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.

On the road again

Coron was fun, as I ended up staying around three weeks with my friend (above video) up in the mountains around Coron. Occasionally we’d hop on his bike to go downtown or to the beach. His bike didn’t have breaks so he putted forward at a slow speed, using his manual gears to slow down when needed. Although the teeth on his gears were worn away from the practice and the chain would often slip a few in the process. Overall a scary prospect, but I went with him most of the time he left his enclave.

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Hanging out jammin’ with the boys at the Happy Hippie House

While in the hood I thought I’d take advantage of the moment to round myself up boatmen in the Coron area. So far my endeavours had failed. I’d walk down to the new market where all the tour boats hung out, their operators playing chess or smoking cigarettes waiting for tourists. Each time I appeared a group quickly formed excitedly around me hoping for business. I’d explain that I have a website with guests regularly looking for reservations. And each time the boatmen would ask “how many guests?” And each time I’d try to explain that I do not have any guests at the present moment but this is about future reservations and finding boatmen capable of responding to mobile text messages whether or not their boat is available on a certain date.

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Wandering the streets of Manila, greeted by the friendly locals.

Each time I’d go down to this market I’d get another contact or two, but when I went back to the island and got a reservation request, I’d text some of my new contacts, but always with dismal results. Next time I was in Coron I went down to the market again in search of more boatmen. A previous contact was in the new group surrounding me, when he said, “Sorry I did not respond last time, I didn’t have any load.” What, ONE peso? When I am offering him thousands of pesos in potential business, just for a single reservation? I was getting tired of the Coron boatmen. A manifestation of the great Filipino laziness and money gouging uselessness I have been almost getting used to during my three years stay in this country. I collected some more phone numbers, unfortunately with the same results.

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There is such a lack of parks in Manila that some compensate outside their homes this way.

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On this last visit I confronted the group and said I was not interested in collecting a few phone numbers but asked how I could get the phone numbers to ALL of Coron’s boatmen. Managed to get the secretary in the office of the local tours organisation to email me the list of almost 300 local and officially registered boatmen. Now I was ready to get down to business. I found an online service which enabled me to send a text message to this list of 300 for an affordable rate. I sent out my message, asking them to respond back to my regular number, but after a brief flurry of questions and answers among a small handful of respondents, I was disappointed that this campaign had yielded only one single respondent seeming to have sufficient competence or reliability, but even who turned out to be a dead end.

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Increasingly, in this highly Catholic country, building a business here seems like the bible refers to as building a house on quicksand. It seems that texting and expending the occasional peso to secure a future reservation is too arduous a task and that the locals seem quite content to play chess game after chess game and smoke cigarette after cigarette waiting for tourists to walk into their laps.

When communicating with guests, I am often complimented by the wealth of information I provide (even though most often a simple copy/paste or autoresponse) and the speed in which I respond. Perhaps that stems from decades of translation – I can both type very fast and I am used to responding quickly. In the end, perhaps I should be grateful for the local laziness and unresponsiveness, in that this will give me the edge for future expansion. I’m told by my guests that even my mighty competition of Tao Expeditions is frustratingly unresponsive to simple questions out of the box.

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One thing they can think out of the box about is where to sleep!

In fact, I often pondered over the possibility of hiring someone to answer all these questions on my behalf, in order to free up some of my time to expand in other areas, but that honestly will be a difficult task. After all, it is me who has travelled through these areas and the questions are often very specific that require a broad knowledge and some serious thought to get the answer right. Each answer is essentially a sales pitch to get someone to pay the reservation deposit (my income), so correct wording and substance is very important.

Alas, it is still a more interesting job than translation. In the beginning I was getting very frustrated answering all these questions and worked on ways to streamline or automate the process, but in the end I resigned to the flood and accepted it as my new job.

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In anticipation of my upcoming exploration of the Visayas region, while in Manila I got myself a driver’s licence. Why does it seem that with every new photograph for the authorities I look more like a criminal? The doctor said I must be kidding during the test and I was forced to get some prescription glasses. To compensate for my picture, decided on kind purple frame and this is my practiced happy face for any police who might feel compelled to pull me over.

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Manila

Left a big chunk of my belongings with Rodney. The plan is to go to North America, set up the bank accounts etc, then fly back to Manila from Los Angeles, go back up to the Coron mountains for a week or two, and pick up my most needed belongings to take east, my new destination.

Now, with only a single, light backpack, I took my favourite way to Manila – the 2Go overnight ferry. Found my bed and made a quick and instant beeline to the bar upstairs, where they had already begun warming up for the karaoke evening ahead.

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Being one of the first to arrive there I secured for myself a nice table and chair, in which I set myself for most of the evening. But after a few beers I overheard one of the singing guests as coming from the Czech Republic. Did not take long to spark up a conversation and we ended up chatting and joining other groups until around 5 in the morning.

boat-tours-manila-20180329_122835Woke up in my bunk bed, mouth gaping open as I snored upwards while a local prodded my feet with a stick, “Dude, get up, we’re in port!”

I walked to the agency which had been handling my visa extensions for me, and with them went to the bureau of immigration to get my exit visa (yes, now one needs permission to leave a country).

After learning that holy week (Easter) was coming up, when Filipinos like to walk in procession and whip their own backs, splattering blood on bystanders, I realised I had to take an earlier ferry to Manila, since the immigration office will be closed during this period. That forced me to stay more than two weeks in Manila, not a pleasant prospect.

Picture left: somewhere in that mess of wires is a worker fixing something.

After failing to find a free couch, I resorted to an airbnb place within walking distance from the pier, visa extension place and the bureau of immigration. And it was a painful two weeks indeed.

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During holy week the locals would make and sell religious ornaments made from nature.

Not only were there no windows in my small hotel room, but the neighbourhood was devoid of much to do. During this time I must have walked at least 50km in my sandals, scouring the neighbourhoods in search of leisure and preoccupation. The bars at night were mostly dark inside with flashing disco Christmas lights and where I would often be approached by a girl or boy pretending to be girl if I want a companion. Not my cuppa. I managed to find only a single park, the city’s only official one. In the end I invented my own passtime by walking in different directions from my hotel. With my fancy maps.me app I bookmarked the gps location of the hotel and returning home after a long wander was a simple matter or pressing the Go To button – a simple path was chosen for me and it was easy to stagger my way back, dropping in on the occasional 711 to exchange my emptied beer bottle for a new one.

boat-tours-manila-20180331_111150Picture left: discovered corn and clams in the local market, both of which I had not had for a very long time. Might as well put to some use the hotel room’s water kettle (garlic and hot peppers added – totally delicious!).

Even though the country’s president had recently passed another draconian law preventing one from drinking in public, I always had the tourist advantage that I could play dumb that I did not know. In any case, because of the location of the hotel, I most often found myself wandering through poor areas where it did not matter, and if I was lucky, I stumbled on street markets.

That is where I found the most interesting action. The real life of the party. I’d often be called over to join a group for a few shots of brandy before moving on. Here is one funny example.

