The technician leaned conspiratorially across the counter at Marty Forscher’s repair store.
“Were you deployed to Afghanistan?”
Mark Cola has survived for 30 years on a diet of dried coconuts and rainwater on the beachfront of Icacos. Villagers who live in the far-flung fishing community marvel at Cola’s primitive survival techniques, repetitious meals and his seclusion from society. It’s a lifestyle no villager wants, even though the scenery is relaxing and picturesque.
Describing Cola as a hermit, villagers say they have never seen him visit a supermarket, bar, restaurant or clothing store in the three decades he has been residing on the beach. Neither does he socialise nor engage in conversations with anyone. Cola told to the Sunday Guardian on Monday that he loves his secluded lifestyle.
“It’s not a bother to me,” Cola said, refusing to speak much. He allowed the Sunday Guardian to enter into his sanctuary, or “home” as he calls it, located several metres from the shoreline. Cola lives a stone’s throw from the Icacos Fishing Facility. The location he selected is inconspicuous. Asked if he wanted to be relocated, Cola shook his head in the negative. “This is my home,” he muttered.
Villager Sharmaine Ali-Mohammed who has known Cola for years said only a few people have been allowed to enter his sanctuary. “Consider yourself lucky because he guards his home like a hawk.” She remembered Cola living a normal life with his family in the community. “He went on a deep-sea trawler as a young boy and jumped overboard one day. He swam to shore and never went back home. No one knows why and he has never told anyone why he chose to live outdoors.”
Questioned about his family, Cola curtly replied, “I don’t speak of my family.” Ali-Mohammed said occasionally Cola would take a sea bath, but hardly ventures away from the beach. Having heard of Cola’s hermit lifestyle, Ali-Mohammed, along with two male relatives, went in search of him on Monday. The Sunday Guardian joined them on their quest.
After a 30-minute search along the beach, we came up empty-handed. Cola was eventually spotted near the bank of a shallow river practising Chinese martial arts. A small punching bag, which hung from a makeshift goalpost and is used by Cola to keep fit, stood out among his belongings. His surroundings were immaculate. He admitted that he had not spoken to anyone in months.
Cola sleeps under a makeshift structure—a concrete slab and stones less than two feet high, supports five sheets of galvanise. Rocks were strategically placed on top of the galvanise to keep it from blowing away. To sleep at night, Cola would crawl under the galvanise. The galvanise, which was built on a slant, serves as a catchment for rainwater, which Cola collects in plastic containers and buckets.
This water is then used for drinking, bathing and washing his few pieces of clothing. Above his living quarters, a massive sea grape tree swayed in the breeze. Cola clads himself with garments left behind by sea bathers or visitors. He wears whatever clothing he finds on the beach, including female clothing and underwear. On a table made from tree branches, a grater containing remnants of shredded coconut rests inside a plastic bowl.
Only moments before, Cola had squeezed the milk from a grated coconut and placed it in a bottle with water to ferment to make coconut oil. The oils are used on his flawless skin and hair, which glistened under the blistering sun. Dozens of the dried fibrous nut, which Cola collected from along the shoreline, were heaped in a pile.
The coconuts, Cola said, have been his main staple for years. “It’s all that I eat. There are no fruit trees around. I don’t hunt animals or fish. I enjoy what nature has to offer.”