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Tuesday, March 30, 2004

March 30, 2004-The Mountains of Negros

Day One.

To our right, some 25 miles away, a column of smoke rises from the foothills of the mountains of Negros Island, curling lazily upward, then blending into the mantle of thunder clouds surrounding the 8000ft peaks of this high, volcanic, sugar growing, Philippine island. It's that kind of windless day that should be hazy, yet we can see for 25 miles.

We are motoring across the Bohol Sea , in a glassy calm, on our way from one island to another; today we are going to Siquijor, where the guidebook says lies a sleepy village called Larena, where we'll anchor for the night, and, maybe, we'll go ashore this afternoon and see about the sleepy village. Each new place is an adventure.

And each island is a character. Negos is high, volcanic, Cebu a long ridge, Bohol lumpy, famous for a series of brown hills shaped like mounds of fancy chocolate candy called the Chocolate Hills, and for several universities. You find these things out when you visit them in person, or drive by in a boat; you don't get the flavor of these islands from the atlas or guide book.

Yesterday we were in Tagbilaren, on Bohol, a bustling city of shoppers, college kids, and tricycle taxi cabs. We needed an Internet café where we could use the computer to send off some photos for publication in the US. We found plenty of Internet cafes, all packed with college kids playing sophisticated online games, using video chat rooms, or doing college homework assignments. Finally, after clumping up some dingy wooden stairs to a second floor room we found an electronic haven with the latest computer gear and DSL lines, and one machine free for our use, at 25 cents per hour.

Afterwards we explored Tagbilaren for bank machines, and quickly found one that gave us enough cash for a diner out, asked a trike driver to take us to the "best restaurant in town", which turned out to be Saya's Restaurant. The dinner was just right, and we got home to the boat, stuffed and happy, just after dark. A nice day in a town that two days earlier, we didn't even know existed.

Day Two.

It's been three weeks since we did any sailing. The last good sailing day was on the day we arrived in Cebu, when we came surfing in from Leyte, hand steering and making time, racing the ferry boats for port. Then for 17 days we hung out in Cebu City, going to town every day, but on the boat we went nowhere, and there wasn't any wind anyhow. Since then we've motored slowly from island to island, under mostly cloudless skies, across pale blue seas, with barely enough breeze to make a ripple.

Today is different, today we had wind.

We had a bit of breeze in the morning, when we started out for Port Bonbonon, on Negros, but within an hour it was up to 13 knots, and it soon built to 16 knots. We set a spinnaker, and for the next five hours we surged along at eight knots over a cobalt blue ocean and past emerald green islands glittering in the sun.

When we anchored in Port Bonbonon a couple from another boat came over in their dingy and said they saw us from the road, sailing under spinnaker, and said it was gorgeous, which made feel really good.

Day Three

Bonbonon is one of those magic places you find by accident, and from then on you treasure the knowledge of its existence. There is a fine harbor here, protected from all winds, with good holding for the anchor, and big enough for twice the twenty boats that are peacefully anchored here right now. There is no village, and the shorelines are tree lined and natural, and standing in the background are the volcanic peaks of Negros Island, with their permanent capes of white clouds. A cooling breeze blows through the anchorage.

Against one shore is Arlene's place, a cluster of thatched huts connected by wobbly walkways, all standing over the water on stilts of bamboo. Arlene and her family cater to the cruising community, and on Wednesday nights, serve pizza and beer. Last night we joined the crowd there and had a grand time, meeting all the expats from Europe and America, who live or visit here.

There is Mark, the pony tailed boat builder living on a wooden English Channel Cutter he disassembled and rebuilt here, plank by plank, and who orders books on philosophy from Amazon, John, from Seattle, who has raced his old Ericson 46 some 25, 000 miles around the Pacific since leaving Tacoma in 1988, and is now getting a custom interior built by local wood workers at $4/day, and Jim and Jamie from San Francisco on a Wharram Cat, Andrew and Anthony, wizened old brits each with an upper class British sense of humor, Sandy, flying off today to join her husband Dave in Palau to deliver a friend's boat to Cairns, Yukee and Esther, Chinese citizens whose boat says "Vancouver" on the transom, Claud, the Belgian, and a French cyclist we didn't meet, and all the rest. Quite an interesting crowd, all happy to be tucked away in Port Bonbonon, hidden from the world, enjoying life.

Tomorrow we'll take a "Huba Huba" a five- person motorcycle taxi, to town for bread and veggies, and we'll tell you more about Port Bonbonon in a future newsletter.

Fred & Judy, SV WINGS, The Philippines
09 03N 123 07E

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Sunday, March 28, 2004

March 28, 2004-Newsletter from Cebu

We've been in the Philippines for a month now. This is definitely Asia, it's not the Pacific Island cruising we've been doing for several years. Since we arrived here we enjoyed the Visayas Islands and the local villages and towns where we came into the Philippines. We had some great sailing in the inland seas. And we have arrived in a city, a big one. Everywhere the people, politics, traffic, housing, everything, is Asian, different from what we are used to, and exotic. But so far we love it. And we have been enjoying the hustle and bustle of city life in Cebu City, The Philippines' second biggest. The sidewalks are jammed with vendors of watches, CD's, fruit, and rotisserie chicken. There are chickens spinning around on grills, looking like they are trying to fly, everywhere. We seen and smelled more barbequed chicken here than we have before in our whole lives, it seems, and we've eaten quite a bit of it too. Its good. The streets are crowded. chaotic, anarchy; filled with buses called Jeepneys, motorcycle taxicabs called tricycles, (see photo) belching trucks, and aggressive cab drivers, every one beeping and honking, and jaywalking pedestrians. There is no adherence to speed limits, no lane markings, and few traffic lights. But as pushy as everyone is on the road, they are also courteous. If you crowd a little, they let you in, If you get stuck in oncoming traffic trying to make a left turn, they stop and let you go, and they let the cross traffic flow at intersections, even if there is no light… it all works. We've seen no road rage, and few accidents.

