Last months in the Philippines

wedding island hopping philippines

The wedding was a great party, although not without some hitches. Mostly because I was focusing on things that interested me — live band, dart board, games for the children and general entertainment — while she felt it was important to focus on her interests — romantic ornamentation. After a major tear pouring session I finally convinced her that we should organise the event like a team. Like the compatible business partners that we are. I decided to allocate a budget of 25,000p (about $500), lending her almost the same for her flowery and seashell ornamenting. After all, I agreed to pay all her expenses traveling around the world, but if she wants to buy anything special for herself, or upgrade the accommodation to something fancier, it will have to come out of her pocket. And besides, I’ve long told myself I do not want a wife or a travel partner who lounges around all day facebooking or youtubing, because I find that demotivating for my own work, but rather someone who is self-motivated and can manage herself like a true business partner.

reconstruction island hopping philippinesTo win over hearts and minds, I decided to reconstruct her parents’ living room. Originally I planned to do most or all of the work myself, teaching them how to do it in the process, with my new wife by my side helping me, but when it came time to put up the wall tiles, I realised there was a severe lack of tools. Eventually I ended up just paying the construction dude ten bucks a day to do it all, mostly because we really did not have time to work on it, considering all our own preparations for our upcoming departure. 

Originally we planned to take the motorbike with sidecar to travel around the Visayas, expanding our business to include tour packages there, but Mel pointed out that we probably won’t make so much money for that and it would be better to do a boat tour through Palawan, since she is now offering tours there and would like to understand better what she is selling. Besides, after boasting how beautiful the area is, it perked her curiosity and thought it would also make a nice honeymoon. 

Meanwhile, her parents had yet another argument and went their separate ways instead of going together as a family to the famous resort island of Boracay. They planned to bring their daughter too, but calculated they lacked the funds, so grudgingly Mel’s sister had to stay at home. Realising how I was going to take her sister Mel around the world, I felt sorry for her so I invited her to come along with us through Palawan. I barely finished my sentence when she already replied yes. So off the three of us went on a wonderful one month vacation. 

sabang island hopping philippines

We flew into Puerto Princesa and planned to take a van directly to Sabang to meet a contact to show us around and to a secret cave entry 8km up the famous Underground River. But at the airport a taxi driver convinced us to take him instead, saving us much time for a little more money, and making the long journey much more pleasant. Especially since I could stock up on beers and play my own music through the stereo’s bluetooth.

We explored the nice town of Sabang for a day, and wanted to explore Port Barton as well, but our contact proved unreliable and our boatman to Coron said he will soon be in Sibaltan. He was finishing a tour from Coron, and was due to take his boat back to Coron for another tour. That meant we would have a cheap ride with him, since he was heading that way anyway.

sibaltan island hopping philippinesSo we had to skip Port Barton, spent a few wonderful days in El Nido, then one night in Sibaltan before heading off to Coron. 

In Sabang I had my first opportunity to test out the new Sparky video drone, then a few times in El Nido and along the way to Coron. I was getting fairly good at it and Mel was showing significant prowess with video editing, using some free app on her smartphone which automated much of the process. It really showed itself to be a promising combination for our future travel business ambitions. 

rodney island hopping philippinesIn Coron we stayed for a few days with our friend Rodney up in the mountains, then found workaway volunteering at a local hostel. Not only would we not have to pay for accommodation, which was rather expensive, but the girls would have something to do, as sis was becoming noticeably bored while we plugged away at the infinite work needed on the computer. 

A while back a certain gentleman had approached me with potential business partnership. But he wanted to start boat tours of his own, was a local, and I feared he would use my boatmen, so I declined to cooperate with him in my affiliate program. But it turns out that this Brandon was in fact the owner of the very hostel we were volunteering at. We quickly became friends and realised we have quite different customers — I small groups willing to pay more for a private tour, while he focuses on large, 80pax capacity boats for budget backpackers at a much lower price. 

He left us behind for the girls to manage the place while I worked on his new website<, so he could go to Manila to buy his first big boat. After some reflection, I suggested that I handle all the bookings, taking 30% commission from all sales arranged for him, while he can earn $100 in my affiliate program for all sales earned through his website. I can advertise the possibility of budget tours on my website, while he can advertise the possibility of more expensive but private custom tours to visitors of his website. It seems like a win win relationship for the both of us. After all, I have many visitors to my website who simply do not have the budget for my tours, in which case this way I can still earn some income from them. 

Future strategy

Originally the plan was to drive around Visayas with the trike until the rainy season hits around the start of June, then travel for the next six months during the rainy season through SE Asia, China and Russia, but arranging tourist visas for a Filipino proved so frustrating that we decided the first priority must be to get her a better passport.

I first tried Canada, then Czech (as for each I have citizenship), but that seeming daunting, we then thought of Spain, and after extensive research finally decided on Argentina, as apparently it is possible to attain citizenship there after living there for only two years. Their constitution states that there is no legal definition of an illegal alien, and it should be easier if we have children there. 

