Yesterday, we had an article submission by the Cordillera Cowboy, Pete McKee. Pete has been contributing to LiP for several years now, and I always enjoy his writing. He primary writes about real life day to day Filipino people, their struggles and their successes. After Pete’s article, I thought you might want to learn a little more about the man. Because of that, I decided to republish this interview that I did with Pete a few years back on another website. Thank you for supporting LiP, Pete!
Today we will be featuring an interview with Pete McKee, who uses the nickname Cordillera Cowboy. Read on and it will become pretty apparent why he uses that moniker. Pete has been a long time reader and participant on my Live in the Philippines Web Magazine, and I thought it would be interested to learn more about his plans to move to the Philippines.
So, here is our interview with Pete:
What is your name, and can you tell us a little about yourself?
My name is Pete McKee. I’m a retired Army NCO from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Growing up, I enjoyed a rural lifestyle, centered around family and livestock, mostly horses. I’m currently working as a military transportation contractor in Virginia. Since retiring from the Army, I’ve also worked as a museum professional, and in various aspects of the transportation field. My wife, Marlyn is from Nueva Vizcaya. We met in Germany, and have been married since 1983. We have one son. He is a teacher.
Wow, Pete, congratulations on such a long term marriage! These days, that is somewhat rare!
Have you ever been to the Philippines?
Yes, several times since 2003. After the novelty of the first visit wore off, I wasn’t overly impressed. The main reason was that our visits consisted only of going from relative’s house to relative’s house, sitting, eating, and talking. I love to travel and experience other cultures, but I was simply sitting in kitchens and porches, answering the same questions over and over. “Have you seen the carabao?” “Do you eat balut?” I mentioned this to Marlyn, and she was actually feeling the same. She had grown up in the little farming community, but had rarely actually “seen the Philippines”. We began breaking away from the extended family, and visiting places like Baguio, Tagaytay, and Banaue. We took walks together out in the countryside. We went with our brother-in-law to his home town in Ilocos del Norte. I finally got to see the land and the people as they were going about their everyday lives, and I loved it.
Good story there, Pete. I felt much the same on my first few visits to the Philippines, it wasn’t too exciting. But, after that, I worked it with my wife where we could move around a bit more and get to see the country. Suddenly my visits were a lot more fun!
Why do you want to move to the Philippines?
Our plans have always been to retire to a small farm in the mountains. There, I could indulge my love of horses and cattle, and Marlyn could garden to her hearts content. As the years went by, I could see that would not be possible without saddling ourselves with debt. Whenever I crunched the numbers, I saw that we’d have to work “real jobs” forever instead of enjoying the more satisfying “work” of our retirement farm.
I had always had the Philippines as a distant plan B option. Then, the economy took a nose dive, and I was underemployed for a couple of years. We were staying even, but couldn’t get ahead. I knew we could live comfortably in the Philippines on my military pension, but had never really studied the possibilities. One day I mentioned to Marlyn that, if we could find a place where I could raise a few head of livestock, I’d be perfectly happy to retire to the Philippines. To my surprise, she said “Well, let’s look around.” We looked at several places on our next trip there. We found one that met all our requirements, and used some of our nest egg to to buy it. All that’s left is to save up enough to build a house without going into debt.
So, the short answer is, we can live the rural, agricultural lifestyle we both want, without taking on lifelong debt.
I am sure you will do fine, Pete. I don’t know how much your Military pension is, but I bet you can live better on it than you expect.
Do you have concerns about moving to the Philippines? What is your biggest concern?
One concern I have is language. I can get by with English. Heck, even the clerk at the little hardware store in town speaks nearly perfect English. But with English, I’m always hovering on the outside of things. It’s easy to find a Tagalog tutor. But, deep in the provinces, Tagalog is only slightly more useful than English. You can learn some from relatives, but in general, they are not good teachers. My experience has been that they either overload you, then get frustrated when you don’t pick it up in a short time. Or, your efforts are simply a source of amusement. I’m looking for a qualified Ilocano instructor.
My largest concern, however, is the initial cost of getting set up. My pension is more than enough to cover the day to day cost of living. We are saving relentlessly to keep to our plan of retiring debt free. Our land is bought and paid for. We don’t want to start building our house until we have the cash in hand. Once that’s accomplished, there’s nothing keeping us here.
On the language thing, Pete, I can tell you that learning the language will improve your life in the Philippines immensely. When I learned to speak Bisaya, my enjoyment of the life here skyrocketed. You will find a tutor, I know it!
Where do you plan to live in the Philippines?
Like many western expats married to Filipinas, we’ll be settling my wife’s home province. That is in Nueva Vizcaya. We are half owners of a student boarding house in Bayombong, and have a small ranch in the hills outside of Solano. Our place is about 30 kilometers from the farm where Marlyn grew up. That keeps us arms length from entanglements with the extended family. But we still keep a bit of home turf advantage.
You are wise to keep a bit of separation from the extended family, that can turn into a disaster. But, you are still close enough that it allows for easy access. Sort of the same situation that my wife and I have.
What do your family and friends think of your desire to live in the Philippines?
My own family and friends are supportive and curious about our move. I joined the Army at a young age and traveled the world. My family has grown accustomed to my adventuring in far away places.
That’s good news. My family was not too happy about me moving half way around the world.
When do you think you will make the move?
We made our decision in 2009. My job situation has improved since then, but not nearly enough to trump tending my own livestock, surrounded by the beautiful Cordillera Mountains. We’ve met our goal of paying off our stateside debts, and are now saving for our house. We are on track to make the jump in early 2015.
Keep plugging away, you’ll make it!
Is there anything else you want to tell us about your move to the Philippines?
I’m pretty sure that my choice to live a deep rural lifestyle in a 3rd world country is not typical. But, most expats I’ve been in contact with, also don’t meet the “live like a king” stereotype. I believe that we’re a fairly unique bunch.
Thank you kindly, Pete, for your willingness to do the interview and share your thoughts with us! I really appreciate it. Good luck with your plans!