The Great Escape

Rediscovering life in Palawan Philippines

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.

Be Prepared: Dangers in a Tropical Paradise

‘The Chef’ picked up a large Ziplock bag and held it up for me to see. I almost gasped with laughter. It was bulging at the seams with gauze, tape, bandages, and assorted first aid essentials. In all the years I’ve travelled I never needed a first aid kit so I kind of thought it was over-the-top. I don’t think so anymore.


Dangers lurk in the water and on land in a tropical paradise.

Now as we get ready to make the move to Coron I’m reminded of the dangers that lurk in ‘paradise.’ Just last month in August a 24-year-old tourist died of speculated anaphylactic shock from stepping on a stonefish or sea urchin and also last month the town of Busuanga declared an outbreak of dengue fever (carried by mosquitoes). At least 90 people were admitted to the Coron District Hospital and one person died.

As beautiful as Palawan is it’s also fraught with dangers. There’s a big controversy now that the town of Coron is not ready to deal with medical emergencies. The tourist who died from stepping on a sea creature was apparently never warned by anyone, including the boatmen, not to step on the corals. They didn’t know what to do when he was in distress. The tourist’s boyfriend was the only one to attempt CPR. One can only speculate what the outcome would have been if the they had a first aid kit with an epi-pin.


There are other critters besides mosquitoes that like to bite. Antihistamines are a good addition to your first-aid kit.

On our second trip to Coron we stayed at a semi-remote cottage at the edge of the rainforest. ‘The Chef’ was bitten around the ankles by little black flies. His ankles swelled up, turned red, black and blue and became painful. He limped when he walked. It took 10 days and 20 antihistamines before it returned to somewhat normal. During that time the owner of the cottage thought we should have it checked out at the hospital which was a little concerning after she told us the hospital has the reputation that you ‘only go there to die!’

Nasty blistering rash from walking through grass.

I got a nasty blistering rash from walking through grass.

It started as a little itch on my leg. Over the course of 48 hours the itch had turned into a nasty, oozing, blistering rash. It didn’t hurt but it sure didn’t look pretty. I applied a topical antibiotic and ‘the Chef’ wrapped it with gauze to keep it clean. I drastically wanted to know what it was so I resorted to searching the internet to try and find out what it could be (I know that’s not a good thing). I was hesitant to go have it checked out as I knew the poor reputation of medical care here in Coron. The last thing I wanted was to be prescribed something I knew nothing about from someone who might not know what they’re doing.

As it turns out I must have brushed against what they call ‘burning grass’ when we went on an excursion to check out a property. A local told me to clean the rash, then pour hot, hot water over it a couple of times a day. It worked but it took a long four weeks for it to fully heal. During that time I joined a handful of other tourists in town whose appendages were also wrapped in gauze from various mishaps.

Tropical heat and sun should not be taken lightly. Make sure you stay hydtrated.

Tropical heat and sun should not be taken lightly. Make sure you don’t get over heated and stay well hydrated. We visited during the hottest part of the year and the three of us went through 1 jug (25 litres) of water almost every day in addition to all the beverages we consumed while we were out exploring.

Renting a motorbike can be perilous especially if you’ve never ridden one. Our friend King, received cuts and bruises when he crashed his motorbike over the side of an embankment trying to maneuver over a dilapidated wooden bridge. He was very lucky. In hindsight we probably shouldn’t have attempted that particular trip and at the least would have insisted he wear a helmet. King as we found out is quite accident prone. During one of our property searches he stepped on a rusty nail while walking through the jungle and had to dig out a little piece left behind in his foot when he took out the nail.

Probably the most common health risks in the tropics relate to the heat and sun. Sunburn, heat stroke/sun stroke, heat rash, and dehydration can sneak up on you if you’re not paying attention. We’ve experienced all of these so now we know what to look out for.

Be Prepared

We sometimes take for granted that there will always be medical help when we need it. You should be prepared.

  • Always be aware of your surroundings.
  • Educate yourself on the dangers in that environment.
  • Don’t assume medical help will always be close by or even adequate.
  • Make sure your basic vaccines (such as tetanus) are up to date.

DIY First Aid Kit List

What you put in your first aid kit will depend on risk factors like how long will you be travelling, what kind of activities you will be doing, etc. We usually stay a minimum of three weeks and are quite active. We like to swim, snorkel, motorbike and explore off-the-beaten path places. Here’s our first-kit supplies (we’ve used everything). We’ll probably add an antifungal cream and an Epi-pin.

    1. Analgesics (eg. Tylenol, ASA, codeine, ibuprofen, Tylenol #3)
    2. Assorted bandages and gauze
    3. Topical Antibiotic (in Canada we have Polysporin)
    4. Antihistamine (such as Benadryl)
    5. Adhesive tape
    6. Scissors
    7. Tweezers
    8. Anti-septic wipes
    9. Eye patch
    10. Safety pins
    11. Antidiarrheal (such as Imodium)
    12. Antinauseant/motion sickness (such as Gravol)
    13. Mosquito repellent (the local OFF is very effective)
    14. Sunscreen

Would you rather buy a first aid kit? Day Tripper puts together an excellent one that’s compact, lightweight and easy to tuck away in a travel pack or suitcase. Adventure Medical Kits Day Tripper

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