In South America there are five countries for which no visa is required. Flights seemed cheaper to Sao Paulo, so we plan to stay up to 90 days in Brazil before flying out of Rio de Janeiro to Buenes Aires.

While traveling we would compile useful information for each area and look for tour packages we could sell, basically the same like we are doing here in the Philippines but for a new website to cover the rest of the world, wanderlustingfamily.com. We plan to homeschool our children and take them with us around the globe, so this website will focus on safe and fun things to do for the whole family, but also offer the useful information and packages for those not traveling with children. The world is our oyster and we wanna gobble it up!

Since I will soon be leaving the Philippines (we expect it will take us at least five years before we come back, and at some point we hope to start a resort with our growing family), I will continue my blog entries on the new website (I’ll post the link once I set that up). 

End of one big chapter, start of another

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First stop is Cuyo, a major kitesurfing destination of the Philippines and a small island in the open ocean halfway to my first detination of exploration – the Visayas.

After renting a motorbike and exploring the island of Cuyo, I head off to Iloilo City, the largest on the first of the major islands of Visayas, and find three days of rest at an airbnb joint I found online. The mosquitos, dogs and roosters were somewhat of an annoyance, especially the neighbour’s rooster who would venture too often into my open patio space and leave droppings on the beds, but soon enough I found a reasonable place which I could rent for $120 a month.

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Iloilo City

Unfortunately, it had no windows and felt like a depressing jail, so after the first month I found a nice shack on a beach nearby. I like to explore new territory on foot, the best way, and after a long Sunday stroll, one elderly genteleman called out a friendly hello to me as I passed by his little resort. I decided to rest there for a bit when I noticed a lone hut. One of the very few right on the beach in the entire city. I inquired into its availability and soon enough he threw out all his sons to leave room for me, at the same price as the last place I was staying at.

Much nicer this one, with its own patio, where I could work during the daytime amid pleasant breeze by seaside. He even played ukulele and we soon played together almost every evening. It was a great way to polish up and practice my viola playing skills.
I also found a few places I could play at around town, and it was nice to get back into a routine of comfort, off the island, where I could shower easily every day, walk down the street for an easy meal, or go out to any number of numerous venues to socialise for an evening.

I was so excited to get back into shape I signed up for boxing three nights a week and karate four. However, after a month, it quickly became apparent that it was an entirely exhausting venture which I could barely utilise for my one month membership. I decided to settle for a local weight room gym where I could go six days a week, for about half an hour a day and use their showers, which were better than the new beach hut I was staying at, which used an old hand pump out of the ground without any privacy.

The owner of the new place I was staying at, Edward, has a lot of contacts and we begin to explore them as I start to formulate how I will expand my business in other parts of the country. I soon decided that this will require a motorcycle with sidecar, so I spent the next six months saving up and customising that, while accumulating more toys to bring with me.

Overall, like many cities or towns in the Philippines, I found Iloilo rather boring to live in, even though it was supposedly ranked by Forbes magazine as the fifth most liveable city in the world. A complete farce, as it lacked practically any park and is the same jumble of cars parked on sidewalks, streetshops and cheesy karaoke bars as any other city in the country.

Out of boredom I ventured to try out the local couchsurfing events, as I was invited by my sole couchsurfing friend to a pancake party organised by a Dutchman who traveled around the world, this being his estimated 500th such organised party.

I asked him why he would organise such an event, he seemed to be offended by the question, I don’t eat pancakes, and the venue didn’t even sell beer. So I went to the local shop on the ground floor and brought up a few brewskies to accompany some more palatable dishes, which I ordered separately.

Next to me sat one girl who inquired into the possibility of borrowing one of my beers, promising to run downstairs to replace it later on. I’ve heard enough tall stories from Filipinos not to readily lend new people anything. Besides, I hardly noticed her as I was more preocuppied staring at another girl across the table.

Eventually I managed to save up enough for my motorbike with sidecar and all the other bare necessities I felt I needed to make a pleasant tour around the country, and announced a second couchsurfing event at my hut in the form of a potluck whereby I would make my usual famous marinated steak to be fired up on the grill. The same girl responded that she was sad to see me go and that she happens to be up for a beer that evening, complaining that all her friends feel like staying in. Since I had not noticed her the first time we met at the pancake party, I could not remember who she was, but after perusing her profile pictures on couchsurfing I decided, why not? She took a couple of jeepney rides all the way down to my place from the other side of town and we decided to start off the evening at the local kiosk where I occasionally like to hang out, as I can sit outside amongst lots of traffic, the people are friendly to me, and lots of locals passing to and fro buying their various kiosk needs.

Marinated meat for my potluck party.

She instantly hit it off well with them, and although she had a bit of a belly, I grew to quickly like her, the sound of her voice and her overall mannerisms. We went to another bar later and she eventually slept over at my place, and within a very short time she became my first official girlfriend since I have set off on my world travels from Prague some 12 years prior.

