The Great Escape

Rediscovering life in Palawan Philippines

Archive for the category “Our Journey”

The Feist’s Great Escape: Facebook

Life is like a book filled with chapters. In these chapters are snippets of every day life. We’ve just launched our Facebook page ‘The Feist’s Great Escape: Coron Palawan’ to share these little snippets. Here, you’ll find travel tips, get an inside perspective of what it’s really like to live on a third world tropical island and maybe get inspired.

Visit our page – https://www.facebook.com/thefeists/

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The Price of Living in Paradise

Busunaga

The island of Busuanga is beautiful.

The island of Busuanga is beautiful. It’s also challenging, primitive and harsh. Living here is so much different from being on holiday. The reality is unless you have deep pockets life is hard. Infrastructure is poor in the Philippines and resources scarce. You are constantly battling the environment – sun, heat, dust, insects, animals.

Water Tank

Our empty water tank.

The heat is beating me down, making me so lethargic I don’t really want to move. Well, we did arrive in summer, hot season and it’s just beginning. It’s been four days without a refill on our water tank. The town’s water reserves are low, very low. We can’t do the laundry and ‘the Chef’ is running out of clothes. We try and conserve the best we can but it doesn’t help that the people next door syphon off our water. The kicker is we also pay for it.

Bat

Bat in our water tank. Eww.

As a last insult our remaining 20 litres of water got contaminated when a bat decided to go for a bath in our drum and couldn’t get out. At first I wanted to wait until ‘The Chef’ got back to deal with it. He was down the street at the neighbour’s doing laundry but I said the hell with it. What was I so afraid of? It took two tries but I managed to scoop out the bat and dump it unceremoniously in the yard. Despite all the hardship our neighbour sent his niece and nephew over and filled 5 water containers for us from an alternative water supply.

34 degrees in the shade

59 degrees in the sun. Insane.

We’ve had seven brown-outs in the last two weeks. Life is getting harsher. A transformer blew up so we were without power for almost three days. A second year of El Nino has brought drought and high temperatures. The first night without air-conditioning or even a fan was brutal but our bodies are slowly began to adapt.

Water

Taking care of our own water.

We take so much for granted in western society. If you’re thirsty just turn in the tap a fill your glass. Here we need to plan our drinking water. We bought five 25? litre jugs that we need to fill in Coron town 15 kilometres away.

Tricycle

Supply run. Beer, pop and water.

When we moved out of Coron town to the village of San Nicolas we also had to hire a tricycle to get our supplies home. I made the mistake of riding in the tricycle instead of on the motorbike on one of our runs and it was a bone jarring, wet experience (the lids on the water containers came loose and I ended up sitting in water). Seven of those fifteen kilometres are on a crappy, dusty dirt road.

Squid

Cooking squid adobo.

Cooking in our simple kitchen is a challenge. We have a basic cooktop (with only one of the two burners working, some kitchen tools we brought with us and our determination. The biggest challenge has been the ants. They are everywhere and they love seafood. On night we bought some squid from the little market down the road and the little buggers went on full attack mode. Our strategy was for ‘the Chef’ to clean them, then for me to take out all the trimmings and clean immediately. We had a nice squid adobo for dinner.

This isn’t Disney World. This is reality. We did sign-up for this ‘adventure.’ By renting a house outside of town we get to experience what normal living is like for the average person. Let’s see if we can hack it.

We Finally Escape Canada

good-bye toronto

My little brother sends us off at Toronto Airport.

Two weeks ago it was -33 degree Celsius. Now it’s +33 degrees Celsius. We’re finally here. Our escape from Canada was long and drawn out. We had things laid out so it should have been smooth sailing but does anything ever go as planned? Just when we thought we could relax and await our departure we got a nasty last minute surprise which I won’t get into. Then in the final hours we frantically scrambled to balance out the weight of our two pieces of luggage. Some items we thought could make our life easier in the Philippines got tossed out. Oh, well. Surprisingly, the twenty-one hour flight on EVA Air was quite good except for the freezer like temperature of the plane’s cabin. I should have clued in when I saw dozens of passengers with thick jackets. At least they gave us blankets.

hello kitty lounge

The ‘Hello Kitty’ lounge at Taipei.

