The other day, Rose and I met up with 2 of our Tablas Island friends - Eddie and Edwin - for a tour of their coconut farm. Their coconut farm is on 70 acres of rolling and mountainous terrain. 'Are you ready for Adventure?' We nod, and off we go!
Eddie and Edwin lead Rose and I into the shade of the coconut trees. 'Before we explore the farm, we are going to meet up with the caretaker. His name is Noel. His family has been working on this farm since they were small children. He will be happy to have visitors.
Minutes later, we approach a simple native style home where Noel is enjoying the refreshing island breeze. 'Kamusta Ka?' greets Noel. 'Mabuti,' we all reply. After a some small talk - where I understand none of it - Noel begins walking up the steep side of the mountain. Rose informs me that we are going up the most difficult part of the terrain first so we can see what they must do when Noel and his family harvest the coconuts.
By the way, have you ever held a coconut? I mean a full coconut with the husk still on the nut.
I'm sure you'd like to get your hands on 1 of these... but getting back to coconuts. Each coconut can weigh from 5-10 pounds (2-4 kilograms). Considering each tree yields about 80 - 150 coconuts per year - that's a lot of weight. Then imagine getting the coconuts from the trees and then to the road! It's some hard, heavy work.
Nearing the top of the hill I ask Rose how many people carry these coconuts down the hill after they get them from the trees. Rose wisely corrects my ignorance, 'Don't be silly. They don't carry them down the hill. They roll them.'
Interesting Trivia -
How many people are killed by falling coconuts?
"Falling coconuts kill 150 people worldwide each year, 15 times the number of fatalities attributable to sharks," said George Burgess, Director of the University of Florida's International Shark Attack File and a noted shark researcher.
After reaching the top of the mountainside, we sit down to catch our breath - needless to say, we are not in the shape we thought we were. As we enjoy the shade, Noel with his machete in hand, climbs the neighboring coconut tree. When he reaches the top, he selects a few choice coconuts and proceeds to cut them from the branches.
PLOP, PLOP, PLOP, PLOP!
Rose smiles up to Noel, 'Salamat Kuya!' He is happy and returns to the earth.
Minutes later, Noel has trimmed our coconuts into easy to manage sizes and he encourages us to drink. (See my earlier post on The Benefits of Coconut Water).
Feeling thoroughly refreshed and invigorated, we thank Noel. Smiling he informs us that he wants to show us where he is making Tuba. Needless to say, I look confused - again. And we proceed to follow Noel to the mysterious Tuba.
Happy to be on the shady side of the mountain, Noel takes leads us through and open area that eventually leads to his special Tuba making facility - a single, tall coconut tree... and he proceeds to climb - does this guy ever run out of energy?
While we are waiting for Noel to return, I ask Edwin, 'How old is Noel?'
'He's not to old. I think he is 50 years old.'
'Wow, he is extremely fit from his daily exercise, from eating good food, drinking coconut water and drinking tuba. Tuba makes you live long and feel strong!'
'Tuba? I keep hearing about tuba. What is tuba?'
Everyone around me smiles - 'It's coconut wine!'
... and Noel proceeds to pour.
What does Tuba taste like? To me it tastes like the soft drink called 'Fresca' or 'Canei' wine, and its slightly effervescent.
Does it give you a buzz? Yes, I'm going to guess the alcohol content around 6%.
So How is Tuba Made?
First of all, Tuba is considered a rural drink, because it has a short shelf life. It is not sold in stores or in restaurants.
It is made from coconut tree sap. One tree can produce two to four quarts / liters of Tuba a day.
The sap is drawn from a bud on the coconut tree's inflorescence (its floral branches, called the "sawak.") The floral branch is wrapped in a material such as rattan, then tapped on the edges so as to bruise its insides, and then bent and tied pointing downward, a little more each day so as not to break it. Up to three of these buds can be milked at one time from a tree without harming the tree.
When a floral branch is bending halfway down, the tip of it is sliced open. In two to three days, sap will start dripping from the tip, about one drop per second. The sap is collected in vessels called "sogong", which are covered otherwise to keep rain and bugs out.
The vessels are checked in the mornings, and the cut re-done everyday so that it doesn't seal itself. After two months, the supply of sap will dry up permanently.
A person who gathers the sap - like Noel - is called a "manananggot."
The sap is sweet. Powdered mangrove tree bark (called "tungog") is dropped in to colour it red and to tarten the taste, then the sap is filtered to get the bark out. If no bark is added, the Tuba is called "lina", and is sweeter.
The sap can be drunk fresh, or fermented. The fermentation happens naturally within a matter of days, and carbonates the drink.
The sooner the Tuba is drunk, the better, and it should be refrigerated to extend its shelf life. It starts to sour after two to three days. For about two weeks after that, it is called "bahal", and is strongly alcoholic - not my personal favorite.
Past that, it is useful just as a vinegar called "such bisaya," (Rose loves this).
Tuba can also be used to make a stronger alcoholic drink called "lambanug." The Tuba is let ferment for five days, then distilled. Three-hundred gallons (1,135 litres) of sap are needed to make one gallon of lambanug.
Are You Interested in Trying 'Tuba'? or Fresh Coconut Juice?
It's easy. Come Join Us!
Enjoy the Hilarious Adventures of my Move to the Philippines
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