As planned, I soon embarked on my travels, driving up along the coast, exploring some places along the way, checking out one place near the famous Carles as I had arranged through Airbnb some months beforehand. Alvin, the owner of a particular resort, said he knows of a possible place for me since I inquired into the possibility of staying at least one month with a preference of paying what I had been in Iloilo – $120 a month.

My new hut in Estancia, near Carles.

I arrived and was quite happy with the hut, a significant upgrade from my stay in Iloilo. My new girlfriend, Mel, would take the bus up on her days off and together we’d explore the area as part of my plan to add content to my website to increase business – and she liked exploring with me.

Over time I discovered we had very similar interests and were highly compatible, enjoying hiking in nature and discovering new areas. She has a particular fondness for waterfalls and it occurred to me to start a new tag/category “lover’s waterfalls”. Which I am sure would be appreciated by some couples on a romantic vacation and who also like to hike in nature.

Soon enough I started to drop hints that we are perfect for each other and would talk to her about her views on raising children and other matters. She loves traveling and does not shy away from the thought of traveling together with children. A real trooper who is not afraid of asking a guy on a date, not the prissy princess who is afraid of adventure and just wants to stay safe at home watching endless television.

The problem is that she is a nurse and her big dream of travels is to move to the UK to earn big money as a nurse, and she already had a job offer lined up and was planning to move there later in the year. But not before agreeing to first travel a few months with me around the Philippines. I set out in all earnest to lather her with all the charm I could muster during this period in hopes of convincing her to stay with me.

I explained that it is very expensive living in London and that she cannot expect to save much to send back to her family, and that the UK countryside is not that exciting. At best she might hope to check out some other towns or beaches during her days off, or perhaps a long weekend to Paris, but I had already visited all that and tried to convince her she could travel much more with me, and possibly even save more, since I could find some work for her on the computer and would be paying for all her costs (it does not cost extra for accommodation if two people share a hut or bed).

In spite of all my efforts, her mind was firmly set on her UK plans, until one day I thought I could up the stakes with a bribe of sorts – an all-expense paid, six month road trip from Alaska to Antartica. It was a short sales pitch, she casually agreed, and now we are busy with our wedding plans and starting a family. By the end of this month her employment at the local hospital will come to an end, she will move in with me, and the wedding is planned for the 20th of the following month, after which the plan is to embark on our travels around the Philippines until the start of the rainy season sometime in June, after which we would travel somewhere in the world for the next six months before continuing our travels in the Philippines during the dry season from June until the end of November.

As part of my sales pitch I showed her some of my last travels through that continent.

I already bought her a laptop and we have decided she should become the social marketing expert. Whenever I post something on Facebook I might get a trickle of responses, but she loves taking and posting pictures, is great at it, and this is a task I don’t really enjoy. I am convinced we will make a great team, and she can make extra income beyond the hourly rate I offer in the form of commission on sales. Or running my other businesses, or starting her own. The world is literally our oyster and we look forward to swallowing it.

By marrying, after three years I will be able to apply for permanent residence here, which would be a welcome convenience, and I would work to getting her a Canadian passport, as it can be quite difficult for a Filipino to travel around the world, often required to pay $60 in advance to apply at an embassy in Manila, a city I detest to stay in for whatever short period of time.

For a long time I had been yearning to start a family. Although it has been a great adventure traveling around the world for the past 12 years, continuing down this road until the grave seemed increasingly lackluster. I yearned to start a new chapter in my life and end it on a deathbed surrounded by a big, loving family with lots of grandchildren. I love how my beautiful trooper is fine with traveling around the world with children and with me homeschooling them. After all, with AI just around the corner, some 90% of jobs will become redundant, and the present institutional educational system will become more obsolete than it already is. Not to mention I want to raise warriors of light, not the average, conditioned being who is not taught to think out of the box but brainwashed to submit to the system, not questioning anything but to become an obedient, good little robot.

This henceforth marks the last chapter of my single years and I look forward to an amazing new chapter in the latter years of my life.

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Next: Last months in the Philippines

Safety, weather and other conditions on our boat tours

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As you can see from our reviews, most of our guests love our service, while a small minority do not. This page is designed to steer away those who might not like the conditions, making everyone happier.

Here are some of the conditions which some may not prefer:

