All over the Philippines there are industrial coconut farms surrounded by security guards and bags of pesticide. Then there are local plantation owners who simply grow and harvest coconuts for the local markets because the trees happen to grow on their land. Deep in the middle of Mindanao I was lucky enough to visit one such farm run by an elderly man called Steven.
His house is across a river, though a small trail surrounded by tall palm trees and encroaching undergrowth. His simple house has a striking resemblance to west African dwellings, complete with outside kitchen and plastic buckets. Not to mention several containers of palm wine. Slowly fermenting into something a little more toxic to the liver.
At Steven's invitation I headed off for some coconuts with him and one of the local chaps that hang out waiting for work. All around tall palm trees stretched up high into the blue sky. Steven carried a long bamboo stick and didn't look up once as we followed another less dense trail past his house. I imagined Steven sometime soon telling the young worker to climb up a tree to grab some ripe coconuts. But it never happened.
Instead Steven picked up a few stones, and threw them high into a palm tree. There was a light rapping sound, and then a squawk as a bird took flight. Ripe coconuts found, Steven then set about using his bamboo stick. At one end it had a rusty swath that he used to tear away at the palm tree's upper foliage. Then he began pulling hard as the swath cut into a huge bunch of coconuts. Leaves rustled, fell and dusty palm bark fell all around as tugged harder.
A crack sounded high in the jungle and like loaded cannon balls the green coconuts fell. First a few singles, then a cluster of three and five. All thudding loudly into the soft green jungle undergrowth below. Smiles all around, we walked pack with armfuls of plunder.
By now, as if sensing the free swagger, we were joined by some local village kids. They'd flattened out an area away from the house and brought some large machetes. It was important to keep the coconuts away from the house, as once opened, they attracted insects, rodents, birds and other wildlife. Not to mention it was easier to clean up. The first boy took the machete and swiped at fresh coconut. The blade cut into the green husk and the young chap struggled to pull it out.
Over to his left the young worker showed him how it's done. With one swoop he chopped off the top of the coconut, revealing it's sweet mild inside. The boy tired again, and again. Until finally with a little more guidance he managed the same swing. Once the amble milk was drunk back, the real treasure to Filipinos was revealed. Cracking the coconut fully open again revealed the tender soft white flesh. A small scoop is made from the top of the coconut removed earlier to remove and eat the hidden prize.
In most countries the coconut is a hard nutty snack. Here, it's a liter of sweet water, and a meal of soft white flesh that's sold on many street corners. Today it was a full free meal for everyone on the little plantation.
For more on India, check out my Philippines travel guide