The Great Escape

dreaming of a simple life in Palawan

Cultural Curiosities: Searching for gas in a Coke bottle

Please do not drink.

Please do not drink.

We texted Vince. He was available to take us to a property that made it on our short list. It was well over 20 kilometres from town so we asked him if he had enough gas in his tank. We told him maybe we should put in more.

As we passed the edge of town it started to rain. We were getting pelted by raindrops from the open sides so we all tried to move strategically towards the center of the tricycle. Little beads of water started to form on the roof just above ‘the Chef’s’ head. I watched in amusement as the beads got heavy enough to fall.

Rain

Tricycle + Rain = Adventure

New gas stations seemed to have popped up since the last time we were here just nine months ago. As we reached the first station we saw it was closed. No gas. The next one was the same and so on. No one had gas. I started to get a bit worried.

No, motorcycles do not run on Coca Cola

No, motorcycles do not run on Coca Cola.

Suddenly, Vince veered off the road and stopped in front of a small roadside stand. He was handed a one litre green hued Coca Cola glass bottle and just like that we had gas! This ‘bote-bote’ (bottle-bottle) gasoline is an underground business for people who cater to motorists who want convenience. It actually makes sense when you think about how tricycle drivers try to save as much gas as they can when they transport people around. They already shift to neutral on downhill sections of road and coast. I can imagine they would be happy not to have to drive out of town for gas. It sure saved our trip.

Tricycles

Tricycles are the taxis of Coron.

But with these new gas stations and a recent fire that was made worse by a ‘bote-bote’ seller, the Municipality of Coron is now banning this practice. I know it’s for safety reasons but a little part of me is sad to see it go. It’s the kind of quirkiness that gives a place its character.

The #1 Reason We Love Palawan

Spear-fishing with Fred

Spear-fishing in Coron Bay.

“Do you want to go spear-fishing tomorrow?” Don asked. “Hell, Yeah!” we said. You didn’t have to ask us twice. Water is one of the many reasons we love Palawan. We are both inextricably drawn to the call of the sea.

Childhood memories

Bringing back childhood memories.

On our first visit to Palawan ‘the Chef’ was standing on a beach and with the sensation of sand between his toes was transported back to a time when he was an 8 year old boy. Back then his father was in the German army which gave the family the opportunity to move to a base in Sardinia, Italy. Here, his family lived on the beach in a canvas tent.

water

Water is life.

Imagine your father taking you and your little brother out to sea in a small boat and throwing you both overboard. This is how ‘the Chef’ learned to swim. With his new-found skill he learned to spear-fish with the local Italian kids. I didn’t have it quite so dramatic. We had civilized swimming lessons in grade four. I wasn’t a strong swimmer but always felt comfortable in water, so much so I jumped off the high diving board without really thinking about what happens when you reach the bottom.

water

Being part of the sea.

As mesmerizing as water can be it has incredible power that needs to be respected. The sea and mother nature are in constant flux. We got this dose of reality on our boat expedition from Coron to El Nido.

Forboding seas

Realizing you’re only a tiny part of mother nature.

Cruising over the Linapacan Strait, our small bangka groaned as we crested ten foot swells. I realized it was a hairy situation for the crew of the Krisolo when Jem our guide came to the front and asked us if we were okay. He had a concerned look. I knew we were in good hands with our old school Captain Lolong so I wasn’t so much concerned as I was captivated and exhilarated by the sea’s powerful energy.

Backyard

Nothing cures whatever ails you like salt water can.

There’s just something about escaping on the water that calms the soul. Palawan is the ultimate water world for any nature lover. We can’t wait to make it our backyard.

Opening the Door to a New Life

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One of the things I like about Coron is that there aren’t many doors to actually open. Many establishments like restaurants and stores are wide open to the outside.

What do they say? “When one door closes another opens.”

We’re at a point at in our life in Canada when all doors aren’t quite closed but feel a little stuck. We know we can still enter but what’s on the other side is not enticing enough for us to even want to turn the knob.

In Palawan all doors are open to us. There is opportunity, freedom to change and a chance to grow. We just need the courage to walk through.

To see how others interpret the word ‘door’ visit the Weekly Photo Challenge

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.

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