  • we specialise in custom private tours off the beaten path. The further you get away from the tourist crowd, the more basic will be the facilities. There are toilets and showers everywhere, but sometimes you may just have to squat and flush the toilet with a small bucket drawn from a big bucket of water, or something similar to “shower” yourself with. An example could be one of our regular stops near Sibaltan, Pical.
  • the accommodation is usually very basic. Many places have limited electricity, such as noon to midnight in San Miguel, Linapacan, or the frequent 6pm-10pm in Pical. Smaller islands might be like Pical. Some have diesel generators and can power aircon overnight, but that will need to be paid for extra. The boatmen are slowly stocking up on battery powered fans for the tents. Sometimes it is best just to sleep on a breezy beach under the open stars, but make sure there are no sand flies. Best to discuss your requirements and preferences with the boatman.
  • the waves and weather can get a bit rough sometimes, as indicated on the forecasts page. Whenever a low pressure area develops in the open ocean east of the country, as soon as it even starts approaching the east coast, the standard coast guard reaction is to issue a warning. But this is the same supersafe approach applied by the embassy of your own country, which possibly issues a dire warning in bold red letters not to come to this country. I asked the coast guards in and exmayor of San Miguel in Linapacan if any accidents have ever been reported along our regular route and they claimed absolutely none. There are 82 islands between Sibaltan and Coron to provide plenty of shelter. The typhoons generally hit the east coast and are then pushed northward to the upper tip of Luzon before they go down to Vietnam. They rarely make it through the middle of the country, but when they occasionally do (I lived in Linapacan for two years), by the time they get there they are fairly tame. In any case, the boatmen know when it is or not safe to go out and will not risk their lives or boats for some extra income. Therefore, if you hear any warnings by the coastguards, this is NOT grounds for cancellation of your tour. If the weather gets too rough, usually the boatmen will sit out the storm for a day or two and then continue. The last year I lived in the area I counted 8 typhoons passing around the country and our operations needed to pause only for a few days on two separate occasions.

To sum it up, our tours are not for everyone, but if you want to get off the beaten path, into beautiful pristine nature, remote beaches and meet and live like truly rural and hospitable Filipinos, then our tours are for you. We have different sized boats, so if you are scared of big waves, you can arrange one of the larger boats. The accommodation can quite vary, from fancy resorts you have to book in advance yourselves, to basic huts or inns, to tents.

You can join or book one of our private custom Palawan boat tours between El Nido and Coron. Tons of paradise beach islands to see along the way, excellent snorkeling in crystal clear waters, caves to explore, Spanish fortress and much more. Completely off the beaten path!

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Katar Van Services

In February of 2019 they sent me the following information:

  • Pick up anywhere in pps (Puerto Princesa) to El Nido daily trip, seat shared or private
  • PPS to Elnido Vice Versa (500/pax)
  • PPS to SIBALTAN, ERLITOP. Schedule: 7to8am, 1to2pm and 4to5pm. (700/pax)
  • ERLITOP TO PPS. Schedule: 7to8am and 3to4pm (700/pax)
  • El Nido to Sibaltan Schedule: 1-2pm & 6-7pm (250/pax)
  • Pps to Nacpan 4to5am 7to8am (700/pax) 10to11am, 1to2pm,4to5pm
  • Nacpan to pps 1to2pm , 5-6pm (700/pax) El Nido to Nacpan 1-2pm, 6-7pm (350/pax)

Telephone numbers:  0921 649 4111, 0905 432 5019, 090 664 84 602
Facebook (they are fairly quick about replying)

Boat operator Rosela

A recent addition to our team but so far has been yielding good results. Her boats are slightly smaller, with capacity for 15 people, but she prefers a maximum of 6, for greater safety. Also based in Linapacan. This is now our main choice as she charges 5,000p less than the others. If you are afraid of big waves, you can upgrade to a larger boat with one of our other operators.

She has three boats about the same size and manages three crews.

boat sizes

You can join or book one of our private custom Palawan boat tours between El Nido and Coron. Tons of paradise beach islands to see along the way, excellent snorkeling in crystal clear waters, caves to explore, Spanish fortress and much more. Completely off the beaten path!

Palawan-boat-tours

Back to our boat sizes and list of boat operators.

Sizes of boats

henkey boats

We have different sized boats. Generally for a group of six persons or less, which is most of our customers, something like the below boat would be used:

boat sizes

or:

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These can generally accommodate up to six people. During the Amihan season, roughly from November to April, but especially around February, the waves/swells can get larger, and if you are afraid of that, we have larger sized boats. You can check weather forecasts here. The larger boats generally accommodate around 15 persons max, or possibly 20 if the water is very flat:

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Please note that these banca boats represent the livelihood for the boatman and they will not go out if they feel the weather is too rough or risky. The coast guards are also very strict and do not allow it according to their weather predictions. Along the entire route between Coron and Sibaltan there are tons of islands and always some nearby coast. There is no open ocean stretch so safety is always near. Nevertheless, some of our guests are not used to the ocean and prefer more stability, in which case we have a larger boat with capacity for 30 persons:

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or even a larger boat for capacity 48:

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Such boats could have enough cabin space if you prefer to sleep on the boat. If you want to upgrade the size of your boat, just send me a note and we’ll figure something out.

And lastly, we have small boats if for example you’d like a local tour of the beautiful Linapacan area. They can generally accommodate up to five people (without baggage) if the water is flat enough. Here’s a picture of our boatman Alvin. You can even sleep in a little hut in his community on the interesting island of Patoyo:

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If you have not already, you can book a tour with us here:

book-tour-now

You can check out our different boatmen with customer reviews about them if you’d like to make a specific choice between them. Note that our three main boatmen here have several boats and crews under their command:

Romantic Vacation

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The Philippines is made up of more than 7,000 paradise beach islands and a great way to spend a romantic vacation is on a private custom boat tour, island hopping your way from one paradise to another.