How to get a haircut in Manila

Will be going to Canada for a couple of months to visit mom and, not only do I want to look nice and presentable to her, but also for the border guards, who are becoming increasingly Nazi police state post the 911 inside job. Lots of barber shops in the hood where I’m staying at in my Manila airbnb place, all around 50pesos (about a buck). It was easter Thursday, start of holy week here, and I decided I did not want to spend another day in my dark, windowless room in front of the computer but to wander around and see if I could see any street festivities or blood splattering from locals carrying the cross and flailing themselves. Stopped in the nearest barber shop, just across from the local 711 where I spend most of my money restocking my beer supply. Gestured that I wanted to trim my beard and even had a speech prepared that I had been cutting my own hair for the past 30 years for various reasons, one of which is I grew tired of explaining to barbers what I wanted, only to watch them do what they do all the time by habit. Which would be worse here considering their usual style is what I like to call the Filipino rooster: buzz cut on the sides and the hair fluffed up on top and at an angle. This barber seemed not the exception and sent me away with a grimace.

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Met this family on one of my strolls. They live in shacks homemade from garbage, right next to the railroad tracks. They invited me for brandy and snacks. Amazing how people can be so happy with so little.

So I wandered the streets in search of some blood splattering, at the same time keeping a casual eye out for barber shops. Followed my maps.me guide to what I recently marked as a party part of town, where many streets are filled with little stands, children running around, the alleys full of life, and almost as important, frequent 711s so I could be assured to always maintain a beer in my hand.

Was walking down one busy street when a bloke called out the customary, “Hey Joe, where you go?” We chatted briefly and then he remarked, “Want a haircut?” waving his hand to the side. I had to bend down so I could look below the awning, where there was a little barber shop sign. But they were suffering another brownout and said it could not be inside because there is no electricity and not enough light. They quickly brought out a chair for me to sit on. I asked if they had a mirror, which they said they did not, so I told them I want to see what he is doing and started to walk away. I do not want to look like a rooster!

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As I was about ten paces gone I heard a squelch, turned around and saw my friend gesturing for me to come back.

On arrival he produced a small mirror, which apparently one of his friends had ripped off the handle of his motorcycle. I held that in my hand while the show started. I asked if I could get a beer, at which point one one-legged fellow with crutches leaped off his seat offering to come to the rescue. I gave him a 50 note, he gave me a cigarette as bonus and I said he could keep the change. My friend jokingly told me I should watch out for this guy, not trust him, and that he lost his leg because he got too drunk.

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Then, out on the street under open sunlight, seated in my plastic chair, the show commenced. While about ten faces were about 2 feet distance from mine, keenly watching every magical scissor movement of my barber, as I did with the little mirror held in my hand.

On completion I gave him a robust voluntary 200p ($4), they congratulated me that I looked ten years younger, and I was on my way as another customer had already sat down in my chair awaiting attention. During the cut I was hoping to take a selfie of us all, but forgot in the shuffle. So I guess this pic is the next best thing, taken about a block down the street at a railroad crossing and probably the closest thing to a public park one will find in any average neighbourhood in Manila:

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Being my first time booking through airbnb I made a mistake in that I presumed the last day I chose on their calendar was the last night I book through them. Unfortunately, it was instead the day I was to check out and, sure enough, when that time came, I was surprised to find myself homeless my last night in Manila.
No worries though, I have a rich enough history in sleeping at the airport.

I proceeded to make the long walk there, but check out the coastline along the way, when I stumbled upon the Mall of Asia, the meeting point with the exgirlfriend and her entourage of the hotel owner back in Malaysia who had given me her contact. A full circle one might say, but this time I discovered its shoreline promenade.

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Hanging out at a local basketball court near the airport waiting for my afternoon flight.

Worth checking out, but continued on to the airport, to which I arrived with sore feet after about four hours stroll. It was late by the time I arrived and not enough time to make it back to some of the colourful street markets I had crossed through, so instead I chose the hood nearest to the airport, without disappointments. I returned the next morning to spend the last of my pesos before heading off to Vancouver.


Partying with the locals in hood next to the airport while they munch on young mangoes plucked from nearby trees.

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The shit finally hits the fan

shit-hits-fan-20171120_141511My  beautiful banca boat now fixed up by and kept in the hands of my local friend,
who uses it to catch fish or make a little extra income ferrying in guests from bigger bancas
which cannot land directly on shore during higher waves or lower tides.

It was a precarious situation with the caretaker, but things took an interesting twist when he was replaced by a new caretaker in the form of the property owner’s wife. I generally always had a good relationship with that entire family (even though she and the first caretaker are actually cousins), and shortly after the change her son came over to examine my operations and assured me I could continue as I had been and that he approved of everything.

But that honeymoon was not long lived, following a long string of negative incidents which eventually culminated in my complete exasperation.

First of all, the typhoon season was more intense than last year, so much so that a movement is now underway in this country to sue the oil companies for climate change and the resulting damages.

shit-hits-fan-20171201_083047Inspired by my own gardening work, my local friend did his own and created
what I liked to name “Rodel’s Restaurant”, where guests were increasingly going to have dinner.

The last typhoon of the season was the strongest. Most of the time they first pummel the east coast as they are pushed north along the mainland, their intensity scraping the northern tip of the country before heading in a southwest direction to Vietnam. So they generally circumvent my location, but not before some occasional long whips make it down here. Usually short bursts, and this last typhoon came all of a sudden and lashed out at my little hut with about 15 minutes of rain pelting fury. I scrambled shirtless and in my shorts out onto the balcony and tried to hold up the new, strong tarpoline to protect my electronics inside, but the wind was so fierce it was difficult to hold it together as the horizontal rain lashed its way through the little cracks and felt like bullets penetrating my bare back.

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The little black flies which could easily fly through the mosquito netting were annoying as usual, but nothing that couldn’t be reasonably alleviated with mosquito coils and the 12v fan I now finally had operational.

Although it was a relief to reduce the number of volunteers to a trickle, the flow of paying guests was on the increase and that brought with it some annoyances. For example, at one point my computer stopped working again, but fortunately one arriving guest brought with him a cheap local smartphone. It was extremely slow and frustrating to work with, but at least I could communicate by email. I did not have it set up completely yet, so I was not able to send the usual autoresponse instructing guests of the general conditions here, but agreed with a German couple to meet them in Coron while my computer was getting fixed. Meanwhile, two couples arrived to the island while I was gone.

shit-hits-fan-20171121_093542Hut close to completion, buckets positioned to catch rainwater from roof,
covered in see-through plastic over the day to get nice and hot by the end.

The first couple left soon without paying, while the second couple left just as we were arriving. They did not pay either, but one local who I assigned to take care of guests while I am gone in exchange for modest pay, informed me that they made extensive use of his kitchen and his stock of firewood without offering to pay him anything for it, and at one point even asked him to start the fire for them, citing they could not figure out how to get it working, “even after pouring cooking oil on the wood”! Between the paying guests and volunteers I was discovering that these new Millenials often seem completely disconnected from physical reality, stuck with their dumbphones in virtual reality.

For a longer time I have held the conviction that the world would be such a better place if governments, instead of forcing these kids to serve for a year in the military (although these particular millenials had probably not been subjected to this – and if they had it probably would have done them a world of good), to force them to serve for a year in the peace corps. Ship them off to some extremely poor country to serve charity. Sure, they could live in comfort, safety and be well fed, but I think that just being exposed to the conditions that many people in the world must suffer, to witness how they eat, or the lack of food, but watch the children play joyfully with so little, they will come back to their pampered societies an entirely changed person and probably never be so wasteful again.

