For tourists, the tropics are synonymous with warm weather and fresh fruit drinks under umbrellas by the beach. In Costa Rica, there is no shortage of these things. Meals known as casados are served with a natural juice, and persons push carts with pipa fria through all terrains.
My first encounter with coconut water came during a trip to the Las Isletas off from Granada, Nicaragua. They are a cluster of 365 small islands in the midst of Lake Nicaragua. These land masses formerly were chunks of volcano Mombacho that were shed when the volcano erupted thousands of years ago.
Now these islands are inhabited by both wealthy persons with mansions and locals who fish for a living. Part of my tour was to stop at the house of a local family. Upon docking our boat, children rose from their hammocks with smiles and brought us all a fresh coconut.
New to the tropics, I had never seen a young coconut and was a bit shocked that the fruit I was presented with was hard and green and not brown and furry. Coconut water comes from the young fruit.
The process for getting into the fruit was exciting. After giving us a “don’t try this at home, you will lose a finger” speech, our guide took a large, sharp machete and hacked away at the top, until a round hole appeared. Here he placed a straw that served as a gateway to the clear liquid inside.
With high expectations, I took a gulp. The taste that met my tongue was somewhat sweet, somewhat tangy and strong and peculiar. I have since heard someone describe the taste as dirty sewer water. I don’t think I would go that far, but the flavor did cause my face to frown and my stomach to turn.
I seemed to be the only one who didn’t enjoy the drink, as others called it refreshing. For me, I would have rather had regular water. Yet, it was still entertaining to watch a person hack into the fruit. Commonly, when persons finished drinking the water, someone will chop the coconut in half then meticulously slice off a small concave piece of the side shell.
This piece serves as a scoop for the white meat inside. The meat can then be eaten as is, or in the Caribbean it is made as a base for rice and beans. Unlike gallo pinto, the dish is cooked in coconut milk, a liquid that can be made from blending the coconut meat with water.
In a mature coconut, this meat can be made into an oil- something I buy frequently from the Saturday feria as a moisturizer for my hair.
Here in Costa Rica I see coconuts all around. A shop not far from my residence sells them for 250 colons or 50 cents. Vendors have them on carts at national events in the city as well as on the sand at the beach for prices that are as high as $2.
Friends here tell me of the wonderful health benefits of coconut water as nature’s sports drink that’s full of potassium. They tell me it’s even better as a half-and-half mixture of rum and coconut water, called Coco Loco.
All this, plus the image from a Jamaican tourist I met in Manuel Antonio who reminisced of the divine flavor from the fruit she enjoyed as a child, led me to try the juice again.
The flavor this time was not as strong, but still not as great as I wanted it to be. However, this time, I did finish the whole contents and my stomach flipped a little less.
I guess it’s an acquired taste.