Updated: Nov 12
Like many early retirees, I had a plan to travel. The idea was a year long around the world trip, but that changed even before we'd started. Why do it all at once, it's not like everything had to be crammed into an employment gap year - being early retired means we can take as long as we want.
So that's what we're doing. It's not exactly an around the world trip anymore, but I'm sure we'll get to see a good amount of our planet over time. In 2018, we did 4 months in Asia and Australia. Next, 3 months in California, Costa Rica and Colombia in 2019. Covid made 2020 and 2021 stay at home years, but now we're back on it, for 6 weeks in the Philippines. Amongst that, we've squeezed in a few, short, closer to home trips, taking the campervan to the South of France, the Italian Riviera and the Isle of Coll in Scotland. We also had an Aurora trip to Finland, Sally went to Spain, Portugal and Cornwall, and I travelled to some running events in Switzerland and Germany. It's not a bad life!
Those first two long trips made me feel like a traveller. We had backpacks, mostly stayed in hostels (albeit, generally in a private room), visited loads of different places, and moved on every few days.
The constant packing and unpacking wasn't Sally's cup of tea though, neither was three or four months away from home. That's why this trip visits just three places, all within the Philippines, and is only 6 weeks. It feels less of a travel adventure and more a combination of holiday and normal life, with the latter just temporarily done in a different location.
I like to keep a travel journal and find my blog a good way of recording it. For the previous trips, we did more things which filled a weekly journal. This trip is less busy, so this post covers what we've done over the past three weeks since arriving in Coron Town on Busuanga Island.
Before arriving, I knew very little about Busuanga Island other than:
It's where our friends, Mr and Mrs G have retired to.
The main town is Coron, not to be confused with Coron Island, which lies a 10-15 minute boat ride away.
These days, Coron Island is a magnet for travellers chasing an iconic Instagram photo.
Most travellers come to Coron for 3 or 4 days. We're unusual being here for a month.
A summary of our first 3 weeks on the island...Philippines is designated a third world country, mixed with plenty of first world influence, and some stunningly beautiful landscapes. I'm someone who appreciates order and logic, which isn't necessarily how I'd describe Coron, so it's taken me a few days to get my head around it.
We flew to Busuanga from Manila, so our first view was from the air - lots of little islands, some with sandy beaches, a tropical paradise. Busuanga Island itself is bigger, perhaps 20kms (13 miles) at it's widest point and 70kms (44 miles) long. It too looks very tropical, lots of hills, very lush with an abundance of trees (not sure if it qualifies as jungle), and all edged by the blue/green sea. The thing it doesn't seem to have is much beach.
We got through the small airport quickly and saw our friends, the G's waiting for us. They've borrowed a pick-up truck to cope with our luggage and are amazed that we just have a backpack each for a 6 week trip - it would easily have fitted in their smaller car. They haven't yet figured out how to travel light. We last saw them five years ago, so the 40 minute journey to their house passed quickly as we simultaneously caught up and took in the scenery. Either side of the mostly single carriage concrete road is green and lush, mopeds outnumber the few cars and mini busses. As we get closer to town, it gets busier with tricycles (what we normally call tuk-tuks or auto-rickshaws).
The G's live in a gated community about 5kms outside of Coron Town. I know they're pleased and proud of where they live, and I'm sure they want us to be equally excited by it, just as we hope they'll like our place if/when they visit. Well, that's easy, their house is great. Mrs G is an architect and designed it herself. It's the best looking house in the community and is the right size for what they need, not too big to be wasteful, and not too small to be cramped.
Outside of their gated community, my first impressions were:
Everyone is friendly and I feel relaxed and safe. Nobody hassles us, a tricycle driver might offer a lift, but if you say no, they simply move on.
In Coron Town, there are more nice eateries and coffee shops than I expected. Mr G was concerned that I'd starve with my plant based diet, but that's nowhere near the case. There are even two (almost) fully vegan restaurants!
The G's know lots of people and we've had fun being introduced to them. We feel like we've made a bunch of new friends already.
The bits that are taking me a while to get used to:
Travelling around is different. The roads are a reasonable standard, but I'm not used to my roads being lined with small roadside stalls and occupied mostly by tricycles and helmet-less moped riders, occasionally up to 4 people on a moped. There are also lots of stray dogs on the road.
On first impression, parts of the town looks a bit scruffy, less well kept than I'm used to. There are some well maintained buildings, but there are plenty with peeling paint, makeshift elements and an unfinished look. Footpaths are either non-existent or not in great condition so you must concentrate not to trip and often walk in the road. The supermarkets stock lots of detergents, crisps, biscuits, sodas and coffee, but not much else. For fruit, vegetables or meat, head to the market or pick it up from a roadside stall.
Lots of power cuts. I'm told it was unusually bad, but the power went down almost every day. Sometimes for a short time, sometimes hours, occasionally the full day. Actually, this isn't an issue for us, but I found it interesting to note.
It's hot! Typically 30°C (86°F) every day. Sally likes it, but I struggle. Although in our first week, we caught the outskirts of a typhoon which brought lots of rain and some wind too - that didn't help the power situation.
I had imagined beaches within a walk or a short tricycle ride, but they're generally a boat trip away.
