned from the long slumber behind storm clouds for the past month.  The water was gleaming and the surf steady and calm.  I had a moment.  One of those great, the world-stands-still-for-just-a-few-seconds, moments.  Never before in my life have I lived somewhere where I can buy fresh young pipas straight from whence they came and pile them into a broken basket jimmy rigged with sturdy leaves from an almond tree.  Not until two months ago did I even know how to open a pipa.  When we remove ourselves from pretty much every materialistic thing that we used to own and can carry our belongings on our back, there are these little things in life that are so much more noticeable.  Like biking down the street in a little town on the Caribbean, basket full of pipas, pedaling home to a new apartment I'm subletting for a short while and getting really, really excited at savoring my first pipa of the day.    

If you want to read more about pipas my friend and fellow blogger, Camille, has a great post about what you can do with a coconut.  You should check it out!

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