The best place for this is between El Nido and Coron. Our tours start or end in Sibaltan, a nice archeological village about one hour east of El Nido. If you have time, on your way there you can follow our suggested itinerary by beach hopping your way to the secluded resorts there, spending at most only half an hour in the van each day.

We suggest staying at least one night in Sibaltan (such as at the place below) so that you do not have to worry about catching a van in the morning and start your tour as soon as you are ready.

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Your next stop can be the lovely island of Iloc (picture below), only 30 minutes away, where you can also stay overnight, if you so wish. There are many island beaches in the area where you can explore and snorkel during the day.

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Your second day can take you to Linapacan, half way to Coron and itself surrounded by 52 islands. Tons of fantastic snorkeling spots in amazingly clear water. You will not find clear water like this in Coron or El Nido, and neither will you see many tourists, but friendly locals opening their hearts and homes to you. Linapacan also has caves to explore, an old Spanish fortress, and cliff diving into the water.

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Amazingly clear water and fantastic snorkeling. Check out this video.
More videos here.

Note that our tours are custom private, so you can choose where to visit or stay, or simply explain to your boatman what you like, as they are the experts. Our tours cost 46,000p (about $900) for two people for a four day trip (not including food, accommodation or entrance fees to some of the beaches – get a free quote here). This is the total cost for the two of you, but if you want to share your boat with others, it only costs 1,000p for each additional person. Or 5,000p less or more for each day less or more.

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Araw beach, one of the many places you can visit. A very small community lives here.

The standard package all-inclusive tour includes basic accommodation, but if you’d like something fancier you can book yourself, such as one of the places on our suggested accommodation page. You can choose which spots to visit beforehand, or simply discuss this with the boatman on meeting – usually they meet you the night before, so you can discuss things over a pleasant beer.

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Example of some of the basic accommodation you can choose from, but fancy is also available.

There is also the option to rent a wakeboard and/or speargun. It can be a great blast to surf while passing between remote islands and beaches.

And if you don’t mind getting basic, there is even the option to camp out on your own deserted island!

Trekking on Bolina island, Philippines, Palawan

Bolina, one of the many beautiful deserted islands you can camp out on.
The boatman can set you up with cooking and anything else you will need.

For an instant quote, just fill in this simple form, or more info.

book-tour-now

Opening bank accounts in North America

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There are several reasons for my trip to North America. One is because my cousin from the UK is visiting, so an important family reunion with my mom and sister, as the four of us have not been together for several decades. But also to open bank accounts in Canada and the US. I had a bank account in the US, but instead of emailing me notifications, which is free, they insist on the archaic postal system and, since my friends living at the address associated with the bank account were given instructions not to worry about post for me, I failed to fill in some new tax form in time and they closed the account. Without that I am not able to transfer money out of my PayPal account so I could use the bank’s atm card to withdraw cash. Generally all my income comes into PayPal, such as through its free tool to accept credit card payments, and without the means to the cash from a local atm machine, for a year I was forced to use the services of one hotel who agreed to issue me a cheque after I sent them funds from my PayPal account to theirs, minus a 10% fee. Considering that PayPal itself charges a 4.5% fee to receive payments, this is something I simply need to get sorted.

boat-tours-20180407_073615Visiting mom in Vancouver.

I arrive to Vancouver in my usual shorts and t-shirt, but since it was apparently the coldest April ever recorded, I am quickly forced to borrow pants and a sweater from my stepfather. I find the style of attire there rather amusing, even the hairstyle, which looks like locals had just crawled out of bed and slipped into their comfy pajamas.

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boat-tours-20180421_115259It was so unusually cold that my beautiful hard feet from 12 years of
walking barefoot around the world cracked at the heals!

Contrary to the Philippines, where a large part of the population are children, the average age in Vancouver seems to be in the mid forties. Also contrary to Manila which I had just suffered, Vancouver has spacious and empty roads, cars neatly parked and the sidewalks completely free! I enjoy the two hour walk every day to my mom’s place for lunch, strolling through quiet neighbourhoods with rich houses, old people jogging slowly in their pajamas with their dogs. If Prague is called the city of a thousand spires, Vancouver should be called a city of a million trees. Quite the nice change from Manila.

boat-tours-20180407_015730Is this some humorous misspelling and subliminal message to the people?

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boat-tours-20180415_181623Even the cemeteries are spacious.

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boat-tours-20180418_154126Walk with mom and cousin.

As usual my mom loves to spoil me with her fantastic cooking, as per my request all the things I have been missing for so many years while traveling through Asia. She even gives me a Czech “uherak”, which is like a very heavy German-style sausage, to take to my airbnb place with other goodies. I happily munch on that as I work on my computer in bed, but I guess it is not the best move for my indigestion, as I experience a few emergencies during my long walks the first few days there and have to improvise in forested parks and back alleys, once even struggling too long to unravel the string belt of my pajama pants. My mother wonders why I show up with the pants inside out and my stepfather wasn’t pleased to hear the news, so my mom buys me a new pair from the local Cosco’s.

