"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
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!