Since my connection with the caretaker, my situation has felt much more certain. I no longer feel like such an outsider of a village on the verge of pulling out their pitchforks, but someone with possible clout. It went from someone who could be charged by the locals for collecting bamboo washed up onto the beach, to someone who is in contact with the owner of a property they traverse in order to get to the island’s only water supply. And I made sure to mention that when our relations seemed strained.
The beginnings of my humble hut.
But according to my initial spirit of wanting to maintain good community relations, which is also mandatory for future successful business, I found more effective ways of shmoozing their favour, such as:
sending nice guests, preferably female, to request fish or coconuts from the locals, so that they can see foreigners are not monsters, or at least not the madman I am;
a popular bonus has been to sell their local brandy at cost so they do not need to go all the way to town;
buying them ebay presents, such as inflatable water dinosaurs for their children or solar powered Christmas and other lights. After setting up two in the big community hut, they inadvertently changed my settings to flashing disco mode;
picking up supplies for them in Coron, such as 12v led lights and deep cycle batteries they now use for squid fishing at night instead of their stinky, loud and gas guzzling generators;
lending them money, such as to Elsie who had her second baby and the doctor advised for an ultrasound. Since then I have become the regular island bank, payable back in coconuts and fish etc., written down on pieces of paper instead of dealing with currency, which they never seem to have any of anyway (getting change on the thousands I get out of the atm is almost impossible in this entire region).
Due to popular demand finally managed to get a harpoon, for $100 used from a German tourist passing through. Together with my fishing rod, lures and banca paddle boat, some guests will certainly be pleased.
The nice thing about the Christmas lights, as I discovered one dark evening as we were arriving late from another Coron shopping trip, it gives you a welcoming feeling of home as you approach the blinking and lit up beach from a distance. Like a bustling metropolis sprawled out along a paradise beach, waiting for you to join the party.
Although relations have improved overall with the locals, other problems have surfaced.
For example, by the end of the rainy season, during the full moon of November and December, and a little bit of January, the waves reached so high up on the beach that they added more than half a metre of sand, completely burying our campfire and sucking away two of the massive logs that surrounded it for sitting. We managed to roll up some replacements, but instead of unearthing the two remaining logs that were now buried, I decided to shovel out the sand to turn it into a campfire “pit”. It’s actually quite cozy down there now, leaning against the logs with the sand outside the pit flush with the top of the logs. Another reason for this approach is to show people the possible effects of global warming. Talking about it and seeing the effects while sitting in it are two different matters.
Above, the campfire place is half buried, but once the full moon arrived in a few days it was completely buried. The beach is now flush with the property area, having risen almost a metre. Hope it won’t be the same next year!
Another annoyance has been the chickens and cocks. Always venturing into my kitchen while I work on my computer, just around the bush. Cackling away, knowing I do not like them making their mess (digging up all the leaves in search of worms and bugs for food), until I purchased myself a few sling shots from ebay. I even offer guests the bribe of a beer if they score. But somehow the little buggers always seem so sharp and evasive. Managed to only get them twice, once right in the butthole, but they hopped off with almost no regard, cackling in a way that sounds like open chuckling. I realised that this must be where the word “cocky” comes from.
But small fry in annoyance when compared to the previous rainy season. And to prepare myself for that, especially now that I received official authorisation from the property caretaker, I began building my own hut. I’m sure you can imagine that living in a tent for a couple of years can get rather old. No electricity to keep the laptop running while watching movies or working in bed, no big fan during hot stagnant nights, and the other many discomforts.
Took about 4 days to clear out the dense innards of these prickly trees to make room for my hammock lounge area behind my hut, but was quickly appreciated by this Lithuanian volunteer.
In typical grandiose fashion I masterminded a two story “hut scraper”, complete with terrace, wide open windows, removeable seethrough plastic windows, and bamboo walls which could drop down from the ceiling during the typhoon season or for when I need to go away for a while – this hut should promise to make my stay here much more pleasant. I will move inside the stereo system, set up more Christmas lights and store everything else on the ground floor, greatly increasing my security.