Easter lunch at mom’s.

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boat-tours-20180414_144838Stepdad doing his manly duties of preparing the duck.

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boat-tours-20180414_145644Typical Czech Easter meal of roasted duck with bread dumplings, different coloured sourcrout,
gravy, with hanging eggs in the background.

boat-tours-20180413_172813Closeup of the eggs which, traditionally, we paint ourselves.

boat-tours-20180418_205843Mom and sis joking around.

I visit some old friends, successfully open a bank account, assign my mother a power of attorney to represent me and off I am to Seattle, my sister renting a car for the three of us, since the main reason my cousin is visiting is because she will be joining a round the world sailing boat race.

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Cousin showing us her fancy sailing race gear,
but according to the video below, I think I could do without!

Crossing the Border

Through my sister I manage to score a bunch of weed, which is quite welcome, having freshly arrived from a country where the president happily supports extra-judiciary murder for such use. I finished the batch but have a bunch of roach clips left over, so I rip them apart to roll together one last massive joint before crossing the border into the United (police) States of America.

But I am somewhat concerned having heard a story from my dad, a respectable businessman who was given 20 million dollars by the US government to invest into the Czech Republic shortly after the fall of Communism. We both have the first and last name and apparently his butt was once searched at the border on his return to the country. Through their grimace they did not reveal to him why, but he later deduced it must have been what I wrote on the net. I consider myself an activist and subscribe to various news feeds. One informed me that Bush junior had vetoed a majority vote in both the Congress and Senate to ban a certain machine gun. In the protest form I was offered a little box to write my own personal message that would be sent directly to the president. I merely commented that he might consider the safety of his family if he insists on keeping such deadly weapons on the street. I later learned that it is a criminal offense to threaten the president in this way.

So in this ultra stoned frame of mind I am approaching the border, worried what is in store for me. Of course I begin to get paranoid, but the car line is long and slow and there is enough time to go for a walk in a nearby park while our rental car snails its way forward and the girls jabber away in the front (need a break from that as well).

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We finally make our way to the stall and are asked to put on our hazard lights, pull our vehicle over to the side and present ourselves as a group inside the building. While inching forward in the car, sis points out all the cameras aiming at us from different angles, carefully making note of our movements and analysing for potential rogue personalities. This predictably sets me less at ease.

Once in the building I see groups of various nationalities explaining their situation to the interrogating official. When initially crossing the border, the Canadian side has an empty field full of yellow daisies between the entry and exit lanes, but once crossing the border, on the US side there is a tall monument and various neatly trimmed bushes with a tractor lawnmower buzzing round and round between them, which I refer to as the daisy killer. The US side of the border is very neat and proper and, together with the big monument, has a very imposing feeling compared to where I just came from. In the building there is a great sense of power while police constables stroll variously according to their jobs with an air of “We wont take the slightest shit from anyone”.

After about half an hour it is finally our turn to make our way to the counter, where we are greeted by a rather jolly looking fellow. The situation seems more promising. Especially when we learn that the problem concerns my UK cousin, who had arranged all the particulars back home, but at the end of the day she is just now crossing the border from Canada and requires the proper entry stamp.

He asks us how we all plan to leave the country. My sister says in a few days once my cousin teams up with the sailing crew. His attention then turns to my cousin, who buoyantly explains in her colourful Cambridge accent how the boat will be freshly arriving from China, that she will be joining the next leg, which will take her through to Panama and back up the east coast, then on to the UK from New York.

This obviously perks his attention and he too becomes very colourful in the conversation, even drawing the attention of his colleague to his right, while his small group of Asians also gape at us with open mouths. I casually lean over the counter and even throw a few jokes into the conversation to lighten the atmosphere. Eventually his attention turns to me. I explain that I will be visiting friends while at the same time on a “business trip” (as instructed I should explain during my last traumatic entry into the country), that I will fly out of Los Angeles in two months back to the Philippines, where I run a boat tour company. To which he gruffly replies, “Well, that’s not so interesting,” and hands us back our passports.

Discussing this issue with some friends later, I was informed that apparently Obama had deleted the or a big part of the database of supposed terrorists who were automatically added four s’s (lets think of the German SSS under Hitler) to their flight ticket, since the procedure of adding dissidents to this list was somewhat arbitrary during the initial building of this police state. Since then it’s been rebuilt but I guess I should consider myself fortunate and I find my travels along the west coast quite pleasant thereafter.

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boat-tours-20180419_145304Arbitrary stop on the way to Seattle.

