The Great Escape

Rediscovering life in Palawan Philippines

Archive for the tag “thoughts”

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.

What if you could live anywhere in the world?

Man carrying world map

Where in the World? (photo: Timothy Krause)

When we decided to move to the Philippines I joined several expat forums. I wanted to find out as much information as I could to prepare us for the challenges we could face. There are many reasons people move to other countries. Many move to the Philippines because a spouse wants to be close to family. Others move because the cost of living is lower than where they come from.

One member from a particular forum posed this question. If you had no constraints (circumstance, family ties, finances, etc.) and you were free to pick any where in the world, where would you live?

I was half way through writing this post when Paris was attacked. It was afternoon and ‘The Chef’ was playing an online game on his tablet. A player from England typed, “France just closed its borders and it can’t be good.” I asked what that meant and he said something bad must be happening in Paris. I immediately googled ‘Paris’ and there on the screen were the words ‘Paris Attacks.’ It’s hard not to think about what’s happened when I think about the question now.

Over the years I’ve dreamt about living in a little farmhouse in the countryside of France. I could imagine myself gorging on local cheese and fresh bread and washing it all down with a bottle of red. It’s a romantic notion and I laugh at how cliché it sounds but we’re just musing, right?

When I was younger, wilder, more energetic and single the city life had everything I wanted. New York City in the 80s and its gritty East Village appealed to my anti-establishment, artist sensibilities. At the time I could picture myself in some loft splattering paint on some canvas.

I once gave serious consideration to moving to Bali, Indonesia. I love their deep culture, smiling people and beautiful landscape. But after ‘the Chef’ and I visited Palawan I fell in love with Coron. Palawan is one of the most beautiful places I’ve been to. There’s something about the easy-going nature and honesty of the people that makes me feel like my true self. In Coron I feel like life is not dictated by time, fashion or trend. It suits us well.

So, if you had your choice where would you live?

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

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.

Don’t Go Looking For Land With Shorts On

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.

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.

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