Manuel lives on a piece of land close to the town center of Diogo, the small coastal town of 500 inhabitants in which I’ve been living, but the tranquility on his property makes it seem isolated. I didn’t meet him until I’d been living in Diogo for several months because he seldom leaves his home. Luckily, I had an excuse to go and meet him a few weeks ago because I’m a friend of his sons, who are well-known figures in town.
I learned that Manuel spent the majority of his working life, about forty years, climbing coconut trees, collecting the coconuts, and removing the husks. He would remove and prepare hundreds of coconuts daily. He started at age 20 and stopped working commercially at 60, but at 66 he’s still sliding up and down the coconut trees. The profession, which provided a good income, enabled him to build his home and raise his five sons.
One could climb a coconut tree with feet and hands, but to remove coconut in mass from the biggest trees, Manuel uses a pair of grips. With one under a foot and the other under the opposite thigh, he shimmies up trees by alternately sliding the grips upwards and securing them on the trunk. Once at the top, he handily tears off the coconuts, letting them fall on the ground.
So one afternoon, I asked my friend Manuel to teach me to climb a coconut tree. He prepared the grips and promptly flew up and down the trunk with ease. One of his sons, Tonho, was with us and gave it a try, without much success. He explained “É brincadeira não,” or “It’s no joke.”
My attempt was considerably more pitiful. Once suspended, I couldn’t quite figure out how to move my legs properly. Worse, because of the slant of the tree, I kept on sliding to one side or the other. After I got about five feet in the air, my concerned spectators advised me to come back down. Although my awesome afternoon did not involve grabbing any coconuts from amazing heights, I was solidly shown up by a nimble 66 year-old.