So, first impressions were a mixed bag. There were good things, but some aspects challenged me - I'm in a differerent environment, it's not what I'm used to, and my brain and senses are taking some time to adjust. But that's one of the good things about travelling, getting to see what things are like in other places and adapting to them - that I don't always find it easy doesn't mean I don't enjoy it. It reminds me of Jamaica where we lived for 4 years in the mid 1990's. That took some getting used to as well, but once we'd acclimatised, we loved it.
And it's amazing how quickly one does get acclimatised. A few weeks in, I now hardly notice the uneven or non-existent sidewalks (except when I trip!) and tend to spot the better looking buildings rather than focus on those that could do with a lick of paint or more. I think maybe we've only had one or two short power outages in our third week in Coron. The heat is something I will always struggle with though; I've had years and years in hot countries and never got used to it!
While those Instagramable beaches aren't just a stroll or short tricycle ride away, they're worth the effort to get there (and in reality, it's not much effort for us as the G's are kindly ferrying us around). We've got more time to go, but already we've made some amazing memories...
Coron Island boat trip with the G's where we snorkeled at Skeleton Wreck, swam at Twin Lagoons, had lunch and a swim at Banul Beach and some more swimming at Kayangan Lake. Also kayaking and stand-up-paddle board, and I didn't even fall in!
Two nights at Al Faro Resort. It had a homely feel, and we stayed in a room with a million-dollar view - the best of any hotel room I've ever stayed in. I spent my days in a hammock reading my book, interrupted only to eat or have a massage. Paradise!
Our own island - I thought those trips couldn't be matched, until we went to Rock Island. Not many Airbnb listings start with "my place is a private island"! The maximum number of guests is 10, but Sally and I had it all to ourselves - our very own deserted island, well us and the lovely staff who looked after us.
The other highlights include catching up with the G's. They've been super kind in taking the time to give us a tour of the island and ferry us about to various different places and restaurants. We've dined with their friends, twice been invited to their neighbour's houses, and I was even coerced to have my face painted for Halloween before ending up in a nightclub, neither are normally my thing! We hiked to the Island's highest point, Mount Dalara, although only c.600 metres altitude, it's a tough hike in the heat. We've also had a number of quiet days, taking it easy at "home" or spending time in coffee shops i.e. living some version of our normal life, just in a different location.
I'm starting to feel quite at home in Coron. The heat will never be my friend, and I'd appreciate a lot more choice in the supermarkets, but I can see why the G's are happy here, particularly with the friends they've made. We have another 10 days on the island and have plans for about half of those. I'm also looking forward to chatting to the G's about their early retirement and writing a blog post about it. What's it like to retire to the Philippines, what do they love about it and what do they miss? How does their retirement budget compare to my European retirement? And I'm sure some other topics too.
Week 2 in Philippines / First week in Coron
Saturday:🏋️♂ Travel from Manila to Busuanga. Dinner at Pacifico, drinks at Outback
Sunday:🏋️♂️ Went to the G's. Lunch and coffee in town, looked at supermarkets
Monday:🏃♂️ Island tour with the G's, lunch at Busuanga Bay Lodge, drinks in town
Tuesday:🏃♂️ The G's life is pretty chilled. To town for lunch again, plus drinks again!
Wednesday:🏋️♂️Guess what...lunch and coffee in town! Groceries. With G's friends for dinner
Thursday:🏋️♂️ Coron Island boat trip: Skeleton Wreck, Twin Lagoon, Banul Beach, Kayangan Lake
Friday:🏋️♂️ To town for lunch...again! And I had a pedicure🤣
Week 3 in Philippines / Second week in Coron
Saturday:🏋️♂️ Red weather alert due to typhoon - we stayed in with the G's
Sunday:🏃♂️ Lunch in town. Dinner at Spanish neighbours. Halloween party, nightclub😬
Monday:🏋️♂️ Lunch in town (who'd have thought!). Worked on my blog. Talk of another Halloween party, but I politely declined!
Tuesday: Al Faro Resort. Spectacular views and a shady hammock. Perfect.
Wednesday:🏋️♂️Al Faro Resort. More hammock, more reading, plus a massage. Perfect again.
Thursday: Al Faro Resort until 1pm. Leisurely breakfast, a bit of hammock, then watched the rain. Lunch in town. Checked into Haisa Apartments
Friday:🏋️♂️ Grocery shopping, blog writing
Week 4 in Philippines / Third week in Coron
Saturday: 🏋️♂️ Finished my blog post. Grocery shopping & coffee. Lazy afternoon. Dinner in town with G's
Sunday:🏋️♂️ Grocery shopping, clothes shopping, cafe, Netflix, dinner at G's neighbours
Monday: Brunch at Outpost, Netflix afternoon
Tuesday: Hiked Mount Dalara. Lunch at Epic Cafe. Buy groceries for Rock Island trip
Wednesday: Rock Island. Just relaxing and reading
Thursday: Rock Island. More relaxing and reading. Dinner at Full Lotus vegan restaurant
Friday: Blog writing at home and in a cafe. Dinner in town with the G's
🏃♂️ = Running
🏋️♂️ = Stretching and core workout