The Ubiquitous Coconut

Some islands are flat and sandy, some are hilly yet others are just a pile of rocks. One thing all tropical islands have in common is an abundance of coconuts.

Coconuts float. They’re good at it. I can’t tell you the times we’ve heard that familiar bonk on the side of the boat; sometimes hundreds of miles from the nearest land. When they fall on the beach and get washed out to sea, they can drift in the salt water for years before washing up on a foreign beach. Then they germinate and begin populating a new land.

Taste it

A coconut husk is made out of the most durable fiber in the natural world. Here in the states, we use products made from the fiber to prevent erosion on highway grading projects because it lasts for years on the ground. The husk protects the fruit from salt water intrusion as it floats, then it turns into a Rubik’s Cube of a puzzle to anyone wanting inside. Brilliant islanders developed special implements and systems involving spikes and knives and quirky skills to unlock the husk which evolves as it dries on the ground, requiring different approaches at each stage.

Like the husk, the succulent inside evolves as it sets. In the beginning, there is a firm meat with healthy flavored water in the middle. Later, it turns into some kind of natural coconut pudding. It’s all good.

The art of coconut shaving
The art of coconut shaving

Coconuts are so plentiful that they become a hazard to anyone operating a wheeled vehicle. In French Polynesia, there are people who wake up early to kick all the coconuts to the curb each morning. There is usually a pile of unwanted coconuts as big as a house every few blocks. It’s rumored that the leading cause of accidental death in the South Pacific is by falling coconuts, but my exhaustive research (five minutes on Wikipedia) couldn’t confirm that to be true.

Coconut Palm in Raiatea

I didn’t think I liked coconuts before I spent a year in coconut land. My reference was those plastic bags of shredded coconut we get in suburban American stores. As it turns out, the natives don’t eat them that way. They shred the coconut to squish it into coconut milk, which is delicious on anything. They chunk it and eat it fresh, cook it into anything, mix it into poisson cru, or just spoon it out while waiting for their turn on the Bocci court.

Nothing communicates the ambience of the tropics like the image of palms on sand. But don’t make the mistake of calling them Palm Trees. You’ll be sharply corrected by natives who depend on their prolific fruit. They are the ubiquitous coconut trees.

Huahine's Ancient Fishing Traps

 

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