My 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.
Inspired 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.
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.
Hut 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.
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.
Despite 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.
Stopping 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.
Rising 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.
An 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.
Hanging 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.
Someone 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.
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.
Jammin’ 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.
Some 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.
My 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!
Next: back on the road again.
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