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When I was arriving with my new guests from Coron, I instructed them that the property is too big and there are too many tents for me to constantly maintain and that if they found a place they liked, to give me a bit of time to fix it up for them. They walked throughout my tent complex and came back with a look of utter disgust, pointing out that there was sand in all the tents. Yes, typhoons can do that, but nothing that a brush and dustpan cannot quickly resolve.

So they settled for the big hut but were thoroughly disgusted at the mess left behind by the previous guests. Maybe they failed to realise that we had just arrived and I cannot control this. I promptly cleaned it for them, but their complaining continued, down to the most minute detail. Eventually they left a livid, poisonous review resulting in the subsequent cancellation of my airbnb account. This too I welcomed because a lot of the airbnb guests seem quite trigger happy with the review feature and willing to complain about anything possible. Most of the reviews were excellent, but at one point I tried an experiment whereby I would create property listings for other owners of remote areas. But although I was clear that I am not the owner of the place and take $10 payment for organising, a few did not like this and eventually gave me the worst review. After suffering a few of those I shut down all external listings, focusing only on my own. Airbnb was not willing to remove those and eventually the negative reviews added up beyond their limit.

shit-hits-fan-20171121_094028Despite all the aggravations, I suppose I had a nice workstation. 🙂

The guests from my own website and my new account at booking.com were sufficient, and for my last few days I even had a group of 18 stay a few days. Nice kids, but again, Millenials. After opening some coconuts they’d leave my machete half buried in the sand, even though many of us were barefoot. They left a complete mess, and because there were so many of them, I pulled out my fancy new chopsticks, each still in original packaging. By this time most of the cutlery was at least partially rusted anyway. The chopsticks were wrapped in a string for better grip and had nice designs on it, but apparently this detail evaded them and most of them threw them into the fire after a single use.

I was growing tired of wiping little bumbums and for a longer time already I had been toying with the idea that perhaps this is not the best job for me. After all, it was a LOT of work to constantly pick up the garbage washing up on the beach, cut back the jungle, clean the fallen leaves off the sandy paths, patch up tents torn by the occasional typhoon, and then to deal with the headache of guests whining that they found ants in their tent (I tell them not to bring in ANY food), or cockroaches, and the list seems endless. An endless list of chores for extremely little pay. While the boat tours were very little work with very good pay. I appreciated that I could escape the computer once in a while to perform some meditative gardening work, but the project had basically approached its completion and there was not that much left to do, besides the usual boring maintenance work and tending to whining children.

shit-hits-fan-20171127_164131Stopping off at my favourite Araw beach on the way to Coron to fix computer. These children never whine but always seem the most enthusiastic whenever guests stay overnight.

Then problems started to surface with the locals. I was constantly seeking ways to improve our relations, but somehow it seemed that a certain percentage of them were simply not interested. I knew they liked certain brands of alcohol, so I suggested that I could stock up on them and sell at cost if they only helped with the delivery. I see how they go to town almost every day and was willing to even pay them, but they never expressed interest.

I even went to the trouble of stocking up anyway, but as soon as they learned that, they would come at all sorts of hours badgering me for a sale, and if I was asleep (I often slept from 6pm to midnight and worked the late night shift when the internet was the fastest), the next morning I found my stock depleted. It was a money losing gesture and they even squeezed in with their skinny little bodies when I tried to prop the door shut. Or villagers from surrounding islands started banging on my door, so I decided to abruptly end that charitable venture.

shit-hits-fan-20171210_171321Rising waters buried my precious grill but the guest managed somehow.

My usual boatman, Alvin, was no longer cooperating as he had so faithfully in the past. Was he angry at me too? Later someone mentioned he had a job helping someone build a hut, but either he would ignore my text requests or constantly gave some excuse that either the tide is too low or the waves too choppy. It was becoming difficult to bring in supplies, or even guests.

So I resorted to my beer supplier, although her boats tended to be more expensive.
Eventually I discussed the matter with the property owner’s son. In the past I had sent him a few business proposals by text, even some boat tours for his dad (since his dad refuses to text), but each time I found it odd he never responded.

At one point I noticed that one of my phones would not send to a local number if it included the +63 country code before it. I always received a failure notification, but if I replaced the country code with a zero, it worked. As we talked about our communication problems, I suggested this might be the case with his phone. Sure enough, when he tried to send a text to my internet number it failed to get through, although in his case he never received a failure message. So he replaced it with a zero and then it worked.

shit-hits-fan-20171220_131024An interesting driftwood I liked to name “Crippled dog crawling in the sand”.

This seemed promising because now I could depend on a less expensive boat to bring in guests and supplies, his hotel could make more money since his boats would always take the guests there, he’d make some income from the boat trips themselves, and everything seemed win win for both of us. Until the first request.

I asked him to bring two guests and at the same time another round of veggies and beers. He said he could sell me two cases of beer but at a 50% higher price than my usual supplier. I said I need ten cases and that I am not interested in his exorbitant prices, especially for only two cases, which I would quickly consume and need more. He said if I do not like his prices I should get my existing supplier to bring them to me. I said he cannot expect me to send him customers if he will not also help bring in supplies, as had been the norm the last few years.

At this point he completely exploded and sent me text after text full of profanity, curses and the command that I must leave the island otherwise he will call the police. I told him he has no authority over me because he is not the caretaker, only her son. Eventually I got through to his father and he said it was just a misunderstanding, but not before the son posted my picture at the police station with a statement to leave the island.

shit-hits-fan-20180302_223450Hanging out at the Happy Hippie House in Coron, where I often jam.

Some time later I had ten guests staying in the hut and was trying to arrange a boat ride for them to San Miguel. There were many boats on shore because of the squid fishing at night, with the crew sitting around and smoking cigarettes. I asked one local if any of them would be willing to take my guests to town, suggesting a price of a thousand pesos. He said he’d ask around, so I went back to my hut, sent a round of text messages and managed to find a boat for them for 2,000p. I went back to the hut to inform the guests but they said the local came to them with an offer of 4,000p, which they accepted. I told them this was entirely exorbitant and advised them against it. I went to the local and told him it is a ridiculous price and that he should not have approached them directly with that offer. The boat showed up and I offered them 2,000p, which is their usual price anyway, but they declined and went back to San Miguel. As compensation I agreed to pay 500p to cover their gas, which I charged the group, but then I started receiving message after message from the caretaker, the property owner’s wife, that she hates me. I presume she meant angry at me, because her English is not good, and responded that hate is a very strong word, that she shouldn’t use it and that it is damaging to our business. She kept resending it anyway. I told her I will not allow anyone to rape my customers’ asses with exorbitant prices. Eventually I called the owner her husband, who again assured me not to worry, that it was just another misunderstanding.

About a week later the wife of my best boatman relayed a message from the previous caretaker that I must leave the island or he will call the police. I sent a message to him asking him why he has to relay such messages through her, and how dare he threaten me like that considering he is no longer the caretaker and still owes me 15,000p.

shit-hits-fan-20180302_232322Someone getting a tattoo job at the Happy Hippie House.

