The Writer's Life: Film & Book Reviews, Observations, and Stories
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Pepino de Mar

We hired a cab to transport us to a special beach south of town called La Lancia. The waves are supposed to be better there. Our cabbie said he would take us, go home (which was only a couple of kilometers away), have lunch with his family, and then come back to pick us up. It was a gorgeous spot. About a mile of pure sand beach across the bay from the gigantic Four Seasons Resort. Unfortunately, we were a bit too early for the good waves but, as a consequence, had the place mostly to ourselves.

There were two men with large plastic buckets sitting near the end of the trail in the shade. A few surfers waited on their boards for waves. Pelicans flew in formation over the water and dove now and then for fish which they ate in large gulps. Two sailboats floated in the distance and directly in front of us the Marietas sat in the middle of the sea.

Then I noticed something in the water I couldn’t quite make out. It looked like a swimmer but that didn’t make much sense. Who would swim 100 yards from shore parallel to the beach? Whoever it was had fins and something trailing behind him tethered to a float. The mystery resolved itself half an hour later. A man in a short wetsuit, mask, and very long snorkle emerged from the sea with a net filled with something. The men we had seen earlier quickly approached and held out their buckets while the swimmer placed small objects inside.

Of course, I had to know what it was, so I went over and asked if they were fish. They all shook their heads no. Then what is it? I asked, and the snorkler dug into one of the buckets and pulled out an oblong spiny thing about the size of a sweet potato. “Pepino de mar,” he said, “brown sea cucumber.”