The Great Escape

Dreaming of a simple life in Coron Palawan Philippines

What if you could live anywhere in the world?

Man carrying world map

Where in the World? (photo: Timothy Krause)

When we decided to move to the Philippines I joined several expat forums. I wanted to find out as much information as I could to prepare us for the challenges we could face. There are many reasons people move to other countries. Many move to the Philippines because a spouse wants to be close to family. Others move because the cost of living is lower than where they come from.

One member from a particular forum posed this question. If you had no constraints (circumstance, family ties, finances, etc.) and you were free to pick any where in the world, where would you live?

I was half way through writing this post when Paris was attacked. It was afternoon and ‘The Chef’ was playing an online game on his tablet. A player from England typed, “France just closed its borders and it can’t be good.” I asked what that meant and he said something bad must be happening in Paris. I immediately googled ‘Paris’ and there on the screen were the words ‘Paris Attacks.’ It’s hard not to think about what’s happened when I think about the question now.

Over the years I’ve dreamt about living in a little farmhouse in the countryside of France. I could imagine myself gorging on local cheese and fresh bread and washing it all down with a bottle of red. It’s a romantic notion and I laugh at how cliché it sounds but we’re just musing, right?

When I was younger, wilder, more energetic and single the city life had everything I wanted. New York City in the 80s and its gritty East Village appealed to my anti-establishment, artist sensibilities. At the time I could picture myself in some loft splattering paint on some canvas.

I once gave serious consideration to moving to Bali, Indonesia. I love their deep culture, smiling people and beautiful landscape. But after ‘the Chef’ and I visited Palawan I fell in love with Coron. Palawan is one of the most beautiful places I’ve been to. There’s something about the easy-going nature and honesty of the people that makes me feel like my true self. In Coron I feel like life is not dictated by time, fashion or trend. It suits us well.

So, if you had your choice where would you live?

Trust. Love. Hope. Believe.


Our life has been on hold ever since we put our house up for sale. We naively thought it would only take a month before we would pack everything up and start our new life in Palawan. Now it’s been almost three months and the stagnation is driving us stir crazy. As the world continues to spin we feel more and more out of synch with our life here in Canada and our future in Coron seems so far away. Our journey has never felt so lonely and doubt and fear keep trying to muscle their way in.

But every day is a new beginning and it’s a chance to replace doubt with trust, fear with belief. The real estate market is showing some signs of life again and we’re starting to get some nibbles on the house. It feels good enough that we’re allowing ourselves to talk about the farm again. How many pineapples will we grow? How many crops will we have in a year? Where will we get our sausage casings?

I opened my eyes from a deep slumber and took in the morning light. I turned my face towards ‘the Chef.’ He was awake and smiling. He squeezed my hand. I knew then he felt it too. It starts with a feeling deep inside, an effervescence that works its way up through flesh and bone before releasing itself as a smile. This is what hope feels like and it’s amazing what a little can do in an uncertain time.

“Turn your face to the sun and let the shadows fall behind you.” Maori Proverb

I’m Canadian, Eh? 021

Photos and thoughts about Canada.

Our environment, our experiences, and the people we choose to surround us shapes us into who we are. In this series I search the web for images about Canada, the country I grew up in.

Maple Syrup Lines, Wyebridge, Ontario

Maple Syrup Lines (photo: David Allan Barker)

Figgy duff, Saskatoon berry pie, and split pea soup are just a few of our tasty exports. ~ 12 foods Canada has given the world (besides poutine), Maclean’s, August 3, 2012

Ooh All Dressed Chips

Ooh All Dressed Chips (photo: Chinkerfly)

There seems to be some sort of confusion surrounding one of our most delicious, addictive chip flavours; Canadians know All Dressed Ruffles chips have a unique taste all their own, keeping us coming back for more (and more and more and more). ~ Americans are finally getting All Dressed Chips, but they don’t understand them…yet, The Loop, September 21, 2015


McBarge (photo: Taz)

Whatever you eat here is one sad, sad meal. This boat was once home to a rare floating McDonald’s, which was built as a shining beacon of innovation for Canada’s 1986 World Expo. Conveyer belts delivered shakes and fries, glass windows offered panoramic views, and a tiny tugboat pulled up alongside the barge to collect Big Mac wrappers and cups. ~ Abandoned Floating McDonald’s Does NOT Serve Happy Meals, Huffpost Travel, March 17, 2015

The Land Where I Was Born 020

Photos and thoughts about the Philippines.

