Five months of rain, typhoons, bugs and misery

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The delux tent purposefully flattened to protect it from getting ruined,
behind a temporary wall of 
coconut leaves.

Letter to mom about Ben, June 10

That’s the owner of the property I’m supposed to be developing. He dropped by the other day, bringing in more bamboo so that I can continue with construction (mostly tables and little things, since I do not have permission for the property I’m actually on to build anything, let alone even be here), came to check out my progress, asked to confirm that I had indeed been here for over a year, and then burst out a little laughter, finding it funny that I can live in this “state”, meaning in a tent and out in the open.

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New coconut leaf outhouse

He has already built two big huts and coconut leaf outhouses for us (one on each of the properties I have developed) and obviously wants us to be comfortable. I send his hotel a fair amount of business and he sees the potential here that I do, so it reminded me of you and your “I cannot believe my 51 year old son is sleeping on the ground”… Makes me giggle. On the other hand, I live in paradise right on the beach. I honestly find very little value in owning a car (unless I live in it and it gives me freedom, or I really need it for some reason) and a house and tiled floors and all these creature comforts which to me seem to have more value to people who use them as status symbols in their competition against other people in society. I really find no value in any of that and love my little workstation in the shade with its lovely paradise view, and the constant temperature all year long, and the ability to walk a few steps to cool down in the ocean any time I want, have interesting people from all over the world passing through (and that I carefully screen to be birds of my own feather), and then the opportunity to develop this project and work with my hands occasionally. In fact, yesterday, after my one volunteer had left and I was left to myself, I was contemplating the possibility of eventually getting bored here and wanting to go somewhere else, but I really cannot think of a better place than where I am now and would like to get into the trenches for a 10-20 year operation while starting a family, just to add a legacy and interesting chapter in my life. Anyway, just thought I’d send you an update 🙂

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Finally got my tent up after half a year of virtually no rain,
with mosquito netting around my new, protected workstation.

Letter to mom update – rainy season and zillion bugs

Further to my previous, often-sounding positive email about my paradise living, think you might find this one funny and contrary. So it has started raining and everything is starting to rapidly bloom, the big fat jungle green leaves bursting from every dry stick protruding from the ground. boat-tours-el-nido-coron-20160813_075557I have started replanting bushes from the new veggie garden to other targeted areas, beautifying the place overall and rather enjoy the work. Love how everything is bursting green and it gives the place a lot more juicy and snugly character. I experimented with various leftover seeds (haven’t dared yet to experiment with all the packaged seeds volunteers have brought in from abroad over the past year) and so far the only one which has taken root is pumpkin, which seems to have exploded like a monster. Never really liked pumpkin, but the local variety tastes like sweet potato and is quite nice. The seeds can be dried in the sun and are quite tasty as a snack or can be thrown into salads etc. And learned from the internet that the leaves and female flowers can be eaten. I think even the shell, if I remember correctly. Hopefully I wont get sick of it, but will be nice once we actually start going organic. I planted one pumpkin’s worth of seeds and looks like I’ll have a massive garden. If picked when ripe enough and the shell is very hard, apparently it can also last months in the cool shade. Unfortunately, with rain comes tons of bugs. Zillions of flies relentlessly pitter pattering along my back and skin as I try to focus on my work, bugs of all dimensions which swarm the lights at night in their different seasons, horseflies, and yes, tons of mosquitos. It turns out that the recess of land at the back of the property is turning into a marsh – I always wondered what google maps meant by some “lake” there. Decided I will put a mosquito net around my workstation, so now my fantastic paradise view will become foggy and hazy.

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Giving some of the shoreline a bit of a haircut.

I’m sure guests won’t be so impressed during this season, although I have found some natural remedy comprising of cheap blue mouthwash, stale beer and epson salts which is supposed to work real good at keeping them away from a sprayed area for months, so am trying to order that in to give it a try. The mosquito net I draped over my tent so that I could keep the door open isn’t working very well, it can get hot at night in the tent even with the door open, the air is getting very still so I’m having to dip in the ocean many times a day, leaving a salty film on my skin. It seems even if I wash myself with the wellwater at the end of the day I feel a thick slimy film on my body by morning – the rainy season has raised the water table and the water in the well is very brown, I am assuming from an iron runoff from the rocky soil. So I dont sweat up my bed I’ll often take a dip in the very shallow night waters to cool myself down.

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Volunteer grinning and bearing it.

