There's plenty to eat year-round in the tropical trees of Panama. These days, cashew fruit and mangos are just about ripe. Tamarind, on the other hand, may not be.
In the town of La Pintada, killing time while waiting to visit cigar rollers in an open-air shop on a slope, Essdras came across a hard-cased fruit lying on the ground. Inside, he said, would be the bitter-sweet paste of tamarind.
The outer shell, though, wasn't so easy to crack.
Smacking it on a rock didn't work either.
A few hard stomps finally did do the trick.
But there was little reward - as there was brittle yellow instead of paste.
Essdras bantered with his friend, the canal pilot, in Spanish.
"Now we're debating, 'is that a tamarind tree?,' " Essdras told me.
"I don't know," his friend added in English, "maybe in the same family."
Essdras seemed to concede defeat: "We might have just attacked the wrong tree."