Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Cebu, Port Carmen and Surigao

Jim decided we needed a new staysail so since we were passing through Cebu anyway, he went to Hyde Sails, located on Mactan Island and ordered one.  It would take two weeks for delivery so now our plan to get to Palau by Christmas was thwarted.  Too bad, too, as there was a really good weather window for the crossing about that time.

We anchored outside the Cebu Yacht Club on Mactan Island.   It was pretty easy to get around from there as we could leave the dinghy inside the yacht club (for 200 pesos per day) and catch a taxi or jeepney just up the street.   While there, we took a tour of the Mactan Guitar factory famous for Alegre guitars, shipped worldwide. 

 Cruiser Notes:   10 19.7N; 123 58.4E     Outside of the Cebu Yacht Club.    The Yacht Club is small and crowded and expensive.   They charge 4,000 pesos for the first 10 days whether or not you stay the whole 10 days, then 5,000 pesos for the next week, then 3,500 pesos per day after that.    It was safer to bring the dinghy in there than leaving it out by the restaurant as the pier would dry out at low tide and the kids from the stilt village use the pier as a diving platform.    For that, they charge 200 pesos per day, but we call that insurance.  Broadwater has a store in the yacht club grounds.  There's a taxi stand just up the street at the corner, a very good supermarket, lots of restaurants, and a laundry about 2 blocks away, just past the skywalk.   You can get a taxi or jeepney into town very easily.   We checked out from Cebu.  They have a bad reputation but we weren't sure we could make it to Surigao in time before the holidays so we toughed it out in Cebu.   The customs office is near the airport, so from the yacht club it is a short taxi ride or within walking distance.    The officer looked at our paperwork, kind of gave it some thought, then said, "I think I'll charge you 1,500 pesos."    I was actually relieved at that because we've heard some stories where people were charged much more and given a hard time, to boot.     But when I handed him the three 500 peso bills, he promptly put 2 of them in the desk drawer, gave the other one to his aid to go to the cashier and the aid brought back the receipt and 350 pesos in change.   Which means, the actual charge to clear customs should be 150 pesos.   Good luck to you if you think you can beat them at their game.    Then it was on to the other den of thieves, immigration, which is a taxi ride away in Mandaue.      There the officer took us to a back room, asked us how much the customs guy charged and sniffed when I told him 1,500 pesos.   He then said he would charge us 3,000 but I protested and said I didn't have that much, which was true.   He then asked, "How much do you have?"  and lowered his fee to 2,500.  I still protested as it would not leave me any money for a taxi, so he pretended to have a conference call with his boss, and then said it would be o.k. to pay 2,200.   I handed him 2,000 and told him that was all.   He stamped and we left, frustrated, a little angry, but also laughing at the outright bald faced corruption.

After retrieving our laundry we decided to head up to Port Carmen to stay at Zeke's boatyard while we waited for our sail.   Good thing, too as a big storm developed in the Pacific and headed straight at us.   We prepared for the worst, but for us we had a miss (good as a mile) and it went down to Mindanao and across to Puerto Princessa.    The town of Cagayan de Oro suffered greatly on the west side of Mindanao with flash floods that killed nearly 1,000 people and wiped out whole villages.   We didn't even get any significant rain.  On our way up we had some company.   We don't see this often anymore.

We were snug as a bug in Zeke's basin,. which was two-blocked with boats and he crammed us and another boat in with a unique tie up.   We were against a catamaran, which dwarfed us, and behind a small power boat.    Later we moved farther into the basin when a spot came open.

 We had a nice neighbor, Jun Jun, who worked on the catamaran.   At one point, I noticed he was watching movies on a small disk player and asked him if wanted more movies.  He jumped at the offer as he was watching, it turned out, the same movies over and over again.

Zeke himself is a real character.    He arrived in the Philippines by sailboat 20 years ago, found a wife, decided to stay and has built this boatyard of his over time.  Now he has two basins full of boats.  He does all sorts of boatwork, all in the water, except for a grid where he can haul a boat out for a short period.   Recently he added a club house to his property and serves a few meals; no menu, just what he happens to get at the market.   We had some great times there as many of the yachties go up around 5:00 for a beer and to get dinner.   Beer, wine and meals were very reasonable.

We managed to get into Cebu once while out there at Zeke's.   Its a process.   First walk up to the road, then flag down a bus that's headed to Cebu.   Packed like sardines, the bus ride was nearly 2 hours due to heavy traffic and many stops to pick up or drop off passengers.    Finally, we reached our destination......a busy street with nothing there.    No worries, a taxi showed up and we hopped in to go the rest of the way to the old sector of Cebu where we visited a couple of churches and a replica of Magellan's Cross.

