The Great Escape

dreaming of a simple life in Palawan

Living in Coron (Sort of)

Getting breakfast ready.

Frying up eggs for breakfast.

It was another morning just like any other morning. People got up early before the scorching sun and heat made things difficult to do. We were no different. Usually I was up first, and even before brushing my teeth or pulling a brush through my hair, I would turn on my iPad with eyes still half-shut and check my emails and Facebook. The internet was always best before 7am. ‘The Chef’ would get up next and put a kettle of water on for morning coffee and tea. We had enough of the overly sweet 3in1 instant packets the last time we were here so on this trip we brought our travel coffee press and picked up a bag of Barako at the SM supermarket in Calamba. Our friend ‘King’ would be last up and start breakfast.

Our lunch spot in Conception.

Anne & Mike’s Restaurant in Conception.

It was an afternoon unlike most afternoons. Usually our days were filled with trips outside of Coron to view potential properties. Today we had nothing planned. The three of us had been cooped up together for much too long. ‘King’ started to feel like the third wheel. I longed for some private time with ‘the ‘Chef’ so the two of us decided to rent a motorbike and ride to Conception for lunch. There were some rather ominous looking grey clouds in the direction we were going but it didn’t matter. Not far from town the skies opened up and we got soggy. Good thing we were wearing our bathing suits underneath our clothes.

Hanging out at Noname Bar

After dinner drinks at the Noname Bar.

It was another late afternoon just like any other day. We had the daily debate. Where would we like to eat dinner? Unlike the last time we were here we didn’t cook as much as we thought we would. I think it was the heat. After being here for almost a month the restaurants seemed to blur into one another. Everything started to taste the same. When we craved something different we found European/Asian flavours at Winnie’s, beautifully fresh fish at Sanugba sa Balay and Korean heat at Dali Dali. Afterwards we’d hop over to Noname Bar or Helldivers to finish off the night with either a rum and coke or San Mig Light.

Mixing up some roof top cocktails.

Mixing up some roof top cocktails.

It was another night just like any other night. We got back from dinner, dumped our stuff in the suite, mixed some cocktails and shuffled out onto the roof-top. ‘The Chef’ would get the almost white plastic lawn chair while ‘King’ would get the matching tiny ‘kiddie’ chair shoved in the corner. They belonged to the laundry girl. I never got a chair. I always stood but that was okay with me. We started chatting about anything, our daily observations, the constellation, the political system. When I got tired of the talk I would do my rounds, walking the perimeter of the rooftop and stopping at each corner to spy on the action below. At least once I would get an epiphany and forget it by the time I got back to ‘the Chef’ and ‘King.’

Boots on the Ground: The Best Way to Search for Property in Palawan

On the hunt for property.

On the hunt for property.

We got a text from Emma. We had only met her the previous afternoon at a birthday party and now she wanted to show us some properties. We said sure and off we went in a tricycle following Emma in her own personal trike. The first property was just outside the town proper. It wasn’t what we were looking for but we decided to see it anyways for comparison’s sake.

Have you ever thought about moving to an island paradise? Let me just say it isn’t easy especially if it’s in a developing third world country half way around the world. When we first visited Palawan in 2012 we casually toyed with the idea. Back then we were told property prices were still very good (very affordable by western standards ) but it was on the upward climb.

Not what we were looking for.

Out of our budget and not what we were looking for.

Fast forward just three years and with a rapidly growing tourism industry you’d be shocked at what you’d pay for a piece of land now. In the last two years prices have doubled. Land that at one time cost 50 to 100 pesos a square metre are going for 500, 1,000 and even a staggering 5,000 pesos a square meter.

The first hurdle is actually finding something. In Coron there is no form of organization. You can’t just hire a real estate broker. Believe me I’ve tried. The brokers you’ll find on the internet are based in Manila or some other big city so they may know of one or two for sale and that’s about it. They have little knowledge about the area. They may not even be legitimate.

A great property but too small for our farm.

A great property but too small for our farm.

I did find one broker who had a few listings, a splashy website and a Facebook presence and although she agreed to work with us it led to a dead end. She knew our requirements but just steered us towards her existing two listings.

While researching for properties online I was surprised to see a for sale listing for a resort we stayed at. We’re friendly with the owners and asked them about the ad. They didn’t know anything about it. Someone was trying to sell their resort. That’s something that’s common here. A property can be sold by some unscrupulous person three times to three different buyers.

It's important to develop relationships and make contacts.

It’s important to develop relationships and make contacts.

The most important thing to do is develop relationships and make contacts. You need to talk to a lot of people because someone will know somebody else who is selling property. You need to get to know people like Emma who through word of mouth can show you places.