What concerns the locals in general, I find it takes about two years to get to really know the underbelly of a people’s character. Yes, one CAN generalise the people of a nation or region. You have people who travel around the world and are exposed to different ideas. They become more worldly, tolerant, trying different things. Then you have the majority who do not have the resources for such flamboyancy and generally stay put in one place. Perhaps born, grow up and die in the same, puny village. For them their village is the universe. Perhaps they stay there not because of a lack of resources but because their personality type is to stay safe in what is familiar to them. They tend to be conformists and are concerned to maintain a stable and accepted position in the stratosphere of their local society. Hence they imitate what is accepted as the norm, such that in every country or region with its own language, generally a similar mentality and way of doing things presides. In this case a visiting foreigner can often be perceived as somewhat of an invader, with their different way of doing things and ways of thinking.
I have found that my original impression of Filipinos remains: they are friendly, hospitable, polite, often gregarious and forward, never too ashamed to get up on stage and boyster the most horrible videoke your ears have ever had the misfortune of suffering.

But after a while you find some poison lurking beneath that friendly surface. I find them a very envious lot, to extreme pettiness. If they see you are regularly giving work to or buying from their neighbour, they might develop a grudge that you have neglected them, at which point the gossip starts to swirl. Or you may have been giving business to one person for years, them always smiling and happy and calling you “my friend” when the wallet rolls around again, but after some minor misunderstanding they might explode in venomous accusations intertwined with the most hateful words.

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Or constantly trying to increase the price, money gouging my guests, and when I protest and prevent them from doing so I am assaulted with poisonous fury.

At this point I was so full of poison I started fantasising about exploring Cebu once I come back from North America, contemplating how long I would stay there, and when I might return back to this island. Perhaps early November, as I might need about a month to cut back the jungle, clean the plastic off the beach, set up the tents and so on. By December it might stop raining, the bugs start dissipating, but overall the notion did not seem so appealing.

Then a wonderful thought flashed through my mind. I was imagining what it would be like to explore other paradise areas of the country during the rainy season, that it might make it more difficult to add good, sunny and happy pictures to the website if it was mostly cloudy, and I decided right then and there that it would be more interesting for me to get back into traveling mode, and be good for business as well. Not only was most of the development work already completed on the island, but with so much maintenance work and tending to guests with so little pay, and all the other headaches and poison, the prospects of hitting the road again and exploring other beautiful areas of the country during the sunny season seemed infinitely more appealing.

I had already begun to take down the tents and clean up the property with my anticipated absence for the next half a year, but that work is now more interesting as I imagine my new life of explorations. As they say in the world of search engine optimisation, “content is king”, and adding many new pages to my site would certainly increase overall traffic and bring in more business, not only for Palawan but for all the other areas I will now add. Collecting phone numbers of new boatmen and documenting paradise spots and nice places to stay.

shit-hits-fan-20180309_131344Jammin’ all night lo-ong! 

Although the work of taking down the tents and cleaning up the property was a bit depressing, like peeling back the layers of a rotten onion, each broken or flattened tent reminding me of the typhoons I suffered and all the other negative factors. But with each new tent down and the place looking cleaner, the layers towards the centre of the onion were getting fresher. It felt good to return the property to a beautiful, natural state – wipe the slate clean, so to speak.

I distributed my belongings variously, leaving behind a certain amount of mattresses and tents, and all the pots and pans for the kitchen. I gave my local friend the keys to my hut, he was already using my gas generator for squid fishing, and I had already given him my three portable solar panels, my old battery (which he refurbished with my new desulfator machine<), and lots of other goodies, so he was quite better off than when I had first arrived. I gave lots of mattresses and tents to my best boatman to distribute amongst his various boats, as well as my solar electrical system and wind turbine. I hoped to inspire his entire village to go offgrid, as they were spending a million pesos a month on their diesel generator, which only ran from noon till midnight.

shit-hits-fan-20180308_134646Some art of my friend I was staying in the mountains around Coron, before leaving for Canada.

I kissed and made up with the owner’s son and wife, jamming music and karaoking on my birthday at their place, and even ran into the old caretaker, who told me he never instructed the boatman’s wife to send me that message. It doesnt matter anymore, I am simply happy to leave, and to leave on a happy note and clean slate. The owner’s son is taking over management and I have been training him how to deal with customers and the booking process, directing customers to deal with him directly.

At this point a friend was visiting from Prague and we stayed at the boatman’s house for a few days. It looked like a storm was brewing and our ride to Coron might be canceled, so we decided to play it safe, go to El Nido and from there take the ferry to Coron. It was nice to already be on the road and to jam music with some friends in town again.

My visiting friend videoing my last moments on the beautiful island.

Made it to Coron and distributed more of my stuff, getting lighter and lighter. My latest plan is to hopefully stay with my Coron friend up in the mountains before taking the big ferry to Manila. I have decided to leave with him or in Manila my big backpack filled with a hammock, portable stereo and other goodies which I’d like to take with me to Cebu, the rest distributed around if ever in the future I decide to start a similar operation elsewhere, or have some permanent home. My plan is to rent something long term in the Cebu area, get a motorbike and explore the area intermittently. The plane to Canada will not let me bring on board my viola so I will leave that here while I am gone and look forward to a two month tour along the west coast of North America with only a single backpack.

shit-hits-fan-20180308_134745My abode where I was staying at my friend’s place in the mountains around Coron.

The plan is to stay in Vancouver with my visiting cousin until the 19th of April and where I hope to open a bank account to resolve much of my banking problems, visit a friend in Seattle then stay with a friend on some island near to Seattle, catching the famous Green Tortoise bus in San Francisco on the 15th of May. Now that marijuana is completely legal in California, I think I should rather enjoy this three day hippy bus trip. Then stay with a friend in LA where I also hope to open a bank account and fly back to Manila to continue the adventure!

Back to Table of Contents Next: back on the road again.
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Electrical system off the grid

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How to survive off the grid with a combination solar, wind and gas generator power. I lived off the grid for five years in Europe in my own home-made camper van. Then for more than two years on a remote paradise island in the Philippines. But now that I’m leaving that beautiful project I will be leaving all my electronics to some friends and have prepared the below instructions for them, modified afterwards for this website.

The system I use is based on 12V, direct current (DC), not the usual AC (alternating current) 220v you are used to from your wall socket. V represent “volts”.

You can get energy from the sun, or the wind. When it is cloudy, often it is windier. Also, often I find that it can get pretty windy around 2-3am, so it can charge or add energy to the battery when the sun is down.

You can combine it so you have solar and wind connected to the battery at the same time, you just need to be careful about the connection, because if it is not right you will break something.

Direct current (dc) is much more sensitive than ac (alternating current). With alternating current you can plug something into a socket and it does not matter which way, but with dc it is always very important you put the positive cable to the positive (+) port, and the negative to the negative (-), otherwise you will certainly break something.

What I usually do is I mark the end of my cables so I know which is which (positive or negative). I like to put a black electrical tape around the wire that is NEGATIVE. Every wire you buy should be marked (one of the wires). I like to consider that the wire (of two connected together) that has markings has something extra, so therefore POSITIVE. Otherwise black is usually considered negative while red or while positive.

Controllers/Regulators

Both the solar panel and the wind turbine require different regulators. The solar controller generally has a digital display showing the voltage of the battery and if it is getting a charge from the panel. Some controllers show exactly how much power or amps is being received from the panel.

solar-controller-electricity-off-grid

Generally what you want to do is connect the solar controller first to the battery. It should show the voltage. Then connect to your devices, such as your inverter (converts 12v to 120v or 220v – better to make sure everything is off before connecting), then finally the solar panel.