After about 16 hours we landed in Taipei for a stopover. Our departure gate was the Hello Kitty lounge and plane. We were definitely in Asia. From here it was just a short hop to the intensity of Manila. As we expected the plane circled the airport for about 20 minutes. We’ve never had a flight arrive or depart on time in the Philippines. When the wheels hit the runway I was happy. We had finally arrived. The blast of heat and humidity, honking horns, pollution, horrendous traffic and general all-around chaos welcomed us back. I kept thinking to myself with a sliver of disbelief, “We’re actually here.”

tricycles

The hustle and bustle of Calamba.

The first few days in our newly adopted country were brutal. We slept for twenty hours, had bizarre dreams, foggy brains and intense jet lag. It was damn hot but we loved it. Staying with relatives on the mainland helped us ease into life here. We felt so lucky to have honest, helping hands to guide us in the beginning. Things aren’t simple here. There’s no standard way of doing things and not much organization. Even the locals have a hard time. Just figuring out how cell phone worked involved my cousin, uncle, two helpers and us. After four hours, two SIM cards, a pocket Wi-Fi and several attempts at ‘loading’ we were set and ready to go or so we thought. Things didn’t sail quite so smoothly when we got to Coron.

cell phone load

How many people does it take to figure out a cell phone?

This was the first time we were not tourists. We soaked in our environment. There’s just so much you can read but the only way to truly understand the many nuances of Filipino culture is to experience everything for yourself, both the good and the bad (and we’ve had a good amount of both). We are absolutely intoxicated by our new life and it is just beginning.

SOLD!….and so the countdown begins

Sold

Sold!

The biggest adventure you can ever take is to live the life of your dreams. ~ Oprah Winfrey

FINALLY.

After months of being in limbo purgatory we sold our house. Now, the countdown begins. Soon our dream of living a ‘simple’ life in Coron Palawan will be real.

We had a five-year plan and it hasn’t been easy. There’s been doubts and struggles but we’ve also learned lots in the process.

Never stop dreaming.
Our dream is not to live in Palawan. Our dream is to change our lifestyle. Coron, Palawan just happens to be where we think we can best do this. We’ve had setbacks and failures and I’m sure we’ll have more but we won’t let it stop us from following our dream.

Don’t let unsupportive people drag you down.
Most of our family and friends are supportive of our plans but there have been some surprises. A few closest to us can’t seem to wrap their heads around why we want to trade in our comfortable western lifestyle for a third world adventure. We all have our own definition of success and happiness and I guess we don’t conform to conventional ideas. I won’t deny – it did sting us a little – but we refuse to let others dictate our path.

Don’t be afraid of uncertainty.
We know how the system works in Canada. It’s organized and predictable. When we started out we knew nothing about Coron except that it was an amazing place to holiday. Fear of the unknown has stopped many dreams. We had a lot of uncertainty in the beginning but rather than give up on the idea of living there we began to chip away at our fears. We started to talk to lots of different people – expats, locals, friends, and family – and we listened intently. We did a lot of research and treated every visit as a learning experience. There will always be uncertainty but now that we have a better understanding of the processes and cultural practices we feel more confident moving forward.

Be flexible to change.
As much as we think we can control our life, the universe has different ideas. At first we wanted to start a small resort or B&B but after much research and reflection we weren’t sure if that would be the right path for us. By that time we really wanted to live in Coron so rather than abandon the idea we decided to think about other ways to achieve our goal.

You never know where your journey will take you. Who would have ever guessed we would become organic farmers on a tropical island paradise in the South China Sea.

Trust. Love. Hope. Believe.

Hope

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

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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