Coron Palawan: We Said We’d Be Back

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Returning to Coron

We knew the drill. NAIA Terminal 3. Boarding gates downstairs in the overly crowded and hot waiting area. Useless Internet. Smoking room by the coffee shop selling Illy. A delayed flight came as no surprise. In fact we expected it. It didn’t make it easier though. We could hardly contain our excitement. We were only one hour away from our paradise if only our plane would get here. Flying in and out of Coron depends on the weather as the tiny airport has no radar or lights so pilots have to rely on their eyes to land.  If there is fog in the morning the first flight could be delayed creating a domino effect with later flights.

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25% of The Philippines 7,101 islands can be found in the Province of Palawan

When we flew past the island of Mindoro we knew we were getting closer to Busuanga. Small picturesque islands popped up surrounded by turquoise waters. A quarter of the Philippines 7,101 islands can be found in the province of Palawan. I looked at ‘the Chef.’ He was looking outside the window. He looked happy. I don’t think you could have taken away that smile of his. It went too deep.

It feels like home.

Coron feels like home.

We landed to an abrupt stop on a crazy short runway. As soon a we gathered our luggage we looked for our ride. Our van sped out of the rain soaked airport and we breathed a sigh of contentment. It felt like home. This was the island of Busuanga.

Experimental Cows

Experimental Cows: A Marcos Project

We passed rolling hills and savanna like topography dotted with skinny cows before reaching the main highway and rice fields. We found out the cows were an experiment by the late dictator president Marcos who had a vision for the Philippines to become the beef capital of Asia. His idea was to cross-breed a native cow with an Australian cow. When he was ousted all his projects came to an abrupt end and now only a small fraction of cows remained in the fields.

Overlooking the town and Coron Island

Overlooking the town and Coron Island

In about 30 minutes we reached the town. Finding affordable accommodations for our needs was a challenge. Our ‘Pink House’ was rented out till October so it was not available. After talking to some of our contacts and scouring the web we were able to secure a two bedroom suite at the Diamond Lodge.

Our roof top walk out at the Diamond Lodge.

Our roof top walk out at the Diamond Lodge.

We had a small kitchen, dining area, living room and Filipino style washroom. I’m not too keen on a toilet and shower all-in-one where the floor is perpetually wet or walking up four flights of stairs but we had the whole floor to ourselves complete with roof top walk out and view of the town and Coron Island.

Winnie's our favourite restaurant in Coron.

Winnie’s is our favourite restaurant in Coron.

‘The Fisherman’s Son’ was waiting for us at Winnie’s. He is always on time and shot us a text. It’s the Chef’ who was now running on Filipino time. I was anxious and nervously excited. I didn’t know what to expect. He gave us the brightest smile, the biggest hug, the most sincere welcome without reservation and from the depth of his heart. Later we would find out this passion could also explode in a completely negative way. Coron may seem like paradise but it’s not perfect and like all places you need to take the good with the bad.

Filipinos: Happy & Social

This is the 2nd birthday party we've been invited to.

This is the 2nd birthday party we’ve been invited to.

Filipinos are such a friendly and social group of people. I’m beginning to understand why it takes so long to get anything done. Besides the traffic, laid back attitude, bureaucracy and inefficiencies they love being social. Before flying down to Coron I wanted to open a bank account on the mainland. Thankfully, I had my aunt to guide me through the process.

Getting fingerprinted for my barangay clearance needed by the bank.

Getting fingerprinted for my barangay clearance needed by the bank.

As soon as we entered her bank we were immediately greeted by the staff. We sat at the bank manager’s desk and they brought us cold glasses of mango juice. As we sat filling out and signing form after form one by one employees would drop by and start chatting. They were catching up with my aunt and very curious about me. I didn’t know she was a ‘rock star.’ By the time we left I was viewing someone’s holiday pictures of their trip to Batanes on their cell phone.

'The Chef' starts prepping in the small kitchen

‘The Chef’ starts prepping in the small kitchen.

My aunt is a ‘foodie’ of sorts so we thought it would be a great treat to cook a nice meal as appreciation for the hospitality she’s always shown us. Besides, it was also our anniversary and we wanted to celebrate with the family. My two uncles, his wife and my cousin also live in the same house so we knew we would be cooking for them as well. Filipinos are known for their close family ties so it’s common that households are made up of lots of family members old and young.

The buffet is now open.

The buffet is now open. Everyone can enjoy.

We went shopping at the nearby SM grocery store. As we gathered our supplies we asked my aunt how many of us would be eating. She started counting, “Tito Ross, Tita Inday, Roanne, Tito Boy, Tita Nida, Tito Magno, the house staff, the driver, the staff at her internet cafe store. Seventeen people.” Holy cow! I had envisioned a nice plated dinner to showcase ‘the Chef’s’ skill. Suddenly it became a simple and rustic buffet lunch.