Then of course the typhoon season will come for about two weeks and hopefully not rip apart my tents, and apparently it can get very wavy during this time, so I may have to make the trek to the other side of the island when getting supplies sent in, since the boat wont be able to stop on my side. That could seriously threaten beer consumption. All in all, many would probably be complaining non-stop and I can just imagine how this would be impossibly uninteresting for any woman I aspire to start a family with. Fortunately I have the years of treeplanting behind me and have learned to tolerate the most extreme conditions. Certainly not something for everyone’s palate. If I could only find out who the owner is and hopefully get his permission, then I could build my dream hut and be much more comfortable. But still it is so beautiful here that it makes it all worthwhile for me, and I enjoy the development work. I had been complaining for ten years on the road that I sit too much in front of the computer and don’t have much else to work on, so this is perfect for me. If I could build it up and make money as a kitesurfing instructor, that would be absolutely perfect.

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Nice British couple working on a new spot about 50m from shore.
Good shelter from the wind, but too many mosquitos and eventually they moved closer to shore.

Other Annoyances

Like the bugs, sometimes I think there are little devils in my life that tinker with my electronics and snicker away while they pump up the irritation level to a massive degree. Or like somehow my paradise must be yin yang compensated with technical annoyances, to bring some balance to my universe. And I’m often grateful that I have such a broad range of technical knowledge, because I cannot imagine that most people would survive under these conditions. Same with the truck I lived in Europe for five years.

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I started slinking my way through the jungle like a ninja, seeking out new camping spots.
This one took a fair amount of work to poke a path connecting to the beach.

I’ll give yesterday as an example and what inspired me to write this letter. As I wrote elsewhere, I’ve been having a horrible time with smartphones. I need one to be able to respond quickly by text messages, for guests arriving or boatmen when arranging tours. It is also good to check email and work when I am away from the computer, and sometimes I can use it as a wifi hotspot if I am having problems with my regular router, so quite an important device. One I had purchased, another fake unbeknownst to me, irritated me so much in so many ways I was relieved to finally replace it. But in the nearest Filipino town all they had was some brand named Cherry, a local production. Their highest end product at more than a hundred bucks and with a whopping 3 day warrantee lasted all of two months.

So I finally decided to buy real quality from the internet, a Samsung S3 at about the same price. Started raining after six months of complete dry the day it arrived in the mail, I was unprepared, slept in a completely wet tent the whole night and the next day the device no longer worked, after I spent about 4 hours excitedly setting it up the previous day. Which has forced me to go back to the irritating one, that has a crack in the bottom right corner of the screen, making it frustratingly difficult to press such things as the spacebar, the OK button and so forth. It is also incredibly slow, doesn’t work as a hotspot, is 4G but because the local tower is 3G it falls down to 2G and offers incredibly slow internet, and I have to be very careful with it, otherwise it will easily turn off, or the menu items start acting up due to the crack, such that I am forced to restart it. But when I do that the battery often does not connect properly, so I’m forced to take the battery out, lick it and fiddle with it about five times before I get the blasted thing working.

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New big area past the entrance shown in picture above. Good for groups, big tree in the center, surrounded by smaller trees of the same type with big fat leaves and creating a nice canopy and shaded area.

Meanwhile, my debit card expired and a new one is on its way, but probably at the Coron post office, where I send all my ebay purchases. Since I can’t really leave here (3 hour boat ride one way), I wait until an arriving volunteer can pick it up or one of my boatmen makes the trip to the town. This means that I cannot transfer credit to my sim card online. Yesterday the credit ran out on my internet sim card so I had to climb up the tree, where the router and antenna are, so I could stick the second sim card into the shitty phone, struggle with it five times to get it working, to transfer funds from one sim to the other. I climb back up the tree to put in the other sim card, but once I climb back down it is not working. I find myself climbing back up at least another four times until I figure out it was a connection problem, meanwhile my cat decides this is a fun game and weaves between my legs high up in the tree, adding to the annoyance.

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Hammock high up in tree where I have my router and antenna background center near the top of the photo. Rather precarious work with cat weaving between my feet.

I decided recently that I will start stocking up on things, going into redundant mode. It seems that one of my 1gig external harddrives snapped recently, losing tons of films I have been picking up from people passing through. So I bought two more and hope to start making double backups of everything. A new, waterproof Samsung S5 is on its way, so I’ll still have this shitty one as a backup. Already have something like 5 inverters, which convert the 12V to 120 or 220 and without which I cannot charge my computer or do any work, and slowly thinking of a backup battery for the solar, since my first one is starting to get weak.

They are talking about upgrading the local tower to 4g, in which case I’ll upgrade my router as well and use the old one as a backup. Will have to ponder about some sort of backup for my computer, without which I would lose a LOT of money not being able to work until it is replaced and set up. So far the MAC Airbook is performing nicely, but sand has been sneaking under the keyboard and has been slowly acting up. It’s been three years now and these devices seem to be built with ticking time bombs, so better start planning.

