When the Maldives was temporarily locked down earlier this year, Amilla’s Spa and Wellness Manager, Laura Pagano went from running Javvu Spa to tending to orchids and growing vegetables in their gardens. It was no easy feat for a self-confessed (former) ‘plant killer’, but Laura’s lockdown experience led her on a journey of learning, where she discovered skills she never realized she had!
Armed with brand new knowledge, green-fingered Laura has helped create a host of exciting new experiences on the island. These unique developments are making Amilla even more fun and memorable for guests, now the island is open for business again. We sat down with Laura to find out more.
Tell us about your first lockdown project?
It was the Jungle Gymnasium, which is now about to open for guests. It had been a dream of mine for a few years, but it makes sense now more than ever, because of the connection to nature. Being surrounded by nature is something everyone has been craving this year while they were locked in their houses. And of course, the outdoors in one of the safest spaces to be right now. I don’t think many resorts are offering anything like our outdoor exercise area. It’s 90% done but opening soon and I think our guests will love it.
At the same time, we also created private gym pods. The idea came from the need to create physical separation in the gym. We already had a very luxurious spa with 10 really big and well-equipped treatment pods, each with private showers. When we moved some of the equipment around the gym to create more physical space between them, we had all this surplus equipment. So, we created the gym pods from the spa pods to give guests complete privacy, and they are thoroughly sanitised between guests.
Tell us about your journey from a totally new role looking after plants to using plants to create experiences at your spa?
When Jason came to me with the idea to work with plants, I was kind of worried because I used to kill my own plants within a few weeks! So, I had to find a way to make it work. After we closed the resort in March, I was asked to take care of the orchid gardens first, and then to grow organic vegetables. It was the first time I’ve ever worked so intensively around plants!
But I really discovered a passion towards nature, flowers and herbs. It was fascinating to see how nature works; something we often don’t stop to acknowledge enough. And I managed to keep the orchids alive! It was very exciting to see the buds coming. Orchids are so sensitive; they need just the right amount of sun and water and fertiliser and they don’t flower very easily.
In the Mystic Garden I worked with different types of plants to the orchid garden. There’s a clear reward to growing this type of plants – vegetables and herbs. Without this experience, I don’t think I’d have been able to fully embrace ‘Dhivei Beys’ and the Alchemy Bar.
And how did you discover Maldivian traditional medicine, known as ‘Dhivehi Beys’?
While I was working in the garden, I had chance to meet a healer who is very popular in the country, she came over and did a PowerPoint presentation to explain what ‘Dhivehi Beys’ is. She speaks only Dhivehi, so I had a translator. We walked around our island and she had something to say about every plant she saw. The look she had in her eyes when she stopped at every plant was like the look some ladies have in their eyes when they look at shoes in the mall!
I panicked a bit at the start. I went over to her house and met some of her patients, and she showed me ingredients and how to prepare them. She never used massage in her treatments, so I taught her how to do massage, it was a very interesting exchange of skills. It was very challenging to condense ‘Dhivehi Beys’ into just a couple of treatments that would demonstrate the power of this Maldivian tradition.
So how did you implement the two ‘Dhivehi Beys’-inspired treatments for Javvu Spa?
It was thanks for consultations with this lady and a lot of research and studying. I also researched the herbs online to check there would be no contraindications with any of them if I used them in massages.
Since I launched the treatments, they’ve been very well received by guests. I’m very proud of what we managed to create. Every day, I still go around the island and find more new plants, so I’m now designing another new spa journey which is going to be very exciting.
Tell us about how you created the Alchemy Bar?
I’ve been able to use what I learned about the plants of our island from ‘Dhivehi Beys’ in creating the Alchemy Bar at Javvu Spa. It’s an interactive laboratory where we teach our guests to make their beauty potions and bath products, so it brings a special touch to their experience.
During lockdown, the first thing we made was a bath sachet from herbs like lemongrass and neem growing on the island, then we started making our own sea-salt. Then from the dried herbs we realised we could make powders. From there realised can make face masks, teas and more – the possibilities are endless.
There were only seven of us ladies working on the island, so we used to have our own girls’ nights with our own homemade face masks, moisturisers, hair masks etc. We even made our own deodorant because we were running out of it in the shop! It’s the best deodorant I’ve ever used, I swear. I’ve been using it since my garden work and it really works, nobody was running away from me!
What is your biggest takeaway from your lockdown experience?
Even though the island was temporarily cut off, we actually progressed so much. If the lockdown hadn’t happened, we wouldn’t have created a lot of the unique products for guests that we have now. I think we were very lucky on our island during lockdown because we were free to cycle around Amilla and swim in the sea, so we avoided a lot of the harshness that people who were locked in their houses experienced. Considering it was a very difficult experience for the whole world, I’m very grateful we managed to create so many positive things out of our lockdown experience!
Laura’s recipe to make your own aluminium-free deodorant:
50g coconut oil
35g baking soda
35g starch (potato/corn/arrowroot starch)
Your choice of essential oils for perfume
Mix all the ingredients together then put inside an empty roll-on deodorant bottle to use.