Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Forbidden Fruit

The day we went to Manuel Antonio National Park, we had a great time on the beach. We all had fun splashing in the water and playing in the sand. L was so excited about his Basilisk lizard spotting, and we just had a great time. While the boys were playing, they found these little green fruits on the beach and threw them in the water. They liked to watch them swirl around, and they'd try to catch them again as the waves came in. The little fruits were everywhere on the beach, and while I watched the boys play, I picked one up and split it open.

It had a familiar smell - like something I had tasted before - but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. I briefly thought, "I probably shouldn't eat this, since I don't know what it is." But the serpent beguiled me the familiar smell quieted any worries, and I took a tiny bite. Sweet, juicy, still familiar, and still a mystery. I hung onto it, thinking I'd take it back to M and have him taste it. But before I got back to him, my mouth and throat were on fire. It wasn't like burning heat, or spicy heat, it was, "Oh my, I have just ingested something toxic!" heat. I told M what had happened, and I tried to eat and drink to wash that toxin away, but the burning continued. It was annoying, but I ignored it while we kept playing, thinking it would go away soon.

It did die down over the next couple of hours, but I was still feeling it when we left the beach. We left by a different path than we arrived, and all along this new path there were signs warning visitors not to eat the fruits of the tree. I hardly know any Spanish, but I could pick out enough to know that this fruit was called Manzanilla and it was poisonous. Perhaps I wasn't paying attention, but I don't recall any signs like that on the way in. Gee, thanks, national park! Could have used the warning earlier!

We drove back to the hotel and the burning had completely subsided by then, but I decided to Google this plant, anyway, just to be safe. Here's what I found: (all from Wikipedia)

Hippomane mancinella (fruit).jpg
"Hippomane mancinella (fruit)" by Hans Hillewaert - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

"A present-day Spanish name is in fact manzanilla de la muerte, "little apple of death". This refers to the fact that manchineel is one of the most poisonous trees in the world." (starting to get worried)

"The fruit is said to be possibly fatal if eaten, (seriously?) however, "fatalities from ingestion are not reported in the modern literature" (source 1991: Bygbjerg I.C. and H.K. Johansen: Manchineel poisoning complicated by streptococcal pharyngitis and impetigo. Ugeskr. Laeger 154(1), 27-28 (1991).) and "ingestion may produce severe gastroenteritis with bleeding, shock, bacterial superinfection, and the potential for airway compromise due to edema. Patients with a history of ingestion and either oropharyngeal burns or gastrointestinal symptoms should be evaluated for admission in hospital. Care is supportive." (source: Poisonous Plants: A Handbook for Doctors, Pharmacists, Toxicologists, Biologists and Veterinarians, by Dietrich Frohne and Hans Jürgen Pfänder. 2005).

The Caribs used the sap of this tree to poison their arrows and would tie captives to the trunk of the tree, ensuring a slow and painful death. (Are you kidding me, Wikipedia?) poultice of arrowroot (Maranta arundinacea) was used by the Arawaks and Taíno as an antidote against such arrow poisons.[5] The Caribs were known to poison the water supply of their enemies with the leaves.[citation needed] Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León was struck by an arrow that had been poisoned with Manchineel sap during battle with the Calusa in Florida, dying shortly thereafter."

Other websites referring to this fruit were all yahoo answers type sites along these lines: "Help! I just ate this fruit and now I'm afraid I'm going to die! What should I do?" No answers. 

With an elevated heart rate, but a calm demeanor, I asked M to read up on the subject and propose a course of action. Should we go to the hospital? Or stay at the hotel and wait to die? We decided  to stop by the office of the hotel. Surely the people of Costa Rica know all about this most dangerous of all fruits that grows so plentifully on their beaches and they will know what to do. 

I poked my head in the office and found Marlene who speaks very little English. She asked if I wanted tea, and I said no, and explained again. But she was very confused, so she ran to get her husband, Bernard, who was napping. He was groggy and in his boxers and just as confused as his wife. Turns out the word Manzanilla also means Chamomile (that explains about the tea!). They had never heard of the poisonous fruit kind of Manzanilla, so he asked me to show him on the internet. I pulled up the Wikipedia page, and he read out loud, his words punctuated by his loud gasping. He didn't know what to do, but he wanted to help, if only by reading aloud every website he could find on the subject. And loudly gasping in horror! At the same time, he and his wife were having a disagreement about whether or not I should go to the hospital. She said I should and she'd be happy to take me. He said I shouldn't. It would cost $100 and the doctors were young and wouldn't even know what this thing was. He went on and on. She eventually decided to call a doctor friend of hers, who reassured her that if I wasn't feeling the burning sensation anymore, I was probably fine. Meanwhile, M had taken the boys to the car, and they were waiting for me. I knew they were hungry, and so eventually, I left the owners with an address of a pharmacy where she suggested I go. He was still busy on the computer, and I suspect he kept googling for quite a while after I left! 

We went to dinner, and everyone was so tired that I decided not to bother with the pharmacy. We went back to the hotel, settled in for the night, and THANKFULLY woke up the next morning! haha

We got ourselves ready for the day and then headed over to the breakfast which they provided each day (who knew I would love beans and rice for breakfast everyday, by the way?). M and L ran ahead, and J and I toddled along behind. When I rounded the corner into the dining area, Marlene and Bernard dropped everything and ran to hug me, shouting, "She's alive!" 

With the danger past, they thought I was very funny, and very stupid. Bernard told me he loved me, because everywhere he had traveled, he had encountered strange fruit and always had the urge to taste it, but he'd always passed up the opportunity because he didn't know if it was safe or not. He was wiser than I! :) I think I'm a guest they'll never forget!


Lara said...

What an unexpected adventure....I am glad you survived! :)

Lara said...
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