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.

Punta Fuego and Puerto Galera

We finally left Subic Bay after 4 months of hard work.  It is great to be back to our cruising life again.    Our first stop was in Bananag Bay just 5 miles from the Subic Bay Yacht Club and a nice anchorage just to have a few hours to decompress.    In the morning we left for the 40 mile trip down the coast to Punta Fuego which is where the very wealthy Filipinos have 2nd homes and is an exclusive country club.    We anchored in front of their small marina and paid a visit.  When we asked about taking the shuttle up to the "hotel" we were told by the young woman that the hotel was a country club and the shuttle was for members only.   A man was standing next to her, Ed, , after just coming in on his boat, and told her they must welcome visitors and immediately sponsored us and told us we could have full use of the facilities.    He then got the marina manager, introduced us and put him at our disposal if we needed anything.   He also invited us to stay and asked us to join in their regatta that weekend.   After that we just decided to have a quick lunch at the seaside cafe and when we went to pay the bill found out that Ed had paid it already.    What a nice person and place and a great start to our cruise through the Philippine Islands.
Cruiser Notes:   Anchor location:  (14 07.7N; 120 35.4E)  Fuel dock and ice

Puerto Galera

Puerto Galera, a beautiful bay on the NE tip of Mindoro is a favorite spot for cruisers.   The bay is a UNESCO Biosphere site and voted one of the most beautiful bays in the world.    There is the delightful Puerto Galera Yacht Club which is very welcoming to cruisers.   You can anchor in the bay around the corner from Muelle Bay or pick up one of the yacht club moorings.    We just enjoyed the surrounds here and took a little tricycle trip into Sabang for an afternoon one day.     Puerto Galera is a bit more laid back than Sabang.   I took a tricycle trip to Talinapan Village which was 10 or so kilometers away and west of White Beach.    The village is a project started by the Ayala Foundation which builds native homes for the Iraya people coming down from the hills.     The homes are very basic, no electric or running water.  They have a community bath house and toilet and have a few community gardens.  While I was wandering around,  a man showed up in t-shirt, baseball cap, big camera and with a guide so naturally I thought he was a tourist.    I passed him and we started chatting.   Turned out he was Don Jaime Zoreb de Ayala himself, the wealthiest man in the Philippines, a billionaire a couple times over.  It was he and his wife  who started the foundation which supports the building of the houses in this village.
The Iraya people are known for their basket works which are unique, beautiful and very hard to resist.

Cruiser Notes:   Mooring:12 30.2N; 120 57.2E    Watch out for reefs!!    Mooring was 300 p per night which included use of the service boat, water, showers, and using the club restaurant.   Laundry in town on the main road just behind the waterfront, market down the hill into the main town.    Fuel by tricycle taxi.