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The wind turbine controller is more sophisticated. First of all, I bought one from ebay and it turned out not to be entirely compatible with the turbine, so make sure you research this first before buying. Best to ask the turbine seller. The turbine produces ac power and has three wires. My controller has three green wires, which you connect to the three turbine wires. Since it is ac power it does not matter which wires you connect.

Then it has a black (negative) and a red (positive) output, the dc current which you should connect directly to the battery. For example, you can connect it to the battery connection of the solar controller because that wire connects directly to the battery.

If you allow the battery to drain too much, not only will it not be strong enough to power the inverter, but it may cause the solar controller to stop functioning properly. Perhaps the display will be going on and off. In this case simply disconnect and reconnect in order to reset it. First switch off the breaker switch so that no device or lights are drawing energy, then disconnect the solar panel (if there is light) and finally the battery, reconnecting it in the reverse order.

The connections

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I connected one side together so that anything connected to the other side would all be either negative or positive.

To protect my electronics I connected the positive wire from the devices connection on the solar controller to a 10amp breaker switch. Then from that I connected the positive and negative wires each to a separate system to make it easy to connect other wires to, such as to a lightswitch connected to 12v LED lightbulbs.

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One of the connections is to an inverter, which converts the 12v to either 120v or 220v (you would need a separate inverter for each if you want both). That would then connect to an extension cord into which I could then connect anything, such as my computer. Some extension cords or even solar controllers have 5v usb outputs, handy for charging phones.

However, the inverter consumes some energy, and then you might lose additional energy if for example using an adapter which converts the 220v back down to 19v, a common voltage for laptops. It is therefore always better to try to not use the inverter. For example, you could purchase an adapter for a vehicle’s lighter. This is always 12v, so you could cut the cable and attach the respective wires to positive and negative. The tip of the car lighter adapter is positive and the outside metal ring contact is negative. Before cutting the cable, if it is not apparent which one is which, you can cut one of them and then use a voltmeter to find out which one is which, then mark it for future reference.

From the wind turbine controller you should also have a breaker switch before connection to the battery, and which also makes it easy to turn off in case your battery is overcharged, to help preserve its longevity.

battery-charger

The nice thing about this connection is that when it is cloudy, it can often be windy, or once it gets dark the wind turbine can take over until morning. But sometimes both together are not enough and for this reason I bought a gas generator which I use in combination with a battery charger. The generator has a capacity of 1,500W, which is way more than is needed to power my laptop, but with the battery charger I could have the gas generator working for perhaps only an hour, which might be enough to charge the battery to last until morning. Simply plug the charger directly into the battery or the battery connection on the solar controller.

Battery Capacity

battery-electricity-off-grid

A standard larger acid battery might have a capacity of something like 110 ah, or amp hours. So if you are drawing one amp at 12v, you might consider that your battery should last about 110 hours. I find that if during the day I manage to get the battery charged up to past 13v it will last until next morning running my laptop and my 12v fan. Generally I try not to drain the battery to less than 11.5v, otherwise you will reduce its life cycle.

Extending battery life

First of all you want to get a deep cycle battery specifically designed for solar systems (not a regular car battery, which is designed differently). The best is the gel ones for golf carts, but they can be expensive. Or you can go to a construction site or warehouse and look into buying a forklift battery which no longer works. It may not be strong enough to operate a forklift, but it will certainly have enough juice to run something like a laptop for a long time still.

If you get the regular acid battery, even if deep cycle, they have 6 compartments each producing 2v (x6 = 12v). The water inside each cell is sulphuric acid and if for some reason the water level drops to the point that the metal plates within the cells will become partially exposed to air, it will hurt the battery. So make sure to open them from time to time and check the water levels. If it is too low then simply top up with distilled or clean rain water.

battery-desulfater-desulphator

Over time the sulfur in the water can collect on the plates. If this happens in one of the cells it will become inefficient and drain the other cells, weakening the entire battery. But you can get a desulfater which sends out some sort of regular pulse which breaks up the sulfur and returns it back to the water. After two years my battery was already getting quite weak, so I gave it to a local, but later also the desulfator to test it and we were surprised to find it actually works! He noticed that the water in one of the cells turned brown after a few days, presumably the sulfur breaking off the plates, and a few more days after that the water became clear again, presumably it being absorbed fully back into the water. The battery was strong again and the product advertises that it can triple the lifespan of the battery, hence from the average two years to six. You can rotate it among several batteries or just keep it plugged in permanently.

Final notes

Make sure to have a voltmeter to test things.
If you are in a remote area and especially if by the sea, best to get at least a duplicate of everything. The salty air tends to eat electronics and the inverter is often the first to go.
The solar panel is the strongest if it is clean of any dust and is exactly perpendicular to the sun.
The wind turbine should be in an open area, such as above the roof and not near any trees, to maximise airflow.
You can add a long string to the tail of the wind turbine to rotate it perpendicular to the wind if you want to stop it from spinning too hard, such as if the battery is already fully charged and it is too windy. If nothing is drawing any power from the turbine it can spin too fast and burn it out.
If you plug a wire from your computer into a sound system which is also plugged into the electricity, you may get some noise in the speakers, so best to use bluetooth.

Have fun living off the grid!

Back to Table of Contents

Coron Boat Tours

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If you’d like a one day boat tour only around Coron, the prices in pesos are shown in
the table below (or check here for multi-day boat tour expeditions between El Nido and Coron). These are the official prices as posted at the new public market in Coron. That page has a map and shows you how to get there. You can easily arrange your own tour once you get down there, as there are always boatmen waiting for customers. However, if you’d like to make an advance reservation anyway, perhaps arrange for the boatman to pick you up at your hotel, I will connect you with one of our boatmen for an advance fee of $20. You can then contact them yourself and work out the details. To do so, fill in this form and choose “Coron only” for your boat tour.

DESTINATIONS 2-4 PAX 5-8 PAX 9-15 PAX 16-20 PAX
CORON ISLAND 2,700 3,250 3,800 4,900
SANGAT/LUSONG GUNBOAT 4,350 4,900 7,100 8,600
BANANA/MALCAPUYA ISLAND 4,350 5,450 7,100 8,600
CULION MUNICIPALITY 4,350 4,900 7,100 8,600
DIBATOK ISLAND 3,800 4,350 5,450 6,950
CALUMBUYAN/ PASS ISLAND 4,900 6,000 7,650 9,150
TARA ISLAND 9,300 10,900 17,000 18,500
NORTH/SOUTH CAY 6,000 7,100 9,300 10,800
CALAUIT NATlONAL PARK 9,800 10,900 17,500 19,500
PANLAITAN/BLACK ISLAND 7,600 8,700 12,000 14,000
LINAPACAN ISLAND 9,800 12,000 17,500 19,500

The top row (Coron Island) in the table above applies to 5-6 of the destinations in the top two rows of the picture below. Note that the entrance fee/pax for each destination is not included in the above price.

coron-boat-tours-destinations

This Tripadvisor page shows the most popular destinations around Coron, our favourite suggestions being Kayangan Lake and Twin Lagoons, quite close to one another.

At some of the places, like Twin Lagoons, the local caretaker grills fresh fish and rice. Or the boat crew can cook you up the same for 150p/meal. If instead you buy vegetables from the public market (the loading area for most of the boats), the crew can cook that for you for free, but a little tip would be nice.

If you are staying at a hotel with a pier, the boatman can pick you up and drop you off straight from there. Or they can arrange a tricycle taxi to take you to their boat.

