It is always interesting to visit a farmer out in the fields where he spends most of his days, so one day we arranged to meet Tachi at his milpa. About a mile and a half out of town, Rob luckily remembered to turn off on a dirt trail that ended at a cornfield, and around a corner we found Tachi's little farming operation. It consisted of a small stick hut to house his ears of corn, and two larger thatched palapas where he could rest, eat, work in the shade, and store various other items. Around all of it were plants of all types set into old cans and bottles, and even a fruit tree or two. In fact, this was the most comfortable setup that we had ever seen out near somebody's fields. Tachi proudly offered to let us sleep out here some night in our hammocks to enjoy the outdoors, and, with a moment of silence, we could hear nothing but birds singing and the wind in the trees. Yet he told us that his wife and kids had never even been out here to visit...it is just his private abode where he comes to work.
Of course, there is no electricity and no water out here, but Tachi rides his big tricycle out every day with big jugs of water, so he has water for washing, drinking, and watering the plants. After gathering our materials, we walked back out to the small, weedy, dilapilated field, where Tachi explained how the whole growing cycle works. To be used as a field, first the trees and undergrowth are chopped down, and then at the end of the dry season in April, the whole field is burnt durning a (hopefully) controlled burn.. After the rainy season starts in May, the area is planted with several seeds, including corn, beans, squash, and sweet potatoes, all growing out the same holes and coexisting. The squash and sweet potatoes provide groundcover to keep down the weeds, the corn is their main foodsource, and the beans use the cornstalks as poles to climb up. Then the fields sit until everything is dry and ready to be harvested.
At this point in January, the beans and the corn had already been gathered, the cornstalks were all bent over, and the weeds were high. But somewhere in there were still squash, and our job was to find them. I armed myself a couple of leaky old buckets, Rob had a big burlap bag, and Tachi had a wicker basket hanging on his back from a strap around his head. We split up swathes of the field and set out to gather the squash, which loved to hide amoung the rocks, leaves, and undergrowth which made up the field, but soon enough we filled our containers up and found a shady spot to dump them all in a pile, which started to become a large mound as we continued to search out more. By the time we had cleared the field of squash, we were hot and sweating, and there were probably 400 squash in the pile.
We went back to the palapa for a break and snack, and in the shade Tachi proudly showed us his single-action rifle and explained some of the animals that he hunts out in the jungle. In the course of the conversation he asked if we had ever eaten duck, and we said we had, in a Chinese Restaurant in Paris. He still kept a blank look on his face, and we realized that he had never heard of either Chinese food or the city of Paris. With that, the break was over, and we headed back out to deal with the squash. They are of course very heavy, so bringing them home on a bicycle isn't a very good option, but they are highly valued for the seeds that are inside. Tachi started splitting them in half with his coa (which is a long curved blade used for all sorts of tasks), and it was our job to remove the seeds from inside. It is actually easy work, but for me, the idea of sticking my hand into the mushy interior of a squash was one of the grossest sensations that I have felt in a long time. I more or less got used to it after doing a few, and soon enough one hand was dripping with squash mush, and the other was caked with dirt from holding up squash halves.
The pile inside our buckets grew slowly, and after about 4 hours, the three of us each had a five-gallon bucket almost filled with seeds. After being washed, cleaned, and dried in the sun for about a week they would finally be ready to eat. Then some of them will be ground up for use in cooking, and some of them left as seeds to munch on. Tachi had plans to sell some of them in tiny bags for about 10 cents each. We asked how many bags could be made from a bucket, and he estimated maybe 100. So with our three buckets of seeds, we had worked the entire morning to someday earn the family maybe $30 worth of squash-seed sales.