A cocotero is a person who works with coconuts, harvesting, selling and cutting them with a machete to get to the nutritious liquid inside. The liquid, called water, has a sweet, nutty taste and is full of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and enzymes! Getting it fresh right from the tree is a rare opportunity to take advantage of while on Vieques.
Being a cocotero requires skill. I recently observed a local cocotero team, Samuel, and his father, Papo, harvesting coconuts in a practiced, organized manner. Samuel arrived with a well sharpened machete and climbing gear, the same used by telephone pole climbers. Samuel cinched his belt around the tree and himself around the waist and carefully made his way to the top. As Samuel climbed, Papo placed a foam mattress at the base of the tree for the coconuts to land on then got out of the way of the falling nuts.
A few deft strikes with his machete and Samuel rained down coconuts! Returning to the ground, Samuel then demonstrated additional machete skills as he chopped off the top of the coconut, added a straw and offered the perfect drinking vessel.
And it is not just the water inside that has health benefits. Green coconut meat is extremely good for you. Your cocotero can show you how to access the meat of the nut, even creating a spoon from the outer shell.
Like Samuel and Papo’s stand in Esperanza, most roadside stands are not always open. When you see a cocotero open, take the opportunity to get this delicious treat.
Do not attempt to harvest your own as it is dangerous. It is also prohibited on some areas of the island and
can carry a hefty fine.