Opening a bank account and atm cash withdrawal for foreigners

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After struggling with this issue for half a year, I finally found an excellent solution.

Background history

I’m a digital nomad, deriving my income from my various online jobs and businesses, a luxury which has enabled me to travel around the world for the past 15 years. The problem with this is big brother is growing and about a year ago the banks where I held accounts started asking me to prove that I still live in the country where my account is located. A few years before that my PayPal US account would no longer issue debit cards. One by one I was losing my cards. As a seasoned traveler, I like to have several cards and accounts for backup purposes, and different card types, because some smaller, remote villages might only have mastercard atms, while others only visa.

Now the number of my cards has whittled down to only one: my Bulgarian visa card. But it uses the latest technology with a little chip in the card which the old atm machines in Coron cannot read. I tried everything to resolve these issues but the only solution would be to fly back and show up at the banks in person. This was not an option, so I finally resorted to my good friends at Seadive Hotel in Coron, who would accept a direct paypal payment from me and either give me cash or write me a check. An expensive 10% commission option, but at least there was a way.

Opening a bank account

opening-bank-account-atm-cash-withdrawal-foreigners_7865Cartoon source

So an obvious solution would be to open a local bank account, move my income stream to a local PayPal account (where I get all my income), connect the two and we’re done. Since Coron is the closest town with banks to my beautiful little island, I started first with BPI, since the Seadive had an account there and it seemed the most established.

After spending an unbelievable 30 minutes to exchange $300 in cash to Filipino pesos, the clerk filling in all sorts of forms, punching in details of my passport and who knows what in the computer, vigorously stamping many papers in the process, it was finally time to work on opening the account. He grabbed a purple pink little pad of sticky paper, pealed off one and proceeded to scribble down a small list of instructions of what I needed to get, smiling assuredly when I asked him, “That’s it?”

opening-bank-account-atm-cash-withdrawal-foreigners_teller

Because it was low season and the regular ferries to my area were not operating, I was forced to hire private boats to go to Coron, three and a half hours away, to do occasional shopping and sort out these headaches. I therefore ran out and arranged for the copy of my passport and other requirements.

Long story short, I had to go back to my island and back to Coron many times, and each time I showed up with the needed documents, I would hear what I have been hearing my entire life whenever dealing with banks: “Oh yes, and we still need this and that.”

By the fifth visit I finally blew up and demanded to see the manager. The woman came over and I filled her ears with questions why doesn’t such an established bank have saved in its computer system a simple form they can just print out with all the requirements necessary to open an account at their bank, without resorting to these amateur gumby and inaccurate sticky papers that waste a lot of my time and money. To this she responded that, in the end, it is still up to the discretion of the bank, even if I fulfill all their requirements.

To that I could only respond by asking what discretion, the manager’s particular mood that day? She seemed quite taken aback by that comment, and my head was so boiling hot I was very close to adding that it might also be influenced by her menstruation cycle.

The final solution

I will not go into detail about a host of other Filipino bureaucratic idiosyncrasies I’ve come across during my stay in this lovely country. The locals know it themselves. But the final solution was to buy a Globe sim card and request a GCash mastercard from them.

opening-bank-account-atm-cash-withdrawal-foreigners_MasterCard

With the card you can:

  • buy things online or in shops like a regular credit card
  • download funds from your PayPal account, for ZERO charges, withdraw from atm for the next to nothing Filipino rates, about 100k a month once everything is verified

The small catch is, as usual, the PayPal account must be Filipino, but that is easily resolved by using another email address, if you already have a PayPal account elsewhere. If you do not have another email address, simply set up a free one at gmail or yahoo etc.

When setting up another PayPal account or transferring funds from one to another, make sure to first log out of one before logging in to another. Otherwise some alarm signals can go off and your account blocked. Then you have to phone in, which is always a traumatic nightmare, and answer all the security questions you may have easily forgotten.

opening-bank-account-atm-cash-withdrawal-foreigners_Red-Flag

For extra paranoia, I would use a different password, to avoid any possible automatic red flags, and a different browser. You should use your real name and other truthful information, in case some day they ask you to verify yourself by sending in a picture of your passport etc. For your local address, make sure it is the same for both your Filipino PayPal account and your GCash account. It cannot be a postal address. Since I live on a paradise beach island with no streets or “addresses”, I just made one up. I don’t need paper bank statements, since I am a digital nomad.

On the other hand, a better option might be to first get an ACR (Alien Certificate of Registration) card, in case some time in the future you are asked to provide some additional documentation. On the back there will be an address, and you can use the hostel etc. where you are staying.

Opening-a-bank-account-and-atm-cash-withdrawal-for-foreigners-ACR-card

Now go to an official Globe shop, bring your passport, and they’ll set you up. But hey, either it’s because it’s a banky sort of thing, or maybe I’m always plagued with these sorts of things, I did run into problems, so I’ll go through those so at least you’ll have a heads up on what you might run into.

  • First of all, try to use the same email address for both accounts, and all other information, exactly.
  • There is some verification process on the Globe end that takes about three days. You can expedite that to immediately by going to your official Globe shop and ask them for that, or apparently there is an online option using your Facebook account.
  • In your PayPal account, verify your account by connecting it to the same GCash debit card (detailed instructions below). You will need at least 150p on your GCash account for the verification to work.
  • With your GCash card you will receive a little brochure of information. So little in fact it has hardly any useful information other than the weblink. Follow that, open an account and connect to your phone number (the one associated with your GCash card).
  • Download the GCash app to your phone. When trying to figure out why it was not working, one website stated that it needs to be at least Android 5. Follow the simple logic and connect to your Paypal account. Detailed instructions below.
  • Since it is a new PayPal account, be careful about transferring too much in the beginning, otherwise more red flags may be raised or limitations imposed (details below).

Troubleshooting

Sometimes I think there are little devils in another dimension who meddle into my IT life and aggravate me in so many ways to hinder my spiritual advancement. So I will just list some points I had to struggle through, in case the above does not work for you.

After everything was verified according to the above, I tried to transfer USD funds from my PayPal account to GCash, but I received the error message:

“Oops! The payment cannot be processed because no payment source is available.”

Tinkering around, I then converted some USD funds to pesos in my PayPal account and tried transferring that. It worked! Unfortunately, only that one time (after that I always received the above message). One website said they had the same problem and resolved it by removing the USD account on PayPal and making the pesos account primary. Didn’t work for me, and my housemate said she regularly sends money from her USD balance to her GCash card without a problem.

Tinkering some more, if you click on Profile > Profile and Settings, then My Money, then Update for “My preapproved payments”, you will find a link to Preapproved Payment Plans, which will take you to the following window:

Opening-a-bank-account-and-atm-cash-withdrawal-for-foreigners-preapproved-payments

In my case I found two for the same service, because I accidentally did it twice. I removed both, added a new one, but was still getting the same error message.

And the final solution? I tried and I tried and finally the next day it worked. Sometimes a little patience can do wonders! Phew! What a relief, but then it stopped working again. I phoned GCash and they suggested to go to the above window in PayPal, click on the preapproved payment and cancel it, then change your PayPal password, the relink in the GCash app with the new login details. In this way you create a new link and it may help.

