By David Haldane
April 5, 2018
The roof is red.
The color is no surprise, of course, as we personally picked out tiles of that hue. And, indeed, it’s not surprising either that, against the backdrop of blue ocean and green coconut trees, the red roof looks unusually striking.
What is strangely surprising, though, is that there’s anything there at all. Don’t get me wrong, we planned it that way. But planning is one thing and seeing is another. The bottom line; after years of fantasizing, we finally see something resembling a house.
Before going on, I should probably explain. The thing resembling a house is at a place resembling paradise. At least that’s what my wife, Ivy, and I thought the first time we saw it. That was four years ago when a friend and former classmate of Ivy’s, hearing that we wanted land, steered us to this spot. It’s called Punta Bilar which, in the local language, means Point Watch. Never was a place better named.
Located at the very tip of a peninsula jutting north above Surigao City, it’s literally the highest you can get and still be in Mindanao. There’s a road there, and green hills, and fabulous views of the ocean with verdant islands in the distance. And right next to the hill that will one day be our home sits a white lighthouse, complementing the fluffy white clouds like a shepherd watching sheep.
The first time we stood on that hilltop, it was as if we had come to an intersection of time; a mystical point at which past, present and future magically converged. “This is it,” I whispered to Ivy, squeezing her hand. “I think we’re home.”
And so came the day when, after the ritual signing-of-the-papers, we convened at the local bank with the farmer selling the land. “Would you like a check or transfer?” I asked the stooped gent sporting a toothless grin.
“Oh sir,” he said, “please cash only.”
So the bank’s petite female manager disappeared into its vault for what seemed like an eternity. Then re-emerged hauling, with some difficulty, a satchel full of money. The old man, never skipping a beat, opened a shopping bag, dumped in the 1.5 million pesos and quickly disappeared. And just like that, we owned a piece of Punta Bilar.
Construction has been slow. For the past 18 months, Andot – a civil engineer married to Ivy’s cousin – has periodically sent us the bills. The first few I dispatched without ceremony or complaint. Then an old pattern kicked in; namely the sensation of actual physical pain upon pressing the “send” button transferring any significant sum. After a few weeks, I hit on an antidote: “Andot,” I instructed, “never send a bill without including an accompanying photo.”
The most recent one revealed our shiny new red roof. While I can’t claim to be totally cured, I can report significant progress. Now, before pressing the send button, I imagine myself sleeping under that roof, having a meal or, my favorite, sharing a drink on the veranda overlooking the vast blue Philippine sea.
It is the vision that sustains me.
A former Los Angeles Times staff writer and winner of a 2018 Golden Mike award in radio broadcast journalism, David Haldane fell in love with the Philippines on his first visit there in 2003. A few visits later, he also fell in love with the beautiful young Filipina to whom he is now married and, with whom, he has returned many times. David has written extensively about his experiences in the Philippines for several publications including Orange Coast and Islands Magazine. Today he and Ivy, along with their eight-year-old son, Isaac, divide their time between homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Surigao City, Philippines. His award-winning memoir, Nazis & Nudists, recounts, among other things, the courtship of Ivy and finding a place to call home. For David that turned out to be at the tip of a peninsula marking the gateway to Mindanao where he and Ivy are building their dream home next to a lighthouse overlooking the sea. This blog is the ongoing chronicle of that adventure.