Year 2010 was when we moved to paradise from the concrete jungle of MegaManila. Done and over with work-related stress, pollution, traffic and over-consumerism, we boldy chose to simplify and settle in Puerto Princesa because it was where we first experienced the magic of Palawan as a family of 3. My husband and I love the beach and we have had long standing love affair with the beautiful islands which is dubbed as the last frontier of the Philippines. We commemorated our very first Christmas holiday together as a couple in Club Paradise in Busuanga located in Northern Palawan. Completely smitten by the pristine waters of the Palawan seas, we decided to go back someday. After having a child of our own, we chose to have an intimate celebration in Palawan again for his first birthday instead of throwing a customary big party. The destination this time was Cacnipa Island, a 45-minute boat ride from Port Barton which is a few hours van ride from the Palawan capital, Puerto Princesa. We were jam packed in the van with backpacking foreigners and locals who brought huge appliances and.. live farm animals for the ride. How will we ever forget sharing a vehicle with chickens?

We stayed in Coconut Garden, an unassuming little resort on its own little island without electricity for most parts of the day. To fully experience the island vibe, we chose an inexpensive non air-conditioned open air beach front hut. Content with mosquito nets over our beds, the constant breeze from the ocean and sound of the rhythmic waves lulling us to sleep after a full day out on the beach. What else did we need? There wasn’t much amenities or other forms of entertainment but nature and ourselves. It was all very spartan yet extremely relaxing. I still look back at photos and videos of those simple and happy days of the week that sparked our curiosity. Before heading back home to Manila, I met a mother in an Inn in Puerto Princesa. She told me stories about raising her daughter and homeschooling in Boayan, an island off of Port Barton, too. That meeting wasn’t a mere coincidence. It was monumental in making imprints on me and my husband. You could say it planted seeds and awoke us to an alternate reality on what life could be which resulted to taking the plunge to move the following year. It all started with the idea, “What if we lived here? “

Why is it that, moving to the big cities to find work and earn more money was acceptable but the other way around -to simplify and start growing your own food was frowned upon by society. What kind of values and social norms did we have to stretch and break? “What would you possibly do? Would you survive? Is it a safe place?”, they asked us.

We truly wanted to live beyond that box-like thinking and living. Instead of spending lots of hours in the malls of weekends, I envisioned raising my son in an environment so raw with nature, exposing him to dirt, free range animals and an abundance of greens. There was once a study conducted in the University of Hamburg which proved that people are more caring and generous when exposed to nature. Those are admirable traits to aspire for us, right?

Many of our family and friends thought we were crazy to “retire” in our 20s. In all honesty, we probably were a little way over our heads but we wanted to at least try and risk it while we were still young. What’s the worst thing that could happen if we failed?

While our colleagues were climbing the corporate ladder or expanding their businesses in their respective fields, we did a major Konmari (even before Marie Kondo became an international household name), we enrolled in a basic organic farming course, bought a few hectares of land and started building our humble native home or bahay kubo in a very remote area called Bacungan, almost an hour away from the city center of Puerto Princesa.

Life in Bacungan was idyllic. Because we had bought a huge plot of land, we had no nearby neighbors. We would peacefully stare out into open green space and tune into the sights and sounds of nature. I studied Waldorf Education with mentors I had met, opened a Kindergarten initiative with co-parents, taught yoga and organized retreats. My husband first worked with relatives on electric motorcycles and then decided to get serious about farming, bought a goat and jump started our edible garden. At night, fireflies would come visit our room. I vividly remember one brave lonesome firefly landing on our bed for a sleepover with us. One morning, I woke up surprised to see a baby snake on my slippers. My son and I liked to walk to the nearby river stream by a bamboo grove if we wanted to cool off on hot days.

Our home was also only a few minutes drive to Nagtabon beach which didn’t have much visitors at that time.  We didn’t need to wait for the weekend to hit the beach. Everyday was potentially a beach day!

Sadly, that particular utopian dream didn’t last very long. After two years of attempting to live sustainably, we were no longer sustaining our dreams. We burned through our savings quickly and didn’t have a solid back up plan after Plan A failed. So, with heavy hearts, we sold the land we purchased, the house we built and bade our farm dreams goodbye. Good thing we tried this stint while we were in our 20s and not any later.

Thankfully too, my husband had enough working experience in the corporate sector and was absorbed back into the workforce if we never left. And it did feel that way. Manila did not change since we moved 2 years prior but, we did. Life in the city felt so systematic and safe borderline boring, really. We were on the grid once again but the call of Palawan was so strong that we secretly thought about it.

Be careful what you think. Whether they are positive or negative intentions, I truly believe that thoughts become things and they will all eventually manifest. The timing will depend on how powerful your mind works and how aligned you are with your vision.

Seven years after our initial move, an opportunity knocked on our door. Without batting an eye, we chose to do it all over again. We moved back to Palawan with more kids in tow, but this time around, in dreamy El Nido. Continuously voted as the best island in the world by many media outlets, why wouldn’t we?

In retrospect, our failed attempt years ago was surely, a blessing in disguise. We were forced to swallow a humble pill back then but, little did we know, we were being prepared for an even greater journey. The famous quote goes, “When God closes a door, a window opens.” Our warm up move to Bacungan was to slowly train us to detach from big city conveniences. El Nido is such a romantic setting for radical idealists like myself but life here is also far from easy. Electricity, water sanitation, sewage system and waste management are some of the real issues to be fixed by the local government and the citizens. If not for our early years in Palawan, my husband says we would’ve thrown in the towel a long time ago. But because of our off the grid training and love for everything natural, we are withstanding these little hiccups for the exchange of calling El Nido our home.

Where else will we be able to live within a kilometer radius from an airport and an impeccable beach community run by a management of eco warriors while also being completely surrounded by coconut and banana trees (and not concrete) ? Each night, there is a symphony of crickets and toads serenading us to sleep. My one year old daughter is currently very fond of our resident tuko who makes it’s distinct sounds to her delight.

I recently discovered that the mysterious tree within the property we bought for a song (compared to insane real estate prices in Manila) is called a Litsea Glutinosa also known locally as Lawat, the shampoo tree. Indigenous tribes used the sap of the leaves as an herbal shampoo. My middle child and I excitedly pounded the leaves and bathed with the natural saponins. She happily exclaimed we could bottle this stuff and sell it. I realize that our simple experiment just tackled Botany, Chemistry and Entrepreneurship 101 ever so creatively for my four year old. This is an example of how we wildschool.

My son freely bikes around the mostly gateless neighbourhood. He can strike up a conversation with anyone, from the carpenters at the construction site of our home to the sari-sari store owner a few blocks away, or the French kids next door. He has learned to free dive and already did an introductory course in sailing. He is 11 years old.

My children aren’t spoiled with material possessions but we make it a point they get a full spectrum of the organic childhood experience. One day I hope my kids will be thankful we invested in memories and not things. El Nido may not be perfect but it surely is the most suitable place to raise a family like ours.

Monica Manzano

Check out more of Monicas adventures on instagram @monicamanifests