Sep 29

Skills You’ll Need When You Find Yourself on a Deserted Island

I am re-watching season 1 of LOST on my Canadian version of Netflix (which at 8 bucks a month has a higher ROI than even Apple’s iPhone IMHO.) If you look at the images above, you’ll see that Charlie Pace (played by Dominic Monaghan) has learned how to shell coconuts using a sharpened stick planted firmly in the ground. He is doing this casually while talking to Sayid Jarrah (acted by Naveen Andrews).

Knowing how to open coconuts on a deserted island (actually it’s far from deserted; it contains many sinister others but the characters don’t know this yet) is a pretty useful skill. Coconuts are a nutritious source of juice, milk and oil as well as meat that is a big part of the diet for a huge swath of humanity.

So if you want to be popular in a group of 47 survivors, this would be a good place to start. But what amazed me is that no one (at least not yet in the series) has thought to ferment the stuff and make palm wine. If you want to be REALLY popular and important, start making a lovely alcoholic beverage the next time you find yourself stranded somewhere nice (like Hawaii where the series was shot).

So here’s how you make palm wine. Commit it to memory. You never know when you’ll need it.

Palm wine also called kallu, palm toddy, or simply toddy, is an alcoholic beverage created from the sap of various species of palm tree such as the palmyra, date palms and coconut palms.

The sap is extracted and collected by a tapper. Typically the sap is collected from the cut flower of the palm tree. A container is fastened to the flower stump to collect the sap. The white liquid that initially collects tends to be very sweet and non-alcoholic before it is fermented. An alternate method is the felling of the entire tree. Where this is practiced, a fire is sometimes lit at the cut end to facilitate the collection of sap. 

Tapping a Palm Tree

Tapping a Palm Tree

Palm sap begins fermenting immediately after collection, due to natural yeasts in the pores of pot and air (often spurred by residual yeast left in the collecting container). Within two hours, fermentation yields an aromatic wine of up to 4% alcohol content, mildly intoxicating and sweet. The wine may be allowed to ferment longer, up to a day, to yield a stronger, more sour and acidic taste, which some people prefer. Longer fermentation produces vinegar instead of stronger wine.

Kallu is usually drunk soon after fermentation by the end of day, as it becomes more sour and acidic day by day. The drink, like vinegar in taste, is considered to have a short shelf life. However, it may be refrigerated to extend its life. Spices are added in order to brew the drink and give it its distinct taste.

Palm Wine Anyone?

Palm wine may be distilled to create a stronger drink, which goes by different names depending on the region (e.g., arrack, village gin, charayam, and country whiskey). 

In the Indian state of Kerala, toddy is used in leavening (as a substitute for yeast) a local form of hopper called the vellai Appam. Toddy is mixed with rice dough and left over night to aid in fermentation and expansion of the dough causing the dough to rise overnight, making the bread soft when prepared. 

Some small pollinating mammals consume large amounts of fermented palm nectar as part of their diet, especially the southeast Asian pen-tailed treeshrew. The inflorescences of the bertam palm contain populations of yeast which ferment the nectar in the flowers to up to 3.8% alcohol (average: 0.6%). The treeshrews metabolize the alcohol very efficiently and do not appear to become drunk from the fermented nectar.



Postscript 1. Think about how important fire is to almost all human technology. It is amazing to me that in two episodes of the hit television show Survivor Australia and Survivor Africa, 32 people, contestants who knew for months that they would be on that show, could not light a fire with stone age tools after two days of trying on each show.

Survivor Africa

These people had months to prepare; they had access to books on how to do it; they obviously had read them because they put the tools together—but they got smoke but no fire. Ugh. Imagine how valuable someone who could reliably do it would be on one of those teams. (Tom Hanks did better on his own in Castaway.) Make sure you are one of the people on your team that can make fire!

If you have a pocketknife or a steel set and a good flint, this is probably the easiest, quickest way for modern man to make fire. If you don’t have a flint, find some quartzite.

A flint is: 

a hard, sedimentary cryptocrystalline form of the mineral quartz, categorized as a variety of chert. It occurs chiefly as nodules and masses in sedimentary rocks, such as chalks and limestones. (Wikipedia)


Pebble beach with flint nodules eroded from nearby cliff

Quartzite is:

a hard, non-foliated metamorphic rock which was originally pure quartz sandstone. (Wikipedia)


Piece of Quartzite 

Make a nest of dry char, fungus or birch. Strike the steel against your flint or quartzite a few times; sparks will fly off into the nest and, presto, you’ll have a fire. Blow softly on your fledgling fire and add more fuel (dry twigs). 

