It’s noon in Corralillo, Nicoya. The sun is scorching. Josimar walks among palm trees with long spines lying on the ground. He takes the wood cap off one of the palm trees. He sets aside the large leaves that cover the puddle of sap to protect it from the rain and brushes away the ants that had lined up.
“People don’t drink it like they used to,” he says with nostalgia for an era that he didn’t live in. “Now it’s consumed more for tourism than for tradition.”
Josimar’s hands are full of cuts. With a small pale he tosses the first spoonful of foam on the ground and, little by little, he fills a bucket with coyol sap.
Once he’s done, he puts the leaves and wood cap back and continues to the next palm. He must repeat this four times today for each one of the six palm tree trunks that he still has left to do. The last spine of the day will hurt him at midnight.
It’s been three years since he and his parents started operating El Sitio de Don Pedro, an idea he got in high school that gained steam and became the small startup where a large part of his family works.
Josimar Fonseca, 21, studies business management at the University of Costa Rica and is the mastermind behind the project, and in charge of walking across the spiny palms at least 30 times a day to collect the sap.
It’s his daily routine at least until break is over. When he goes back to the university, his uncle will relieve him and perform his duties.
From a Notebook to Reality
The farm is located about 50 meters away from the main crossing at Corralillo, a gravel intersection in the middle of the sprawling Guanacastecan plains.
“Let’s go to the shade,” Josimar says as he starts to tell his story and escape the sun at the same time.
25 coyol trees produce sap the whole summer in El Sitio de Don Pedro. Each tree produces for approximately one month.
Everyday, when he would leave classes at the Corralillo Technical Professional High School he would start to write the business plan for the project at home. He showed it to his parents, Rafael —a retired professor— and Anayanci —special education professor— in order to correct the details.
“It was a group contest that I decided to do alone,” he said. “I wanted to work on it at my own pace because when others don’t share your same interests they aren’t going to put as much effort into it.”
Even though it was a fictitious contest, he started to write the plan in a way that could make it a reality. He remembers that all his classmates giving him incredulous looks when they didn’t see him in the first three places.
Since he knew it was the one that had the best chance to be executed, he appealed the points and classified for the regional final.
“That was where I told my parents that I was going to launch the business,” he said “A few days later I told them that I had already ordered the hens and the coyol trees and they got scared, the got really scared.”
He started offering spiced chicken door to door and inviting people from Corralillo to Nicoya to see El Sitio.
By the following summer, he had already learned what he needed in order to go it alone and the business had grown enough to get his family involved.
His plan was to integrate the community little by little into the project. If large groups come, he asks neighbors to make doughnuts so he can offer them to visitors.
The Sleeplessness of the Vineyard
Josimar explains the coyol’s properties using University of Costa Rica’s studies. While he fills one of the 25 bottles that he fills per day, he talks about the best times of day to cut palm trees, something he learned in a book called School for Everyone.
He assures that you have to drink a lot to experience the legendary coyol drunkenness. He doesn’t say it because of experience, but when he was starting the project he drank the the first batch that the coyol trees produced and he suffered the consequences.
“The excess of sodium made me vomit and I spent the whole night sweating,” he says “The one who always tries it to see if it’s good is my dad.”
It’s not an easy job. He remembers that there was a time of “really good trees” that produced a lot and you had to collect the sap at two o’clock in the morning.
“I was really tired and I went to sleep at seven at night,” he said. “I didn’t collect the sap at nine nor at 12. When I got up, at seven in the morning, I saw the puddle under the trees.”
A family of howler monkeys crosses the terrain over the crowns of the trees, howling. Under the shade, Josimar sweeps the leaves from the ground and tends to a group of men that try the milky drink with utter tranquility. Or he works on something until 4pm, the time of the next collection.