Back To Basics

Mount Apo in the afternoon

Mount Apo in the afternoon

I can’t honestly say I’d gone back to basics as I had never previously lived with just the basics. I soon got used to no electric. Waking at the break of dawn means come sunset, you’re tired. In the early part of my stay, I had a problem with my body clock. I was used to going to sleep around 1AM and waking around 8AM. Here I was tired by 8PM. The unfortunate part was I would wake around 1AM and just lie there listening to the frogs and crickets and watching the flickering gas lamp. As time went on, I found myself able to sleep through the night better.

The local geography had everything to do with making me tired. At no point did I set out an exercise plan for myself. I never needed to; just simple everyday life here was like a full workout to an old fatty like me. It may only be a 20 minute walk to the store but it’s 20 minutes uphill. Same goes for carrying water, coming back is uphill and you simply have to do it. It became noted that I had lost a little weight.

I was still puffing and panting but a little less. I was smoking heavily before I got there, I halved my consumption. I simply didn’t feel like a cigarette as often as I used to. I had been living a very inactive existence, even got lazy when in Metro Manila; here I became a little more energized. It’s so beautiful you want to go out. Only when I felt extremely tired did I want to stay at home. I could feel my fitness improving by the week. Long walks fetching water alone probably put my activity level up 80% compared to how I had been living. Boy, had I got lazy.

No Place like Home

Where I was staying was not comfortable for me. If I woke in the night, I was stuck there unable to do anything as if I did, I would wake people up. Just as it was starting to wear me down, I had a break.

On one of these walks, I went past an empty native style house as most of the housing was in traditional Bagobo style here. I casually mentioned it to the twin’s mom and before I knew it she was talking to the sister of the owner. A few days later, word came we could move in at 300 pesos a month, no advance. It had no electric but it had somewhere I could take a crap, yes there was an outside toilet, hallelujah! It felt like heaven.

You have no idea how beautiful an outside toilet is after playing nature boy

You have no idea how beautiful an outside toilet is after playing nature boy

We had virtually no possessions but we had a house in a quieter part of the purok for next to nothing. We were near to a spring, just 5 minutes and 10 minutes coming back carrying water. It was no palace but it felt like it, especially having an outside toilet.

We moved in via carabao.

We moved in via carabao

From this point, it became easier to adapt as I wasn’t a guest in someone else’s home anymore; we had a house.

A place of our own

A place of our own

If I didn’t help to chop wood, we couldn’t cook. It’s surprising how much of a day can go past by simply doing the basics, chopping wood which you soon get into. You don’t just need to chop it; you have to find it first. Well, that was no hardship as wood would fall from heaven, or if not heaven, the trees.

Fat boy gets busy

Fat boy gets busy

Carrying the water wasn’t so therapeutic but being nearer to the stream meant many trips to keep up an adequate supply. I started to push myself. Fatty was getting sporty. It came natural just for being here, you had no choice, activate or die of starvation. The landscape and distance along with everyday chores became my exercise routine. More weight was coming off. I was still a fat bugger but not as fat. That situation was to improve as the months went by.

Balance and community

As is all too often the case in the Philippines, people have little in these parts. One of the attractions to a place like this is free wood, free water and in many cases, no electric to have to pay for. Many had little to no income and electric was a luxury they couldn’t afford.

There are so many blogs telling people about the best places to dive in Palawan. I know nothing about that. So many are already telling you so what I want to do is to give a little insight into the world of the ordinary Filipino. Unfortunately, ordinary in the Philippines case means often desperately poor. I didn’t see people begging for food in Catigan; far from, most seemed to survive, but survive for most was as good as it gets. It depends from person to person, family to family, but money was tight for most it seemed.

Often the land they were living on has been handed down a few generations. Most of these people have been here all their lives, they only know this way of life. That life consists of bananas, coconuts, corn, beans, tomatoes, cassava, sweet potatoes and a few more I’ve missed. It’s also a world of pigs, goats, carabaos, chickens and horses, which are used by some just for getting around the locality.

No place for a car

No place for a car

You hardly see anyone on the purok I was staying at owning a car but small motorbikes are common.

It’s a slow way of life; starting early, finishing early and frankly, there is little to do apart from drink and many do just that. Drunkenness is fairly widespread in the Philippines, not surprisingly in a country void of hope for millions. Catigan has a lot of it. I would see guys drinking at 8 and 9 in the morning and was drunk even by that time, but many live sensible lives with moderation. It was striking though how many people drink hard here. To be honest, I drank hard there, too.

To conclude till my next thrilling installment, I know you’re wondering why I am telling you of the mundane. Well, no other reason than this is the real life for a huge majority here. I’m presenting a perspective which is largely about me in a new world. I can’t tell it from any other angle as I am talking about myself in a new world.

I really came to appreciate Catigan and many of its people, but for the first 2 months at least, I was a little dumbstruck. The next two months, I progressed and I started to see opportunities even though they were stupid ones mostly. Catigan is potentially a tourist haven. As always though, there are many obstacles but there is potential here.

But visitors are not a hardy bunch. They expect what isn’t here. For some reason though, I still have hope for Catigan.



Filed under Culture, Impressions, Philippines, Travel

2 responses to “Back To Basics

  1. So what is this, the Mosquito Coast in real-life version? Just when I was thinking about living the rest of my life outside the noisy, rotten, stinking Manila, living on fresh fruits and vegetables and less of oil in a far flung idyllic place — I found this. You must be having the time of your life James.


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