Tom Hanks Making Fire

Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks) Making Fire the Hard Way in Castaway

More info on starting a fire without matches is available from:

Postscript 2. Here’s what I learned about shrews and treeshrews:

The common treeshrew (Tupaia glis) is a small mammal in the treeshrew family Tupaiidae, and is native to Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

The common treeshrew is one of the largest among treeshrews. Average body length is between 16 and 21 cm (6.3 and 8.3 in), and average weight is around 190 g, with varying colours of reddish-brown, greyish or black upper parts and whitish belly. Its long, bushy tail is dark greyish-brown and almost reaches the length of the body. The paws are bare with sharp nails, and with a naked patch of skin above its long nose. Both sexes are similar. The measurements of the T. glis according to 21 specimens are head-to-body length: 170 to 235 mm, tail length: 170 to 242 mm and hind foot: 45 to 56 mm. The common treeshrew usually has a pale stripe on each shoulder.

Common treeshrews are active during the day, and forage for food alone or in pairs, mainly on the ground, among shrubs and tree holes. They feed on fruits, seeds, leaves, and insects, especially ants and spiders. They are also reported to catch lizards.

They are very agile in climbing both large vertical tree trunks and bushes, and occasionally jump from stems of a young tree to that of another as much as 60 cm (24 in) away. Their climbing is concentrated in lower heights. They frequently scent-mark their territories by chest and anogenital rubbing with a secretion from glands on chest and scrotum. Adult males are more secretory than females and juveniles. In the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, mean home ranges of adult males were estimated at 10,174 m2 (109,510 sq ft), of adult females at 8,809 m2 (94,820 sq ft), of juvenile males at 7,527 m2 (81,020 sq ft), and of juvenile females at 7,255 m2 (78,090 sq ft), with partial overlaps between male and female ranges varying from 0.4% to 56.8%. Home ranges of adult residents of the same sex overlap to a lesser degree than those of opposite sexes. A male’s range may include the ranges of two or three females. A high overlap between ranges of one adult male and one adult female indicates they form a stable pair. Juvenile ranges of either sex adjoin or overlap with ranges of adults, suggesting the juveniles are family members. Individuals of the same sex are involved in aggressive territorial chases.

Juvenile males depart from their family’s territory sooner than juvenile females.

The Common Tree Shrew is only 6.3 to 8.3 inches long and their tail is 6.3 inches long. The Common Tree Shrew will usually weigh 4.9 to 6.0 ounces and they will live 2 to 3 years in the wild.

The Common Tree shrew will build 2 nests and the babies will stay in one and the parents will stay in the other one.

The female will have 1 to 3 babies and they will weigh .35 to .48 ounces. Their eyes and ears will open when they are 10 to 20 days old. The mother spends very little time with her babies. She will come to visit them every 48 hours and let them nurse for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. When they are 36 days old they will be weaned and leave the nest.

Snakes, birds of prey and several other carnivores prey on the Common Tree Shrew.

The Northern Tree Shrew (Tupaia belangeri) is believed to be the closest relative of some of the earliest mammals. These are cute little guys.

These omnivores (both meat and plant eating) will usually live about two to three years in the wild, but some have been known to live 12 years. 

Looks aren’t everything; these small mammals have brains too! The Northern Tree Shrew has the highest brain to body ratio of any mammal. Talk about smart! They also have eight different sounds in their vocal repertoire which alarm sounds, defense sounds, etc. Scent marking is also very important to the shrew. They use this to communicate social standing and to mark their territory.

In Quantum Entity book 3, Altair (pictured above) brings her Treeshrews to Guatemala from Gladys Porter Zoo which is a zoological and botanical park located in Brownsville, Texas. Altair has certain survival skills– she’s a wonderful cook, she can make palm wine and she communicate with her animals (which ultimately saves her life). 

Her treeshrews mix with broad-clawed shrews in Guatemala.

The Guatemalan broad-clawed shrew (Cryptotis griseoventris) is a species of small-eared shrew in the family Soricidae. It is known from Guatemala and the Mexican state of Chiapas, where it has been found in montane forests of oak, pine and fir, as well as secondary forest, mostly at elevations above 2000 m. It feeds on insects.


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About the Author

Bruce is an entrepreneur/real estate broker/developer/coach/urban guru/keynote speaker/Sens founder/novelist/columnist/peerless husband/dad.