Cruising notes: 10 34.59N; 124 02.28E – marking the entrance to the harbor.    This position gets you through the reef into Port Carmen, then you curve left, keeping in between the fish traps.   We had a low of 7 feet on our depth sounder at low tide.    Zeke charged us 3,500 pesos for two weeks.  He charges everyone the same rate irrespective of size.    You can get a lot of things done at Zeke's but it isn't easy.     We used the water out of the hose, others warned against it, however, we added a dollop of bleach to each tank and we've had no problems.   We'll let you know if we grow horns in the near future, though.  There is also an anchorage off Port Carmen, there were several catamarans there, so not sure of the depths.    There's laundry in Danao and a big Gaisano department store with a supermarket.    You need to get fresh foods at the town markets, there's one in both Danao and Port Carmen.   Some fast food places in Danao.    You can also arrange to get laundry done at Zeke's, some independent women come and fetch it.   Bottled water is delivered regularly if you prefer that route.

We finally received our sail, broke camp (so to speak) after buying some fresh honey delivered right to the boat, and headed to Surigao where we would wait for a perfect, or nearly so, weather window to cross to Palau.    This is where things get difficult as from now on and until we reach Hawaii in the next couple of years we are going against the wind or going where there is very  little wind and we will depend on motoring to get us from island to island in the equatorial belt. 

We have been visited while at anchor in Surigao by these young boys who paddle out on homemade paddle boards to visit the ferries that come and go and challenge passengers to throw coins that they catch in little nets.    You can hear their chatter as they kick their way across the bay.  Some of them have small, hand made, wooden "fins".   Others just frog kick.    Amazing how they "recycle" everything they can here.   Some of the boys float on rice bags filled with styrofoam chunks.   When they came by us we threw candy.

We have waited for nearly a week in Surigao for this weather window and finally we have it.   Now we have to time our passage through the Hinatuan Straits with the tides and tomorrow we will be out to sea.   While here we celebrated Christmas, a kind of lonely one, but we decorated a little and had a real turkey dinner with some of the trimmings and  a lemon meringue pie.   My meringue did not whip into peaks this time, so it was kind of flat but the lemon parts the best anyway so all was good.    We had problems with our computers so we could not Skype our daughters but did manage to "chat" for quite a while.   We were comforted with the fact that they celebrated the holiday together in D.C.   So as we leave, we wish everyone a Happy New Year.   Ours will be at sea.

Cruising  Notes:   Surigao   09 46.754N; 125 99.992     We're anchored in Bilang Bilang Bay, just off the pier and out of the way of the ferries that come and go.    We've been very comfortable here.     The Petron station is only a few hundred yards from the point where we tied up our dinghy.   Jim carried in 5 jerry jugs and a captain from one of the cargo bancas ordered his crew to grab the jugs and take them up to the station, fill them, and carried them back for Jim.   Jim said he had to trot pretty fast to keep up with them.  The captain, of course, charged a fee for this service but was well worth it.    Tricycle taxis can be got there to get into town where there are a number of fast food franchises all within the same block.   There's a new Gaisano store out of town, you need to take a multi van,  usually marked gaisano or terminal, which pulls up in front of the fast food places.  Cost is 9 pesos.  I did laundry by hand on the boat with sufficient rain water this time.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Boracay to Bonbonon, Philippines

We left Romblon to head to the tip of Sibuyan Island for a night anchorage but  the E wind was a bit too strong for an unprotected spot like that so we diverted our course to go behind Boracay Island.  Once around the corner Boracay lights up like a Christmas tree with all the colors, blue and red sails on bancas gliding by, parachutes going by with little tiny people and their little tiny legs dangling (and we're hoping no one gets tangled in our rigging!!).   We decided to stay one day and walk along the beautiful, white beach and enjoy the festive resort atmosphere.    Boracay is marketed for mostly Filipino tourism but its a great place, pretty, with good, clear water so I would recommend it for anyone as a winter get away.

 Cruising Notes:    11 56.5N; 121 55.4E.   We anchored outside of the reef rather than try and negotiate the passage and get closer in to the shore.   Wasn't bad and we were protected from the easterlies.    Laundry, bakeries, banks (not many, so get the first one you see), loads of restaurants and nice atmosphere.

The wind was still blowing a bit too strong for us to make the easterly progression we had planned on so we decided then to travel down the W side of Panay and then Negros.    We anchored in a couple of lonesome spots along the way.    We did not go ashore for a few nights preferring to make some progress instead.   At the tip of Panay was a lovely bight where we anchored and were visited by this family.   I got a little ahead of myself with my "gifting" and gave this fellow a hat (he's wearing it in this picture), the kids a beachball and since I didn't want to leave the mom out, I gave her a very small bag of sugar.    Well, next thing, they come back with another family and another banca and the man in the banca was a bit aggressive and wanted to come aboard and for us to give his kids some toys, too.    The women handed over envelopes that apparently each family was responsible for donating a little bit per child to some playground project in the town and they wanted us to donate.    I told the man the kids could all share the one beachball, and he could not come aboard and I put a few pesos in the envelopes and sent them on their way.   I had to be a little gruff as to not encourage any more of this type of visiting.