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Seattle

One thing I find similar here to Vancouver is the drivers’ obsession to stop in the middle of the road as you step on it to cross. Polite overkill and it can be frustrating as you time yourself perfectly, staring at the rear bumper, only to find all cars in both directions have slowed down to a stop and are waiting for you to complete your crossing. Any conscientious person would feel guilty jay walking.

boat-tours-20180419_192229Pigging out at a fine Mexican restaurant in Seattle.

But in many other respects it is rather different. For example, vagrant zombies abound. Tent cities of homeless people set up underneath overpasses. The friends I visit all complain about this, how people on the west coast are so compassionate that they allow this in this moderately warm weather, but then have to suffer excrement in their backyards (lets ignore my accidents back in Vancouver). The government offers them food and shoes, the latter of which they might quickly sell for another hit. Walking the streets I’d see them talk to themselves, point up to the sky in wonder, one woman motioning with her hands with a splash against the wall every five steps while uttering “Touch!”, as if to protect herself from a curse.

Buzzed out on crack, meth or whatever, these zombies often stagger their way forward with outstretch hand asking for another handout, which I find a humorous contrast to the supposedly poor people of the Philippines, where during my three year stay I have very rarely ever been asked for spare change by an adult.

On my first day in Seattle I go on my usual mission and pass a loitering group of zombies, some of whom are passed out sprawled out on the pavement. One of them looks more sound-worthy so I ask him politely if he knows where I can buy some beer. To which he sarcastically responds, “From the store?” Obviously not as helpful as Vancouverites.

I meet up with some old friends from back in Prague and then it is off to visit another friend I had met in the same city, now living in…

San Juan

This is one of many islands northwest of Seattle and to which I get a ride most of the way with sis as she was heads back to Vancouver. Since I have some time to kill I ask her to drop me off at the beginning of the ferry town. I check out my maps.me and see what looks like a nice park along the way, so I pack my bag with beers and launch onwards for another pleasant stroll.

But in this part of the world, a park is more raw nature. It feels great to get another whiff of God’s country, as B.C. labels itself just to the north.

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boat-tours-20180422_170242Free tourist material to explore.

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boat-tours-20180422_155413Still on the mainland walking towards the ferry (background and waiting).

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I catch the 6 p.m. ferry and make a b-line to the bar recommended by my friend, one which brews its own beer. I was told by my sis that in the entire United States it is okay to drink beer in public. I later found that this is not true, so I guess I was fortunate not to run into any problems as I wandered the streets consuming blatantly.

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Now on San Juan, public murals. 

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I walk into the bar with my beer in hand and ask if I can finish it inside if I order and pay for another one, but the bartender responds, “You’ve got to be kidding. That is against the law!” I finish it outside and come back in to the same spot. I sit down on a bar stool, order a beer and notice a gentleman sitting next to me who seems tickled by my introduction. Turns out he is a friend of the person I am planning to visit. We chat and soon enough we head to another bar, where my friend joins shortly thereafter after the fellow informed him where we are.

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Above, the menu of micro brewery beers at the pub,
brewed right there, the good ol’ brewers below.

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Jammin’ at the brewer’s pub.

boat-tours-20180509_121826My friend liked to take his doll out everywhere while traveling around the world
and figured my visit was worth the occasion.

I later learned from my friend that this fellow is a native American (falsely called an Indian because Christopher Columbus thought he landed in India when he landed in America), who they prefer to be called First Nations, and that he had served in Afghanistan for a few tours, murdering at least 57 in the process, some in meat grinders, some of whom were apparently still alive during the process.

boat-tours-20180423_110916Veggie burgers in organic country.

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A two mile walk to the “bud hut” where I could legally buy dope. The girl working there was practically ecstatic when I pulled out all my ID on my second visit (Filipino and Thai drivers licence, Czech passport and so forth). They don’t get around much here!

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Below is some local art at one of their shopping malls.

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My friend is excited to have an old friend from Prague visiting him. Back in Prague he had worked as the personal assistant for the band leader of the Killing Joke, composing both heavy metal and classical music. My friend would often find himself standing behind this high energy genius with a ready glass of whiskey in one hand and a joint in the other, waiting for the next instructions, and would frequently brush shoulders with the likes of Vaclav Havel and other famous people.

boat-tours-20180505_135330My friend sitting across from me, his landlord to his left. Lots of doobie smoking here!

Like myself he had long been struggling financially, but now has stumbled on a good gig, working as a waiter in a high end resort on the island, pulling in tips of around $500 a day. He had grandiose plans taking me around the island, to neighbouring islands, and had even reserved a helicopter which he wanted to surprise me with, but somehow instead we always end up staying in his little basement flat chatting away and drinking beers. He was very glad to have another eccentric to talk to because the locals are the usual suburban family types with little worldly experience.

