Our first flight was to Beijing, China, before flying on to Qatar, where we were allowed to stay four days before flying on to South America. One incidence of interest was that, when we were confused which line to stand in to get onto the plain, a very nervous attendant quickly escorted us past about three long lines straight onto the plane, as if she was given strict instructions to treat foreigners special.
Another memorable incident is we tried to buy a can of softdrink. After spending some time to find an exchange bureau, we got some coin but none of the drink machines worked as it seemed the coin slots were crammed shut. Everyone was buying with their phones but with some effort we found one local who begrudgingly accepted our coins to use his phone for a purchase.
Some museum we checked out in Qatar
Before our arrival to Qatar we found a person willing to act as our free taxi and tour guide. On flying in, the city and streets were lit up like blaring Christmas lights, so I presumed gas must be very cheap in the country. Less in price than the equivalent volume in Coke we were told. Our guide took us to our free accommodation (found through Couchsurfing), which was at the house of the ambassador of a Nigeria. He was very hospitable and we felt we were treated like royalty.
During the daytime we would take a break in our air-conditioned room to take a small walk to the local grocery store. But the air was so thick with intense heat it almost felt difficult to breath, some 50C in temperature.
On day three, according to the advice of our guide, we waited until late afternoon when the temperature was more tolerable to have a go at riding camels and dune buggies in the sand. Then it was off to Brazil.
There we stayed a few weeks for free in a basement guest room of a university dorm where Mel’s friend was studying and hopped our way from one surfcouch to another, to Rio de Janeiro, experienced Ayahuasca in the mountains, across the salt flats of Bolivia and the Inca trails in Peru, until we ended in a small surfer fishing village as recommended by a friend of mine: Canoa, Ecuador.
A very cool and chill place where we decided to stop traveling for a while. Which was opportune because it was where Mel delivered our new son. Wrong side up in her belly, so it had to be by C-section, but we were very fortunate since health care is free in the country, even for tourists!
Excited to find a wonderful and affordable housing only two blocks from the beach, we started making various purchases for our budding new family and longer term stay, which included windsurfing equipment totaling almost $4,000 including shipping from the US. These purchases drained our reserves dangerously close to zero, but that is okay because our costs are relatively low here and our boat tour business back in the Philippines is operating at full force.
The surf equipment finally arrived and I managed to take it out about three times before covid happened. We were no longer even allowed to enjoy the beach, but it did not take long for the local law enforcement to get lax, allowing us to drink a few beers in one of the many closed snack bars, not having to wear a mask, and eventually I was able to take out the surf board again as well.
Perhaps the lockdown and lack of allowed activities resulted in my increased beer consumption, but at one point I woke up from a morning “nap” surrounded by a small group of worried people. Apparently I had suffered a seizure and was out cold for almost an hour. I had epilepsy as a child so I presumed it must have resurfaced.
Once the lockdown sufficiently lifted, we spent a month in the capital to arrange paperwork. We decided it was too risky to stay in the country, expecting a second wave at some point. The conditions to stay here had also changed, requiring apostatized proof of a clean criminal record from every country we stayed in for the past five years, impossible to obtain for the both of us. And to take our son out of the country we needed an apostatized birth certificate with an Ecuadorian passport and a long list of documents with certified translations from various embassies. The amount of paperwork to get the three of us out of the country back home was insane, but at least our son will end up with four passports (Canadian, Czech, Ecuadorian and Filipino).
It was in the capital that my hemorrhoids started acting up again, the second time in two decades that it ballooned to stage four severity. I slept like an ostrich with its head buried in the sand, my ass up in the air with the fan blowing on it all night. I could not sleep at all and Mel my nurse wife decided we had to go to the emergency ward of the hospital.
Fortunately, medical care again was free, I spent two weeks in the hospital, where I mentioned my previous seizure so they sent me through a long line of diagnostic tests in the form of EEG, MRI and even ECG. At the end of it I was quite surprised to learn that the cause was improper sleep. The lockdown had put an abrupt halt to our boat tours business. Customers were asking for refunds and our paypal account was draining quickly. So I transferred what I could to my bank and scrambled for another source of income. A few years ago the boat tours became successful enough that I decided I would no longer accept translation work. I held my finger over the Quit button, but my gut instinct told me it wasn’t a good idea. So instead of cancelling my account with my top customer, I set up an email filter to automatically delete all their emails. Once I removed that filter the job offers started pouring in again. Unfortunately, it takes them a month and a half to pay once work is completed, but fortunately they owed me about $497 while I had set the payment threshold at $500. Hence, unbeknownst to me, they had been holding onto this sum all these years and it sure came in handy.
Because most of the project managers were located in the Czech Republic, I shifted to a routine of waking up at 1am in order to start accepting work, usually ending my work shift around noon. This combined with my overall stress due to the new situation and my increased beer consumption disrupting my sleep, the doctor explained that I was not getting enough deep REM sleep, during when our body stabilises its electrical rhythms, this lack of stabilising resulting in my seizure.
Once the lockdown completely lifted on December 12, over a year since we started our travels, we were given only 30 days to wrap up our affairs to leave the country. We went back to the capital to finalise matters at some of the embassies and borrowed funds from several sources to cover the expensive flight back. It was difficult to find a route that could accommodate our various passports, especially Mel’s Filipino one, and to find an airline able to take my surf equipment, but we finally settled on Turkish airlines. And what a trip it was, with 20+ hour layovers in Panama City and Istanbul and the long flights in between, it was, it seemed, an outright miracle that we managed to transfer our mountain of accumulated stuff, the baby carriage, and an unbelievably well behaved nine month old baby.
Now we are safely back in Iloilo City, staying at the parent’s place, but a new Covid strain has surfaced in the UK, so to avoid another lockdown we decided to make our stay here short so we can head to our dream location of Siargao. Back to the beach and lax rules where another lockdown will be more tolerable. Our plan is to get a loan to buy some property to develop it for tourists once these lockdowns are properly lifted. Perhaps after they try to vaccinate the world, for it might only be possible to travel once vaccinated. Not in our interest, so preferably to settle down in paradise and let the world come to us. Grow vegetables, hook up to Starlink internet, get off the grid with solar panels and wind turbine, and try to carve out a quiet niche in this increasingly insane world.
We are a family operation managing private custom boat tours in the beautiful Palawan area, and are happy to help travelers with their plans through the country, having traveled a lot of it ourselves and planning to visit it all.