'The Chef' can entertain anybody.

I’m the quiet one. I’m glad ‘the Chef’ can entertain anybody.

So far the people we’ve met have been friendly, giving and hospitable whether they’re Filipino or Expat. The Filipinos love to laugh and joke around while being curiously formal at the same time. Yet it’s the simple people, like Vince our tricycle driver, who have a kind of naive honesty whom I find the most endearing.

It’s a Long Way from Canada

Let’s Fly

I didn’t know which was worse – the young, tattooed Asian dude constantly being smooched by his thickly eye-lashed girlfriend in front of us or the little kid crying sporadically behind us. In the end the little kid won when he threw up and peed during our decent into Tokyo. I can’t say much about the airplane food either which also almost made me want to throw up.

After a painful 22 hours of travel we arrived in Manila bleary eyed but excited. We were a little behind schedule but going past immigration and collecting our bags was a breeze. The exit doors opened and our Philippine adventure officially began. Our first task was to try to pick out my aunt from a sea of waiting faces. Fortunately, ‘the Chef’ stands way above the height of the average Filipino. Even with his eagle eyes and circling the waiting area a dozen times we could not find her. We had our ‘Philippines’ cell phone with us but without a load it was useless. Eventually, we found her. I’ve discovered given enough time things always seem to iron themselves out. The hardest part is you need patience.

It feels like a sauna

It feels like a sauna

I knew we would be coming during the hot season but I didn’t realize just how hot it was. We arrived smack in the middle of a heat wave with temperatures hovering in the 32 degree celsius range and humidity making it feel like 40. ‘The Chef’ and I would be sitting around my aunt’s kitchen table and I would see the beads of sweat build on his forehead. Good thing we brought lots of handkerchiefs. Meanwhile back in Toronto we found out there was a frost warning!

Our sense of time was already eroding. It didn’t help that clocks here never seem to be set to the exact time. We were staying with my aunt in Laguna before heading down to Coron, to acclimatize and get a few important tasks accomplished. We were ready for bigger challenges waiting for us in Palawan.

Leaving on a Jet Plane – Philippines Here We Come Again

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Cruising the Lagoons of Coron Island

Sometimes you just don’t fully appreciate the beauty of a place until you step back and leave it for a while. Palawan is one of those places.

When I look at our travel photos I’m always in awe of its beauty. It’s a place so spectacular it totally commands your senses and envelopes you in the moment. Here, sitting in my living room I’m able to reflect. Frozen in time, the photos on the big screen T.V. allow me to see the details, the lush green of the trees, the vibrant colours of the sea. I can hear the incessant rumble of a boat engine, feel the warm wind pass over my body and feel my heart grow lighter from happiness.

Island Friends

Island Friends

It’s not just the scenery though. People are what make the experience remarkable. Unlike a big city it’s easy to make friends here if you make a sincere effort. It’s these factors and the laid back lifestyle that make us long to return. We’re excited to see ‘the Captain,’ the ‘Fisherman’s Son,’ and the ‘Danes’ again. We know we’ll be ordering the Crab Fried Rice for our first meal at our favourite restaurant, Winnie’s.

The Road Less Taken

The Road Less Travelled. Will we find our piece of land?

Our pasalubong (gifts) are tucked under our snorkeling gear. There’s barely enough room leftover for our clothes and other essentials but we’ve managed to cram everything in. In a few hours we’ll be in the air for the long, exhausting flight to Manila. After such a cold Canadian winter we’re looking forward to that first blast of heat and humidity when we pass through the doors of Nino Aquino International Airport. I wonder what Coron has in store for us this time.

Life is easy. Why do we make it so hard?

Slowly our friends and family are beginning to take notice. Back in 2012 when we started talking about moving to the Philippines we got a lot of “let’s just humour them” nods. I think most thought it was just a novel idea that would pass like a highschool crush. Now as we get ready for our next visit to Palawan we get another type of look, the slightly surprised “Oh, they’re serious” look.

I don’t blame them. It’s a pretty big lifestyle change we’re proposing. We’ll be going from Executive Chef and Designer to organic farmers. We’ve already begun to simplify our lives and shift our way of thinking.

‘The Chef’s’ cousin and wife dropped by the other day and as we talked about our ideas for the farm they told us we had to watch this TEDxTalk.

The speaker, Jon Jandai, talks about his journey from the rice fields of northeastern Thailand to the big city of Bangkok and back again to the rice fields. He talks about his hardship in the pursuit of success. What he concludes is so simple but so provocative.

It reminds me of ‘the tourist and fisherman parable’ a story about how an enterprising tourist tells a local fisherman how to improve his life (you can read the story here). The only difference is Jandai’s story is real. To watch his talk just click on the video above.

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