Going for Cocos

As I was writing out fieldnotes Anita came and said we were going to go for cocos--small coconuts, about the size of a crab apple.

 

Benigno in Tree Clarified.jpg

We went down to the aguate field I have visited before, Benigno carrying a homemade ladder, two lengths of rope, and his machete--Anita carrying Aruni on her back and Sauri along, too. Later Prici and Misael joined us after helping a cousin carry some bottles down from the road to a house.

 

I took lots of pictures and videos while Benigno proceeded to make himself several ladder steps up the 45 foot trunk of the coco palm, using only rope and some lengths of wood he cut from a nearby tree. He slowly got himself high enough to chop at the racemes of cocos with the machete, and dropped seven of them--having Anita check whether each cluster was ripe by dropping a few cocos and having her crack them open with a rock.

 

Benigno in Tree 2 Clarified.jpg

It took 1 hour and 20 minutes from the time we got to the trees and Benigno started looking for a suitable stout, straight branch to cut into 3 foot sections for "steps" on his makeshift ladder, to the time he was back on the ground having cut down 7 large bunches of cocos. Anita sent one bunch off with a kid who walked by on the trail and he took the bunch to his family. She also called Jonathan (Rosa Medina's son) over and sent a bunch with him. That left them with 5 bunches of cocos for the time it took to gather. Benigno said another crop will be ready in about 6 months. As soon as the first bunch was down, Anita, Misael, Sauri and Prici began breaking cocos open using a large rock as an anvil, and a smaller one as a hammer. The crab apple sized fruits split open to reveal a round, white chunk of coconut flesh about the size of a large shooter marble. We ate a bunch right there, me eating them plain, and the other passing around a chunk of panela (caked brown can sugar) to bite from and mix in their mouths with the cocos. Any time they found a piece of coconut that was split into two, rather a solid single globe, there was a cry of gemelos! (twins!), and the lore is that if you eat gemelos you will end up with twin children yourself. Misael, particularly, enjoyed shouting gemelos and laughing whenever he found one.

 

David with Coco.jpg

Nearby were the remains of a former greenhouse that had collapsed--posts had rotted away. Benigno plans to build a new one there to grow babaco, and maybe some indigo in the future if I find and bring him seeds. Also nearby was a small piece of pasture, about 1 ½ acres where their sheep and cow (with young bull baby) were staked out. They rent that pasture for $100 every two years.

 

After Benigno finished with the cocos, he took me and Misael down the hill to see a white earth mine that he says is pretty old. He led us quite far down the hill to a steep bank that overlooks the place where the Rio Hierba Buena passes under and alongside the Panamerican Highway. Here there were several small mine site into the side of the hill. After getting past the overburden of soil (a foot or so of black dirt, the hill is composed of fine white rock that is very soft. Benigno says that in the past, people who were more wealthy and wanted to make a fine house would mine some of this rock, mix it with water and animal dung, and use it as a white plaster on the walls of their house. The practice was more common he said, in the post Inca period because the Incas used stone for building rather than adobe bricks. But as people shifted to adobe, which is mud colored, the high style became to use this plaster. Some people do currently use the white earth still, but not many because construction is increasingly done with bricks and cement blocks, which are usually just painted with commercial paint. The current owners of the site charge $2 for a large back, about the size of a 50 pound bag of rice.

 

Climbing back up we passed a spot where someone was working on making adobe blocks for a house. The person had made a mucky spot of mud by hoeing up a small retaining wall of earth, looked they had chopped up the earth with a shovel or pick, sprinkled straw and maybe some dung over the whole area, then flooded it with water. Nearby there were several hundred blocks laid out to dry. Benigno says you build a form out of wood with open top and bottom, fill it with the mixture, then step on it to pack it together firmly and add more mixture. Then slip the form off and let the block dry--it becomes very hard he says, and will act as the basic material for the house, including providing load bearing support for upper floors and roofs.

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This page contains a single entry by David Syring published on August 13, 2009 12:33 PM.

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