The locals are super nice, perhaps even more so than Vancouverites. Here, even as you approach an intersection and look as though you might want to cross, all traffic stops as they stare at you, waiting for your decision. I manage to open a bank account here as well, essentially accomplishing my North American mission, after which it is…

Off to LA

I take the skylight train from Seattle to San Francisco, a beautiful scenic ride through the mountains and along the coast. During the day I stay in the lounge car, with a domed glass ceiling, a free tour guide explaining some of the wonders, but where beer unfortunately costs $7 a pop. At the next big stop, in Portland Oregon, I decide to pick up for myself a 12 pack, but on returning it is announced on the intercom that it is forbidden to bring alcohol on board, that all must be purchased from the lounge car, and that failure to do so will result in immediate ejection from the train and that the next day a replacement ticket will be extra expensive.

I find my previous empty bottle that I had purchased still where I left it, and decide to buy another one just to be safe. I overhear one gentleman in the seat in front of me asking his neighbour if he can watch his seat for him, offering him a drink in exchange. His neighbour declines but I step up to the bat and graciously offer my assistance. He goes down to the restaurant and returns with a bottle of beer and a bottle of champagne for himself. I learn that he is celebrating his 80th birthday. In this way I accumulate three more bottles, and now having an arsenal of five empties on my table, I decide to risk it and surreptitiously transfer the content of the 12 cans into one of the bottles. Once it got dark I return to my seat and sleep like a baby, as the seat next to me is empty and the seats on trains can be stretched out almost as flat as a bed.

boat-tours-20180513_101601The famous Golden Gate bridge in background left with the famous Alcatraz prison island far right.

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People picnicking by the bridge, below oyster bbq.

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boat-tours-20180513_140821Just a playground for kids. 

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boat-tours-20180513_150702I certainly burned my thighs during this day long walk up and down these steep streets of San Fran!

In San Francisco I stay at the Green Tortoise Hostel, the same company I will be taking the famous scenic bus ride down to Los Angeles, and spend the entire day walking around town, to the famous Golden Gate bridge and through various parks. It turns out that as many as 30 people can fit on these buses, but fortunately there are only eleven of us, nine of whom are females, then a male and female driver taking turns. I was slightly concerned that over the next three days the prevailing conversation might revolve around cucumber peels on the face and other beauty secrets, but it actually turned out to be quite pleasant. While the girls usually do touristy stuff, I’d grab my maps.me and walk through parks.

Because I had originally anticipated opening a bank account in LA, I had arranged to stay for two weeks with an ex-girlfriend from Prague. She is now married with two children and her husband is totally cool about everything. To pay my rent I take their dog for daily walks (first time and unpleasant experience of having to pick up doggie poop with a plastic bag), treat them to some meals, help around the house, and it is nice to quickly become uncle Karel, as I always seem to get along great with children.

Some interesting things I learned while there. In the past every house would be adorned with all sorts of fruit trees and vegetables in their garden, but at some point the evil capitalists spread a rumour about a certain parasite, scaring everyone into cutting everything down. Now there is a slow comeback and my host has started growing a tomato plant on the public strip of grass on the other side of the sidewalk from her front yard. And then there is the “California Stop”, when you slow down to a stop sign but don’t actually come to a complete stop and count a full second in your head. Failure to do so will result in a fine and the requirement to retake a driving course, total costs amounting to roughly $500. As opposed to in Mexico where everyone completely ignores the sign and you just drive slowly straight through, carefully weaving through the cross traffic. Or in a lot of Asia where the vehicles weave around each other like fish in a turbulent river, often going the wrong direction. It seems the evil capitalists want every excuse to increase consumption in the form of replaced brake pads and fuel use. One irony is that I have generally witnessed car accidents in the west, but almost none in Asia. Seems that when you treat people like babies, they tend to become that way.

boat-tours-20180418_092829An accident I came across in Vancouver during my three week stay there and long walks to lunch at mom’s. Knocked over a lamppost. How is something like this possible when everyone drives so carefully??

Playing uncle Karel with my host’s kids.

Now I’m back up in the mountains with my friend in Coron ready to launch my big adventure of the Philippines. During my American trip I decided to change my strategy somewhat. Back in San Juan my friend had no shower and suggested I sign up for a short term membership at the local gym. Not only did I superbly enjoy their hot tub after every workout, but also getting slowly back into shape, as it was difficult to motivate myself back on the island. Also, I want to leave room for flexibility, so I decided I will leave much of my stuff here in the mountains and only take with me the bare minimum: my small backpack, viola and ukulele, so I can keep traveling around the country. If I do stumble across an interesting project and decide to settle down for a while, I can always come back and pick up the rest. But I like the idea of floating around the country indefinitely. However, in each larger town I’d like to stay at least a month, using their gym, take dance and martial arts classes and so forth. Do some research and make sure to hit all the tourist sites, documenting them for my own website in order to expand business. And why not start now? My mountain friend has graciously offered to lend me his motorcycle and tomorrow I will explore this island for a couple of days. Now I just need to reactivate my gopro camera, as it has laid dormant for three years, the battery might be dead, and last I checked the waterproof casing has cracked. Nothing that a little ebay purchase cant resolve, but with more than 7,000 islands to see in this great country, I am sure it will be a wonderful adventure spanning several years.

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Start of a new big chapter, end of an old