Transaction Limits

After talking with PayPal a few times, they said they often have connectivity problems with GCash. Hopefully things will have improved by the time you read this. At the time apparently the transfer limit per day is 25,000pesos. Also, one PayPal help suggested that there has been too much activity on such a “young account” and that I should instead transfer higher amounts rather than a lot of smaller transactions. Consider your account might be fragile in the beginning, but they told me that, after about three months, if I only withdraw about once a week, the account should be established enough and the limitations lifted. I was even having problems simply sending money to another Filipino paypal account!

Calling PayPal

Opening-a-bank-account-and-atm-cash-withdrawal-for-foreigners-call-paypalAfter trying this and that and no longer even able to transfer funds to another paypal account, I finally resorted to calling them. When I was not able to transfer funds to another account, a little window popped up suggesting the number to contact them. I used Skype to call them and managed to move forward an inch, but every subsequent call was automatically disconnected after I had gone through the long process of struggling with the robot. I was desperate and started calling from my mobile phone.

But even though I was calling from the number associated with the account, the robot still could not recognise it. To save money, I found I could press a few numbers of a fake phone number while the robot asked her questions. Then when asked what the problem is, feel free to interrupt her by saying “problem with payment”. Speak clearly, and you will have to go through this several times.

After several phone calls one kind operator mentioned a special number I could call by Skype:

1-888-221-1161

To confirm that I remembered the number correctly as she dictated it over the phone, I found one site which listed many phone numbers how to contact PayPal, and which departments or persons. There is apparently a second number that you can Skype call.

Don’t pay by invoice

The operator who first mentioned that there is a daily transfer limit of 25,000 (it would be real nice if they simply stated all this somewhere on the account or by email) suggested that, if it still does not work to transfer funds to another paypal account (my host was willing to take out the cash through her card), I could ask her to issue me an invoice instead. I tried sending her the limit of 25k, then 20, then 15, finally 10, until I asked her to send me the paypal invoice. I accepted that and, all of a sudden, my account is in official lockdown mode, only able to receive payments or issue refunds. How utterly useless and now I was really stressing out. I clicked to the resolution center and found I had to upload all sorts of documents which I don’t have, six in total, impossible government documents, and I began to S in my pants.

Opening-a-bank-account-and-atm-cash-withdrawal-for-foreigners-shit-in-pants

Fortunately, a simple phone call to the Skype number above resolved that. Be polite and nice to the operators and you will get the best results. Hope this all helps!

Useful Links

Some useful pages I read when I was trying to troubleshoot the glitches.

Back to Table of Contents

Single One Day Boat Trips Tours Between Sibaltan (El Nido) or Coron and Linapacan

beach-hopping-tourCheck out our page for the latest info on the public ferries between these locations, but since they do not run every day and you might not have enough time during your limited travel schedule, we have private boat options.

Large or small boat?

The most comfortable option would be our larger boats, which can accommodate up to 20 people in good weather, 15 in harsher/bigger waves. It has bench space for 8 people and plenty of other space for comfortable sitting, or lying down, with tons of space for baggage. It also has a sun and rain shade, but if it looks like it might rain, or if it will be wavy and windy, for a more comfortable trip you are advised to bring an umbrella or some kind of rain gear (in very very wavy weather—usually around February—even snorkels to cover your eyes).

This costs 10,000p for a single day trip, plus 1,000p for each additional person above 1.

Budget travelers can take our smaller boat with a maximum capacity of 3 for

  • 5k for one person
  • 6k for two people
  • 7.5k for three people

There would be tight sitting room for three people and the boatman, with gear you will find it difficult to stretch your legs, but there is a small awning cover against the sun and rain.

Island hopping or not?

island-hopping-boat-tours-el-nido-coron

The journey by the faster big boat can take roughly 3.5 hours, while 4.5 hours for the small boat. You can alleviate this journey with a bit of island hopping for frequent trips along the way, but that would require the boatman to come the night before so that you could leave first thing in the morning. This would cost an additional 1,000p for the smaller boat or 2,000p for the larger boat. You can meet the boatman the night before, he can show you some sites around town, and it would be nice if you would buy him a beer or two. They will be sleeping on the boat. This way you can stretch out the journey to seven hours or more.

If coming from or going to Coron, you can include in that the three most popular sites: Twin Lagoons, Kayangan Lake and Malcapuya Island, which would save you money from having to hire an additional local tour for those. You can check out the boat stops page for ideas where you could take breaks along the way.

Special prices from Sibaltan (El Nido)

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Sibaltan is a nice archeological village well worth visiting and located about one hour by van east of El Nido. Our boats do not go directly to El Nido because it is significantly farther, can be dangerous around the north peninsula, and all of the beautiful spots to visit are on the east side of the peninsula.

We happen to also have a couple of boats in Sibaltan (most of our boats are docked in Linapacan), so if you want a quick day trip to Linapacan, tour the area, and make it back the same day, that is possible.

* Note that prices may increase in October.

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Back to Suggested Travel Itinerary for the Palawan Area

Seeking Yoga Retreat Teacher

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Live on a beach paradise island, excellent snorkeling in the clearest waters in the world, very peaceful environment with a maximum of 30 guests, with 15 local fishermen families half spread out on each side of the island. The perfect meditative environment where to focus without distractions.

I myself have learned some Reiki, crystal healing and massage, but only a little bit of yoga, my healing page here.

The perfect environment where a teacher can develop a business. We can figure out some profit sharing plan, or volunteer work when customers are few.

Latest pictures of the place here.

Types of available accommodation here.

Benefits of Yoga

Our bodies are comprised of roughly 85% salt water, with electrical currents constantly traveling along the nerve highways (like wiring) that we are essentially walking energy beings. There are 7 energy focus points called chakras, the imbalance of which can lead to diseases and sickness. With proper eating, a healthy alkaline environment and energy balance, we need never get sick.

Yoga teaches how to position the body to balance its energy. It is an ancient science of health and well being by tuning the body for optimum energy flow.

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Experience AWESOME sunrises and sunsets in this peaceful paradise.

History of Yoga

The beginnings of Yoga were developed by the Indus-Sarasvati in Northern India over 5,000 years ago, although some argue that its beginning could be from as long ago as 10,000 years. The word yoga was first mentioned in the oldest sacred text, the Rig Veda, a collection of readings used by the Vedic priests. Yoga was slowly refined and developed by the Brahmans and Rishis (mystic seers) who documented their practices and beliefs in the Upanishads, a huge work containing over 200 scriptures. These scriptures basically described the internalisation of ritual sacrifice from the Vedas, preaching sacrifice of ego through self-knowledge, action (karma yoga) and wisdom (jnana yoga).

In this pre-classical stage of yoga, the practice was a combination of different ideas, beliefs and techniques that often conflicted and contradicted each other. The Classical period is defined by Patanjali’s Yoga-Sûtras, Patanjali often considered the father of yoga.

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More pics of sunsets, sunrises and fluffy clouds on our Facebook photo album for this,
where you will find lots of other albums with the latest pics of this place.

A few centuries after Patanjali, yoga masters designed a system of practices intended to rejuvenate the body and extend life. They rejected the teachings of the ancient Vedas and embraced the physical body as the means to achieve enlightenment. They developed Tantra Yoga, with radical techniques to cleanse the body and mind to break the knots that bind us to our physical existence. This exploration of these physical-spiritual connections and body-centered practices led to the creation of what we primarily think of yoga in the West: Hatha Yoga.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, yoga masters began to travel to the West, attracting attention and followers. This began at the 1893 Parliament of Religions in Chicago, when Swami Vivekananda wowed the attendees with his lectures on yoga and the universality of the world’s religions.