Our environment, our experiences, and the people we choose to surround us shapes us into who we are. In this series I search the web for images about the Philippines, the country I was born in and which I am now rediscovering.

Halo halo especial

Halo halo especial (photo credit Jeff Younstrom)

Summer isn’t going anywhere anytime soon and the best way to beat this unbearable heat is with every Filipino’s undisputed favorite shaved ice dessert: the halo-halo! A medley of sweetened jewels, a gracious layer of icy granules, a heaping scoop of ube ice cream, all drowned in creamy milky goodness-it’s a sweet tooth’s dream. ~ Top 10 Halo-halo in Manila (2014 Edition), spot.PH, April 24, 2014

Power Breakfast Pinoy Style

Power Breakfast Pinoy Style (photo credit weye)

Magandang umaga! ~ 21 Delicious Filipino Breakfasts That Are Actually Hangover Cures, Buzzfeed, August 21, 2015


Lechon on the table (photo credit whologwhy)

In restaurant circles, the dreaded F-word—fusion—is usually reserved to describe some sort of disparate multi-culti combination, like sauce soubise on top of tamales. But in the case of Filipino food, there’s no stronger term to capture the essence of Asia’s most unique, idiosyncratic, and underrated culinary tradition. ~ Coconut, Vinegar, and a Whole Lotta Pork: An Introduction to Filipino Cuisine, Serious Eats, June 14, 2014

(Extra)ordinary People of Coron


When we first arrived in Coron ‘Captain Lolong,’ his wife and his son came to visit us at our cottage. I can remember them sheepishly waiting on the path at the edge of the property, the ‘Captain’s’ wife clutching a journal to her chest. ‘The Captain’ took the journal opened its pages and pointed. “Andy! Andy!” his wife squealed excitedly. There in black and white were the comments ‘the Chef’ had written after our Tao Expedition ended in 2011. The words brought a flood of warm and happy memories.

During the course of our stay they would take us to look at different properties for sale. We couldn’t believe the kindness and generosity they showed us. We couldn’t believe how lucky we were.

The trip came to an end it was time to say good-bye. Instead of us going to see him ‘the Captain’ insisted he would come to our place in town even though he had no money for a tricycle. At this point ‘the Captain’ was no longer working. “No problem,” he said. He arrived on the back of his neighbour’s motorcycle, walked through the steel front gates and marvelled at the ‘pink house‘ we had rented.

We sat outside on the porch, sipped cokes and talked for a while about our plans, his plans and about life in general. He was 63 and told us he didn’t think he wanted to work for Tao anymore. I felt his weariness. Then in the middle of talking he took from his back pocket a thin and worn wallet. Slowly, he unfolded it and carefully opened one of the compartments taking out a very flat and curved cigarette. He gently rolled it until it became somewhat cylindrical again, put it in his mouth, lit it up and continued to talk without missing a beat.

Not once did he ever complain about his situation. Not once did he ever ask us for anything. I thought that was extraordinary.

To see how others interpret the word ‘(Extra)ordinary’ visit the Weekly Photo Challenge

Hurry Up, Coron is Calling

Back again in Canada.

We’re back in Canada again.

We’re back in Canada. “Crap, it’s getting cold.” My body is protesting loudly with every snap, crackle and pop of an aching joint. It’s early October and the last three months have felt like being blitzed in a blender as we worked day and night to pretty up our house for its next potential inhabitants.

Our Land

The land feels right to both of us.

When we went back to Coron for the third time we had a goal to find property but we had no idea if we’d find what we were looking for. There were just too many unknowns. All we had was determination and hope. After about four crazy hot and humid weeks, ten adventurous trips to various properties, and the odd mishap, we found the land of our dreams at the end of a punishing dirt track and across a fish filled stream.

Farm Equipment

A carabao hauling lumber for a bridge project.

