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A Traveler's Tale

March 7, 2016
Landscape of a Costa Rica beach

This text is written by Sonia Primerano, writer and storyteller


Through the scattering midday sunlight pouring through the leaves above my head, I lay gently resting on my towel gazing out towards the sea. It had already been 1 month of travelling so far, and there I was in Costa Rica; where lush landscapes and pristine coastlines are exactly how you would imagine an oasis to be - a pure slice of Heavenly bliss on Earth - lined with tall, green coconut trees as far as the eye can see.

As the sun blazed high up in the sky, crystallizing the salt upon my skin, I couldn’t help but notice a vendor approaching my general direction in the far-off, barely-visible distance. The closer he got, the more I yearned for something - anything - to quench my undeniable and growing thirst. After already having spent a few hours on the beach, the idea of something to drink enthused me. And before I knew it, like a mirage coming to life and like a saviour coming to my rescue, the vendor, with his cart full of fresh coconuts, had arrived.

Palm trees lulled by the wind off the coast of a Costa Rica beach
Palm trees and tropical plants off the coast of a Costa Rica beach

“Una pipa, por favor,” I requested with a smile, attempting (and most likely unsuccessfully) to hide my desperation. I handed over my golden 500 Colones coin (equivalent to about $1) with excitement over to him. His hands were deep brown in colour and leathery in texture, a telltale sign that those hands, worn and roughened with time were, with complete certainty, his life-sustaining and survival tools.

As I stood there curiously watching him hack away easily at the thick shell of a coconut with a machete, I thought to myself and wondered, “What is this man’s life story, and for how long has he been selling coconuts along this beach?”

Typically, I would have let the thought slide and gone about my day, mostly to save myself from potential embarrassment, but I decided to give it a shot. After all, why not?

I started off by asking him his name.

“Alfredo”, he replied shyly, bowing his head as I snapped his picture. His voice was low and slightly hoarse and I could tell he wasn’t asked personal questions by foreigners very often by his moderately intrigued gaze. I gathered up more courage and asked him where he was from and if he lived in the area. As he handed over a bright green coconut brimming with cool water, he told me that he lived in a nearby village with his wife, and that his two children were studying in San José, the capitol city of Costa Rica.

His eyes radiated pride and joy.

Coconut vendor slicing a coconut on a Costa Rica beach
Close up of the hand of a coconut vendor slicing a coconut on a Costa Rica beach

Before he made his way off down the shore, I managed to ask him one final question in my less-than-perfect Spanish as I pointed to the coconuts in his cart, “How long have you been working selling coconuts for?”

His nostalgic eyes looked directly into mine and he said, “Trenta años.”


I headed back to my beach towel sipping the sweet, refreshing coconut water from a straw. Alfredo trailed off into the distance and I found myself going back to the silences between his spoken words, trying to decipher the story, his story, found within them. And his story, I soon realized, was the story of many across the globe who work hard, day in and day out, sacrificing their own personal pleasures, wants and desires for the livelihood of their families and children. It’s an often overlooked story of selflessness and unwavering commitment. I often forget of the farmers’ hands that picked the fruit and food I eat.

I often, unfortunately, forget.

Enjoying the refreshing taste of coconut water right from a freshly sliced coconut in Costa Rica

It’s in instances like this where those formerly nameless hands do have a name; where I can look at the face of this truth in the eyes and be instantly touched by the reality of one man’s story. Life’s routine rhythms can detach us from our surroundings more often than not, and tarnish our otherwise clear and recognizant awareness.

Like a mirror to my reflective thoughts, the radiant orange sun began to set over the horizon, turning the sky into a soft canvas of immeasurable colours. Life also has a way of sending us equally gentle reminders: The foods we so readily consume are not only an extension, but an expression of the hands that held them, that sewed them, cultivated and created them. And thanks to this little reminder I will walk a little bit softer, and a lot more humble, wherever I go.

Landscape of a sunset on a Costa Rica beach

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