Tibiao anchorage:    11 16.9N; 122 01.9E.     Naso anchorage:   10 24.8N; 121 56.8E

While there weren't any real highlights on this part of our cruise, we really enjoyed the beautiful, green hills on the islands and the shadows playing over them at different parts of the day.     

Cruiser Notes:   Jinobaan Bay   09 37.03N; 122 27.28E.   This bay was very deceiving.   Our chart showed a clear entry, however, we noticed a dark line across the bay and saw that it was a reef.    There was a passage on the south end of it, however, we did not attempt it and were just fine anchored outside of the reef.   We enjoyed waving to the fishermen as they went out for the night.

When we left this bay in the morning we drove right into a nest of fishermen's nets.    The bancas were out everywhere  and it was nearly impossible to avoid them.     If we got too close to a set net, the banca would come racing over with the fisherman waving his paddle in the direction the net was set.   We would turn away only to be now in the region of another net.    We were sailing so we thought it would be possible with our full keel to get over the nets,however, that didn't work.  The net was so flimsy and fragile, the thing got caught on anything that was on the keel and then shredded.    The poor fisherman looked so woeful and he obviously wanted some recompense for the damage.   First he asked for 2000 pesos, then when I balked at that, he lowered it to 1500 and we finally agreed on 1000 pesos.    We decided to make our way out and get as far beyond the bancas as we could so this would not become a financial opportunity for other fishermen.

We made it around the S tip of Negros planning to go into Bonbonon, a nice, safe harbor, but we arrived late and with a tricky entrance through the reef we decided to wait until morning when the sun would be behind us.    A man named Tom Bennett drew up some Mud Maps a few years ago and we happened to have a copy for Bonbonon.  His suggestions for waypoints worked just great and we got in through the reef, around the point and up into the harbor with no incidents (such as kissing a rock, nudging mud, etc. etc.).
I was prepared not to like Bonbonon as I kind of had a picture of a lot of dead enders kind of just hanging out there, which actually is true to a little extent.  However, we met a few really neat people there including another American couple, Deb and Doug who invited us to a party at Emma's beach side palapa to celebrate birthdays and enjoyed the food and some rock and roll that Doug and his Filipino band provided for us.    We also met a couple of young, German women who were doing a service project similar to Peace Corps and teaching in a school in Bonbonon.    Then we met Diane, another American woman on her own.  She and her husband arrived there in 1999 and pretty much settled there, starting up a school, One Candle, which helps Filipinos prepare for college and jobs by giving them some much needed skills and scholarships.

We visited a beautiful little resort just outside the harbor, KooKoo's Nest, which I can highly recommend to anyone who would want a secluded and quiet get away from the world.     It is built right into the natural surroundings with clear water and a reef that actually has some life on it.     

There seemed to be an intelligent ex pat community there with a lot of people who either owned/operated beach resorts or were retired and involved in community projects and volunteering.  I really liked the place.    The bay itself was a gem, as well.

Cruiser Notes:   09 03.339N; 123 07.479E.    This is a great place and a typhoon hole.   Getting to town is a bit of a chore as you need to approach either Arlene or Emma who each have  small businesses and can arrange for a hubble hubble (a motorbike with an extended seat which even two grain fed Americans can sit on) that will take you to the junction (10K away) where you flag down a yellow bus to take you the rest of the way into Dumaguete.  There you can find very good shopping at Robinson's (the bus will let you off there if you ask) and you can take a tricycle taxi to town to eat at the Why Not which has a nice deli style restaurant on the waterfront.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Balanacan, Bantan and Romblon

Balanacan was about 52 miles from PG.   We followed a ferry in to the harbor and tried to anchor where the guide book suggested but things have changed.  For one not all the charts line up perfectly with the GPS so care must be taken when entering harbors.  The Philippines are reef strewn and they are sitting there ready to snare their next victim.   Which was us!!!    We shallowed up much more quickly than our chart showed and before we knew it we had nudged up onto the reef and couldn't get off.    Jim put the dinghy in the water and pushed us off.    We decided anchoring there was not a great idea as there were ferries coming and going and a diesel power plant upwind of us.    So we ventured into their sheltered lagoon and anchored in the middle.   A big statue of the Virgin Mary stands at the entrance to the lagoon.   At night all the little bancas come out to fish with their bright lights.   It was pleasant to sit in the cockpit and listen to the fishermen chat among themselves.    In the morning we woke up to larger bancas surrounded by small ones all working together to pull in nets.

