The Great Escape

Rediscovering life in Palawan Philippines

Archive for the tag “Coron”

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 –

The Price of Living in Paradise


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 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.


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.


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.


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.

SOLD!….and so the countdown begins



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


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.

(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.

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

Don’t Go Looking For Land With Shorts On


Renting bikes is the best way to get around the island.

We never knew what the next day would bring and that made our search all the more exciting. We weren’t expecting to see so many properties but each day brought us more leads, contacts and potential. Today, ‘the Fisherman’s Son’ had something lined up for us. He sent us a screenshot of a farm from Google Earth. I love anything visual so I studied it intently and fantasized what it would look like in person.


The carabao is familiar sight in the countryside.

We rented motorbikes and sped off to the countryside. After doing a little round-a-bout through a small village and maneuvering through a tight, overgrown trail we arrived at a small stream. We got off the bikes. Two water buffalos cooling off in the water barely acknowledged our presence.


It was a hot hike to the property.

‘The Fisherman’s Son’ was really excited and led the way. We crossed the stream, hiked up a small incline to a simple wooden fence that spanned about 100 metres wide. We were impressed by its length. We passed through an opening and noticed the property was overgrown. Apparently the owner no longer farmed the land since typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) destroyed it.


An untended property is now up for sale.

We crisscrossed through wild grasses, struggling banana trees and charred remnants from fire used to clear overgrowth. I was astonished to see hardy pineapple plants still alive and red from having just bloomed. The land was on a slight incline at the bottom of a hillside. On the other side there was supposed to be a river but it was barely there because of dry season.


An abandoned hut left after Typhoon Haiyan.

We came a upon the carcass of the farmer’s simple bamboo house and stopped to take a break at a very dry clump of bamboo that provided much appreciated shade. As ‘the Chef’ mopped his sweaty forehead flying cicadas buzzed his head. I looked down at ‘the Chef’s’ legs and they were streaked with charcoal smudges. I looked down at my own and we were a matching pair.


Legs smudged with charcoal from land cleared by fire.

Wearing shorts and flip-flops was probably not the best attire for exploring land. Picturesque, bucolic fields of green are not as harmless as they seem. Nasty surprises laid in wait for unsuspecting innocents like us. A few days later an itch would slowly turn into oozing blisters. It would be another lesson learned and another story to tell from our Coron adventures.

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