The importation of yoga to the West still continued at a trickle until Indra Devi opened her yoga studio in Hollywood in 1947. Since then, many more western and Indian teachers have become pioneers, popularising hatha yoga and gaining millions of followers. Hatha Yoga now has many different schools or styles, all emphasizing the many different aspects of the practice.

Types of Yogaseeking-yoga-retreat-teacher-Yoga

Hatha Yoga

Hatha in the ancient language of Sanskrit actually refers to any yoga which teaches about physical postures, making all yoga technically Hatha in one form or another. It is good for beginners because it advances slowly and you only need to hold the posture for a few breaths.

Vinyasa

As a beginner I tried Hatha when I lived in Thailand, but as a sportsy guy who likes movement, I think I would much prefer this form of yoga, as it combines movement and breath in a dance like way. No agonising, long held postures which would only bring discomfort or possibly even muscle cramps, but poses are short and the pace can be quick. Prepare yourself for a good, ergonomic workout combined with music beat to match. Endurance athletes are often drawn to this type of yoga because of the continuous movement.

Iyengar

Now we’ll get real nit-picky and focus on the detail, using yoga blocks, blankets and straps to help you maintain the postures longer.

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Excellent snorkeling (past the point in this pic) just offshore
in the clearest waters in the world.

Ashtanga

If you’re a perfectionist, you’ll love this form of yoga as it cycles through the same six series of specifically sequenced yoga poses, breathing through each pose to build an internal heat.

Bikram

Speaking of internal heat, why not add some by cycling through a specific series of 26 poses and two breathing exercises in a room heated to more than 40C with about 40% humidity. The 90 minute sequence is usually all the same, but remember to always hydrate yourself properly beforehand. It can get strenuous!

Hot Yoga

Similar to Bikram but not limited to the same 26 poses. With your muscles so heated and hydrated, you are able to hold certain poses longer, but it might be easier for you to overstretch, so be careful. Good for hardcore sweat lovers.

Kundalini

This video should give a good idea of what it’s like here.
More on our Google+ page.

A fascinating form of yoga whereby you combine repetitive exercises with intense breathing, while chanting, singing and meditating for the purpose of opening up the highway of energy between the chakras in the hopes of channeling it to break through your third eye, that chakra point hovering in front of your pineal gland.

This can make you a much more aware person and connect you better to the cosmos. But beware! This practice should be supervised properly because there have been stories whereby the force was so strong that it dislodged the person’s consciousness from its body, only to be replaced by demon(s). Read kundalini.se for interesting testimonies.

Good for people interested in spiritual advancement and a more meaningful use of yoga.

Yin Yoga

If you don’t mind poses, be prepared to hold them for minutes at a time. A meditative type of yoga focusing on the deeper connective tissues and fascia. Props will be used to help you relax in each pose instead of relying on your muscles. Good to restore the body’s youthful vitality. A good way to stretch and unwind, but those who are super flexible should be careful not to overdo the stretching.

Restorative

A mellow, slow-moving practice with longer holds focusing on deeper relaxation and restoration of the body. Good for those who are anxious and can’t seem to slow down, those suffering from insomnia or anxiety in general. Also good for athletes on recovery. Poses are held long but supported by various props to help you fully relax.

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Or join one of the many boat tours we organise to explore the broader area.

Alvin’s hut

patoyo

Patoyo is the island where we first started, but had to move when the Amihan trade winds came because it became too windy during the dry season.

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View of Alvin’s little community of five fishermen families
as you approach it from our previous camp.

A lovely little island to explore as it has lots of jungle trails, and Alvin would gladly act as guide for you for about 500p a day.

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The empty hut has a hammock on its patio with an entrance area and two rooms inside. Unfortunately no fancy mattress yet, but it does have mosquito nets and I imagine he would charge around 200p/pax for the authentic rural experience. His wife would be happy to cook meals for you.

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Alvin is actually our main boatman for the local scene, as his smaller boat is ideal for it. He can take you on local boat tours, or even as far as Coron or near El Nido for a modest price.

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Celebrating his birthday with him after more than a year of cooperation.

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The sunset during his birthday party. In general very beautiful sunsets here.

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The hut of his neighbour.

Back to Accommodation Page

Negative Review Complaint about Smart Communications Incorporated (mobile phone operator)

smart-communications-complaint-review

My complaint letter to Smart:

I have been using your prepaid service for almost three years. I have one sim card for calling/texting (0929 500 6447) and another one for internet. Because I live on a remote island and do not want to pay for an expensive boat trip every time I want to topup my load credit, when occasionally in some larger town, such as Coron, I top up my load credit by several thousand pesos.

I had more than 3,000p in load credit on the sim I use for calling, and I use that to transfer occasional credit to my internet sim, usually 200p at a time, because that seems to be the daily limit.

Last time I was in Coron I received an automated text message on my calling number instructing me that I need to top it up with additional load, otherwise it will expire. This is the first time in about two years that I received such a message. Since I was in Coron I topped it up 20p and everything seemed fine, but I received another message that the duration of validity will be 30 days and that the card will expire at that time. I figured I would receive another warning message about this so I did not worry about it.

Approximately one month later it was time to transfer credit to my internet sim again, but it kept failing. I checked the balance and it stated ZERO!!!! I thought perhaps this was because the card expired, even though I did not receive any warning message this time, and that it should be resolved once topped up again. I had to hire a boat to go to the nearest town, topped it up 100p, but when I checked the balance it showed only 100p!!! What happened to my 3000p?

So I dialed Smart Help at *888 and spent half an hour explaining the situation, over and over again. Not only did it take the customarily long time to weave my way through your convoluted automated menu before I reached a real human being, but the conversation was drawn out and slow as I had to explain myself over and over again. He put me on hold several time, telling me not to hang up and that he will get back to me in a few minutes, but like happened the last time I had to phone Smart Help, after an excruciating half an hour of painful nonprogress, they silently hung up on me.

Why would you take all my load credit when you expire my sim card? Why would you even expire it when I have so much credit on it and use it regularly? Why was I not warned again when the second expiry date of only 30 days was approaching? Why was the second expiry date so short when I had already been using the card for some two years without needing to top it up a little every month? As a programmer it seems blatantly obvious to me that this is all intentional. For some reason I cannot even call your helpline using my smartphone, although I am able to call other numbers. I had to borrow someone else’s phone to call you and I will not spend all day to wriggle my way to another operator who will only hang up on me in half an hour. The first operator fully understood the problem and had the opportunity to call me right back, but did not.

All it would take is a lawsuit to open up your code and show that this is planned on purpose to cheat people, and then a class action suit to force you to return all that you have stolen over the years. But since there wont be records of who is who for all the prepaid accounts, I’m sure the courts will find some useful charity for you to give the funds to instead.

I will no longer use that sim card because for a longer time already I was not able to telephone from it, nor use it for internet while traveling, although texting was fine for some reason. If you do not respond appropriately to this email I will post this message throughout the net, for it makes me sick that big corporations like yourself use such cheap and petty means to cheat your customers out of their money.

[after a week and posting this complaint to their facebook page, contact form and several email addresses, it is not surprising that they have not responded at all]