Of course, we can add to that other annoyances such as the new rain and mosquitoes which forces me to close up the tent at night and in which it gets hot, so I lay there sweating. I’ll sneak out around 2am once the tide gets high enough so I can lay in the water and cool down. I put a mosquito net under a shelter and over a waterproof mat, but the wind tends to blow that off and lets in tons of mosquitoes, and yesterday I hung up a new tent/mosquito net hammock, so experimenting with different ways to make myself more comfortable. FINALLY have electricity in the tent, but with the new, cloudy weather, electricity is becoming a bit of a problem, in which case I’ll switch to gardening work for a few hours a day to compensate. There are a ton of other little things which would certainly drive the average person batty and convince them to quickly give up on the entire operation. Fortunately for me, my 7 summers experience treeplanting has taught me how to turn my mind off to discomforts. Turning it on again so that the positive points make up for the bad. What a dream it would be to have everything backed up and redundant, and enough income from my operations here not to have such a reliance on the computer and therefore fewer technical problems to exasperate me.

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View from up in the big tree looking down at the roof of my workstation.

I cannot imagine what could be so annoying about teaching others to kite or wind surf, but maybe we’ll see! That would also be a nice way to get back into shape, because without sports over the past ten years while traveling on the road, it has been hard to motivate myself. Just climbing the tree last night as many times as I did have left my thighs cramped and burning this morning!

Synopsis after five months of discomfort

The mosquito net around my workstation and over my tent works well enough keeping out the mosquitos and annoying flies, but there are these very small flies which you can barely see but which seem to inject their entire bodies’ worth of saliva to leave behind large, itchy pimples. Creeping into the tent at night, when the air is still and hot as I lie sweating on my thin mattress, scratching all over, there came a point when I seriously planned to abandon the project, at least during the rainy season. Typhoons occasionally pass through, flattening or ripping apart my tents, the horizontal rain pummels all attempts at weatherproofing my tent, leaving me inside wet and miserable.

Since it is low season and few guests and volunteers passing through anyway, I decide I could remedy the situation by spending half the year in something like El Nido, living in comfort with a hot shower, and practicing my viola with the many bands playing every night there. I send a text to Ben asking about leaving all my stuff securely in his hotel, or perhaps I could spearhead the operations he plans to build in Sibaltan, where he also owns some property.

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View from my favourite pub in Coron, one of the towns
I was considering escaping to during the rainy “winter”.

However, in his typical way, no response from him and I find success in utilising some mosquito coils some volunteers brought in on their own initiative. At around 1am, when I usually wake up in a pool of sweat, I get into a routine of strolling naked down to the end of the beach, where the water is the clearest, and soak for a while to cool down my body. Then I might work on the computer until around 5am, when the internet is fastest.

I have finally put up the expensive tarp I imported from the US as a roof over the kitchen, and from the marsh in the back of the property I have brought in buckets of clay to build a wind shelter for the kitchen fire. Some volunteers have even built a nipa roof over this second fireplace.

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New big green tarp up over the kitchen with a new table and some shelves made from coconut tree scraps laying in the jungle after some locals cut some down for construction wood.

I have also built a second table for the kitchen, more shelving, and about as many spots in the jungle for the 30 tents I have purchased from ebay over the last year. On my last shopping trip to Coron I bought another 20m of cheap tarp and more mattresses, successfully weatherproofing my own tent and leaving plenty extra to weatherproof the other tents.

When on my own I generally make a big salad for lunch and pay a local to bring me cooked fish and rice in the evenings. When guests or volunteers are here I help out in the kitchen but generally leave the exasperating challenge of starting a fire in the wind and rain up to them. They enjoy the challenge, but are usually happy to cut their visit short and leave me to myself again.

As with this time last year, it has become cloudier and rainier, more typhoons have been passing through, and it has become increasingly difficult to charge up my computer, cutting into my income potential. But the rainy season is almost over and I look forward to another half year of sunshine, clear skies, ample energy, and sleeping outside under the stars without a single bug to bother me.

All in all I’d say I actually enjoy the rainy season more, because I love to watch the jungle come alive with exploding green. How boring life would be without seasons, or if it were perfect all the time. Seasons give a person something to look forward to, and a welcome change. The good news is that I managed to convince a couple of volunteers to visit the town hall in Princesa in order to enquire about contact details to the property owners. They gave me a number to a local official I should call. I have procrastinated for two weeks, psychologically preparing myself for a very important conversation while weathering the tail end of another exasperating season. The leaves have already started falling in anticipation of the upcoming dry stretch, but I pick them up joyfully as I look forward to hosting another round of busy season and meditate on how I will sell my dreams to the property owners.

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Mud shelter against the wind in kitchen campfire, mud brought in by half bucket loads from marsh in back of property. Had to wade in swamp water knee deep and shovel quickly to keep the mosquitoes off me!

Back to Table of Contents Finally met property’s caretaker!
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