Sunday, June 28, 2015

the forbidden fruit

One of my failings as a traveler is when I am behind a steering wheel.

My idea of driving is to go from point A to point B.  There is nothing in between.  If I see something interesting along the road, I believe it will be there when I return.  When I do return I , of course, drive right by it.

I come by the affliction naturally.  My brother is the same way.  We blame it on the Y chromosome we inherited from our father.  My mother can (and will) tell stories about the absurd lengths he would take to avoid stopping on road trips.

On my drives to and from Puerto Vallarta, I have noticed some odd shrubs along Highway 200 south of the Tomatlán turnoff.  The plants are not that noticeable.  They are no more remarkable than creosote bushes -- which they resemble.  Lots of branches with no discernible trunk.

What caught my attention were the grapefruit-sized fruit that appeared to grow from each of the individual trunks.  Almost as if someone had taped green Christmas ornaments to them.

I cannot count how many times my curiosity has been tweaked -- and I would keep on driving.  When I drove my friend Jack to the Puerto Vallata airport, I pointed them out to him.  And I am glad I did.

He told me the tree and the fruit have the same name -- cuastecomate.  Interestingly, that is the name of a beach village just over the hill from Melaque.  And for good reason, the trees grow there.  Until recently, there was a giant version right in the village.  Before it was cut down.

On the return trip, I stopped to look closer at the fruit.  They look like a type of gourd.  A very hard exterior with an almost hollow interior.

Most trees around here have been imported.  The cuastecomate is a Mexican native.

When the gourds are dried, the local Indians found them very useful for carrying and storing water, as drinking and eating utensils, and the foundation for decorative pottery.  The Huichol make beaded maracas from the gourd.

I am told a local naturopath creates a medicine from the gourds inside the pulp.  When the gourd turns brown and falls from the tree, the top is removed, and the interior (including the pulp) is filled with alcohol.  After a curing period that sounds as if it might rival that of kimchi, the fermented liquid is used to control respiratory conditions -- including asthma.

I have never tried it.  But, then, I do not have respiratory troubles.

What I do have is a bit of new information about a naive Mexican plant.  And in an area filled with mango, tamarind, coconut, and other foreign plans, that is rare enough for me. 

I need to stop and enjoy those moments more often.

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