It is scattered almost all around the country, especially in the coastal regions since the tree favours aerated, sandy and drained soil. There are many types of palm trees, many of those also grow in The Gambia, but coconut (Cocos Nucifera) is the one that is most common here.
The biggest challenge is to get to the soft white flesh and coconut water, since a) coconuts grow high up in the palm tree, b) fruit is protected by a thick fleshy skin and hard shell that covers the core. But if you are living in the tropics, you soon find a way to crack it. There are special techniques, that can be used to open it and to get to the coconut water without spilling it. Coconut gatherer is one of the jobs here in The Gambia. Mostly, young men and older boys learn how to climb the tree and then use machete to remove the outer husk. This is how coconuts as you probably know it are being sold in the markets and shops, also get ready for export.
Coconut tree can grow up to 30 m high, so to climb a tree like that, especially without any branches for support you, can be a bit of a challenge. But people here are used to climbing, although it can be very slippery. It is physically quite tyring, so men who do it are usually quite shaped and muscular. When visiting The Gambia, you stop in Barra, where locals will bring you fresh coconut directly from the coconut tree.
Coconut can be used for wide spectre of products. Beginning with edibles, coconut can be eaten as a fruit; coconut water as well as white flesh is very good and healthy. There are two versions of the fruit; one is jelly, the other one is hard. It depends on the ripeness of the fruit. When outer husk is still green, the meat inside is jelly and coconut can be easier separated from the shell. This is how people sell it especially in the Traffic light area, where you can buy coconut from your car, while waiting for the green light. One coconut can cost from 40 to 50 dalasis. But when the outer husk starts to change colour to dark green with yellow and brown spots, this means coconut’s meat starts to become hard. There is no significant difference in the taste, mostly the difference is just in the texture.
On the market you can buy hard coconut for 40 or 50 dalasis, while you can get one slice for 5 dalasis or so. It is a good and nutritious snack, since coconut has plenty of fat inside. This is also the reason why coconut oil is produced. It has many beneficial properties and is good not only for cooking but also as cosmetic product or additive to them.
Apart from coconut oil, also coconut flour is produced and later used for many delicious desserts or sweets. In the Gambia, they usually add it to chakry or baobab juice, but there are also plenty other recipes, where coconut can be used.
So, just in case if you find yourself stranded on the lonely dessert, hungry and next to the palm tree, without any tools, this is how you can get to the coconut water and meat. You have to find a long stick which can reach lower branches or try and climb it without falling down. Try to dislocate the stem from the top of the husk. Then you will need a sharp object to remove the husk – you can use sharp stone, but it will take some time. Once you reach to the brown (or in this case white, because the fruit is still fresh) shell, you need to find three dark circles. One of those is always easier to poke, so try and find yourself a sharp object, which you can use to poke through. After you have drunk the water, you can throw coconut against a rock or hard object to break it open. Then you can enjoy the white meat. Not so easy, right?