Once you decide that you’re going to retire and relocate to another place, another country even, you breathe a sign of relief – the big decision’s done, though maybe your goose is cooked. You’re relieved until you realize that the country’s pretty damn huge, with 7100 islands, and there are nearly as many places to live in and styles of living as there are places and styles in your home country. Do you go all metro, live in a small city, or live out in the Philippines version of the sticks, lumped together by expats as the generic term “the provinces?”
That’s the decision every expat wannabee gets to ponder. Janet and I could go in many ways. I sure as hell didn’t make this strategy up but when I make any major life change I usually separate what I want into three criteria: “must haves,” “important to haves,” and “nice to haves.” There’s also the negative category of “are you effing crazy?” For me that negative category encompassed Metro Manila and Cebu City. I have no interest in moving into an environment of pollution, overpopulation, and traffic madness. I have that in the US.
For a long time Janet’s “must have” was any place that included Cebu in the address. Having grown up in Southern Cebu it was hard for her to imagine living on any other island. She didn’t necessary care where it was as long as it was on Cebu Island. I basically agreed. I didn’t want to be in Metro Cebu City, which is a place I like to visit but couldn’t imagine living in. But I liked the towns along the southern coast, and this year we visited Moalboal on the left coast of the island and we both liked our few days there. So there seemed to be plenty of options that included that cherished Cebu in the address.
There’s no right answer here folks; it’s not a standardized test. What was important to me was to be somewhat close to a city (albeit a smaller city). The city should provide access to decent medical care, some restaurants, a movie theater, a coffee shop or two, as well as mall shopping for Janet. I’m not sure I actually want to live in a city and since the biggest Philippines cities do not have what we think of in the US as suburbs (they’re more defined by the gentle term “urban sprawl”), having an area outside a smaller city would be rare and come under the “good to have” category.
Other “must haves:” beaches not too far away. Neither of us is a fan of living on the beach, but we want to be close enough to hit the water at a moment’s (or hour’s) notice. Great views are a “must have” – well that’s easy – great views are pretty much standard faire in the whole country, minus the aforementioned Manila and Cebu City, although Tops in Cebu City and parts of Mactan have pretty spectacular views.
But here’s where Dumaguete, on Negros, is really perfect for both Janet and I; it’s a short ferry ride to Cebu (see map). Cross in a half hour and then about an hour’s drive north and you’re in the lovely town of Alcoy, Janet’s home. It makes it easy for Janet to get real Cebu sand under her feet, and go home any time she wants, but still gives us the independence of living a couple hours, and one ferry ride away.
Dumaguete’s got plenty of restaurants, hospitals for my old age (a long time from now), and 4 colleges/universities which add a youthful energy to the place. There’s a lengthy Boardwalk area (see featured pic) and unbelievably a decent park or two. Parks are not popular in the Philippines. I’m just spitballing here but it’s possible that in a country where most people don’t own a vehicle they figure that walking in a park for pleasure in 90 degree heat/90% humidity is one of those things only crazy kanos do. But I like parks, like to walk, and Dumaguete and Valencia have parks. Valencia has a great water park and beautiful water falls, as well.
Note: Yes, the picture above is just a stock pic of the water park and the cute Pinay is not Janet. Hopefully I will not pay for this tonight 🙂
Note: Here I am in front of some falls and the cute Pinay is Janet, so hopefully I’m safe.
Now that I’ve mentioned it, Valencia, is one of those rare things in the Philippines – a suburban town. Fifteen minutes outside Dumaguete it’s a bit higher in elevation and has spectacular views of the island of Cebu.
It’s cooler in the evening (though cooler is a relative term in the Philippines). The town is beautiful and peaceful. You can live like a rich foreigner if you want but certainly can live nicely without breaking the bank (well, not too much).
The negatives? A couple of major publications have recently called Dumaguete one of the best places to retire in the world. Why is that a negative, you ask? Because the rest of you might go there 🙂 Did I mention that one of my “nice to haves” is not to be surrounded by too many other expats? Note: Janet says this is mean, but the truth is the truth, although if you run into me I will be quite pleasant, especially if you hand me a San Miguel 🙂