A nomad like me finds it hard to settle in one place. I grew up in many islands in the Philippines, spent my childhood loving many languages as my own (mostly the Visayan ones) and taking to heart the many regional differences. The more, the merrier; the more complex, the more exciting; the more different, the more becoming of me, or so I thought.
Since 2000, I have been living out of different worn-out suitcases and the thought of building my own domicile never occurred to me. At one point, it crossed my mind to live inside a mud hole of a cave in the Australian bush or on treetops in the jungles of the Gold Coast of Queensland. Yet, Palawan was always at the back of my mind. The straw-thatched roofs of indigenous communities sprawled around forested areas of southern Palawan and the ‘sawali’ walls somehow enchanted me. There were some inklings, wishful thoughts, but not one really sunk down.
After spending years of freezing cold winters in Europe things simmered down towards retiring. I am not getting any younger. My retirement plan should unravel henceforth.
In fact, I am not alone in this Pinoy dream of retiring back in Pinas once old age comes knocking in as many of our fellow countrymen do aspire to own a place in the homeland.
Amusingly, a Cebuana kababayan who fantasized about owning property in Pinas exclaimed how expensive the “condoms” in Manila nowadays are. She was referring to the million peso “condos” or condominiums along Pasay Road by the way.
Noteworthy enough, there are over 200 thousand ex-pats living in the Philippines (the majority are from the US). Palawan is no exception as the whole province attracted not only the ‘puti’ people but different nationalities from many parts of the world. The Philippine government even offered retirement visas to those willing to experience having “More Fun in the Philippines”. Many websites recommend retiring in Pinas due to the low cost of living, English is spoken widely, exchange rates are comparably a-ok, and the friendliness of the general Filipino public is also to consider.
So why not? Retirement and Have Fun in Palawan.
I was sure I would build my shack in Palawan, but as to exactly how and where remained unanswered for a long time. One thing was sure: building a traditional house was definite. A small hut would do just fine. I never liked the idea of an all-concrete house which makes me feel like I’m inside my own mausoleum. A pauper as I have been, I always believed that one should live on the simple choices life may offer.
And of course, a garden – an extension of the home was to be highly considered. A garden which would create an ambience to the place, and soften the structures but also attract the rare wildlife. An edible garden idea was conceived. To harvest one own’s food would be instant gratification, not mentioning the economical, health benefits one garners.
I knew my lifestyle would be based on a sustainable bio-diversified ecosystem, as the famous song simply says:
Bahay Kubo kahit munti, ang halaman doon ay sari sari…
Turnip and eggplant, winged bean and peanut
String bean, hyacinth bean, lima bean.
Wax gourd, luffa, white squash and pumpkin,
And there is also radish, mustard,
Onion, tomato, garlic, and ginger
And seasoned with sesame seeds…
But what recipes could I make out from all these beans? Guacamole? As much as I want to strictly follow this pattern of species, I don’t think I could eat beans every day for the rest of the retirement? I might require regular anti-flatulence medication throughout.
I was left pondering and researching which plants were worth raising and keeping. And the list was endless.
Another brainstorm. Since Puerto has become world-famous, why not make my home and garden a naturalist haven? Why not throw in some ‘busy’ insects? I was juggling between a butterfly garden or an apiary to go with it. I resolved to keep honeybees instead of the fragile flutterby. My curious neighbours and unwanted visitors would keep off my property at a very reasonable distance – an added bonus to privacy via cultural misunderstanding!
I spent many nights with cappuccinos and black coffee scribbling about concepts and drafting a house plan. Even during sleep, my brain would restlessly scrutinize the perspectives and the details of the kubo plan. More ideas meant more coffee and eyebags galore.
Which direction did the sun rise and where should the kitchen face? Or should the bedroom catch the first ray of sun? Where should my bathroom be so I get a good view of the greenery?
Where do I procure materials? How do I manage logistics? Deliveries? What about my budget? Would it exceed my financial limit? Timeframe? Realistically, how long would the plan require?
Which species of plants do I propagate and where should they be planted? I’ve studied Horticulture in Vienna and watched many of BBC’s Gardener’s World episodes – but still grew quite apprehensive of how plants would thrive in situ. Palawan’s soil is widely tropical clay – which means there have to be good soil engineering schemes to alter the garden soil in the premises. Good plants need good rich soil.
I needed to hire chickens as soil tillers ergo soil enhancers. Goats or swine would simply be too large for the setting. Yes, I needed fowls..aside from providing meat and eggs, they also help a lot in adding dung to the garden. They would consume kitchen scraps or left overs, eat worms, and most of all they are funny adding character to the garden.
Compromises between aesthetics versus functionality versus financing versus eco-friendliness versus durability had to be analyzed. At last, half of this and that of every factor combined with a lot of prayers achieved results. It was the first house I designed and planned and hopefully the last. Subconsciously, I resorted to chocolates to hinder the onset of depresssion caused by the high stress involved in planning and decision-making. Thus my overweight status. I would not endure as a healthy architect.
The whole idea realizing took a little longer time as was initially proposed and is still undergoing its few phases of change. The garden attuned to edible landscaping and permaculture principles underwent recent climatic and evironmental stress and more things are still needed to be done, but with a sigh of relief, finally, I have built my retirement shaft and gardenscape pressed on which resulted in teeming with life. Insects hovering, flutterbys sipping nectar and birds singing as they perch on flowering plants.
I reflected on a quote by an infamous author – The joy of retirement comes in those everyday pursuits that embrace the joy of life; to experience daily the freedom to invest one’s life-long knowledge for the betterment of others; and, to allocate time to pursuits that only received, in years of working, a fleeting moment. And don’t it indeed?