By Steve Davis
“I had always planned to live abroad when I retired and started to consider options to fulfil that ambition. An English friend suggested that a good place was the Philippines where he had been living for a number of years.
I was living at that time in Manchester and Christmas was approaching which meant another long period on my own and loneliness was staring me in the face again so I decided to book a flight to stay with my friend for a month.
I stayed in Alabang Metro Manila in a condo block close to my English friend and his Filipino wife. I was introduced to many new Filipino friends including a lovely lady who was destined to be my soulmate and partner.
We travelled around the country as often as possible as I was keen to take in as much of the lovely country, cuisine and culture to see if it was a place I could retire to and in the best traditions of ‘Time Team’ I had four weeks to do it!. (Sorry, I am a big fan).
On one trip to Angeles City before we returned to Manila we diverted to Subic Bay where we found a delightful hotel on the beach with live music and a lovely restaurant.
During our short stay I was walking along the beach when I heard lots of laughter and music coming from behind a tall bamboo wall on the seafront.
As I approached, a face appeared above the wall beckoning me to join them. As I entered I was introduced to Grimsby Ray and his friends from Texas and many Filipinos.
There was a large spread of food lots of drinks and Karaoke singing. I stayed for an hour or two happily enjoying the moment, good company not to mention some local libation.
Realising that it was time to return to my hotel I asked Grimsby Ray who I should thank for the impromptu party to which he replied Suesue. When I asked where Suesue was he pointed under the table and there was Suesue a nice little dog on her first birthday!
After I had explained my future plan to Ray he said ‘if you retire here we have a party every Friday, hire a boat, go to an island with friends or you can stay in England and watch Dickinson Real Deal on daytime TV’ – a defining moment indeed especially when you considered the low cost of living.
Sadly, I had to return to the UK but began to put my retirement plan into action. So I sold my business and left instructions to dispose of all of my worldly goods if I didn’t return within two months.
I left the UK in November 2018 and returned to Alabang Metro Manila. One of many things that I enjoyed in the Philippines was the importance of family and no birthday goes without a big party (even for a dog!).
A case in point took me and my new found friends to a party in a place called Labuin in Pila Laguna. It was a lively affair with lots of great food, lots to drink, a big Birthday cake, the full works.
Once again I asked our hosts if I could be introduced to the birthday boy. The conversation went something like this:
Me: “Can I say hello to the Birthday boy to thank him”
Reply: “He is not here”
Me: “Oh what time is he arriving – is it a surprise party then?”
Reply: “No he is not here”
Me: “What do you mean it’s his birthday”
Reply: “No, he is working on the cruise ship in the Caribbean.”
So we sang Happy Birthday to him on video phone link.
Reflecting on this unusual party, it made more sense because employment opportunities in Philippines are limited and working abroad is common place, yet they still want to feel connected to their loved ones.
While in Labuin, I happened to mention how clean the air was and how lovely the scenery and of course lake Laguna which is the largest lake in the Philippines. So I mentioned that I may look to live here and my host Marjorie said her friend was selling a house. To cut a long story, I bought the house with its abundance of fruit trees and lovely gardens.
Pila Laguna is a provincial town that was fortunately spared the worst of the damage inflicted during the war years and has some lovely Spanish architecture. It has been recognised with National Historical Landmark Status for its beautifully preserved buildings.
It has population of just over 50,000 people and is 2/3 hours drive back to Metro Manila. We are a 30-minute walk from our house to the shores of Lake Laguna which is 998 sq km in size.
We are also 40 km as the crow flies from the Taal Volcano which had a mini eruption nine months ago and gave our gardens a thin layer of volcanic ash which wasn’t a serious problem for us but was a much bigger problem for those people close to the volcano in Tagaytay.
‘After a precarious walk along a shaky gangplank to board the craft we were each given life jackets to wear and I noticed all of the Filipinos on board were crossing themselves and praying’
Things don’t always work out perfectly when you are travelling especially if you don’t do your homework. On one such occasion my partner Joysea decided to arrange a surprise trip to an island famous for its white sand beeches, named Masasa Beech on Marikaban Island.
We travelled to a nice coastal town in Batangas and stayed overnight in a villa by the seashore. Next day we made our way to the port where we boarded a small Filipino boat. After a precarious walk along a shaky gangplank to board the craft we were each given life jackets to wear and I noticed all of the Filipinos on board were crossing themselves and praying.
I wasn’t too put off because Filipinos are very religious people and possibly just wanted to know that someone was looking down on them!
When we safely arrived at the island we disembarked on the shaky gangplank with our fellow passengers who all seemed pretty loaded with beach equipment. So we made our way to the white sands beach on a hair-raising tricycle journey.
The first thing I wanted to do was to find a hotel after our nerve wrecking journey so we spoke to a local lady at a kiosk and the conversation went something like this:
Me: “Can you please point me in the direction of a local hotel”
Reply from kiosk lady: “No hotels on the Island”
Me: “Gasp, No Hotels! Can you tell me where is the nearest restaurant.”
Kiosk lady: “No restaurant on the island.”
Me, exasperated: “Nearest bar?”
Kiosk lady: “No bar on the Island but that small wooden hut down the beach you may be able to get a drink.”
After I refreshed myself with the one and only bottle of San Miguel Light on the island I realised that the other boat travellers all had BBQs, tents, food and drinks with them. So homework is important – however the kiosk lady did offer us to stay in her storage shed for the night!
So if anyone is thinking of visiting the Philippines please get in touch my email is firstname.lastname@example.org
Happy times ahead hopefully – stay safe everyone!”