Island life is unique - but things become infinitely cooler if you're getting paid to do what you truly love. By featuring amazing people doing awesome work, The Edition hopes to inspire new generations into hospitality - the backbone of Maldives' economy.
Exotic as it may seem to an outsider that being a ‘coconut palm climber’ could be a crucial job title at a five-star luxury resort, CK Kannan describes his life’s work as if it were as natural as the lush southern palms themselves.
A cursory glance around Shangri-La Vilingili, Kannan’s workplace, is enough to explain why. The resort prides itself on ingenious ways of incorporating its extensive greenery into services. A dedicated team of coconut palm climbers are at the heart of this effort.
It takes Kannan a moment to pinpoint an exact date when we asked him which age he committed himself to the quaint, nature-oriented work.
“I was doing the job even when I was going to school, attending class 8 or 9”, stated the Tamil Nadu native after a moment of consideration.
“I was taught the tricks of the trade by my father, who in turn was taught by my grandfather and so forth”.
Faithful to his roots, Kannan followed the footsteps of his forefathers and began helping his father with the concoction of coconut toddy, oil and palm sugar at a young age.
“I still make palm sugar when I go on vacation. It's all-natural, with no chemicals whatsoever”, he guaranteed.
Eyes shining, Kannan stated that he would love to try his hand at making Maldivian palm sugar someday.
For Kannan and his team of five coconut climbers, the work day begins a little after sunrise, at approximately 0630 hrs when they set out to harvest coconuts.
He describes the undertaking as a decidedly a team effort with some members climbing the palms while at least one person remains grounded to keep an eye out for approaching staff or guests.
“We cut the coconuts, clean them and hand them over.”
“After that we move to the villa areas to clear away dry leaves”, said Kannan explaining how the coconut climbers were also responsible for maintaining the hundreds of coconut palms on Shangri-La Vilingili.
“When resort weddings are held, we help around with decoration too. Overall, we usually finish up at around 4 o clock”.
“It's very hard, yes”.
However, Kannan allays our fears, assuring us that he has never slipped while on the job, successfully maintaining a lucky streak of no work accidents.
The coconut palm climber also revealed that none of the team members undertook hazardous climbs. “I know where the dangerous coconut palms are so I regularly inform my supervisor and have them felled.”
Kannan went on to reveal that his work schedule, though hectic, allowed for recreation.
“I often play badminton. I’m not interested in cricket though”, he said while chuckling at the commonly perceived rarity of Indians who dislike cricket.
“It's very nice”, said Kannan, nodding in approval immediately. “This is my first time in Maldives. I came here in 2008, so its been ten years already”.
“It’s such a green place with so many coconut palms”, he added with a laugh.
Although official figures assert that there a 1,800 trees on Shangri-La Vilingili, Kannan revealed that the actual number would be closer to 2,000 if seedlings were counted.
Despite the contrasts between his homeland and Maldives, Kannan assured us that he had no difficulty settling down.
With a penchant for snorkelling and an appreciation of the sea breeze, the coconut palm climber expressed a deep liking for the ocean. Throughout his years working in Maldives, Kannan has also picked up an understanding of Dhivehi, the local language, though he admits that he is not quite fluent yet.
As Kannan is based in the south, the couple of Dhivehi phrases he knew turned out to be in the Addu dialect.
"Kehenakah?", he inquired, which means "How are you" in Addu dialect.
Fortunately it was one of the few I could decipher and I promptly responded with "Rangalha" meaning "I'm alright".
“This is a good job, I like it,” said Kannan, going on to express satisfaction with numerous aspects of life on Shangri-La Villingili including lodging, food and staff.
“Coconut water, because it's very good for health”
Kannan confessed that he indulged in the nutritious drink at least twice or thrice every day. Displaying a rare moment of melancholy, the coconut climber noted that most palms on the island didn’t produce fruit sweet enough for his liking.
However, regaining his smile, Kannan told us that he knew which of Shangri-La Vilingili’s thousands of palm trees bore sweeter fruit.
With a chuckle, he revealed that coconuts were harvested from these trees almost daily, leaving the prized palms denuded of fruit.