Cruiser Notes:   Anchor in the lagoon, 13 32.2N; 121 51.9E

The next morning we made a short trip to anchor off the town of Bantan on Bantan Island.   Bantan is on the E side of the island and very open to any easterlies.  Our original plan was to go to the W side and anchor in Mainit Bay but then we read that it was volcanic, with hot water at low tide and we weren't too crazy about the possibility of having the galvanizing removed from our anchor and chain (which happened once before off the Island of Vulcano in the Aeolians, Italy).   The weather was very settled so it was possible then to anchor off Bantan town and we were glad we did.   This town is practically untouched by tourism.  The people here are excited to have guests and show you around.    There are no supermarkets, fuel stations, nothing here (except a cell phone tower), not even running water.    We were first greeted by a police officer who asked us to sign in their book and then took our picture.   Next, Lorenz offered to take us around the island on his motorcycle.    We made arrangements to meet him and his friend, Alnie, the next morning.

In the meantime another resident, Raffi, began guiding us around the town, taking us to the little fort from Spanish times and then to his home to give us some water and bananas.
The islanders do not have running water so water must be fetched daily from a number of wells.   It looks like a tough job to me.

The main industies are fishing and harvesting coconuts.

  Our tour on the motorcycles was great.   Lorenz and Alnie took us up into the hills where small villages (baranquays) lie nearly hidden by the foliage.    They are bigger than they look as there were several schools along the way to accommodate all the children.
We passed through Balogo and one of the villagers asked if we would like to see their "jar".   Some children had been exploring in the jungle, came across a cave and found this ancient jar, probably Chinese.
We rode on a network of "roads" which were little more than sidewalks that laced all over the island.  The road was cemented only a few years ago (the act of which provided income for the villagers).  Before it was a stone road and there were no vehicles, only walking.
Our guides showed us many beautiful beaches, stunning views and gorgeous blue, crystal clear water.  This is Mainit beach.

My favorite part of this trip was seeing the villagers in their natural setting just going about their daily lives.   We saw a woman chipping rocks, copra being weighed, a man building a new banca and shopkeepers by their stores.

Bantan will probably remain as one my favorite stops ever, due to the friendly people, the simplicity of life and the awesome beauty of the place.

Cruiser notes:   Anchor 12 56.760N; 122 05.886E.   No facilities, no fuel.   Anchor only in settled weather but don't miss this place if at all possible.

Romblon Island was just 20 miles from Bantan.   We were there early and while approaching the harbor, Dennis Shepherd, an ex pat Aussie, came zipping out in his dinghy to let us know there was a mooring available if we wanted it.   Anchoring in Romblon can be a little tough due to the depth.    The mooring belongs to a de facto yacht club, still being formed, which consists of...... this  mooring!!!    They charge only 100 pesos a day to be on it and they save the money for future moorings.   The mooring is held in place by a 2 ton slab of marble. This picture looks back at Bantan with its very own cloud.

 Romblon is known for its marble and marble is its major industry.     We met Oscar, a tricycle taxi owner and hired him to take us on a little ride around the area.    We basically just saw the views, local homes along the road and marble sculptors at work.

Romblon is actually off the tourist trail for the most part.    It does serve as home for a number of ex pats who have found Romblon to still be a part of genuine Philippine life.     Most of the ex pats are familiar with the Republika restaurant and the 5 o'clock happy hour.

Mostly Romblon is just a laid back place where we enjoyed a slice of Philippine life.  Like kids on the beach (just waiting to jump in your dinghy when you aren't around) and bancas pulled out of the water.

The church dates back to the 1700's and is the centerpiece of the town.   While we were eating ice cream in the town square a priest and his taxi driver friends came up and surrounded us and we had a nice chat.  The priest told us all his ailments.  Then he asked how long we had been married.   We told him nearly 40 years, and the priest looked at Jim and said,  "God will reward you in heaven for sticking with her."    I think he meant it a little differently but we got a chuckle out of that one.

While we were on the waterfront, a banca came up with a squealing pig tied across it.   On its way to the market (the slaughterhouse was just down the road).

Other than that, it was mostly just life in a small town.  

Cruiser notes:    Mooring at 12 34.813N; 122 15.843E.    PO, fuel by tricycle taxi.   Market in town.   Bank often runs out of cash and will only exchange dollars, no other currency.  Laundry at the W corner of the town square next to the marble shopping center.   Good fresh bread can be bought at the Deli on the corner of the waterfront street and Republika and at Republika restaurant.