Under open skies, surrounded by hills, a refreshing breeze cut through the cruelty of a tropical heat wave. A carabao passed us on a trail hauling lumber for a bridge being built by hand. The farmer next door was fertilizing his rice fields. It was as if we went backwards in time. This was the rural Philippines of my past memories, this was life in the province. The air was clean, the land was green, and puffy, white clouds hung seductively in a bright blue sky. There was something honest about it.

Lots of back and forth

Lots of back and forth gathering important property documents.

The land had its shortcomings but we were willing to overlook them. We knew we had to make a deal and went back and forth to the Municipal Hall with its antiquated systems, an adventure in itself, gathering every document our lawyer wanted. Things take time in the Philippines, we knew it and yet it slipped away. We couldn’t secure the property the way we wanted. We reluctantly left Coron with a flimsy agreement and an awful lot of uncertainty.

Lots of work to do and so little time

Lots of work to do and so little time.

We returned home with purpose. Years of living comfortably meant we let home projects go unfinished and maintenance put off. There were much more important and fun things to do than to repair some baseboard or paint the kitchen. Now all those seemingly unimportant things piled up into one gigantic heap of things to do. Normal life was put on hold. Instead of making me one of his tasty curry dishes ‘the Chef’ was mixing grout. I stopped icing cakes to patch walls.

'The Chef' recovers from hernia surgery while I continue with the renos.

‘The Chef’ recovers from hernia surgery while I continue with the renos.

We had a plan and a deadline. We thought we could do it on our own but a last-minute hernia surgery threw a wrench in our plans and we ended up recruiting our family. It didn’t help that out-of-town friends and family visited in the midst of all the chaos. We pushed ourselves from morning until night. I’m a perfectionist but also a realist so it wasn’t long before our motto became “Good Enough.”

It autumn in Canada

It’s now autumn in Canada.

Now our house sits in a state of perpetual perfectness – who lives like this? – I blame all the home improvement shows on TV. And so each day we rise, arrange the home stager’s cushions on the bed, wipe away all the spots on the mirrors, watch the autumn leaves turn colour and wait, wait for our house to sell. All we can do is wait. In the meantime our iPads keep dinging. Messages and emails keep coming in. Coron is calling.

Are You Living Life or Waiting to Die?

Living Life

“A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.” ~ William G.T. Shedd

There’s going to be a time in your life when you arrive at a certain point of being comfortable and you might ask yourself, “Is it enough to make me happy?” By this time you’ll have fully established a certain lifestyle, a group of friends, a place in society but nothing excites you like it used to. All of a sudden you don’t know what to do with your life.

Just when I think I have learned the way to live, life changes. ~ Hugh Prather

I reached that point. My body started to give me signs. I got headaches and back pain. My mind became became grey. For years I struggled to find the spark that would reignite my passion for life. I dove into the world of pastry and chocolate thinking it would fulfil my creative side while bringing ‘the Chef’ and I closer together. I created sweet things that gave everyone pleasure. But still, it was not enough. Soon life turned grey for ‘the Chef’.

Then we went to Palawan, Philippines for a long awaited vacation and suddenly there was light and life was filled with vibrant colour again. A new dream was conceived and we hatched a plan to live in that colourful world. Almost five years later we’re almost there.

Build your own dreams, or someone else will hire you to build theirs. ~ Farrah Gray

Amongst our friends and family there is surprise, curiosity and encouragement. There is also concern, negative voices and jealousy. Some closest to us think we are crazy to give up our ‘established’ life and are going ‘backwards’ by moving to a third world country to farm. We envision a life that is simpler, more meaningful and with less distractions. We acknowledge there is risk but we are willing to take a chance. We figure, “What’s to lose?”

It might sound like a mid-life crisis but it can happen at any stage in your life. At 29, Sanne had a hectic but successful life in Sweden. After fainting behind the wheel of her car she decided to give up her stressful life and moved to an island paradise where she runs a hostel. You can read about her life changing journey here, ‘Sanne, 29, sold everything and moved to the Philippines.‘ If you ever reach a tipping point in your life would you accept the status quo of a safe life or would you be brave enough to make a change?

Feeling burnt out, stuck or full of doubt?

Here’s a playlist of TEDtalks to watch when you don’t know what to do with your life. Maybe you hear something that will set your mind free.

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