Seven days a week you can catch Tuntun selling fresh coconut water on the shoulder of La Ruta 3 at a makeshift stand under three almond trees. You can’t miss him–his electric yellow pick up truck is parked by a stand that looks like a pop-up barbershop–a domino table, four chairs, a couch, and a white camping tent to protect him and his guests from the vicious midday tropical sun. Hurricane Maria destroyed most of the stand which is West Bound toward San Juan. Three months after the hurricane he is slowly rebuilding.
Tuntun was born and raised in Playa Fortuna, a coastal parcela in the town of Luquillo nestled between la Ruta 3 and the Atlantic Ocean. He spent a decade working in factories in Brooklyn, New York but missed the island and his family and returned three decades ago. He was a construction worker during his youth and helped build many of the skyscrapers that dot the town. His home is a two floor mix of cement and wood and is located 600 feet from one of the most gorgeous beaches on the island. It was too dangerous to stay so close to the ocean so he weathered the hurricane inland with relatives– he took his 85-year-old mother, 55-year old sister, a 29-year old son, and joined several nieces, nephews, aunts, and uncles.
Tutun got his nickname from his fierce conga flow, he says. He’s been playing since he before he learned to walk. He’s made a living selling coconut water for more than a decade. Before the storm business was booming. Puerto Ricans love coconut–candy, oil, and water–they use it to cook, fresh out the shell, and for skin and hair. They drink the oil for gut immune protection. Tuntun and his family know how to work coconut in all the ways imaginable. Customers come from all over the island because Tuntun gets the best cocos available. If you like your water sweet, he knows which one to open. If you like your flesh soft, he knows that too, if you prefer harder flesh, well he picks just the right one from the hundreds of coconuts chilling in ice water. First time customers get an info sheet on the many nutritional value of coconuts. He says coconuts are the God sent. For those reasons Tuntun is known as “The Coconut Whisperer.”
Since accidentally cutting his leg with a machete and falling 50 feet from a palm tree he stopped harvesting coconuts which is why he has a crew of young harvesters. And while weeks after the storm there were coconuts galore, now they are tough to find.
“Nature,” he says, “needs time to rebound.”
Words: Sandra Guzmán
Photos: Sandra Guzmán & Rebecca Gitana Torres