On the other hand, my motivation does sometimes waver as I build this hut hurriedly before the upcoming rainy season, imagining that the Italian owner has managed to sell the property and forcing me to leave just as I tighten the last screw or bolt in the last LED light.
Speaking of increasing the comfort level, following several complaints by boyfriends of female guests, I have started building a shower. I don’t know if it is because the girls feel their boyfriends wont love them anymore because their hair is no longer shiny, or they feel a need to completely remove salt from the surface of their bodies in order to have slippery sex at night, but it will be on the verge of luxurious. Collecting rainfall, a bucket above a barrel used to filter the well water, and a complete shower and nozzle system with its own filtering mechanism. Should definitely give the place a facelift once done. The runoff can also irrigate the future garden, boosting the camp’s organic image.
The beginnings of the shower, a blue barrel I one day found washed up on the beach, which will be propped up on stilts while plugged into the below showerhead. Gotta up the comfort level!
And since a lot of the volunteer work has already been completed, I have started to shift towards beautification, and now even marketing, whether it is writing an article about their stay, or instagram tips.
It has been nice watching the place develop organically as the volunteers are given more freedom. Even the guests have expressed interest in helping out, sometimes contributing more than the volunteers.
One great visit was by Hugo from Malaysia. A Brit whose job is to manage millions of dollars of monthly purchases for a major distribution company there. So stressed out and high strung, when he saw my camp on airbnb he decided he HAS to come here. First guest who sent $300 in advance without almost any discussion.
His big project was to make a trap for all the crabs, octopus and barracuda lurking in amongst the coral reefs. It was a fun project to haul out his home-made contraption, balancing it on my frail banca paddle boat as we fought against the relentless onslaught of incoming waves.
It was great partying with him in San Mig over Christmas and New Years, and we even had a perfect brainstorm once back on the island, cranking the music and staring out from the beach. There across from us was Bolina Island, where I send occasional guests to “run naked on their own deserted island”. While we both enjoyed the deep house music, I remarked how the big fat beach on that island could accommodate 300 ravers, and thus was born the Linapacan Music Festival, which I think will be a great way to put this lovely area on the tourist map.
Another nice quality of paying guests is I collect cash for simply entertaining and taking care of them. With enough guests, my food is paid for, and so can my greatest budget expenditure: beer. I had 3 Finnish guys passing through who managed to polish off 60 1L bottles in only five days. Wooohooo! For every two they drink, I get one paid for! But they drank my stock dry and you can imagine what sour faces the four of us wore before we managed to replenish our stock with a special boat trip. It was certainly an interesting sensation to just breath, eat, drink and talk for free while your wallet grows slowly fatter. Until you have to thin it slightly by going to the bank, which in my case is a hole in the ground.
Some of the guests were rather exotic, who just showed up on my beach unexpectedly in their kayak, inflatable longboard, or four Russians who beached up on shore in their slow, powered inflatable raft (above pic). All three of these visits were on a mission to circumnavigate the 2,000km distance around Palawan. Although they did express some concern for the southern tip, where pirates are known for kidnapping and extortion, or where there are 6m long sea crocodiles. The skinny Italian’s 2m longboard, complete with inlayed compass and various compartments, certainly did look impressive, but I presume that those big critters can swim a lot faster. He visited for only one night and was off early the next morning, when it was cold, dark and showering miserably, in order that he could keep up with his rigid 8 hour schedule a day. I did not envy him as I waved him off into the horizon.
Besides things going well on the campsite, February actually bringing in enough earnings to cover all costs, the boat tours were really picking up well. Starting around October they were actually pulling in enough revenues that I did not have to translate, at all. For the first time in 25 years. It was a great relief and I enjoyed developing a website to help automate many of the tasks, because it was starting to consume a major part of my time. I was able to survive this way for a full six months, but now that the dry season is coming to an end and the slow season has started, I hope that I will not have to return to translation, also because it takes at least two months to receive payment as opposed to the immediate payment I have grown accustomed to with the boat tours. This may lead to a dangerous cash shortage.
