Ol’ Joe ~ The Rarest Nut

It can rain big time in tropical Seychelles with roadside drains a metre deep proof of that. Well, while we waited for the man to arrive, it chucked down bucketfuls, so much so we became anxious because of Jim’s recent illness.

What an entry! Amongst the torrential racket, we barely heard the thump of feet before the hatch flew back, and sheets of rain soaked the set table. Next, a thoroughly sodden skinny fellow literally fell down the companionway ladder. Red blood stained the cabin sole as several hands lifted the man back onto his feet. But before anyone could enquire about his health, his face contorted into a crooked smile while blood issued from a nasty gash.

“Hi, Susie. Sorry, I’m late,” he stuttered with an idiot’s lisp, reaching out to embrace her, while we stood in total silence, gob smacked.

It seems he’d fallen into one of those roadside gutters and thought nothing of it. Of course, Susie doctored him up in her brusque manner.

Next morning, most yachts sailed for Praslin Island and anchored off a quiet sandy beach fronting a bay of crystal clear water, with a store on shore to buy our needs and a restaurant to cater for our desires. The famous coco de mer grows here. They’re protected, each nut tagged.

After Christmas, to find more solitude, Banyandah and Chimere moved around the point to a quiet bay with a sandy beach backed by forest at the much smaller Curieuse Island. We soon found this bay had a ranger’s house and also more coco de mer. It’s the only other island in the world where these monsters grow. On our second day there, the ranger popped over in his runabout and straightaway loves the kids, so we asked him up for lunch and learnt heaps during a fun occasion. But first he heard tales of raising kids while sailing oceans, and then, totally rapt, it became his turn. With a mischievous grin, he told us why the coco de mer is called the Love Nut.

“The nut looks like a woman’s buttocks complete with a vulva. But when it falls to the ground, it sprouts an erect penis from between its legs, and we guess that’s why the edible jelly inside is sometimes sold as a love potion.”

After a pleasant repast, he boarded his boat full of mirth, and with friendship shining from his eyes, invited us for lunch at his place the next day. During this simple meal, he mentioned we’d probably want a nut or two and tells us where to find some. “Walk along the beach, then north through the mangroves, over the island’s tallest part, through the palm forest to a beach where a few nuts can be found on the ground. Take your pick of them.”

He seemed so casual about it, we asked along the Chimere crew.

The coco de mer, the world’s biggest fruit, has fascinated humanity since first found washed ashore long ago on the coast of India. Since no one had seen the fruit growing on land, folks assumed it originated in the sea. Monarchs praised it, and one cult worshipped them.

Speculation did not end until 18th century explorers discovered the palm on Praslin Island. The plant holds several world records, including the largest flower on any palm tree and the heaviest fruit at forty-two kilograms. Shaded by stiff leaves that rattle in a sea breeze, the nuts take seven years to ripen. Today, the fruit is used in Ayurvedic medicine and traditional Chinese medicine. It is also a popular flavouring in the Canton region of China.

The following morning, we undertook a leisurely walk across the island through a palm forest loaded with green nuts, many quite massive. But one enormous nut stood out. That’s where Jim went missing.

The great palms towered into the sky, many growing more than a hundred feet tall. At the top of their straight and elegantly slender trunks, clusters of rustling leaves exploded into a fanlike display that clashed and moaned in the light breeze. Quite easily I distinguished the male trees with their long drooping catkins from the females who bore huge double fruits beneath their ten-foot-wide fronds. 

The ranger told us that a female coco de mer tree bears no fruit until at least twenty-five years old. And while no one knows the life span of these graceful titans, several specimens in the Vallée de Mai on Praslin Island are in their second century.

When noticing Jim missing, we simply sat on the verge, for our morning snack. And in a little while, Jim suddenly reappeared over the vegetated rise, further bruised and battered, and carrying an enormous nut that covered his entire chest, leaving visible only the biggest, lopsided grin any idiot could have. Walking straight up to Susie with this gigantic nut, he said something like, “For you, Susie, Merry Christmas.”

Next day, the Four J’s returned to the ranger’s house to thank him for his kindness, but he startled us when he asked, “Did you see Ol’ Joe alongside the track? The biggest nut ever grown on the island.”

Checking out of Seychelles bound for Aden became an ordeal after that. Not because of the love nut madness—the ranger had just chuckled and, in his best imitation of Aussie strine, said, “She’ll be right, mate.”

No, that wasn’t the problem. We needed fuel and engine oil, but before getting that, we had to go through another gruelling marine police inspection, mandatory after the attempted coup. And being rather on a thin edge after the Marine Police insisted on opening every locker and looking under every floor space, I approached the wharf master who sells the fuel, and he demanded mega-dollars just to lie alongside his wharf while I take on his expensive fuel or his outrageously priced oil. Short fused, I blew up like an atomic bomb and told him to shove his dock where the sun doesn’t shine… And sailed off in a huff, without what we needed. Ah, but later on, that came back to bite us in the butt when drifting across the doldrums.