Therefore, I’d say I have finally entered a nice cruising period, where food is cooked for me, the place remains tidy, and I more carefully select volunteers and guests. Just today I guided one guest to the top of the second mountain. It has been a long time since I walked to the very end of the beach, but I noticed how much of the sand had been dragged away and replaced by immense boulders and logs. That could have a major impact on the property’s value, since that was the nicest section of beach. We’ll see if the sea continues to eat away at the beach, potentially extending my stay. Now I just need to scrape it through this next low season.
Scraping through the next low season in comfort and style
The low season is for a reason, because it is the rainy season. And with the rain the swamp in the back of the property fills up, bringing with it the mosquitoes and all the other bugs. The air can become quite stagnant and wet at night, rather uncomfortable as I lay sweating in bed in the hot air of the tent, irritated by little yellow slippery beach bugs drawn into the tent by the light of my laptop as I try to enjoy a movie.
But with my own hut in the making for the past six months, I just managed to get enough of it done that I could officially move into it just as the weather changed. Until then I slept as I always do during the dry season, which is outside under the stars, a cool breeze often making the sleep just perfect.
Making “Sawali slabs” to string up into position.
Into my hut I move my latest purchase – the best mattress that Coron offers. It’s time to up the comfort level. But somehow I have fallen out with the caretaker as he no longer responds to my text messages, without an explanation. I had already paid him in advance for some Sawali, which is interlaced bamboo strips used for hut walls. My existing Sawali ran out and I have not yet been able to weather proof the top floor, where I now sleep. Sometimes the wind picks up at night as it rains, that pouring at such angles that my new bed can get completely soaked in a manner of minutes. I remedy this by opening up one of the big sun shades and cuddling up protected under that umbrella. Or if it really starts to pour, reluctantly crawl back into the dreaded tent.
I scrounge together some savings and manage to buy a few more rolls of Sawali. I have finally moved the solar panel with electricity into the hut, so now I can watch movies or work in bed, one of my favourite workstations. Now living on the second floor, the dreaded slimy yellow beach bugs can’t reach me, and overall the bugs and mosquitoes are fewer. But the remainder have been dealt with by good mosquito netting around my bed and new workstation, and a battery operated fan to blow away the little black ones which get through the usual netting.
Sawali slab tied up into place with mosquito netting over fanciest mattress. From the ceiling hangs framed windows which can be put into place according to need (front and right of workstation – always need beautiful view!).
One potential downfall has been the loss of my main volunteering account, at Workaway. One girl complained about the environmental tax and caretaker fee, but it is actually a welcome break, because the constant flow of volunteers have truly been taxing. The locals are less than pleased though because it means lower sales in fish, coconuts and local boat tours.
Since the big boat tours have dried up, I have been forced to go back to translating. I now spend my days on the occasional translation job, in peace and quiet mostly on my own, with the occasional volunteer passing through for a longer period, since I am now more strict concerning their minimum stay. If not translating then I continue working on my hut, patching up this and that as I find various leaks when the rain pellets me from different angles.
The new workstation with rolling blinder (nicest coloured bedsheet) to block out the setting sun, framed window left up to the right during the rainy season. To see more pics of the hut’s progress, check out its albumon our facebook page.
And work hard I must, for my cousin from the UK has announced that she plans to visit Vancouver, the home of both my mother and sister, in April of next year. I have been strictly instructed that I simply MUST attend this rare reunion. By that time I should have my hut completed and able to lock up everything tight for an extended departure. Which I might make an annual routine during the six month rainy season – depends on how my comfort/discomfort level pans out during this experimental period. Perhaps the following year I will try fruit picking in Australia.
And because there are so fewer volunteers and paying guests, I have been using the free time to work on promotion, most recently in the form of converting the big hut into a home (with its own solar power, lights and dining picnic table), to give the site an overall facelift and finally post it on booking.com, agoda and many other sites. I imagine it could get quite busy by the next high season, in conjunction with the boat tours again. But one thorn remains: now that I’ve fallen out with the caretaker, how precarious is my position here?