While we've been in Cebu City, we've also enjoyed the shopping, and particularly the low prices, even in the upscale, ultra modern shopping malls. We have been refilling our cupboards and lockers with items we haven't been able to find for nearly a year, and at bargain prices. We've been to the dentist, the beauty salon, the barber, etc etc.

Most of all, since we've been here we have come to love the Philippine people. They are happy, hardworking, smart, educated, polite, and friendly. Also they have a reputation for corruption and petty crime, but we have not seen that. On the down side, they live in a country filled with smog, smoke, pollution, dirty water, environmental devastation, and poverty. There are many street kids and jobless people. There are miles of the poorest, ramshackle, shanty towns with open sewers and little running water. But these aspects are not different than we were seeing in a few years back Mexico. In fact this country reminds us a lot of Mexico; even the people with their brown skin and straight black hair, in a culture with Spanish roots, and the strong church presence It makes us feel like we are in Mexico a few decades ago.

There is however, an element of danger here in PI, three in fact.
1. You need to be careful about pickpockets, purse snatchings, etc., in the cities that is. The islands and country side are quite safe from that aspect.
2. There is quite a bit of local violence around election time, which is this May. A daily report on the news is a government assessment of hot spot regional areas which they are watching. They list the top ones, less than 10, and a count of the other areas with potential, currently at about 600. This is one of the reasons that we see security guards and vehicle inspections so frequently, that and the next item...and of couse, the post 9/11 world in general.
3. There is an Islamic area on SW Mindinao where rebel forces are still active battleing against the gov't. This place is probably not safe. It is mostly around the Sulu islands. We are not going there. Other rebel type of violence occurs in central-south Luzon. This area is subjected to random bombings. Against this threat, you simply have to take your chances. In a country of 65 million, with only a handfull of violence related deaths each year, your odds are good.

Pirates: There does not seem to be any (ANY) creditable account of any pirate attack on a yacht here since 1988 when a boat was robbed and the wife killed. Of course, that is bad enough, but there have been more frequent attacks in the Carribean, even Mexico. Most boats (but not all) have been avoiding the Sulu Sea where islamic activity and smuggling, including gun runnings occurs, which is perceived to be dangerous.

But the real danger is probably from a traffic accident.

Anyhow, we having a great time. Tomorrow we are pulling out of the Cebu Yacht Club tomorrow, and heading out to some local cruising grounds. The city has been fun, but now we are ready to relax for a few weeks. We'll send some reports from there.

Fred & Judy, SV WINGS, The Philippines


Wednesday, March 03, 2004

March 3, 2004-Arrival In the Philippines

Arrival In Philippine Islands March 3, 2004

At dawn we sighted land, as you do when first light lifts away the veil of darkness. A new land (referring to our last email); long and low and slightly hilly, and in a bit of brown haze that looks somewhat like Southern California.

Just short of four days out of Palau, we have arrived in the Philippine Islands.

The wind was good when we started but it has been dying the whole trip, really. After a fast start, we're now reduced to motoring. The wind is only 4.4 knots. Still, it has been a reasonably fast passage, (we averaged 128 miles per day) and very, very easy. We arrived with a freezer full of Mahi Mahi, and well rested.

Today we'll go ashore and see how many pesos we can get for a sawbuck.

Day Two: First impressions of rural Philippines.

Dapa is a busy little town, crowded, jam packed, but poor, very poor. Conditions are bad, filth, little or no infrastructure. Fresh water is available on the street from hand pumps like on the well out at the farm when you were a kid. No tourists or ex-pats seen here, but a place called General Luna, just down the road, is a big tourist destination. Surfing, etc.

People are ever so friendly, always a smile, and happy to help. You hear "Hey, Joe!" yelled at you often, and I'm wary of getting my pocket picked. Store clerks tend to overcharge you or short change you at the store, however things are so cheap here you don't notice. We bought a shopping bag of fresh fruits and veggies, and a few liters of beverages, including beer and a fifth of rum, and the total was $US4.90.

Boats here are different, a lot of personal transportation is by boat, but instead of 21 foot fiberglass Pangas with big outboard motors, like seen in the Solomons or Papua New Guinea, (in Palau, by the way, they travel by car), here all the boats here are narrow, well crafted, plywood trimaran's, powered by inboard, air cooled, un-muffled, direct-drive, lawn mower motors. We have not seen a single, not one, outboard motor yet in the Philippines (well, its only been 24 hours). These trimaran's, and while most are about 20 feet long, some can be up to 75 or 100 feet long, move surprisingly fast, and constantly you can hear the putt putt from the motors of the little ones as they go flying along, spray splashing from the outriggers.

Taxi cabs, taxi motorcycles for three persons, pedi-cabs, and Jeepny's. I'll write about these later, but trust me, they are all colorful.

Philippine people are small, and their stores, at least in rural Dapa, are small. A typical grocery store is packed with goods, and no room in the isles. You duck your head to walk in, and have to turn sideways to pass someone, no room at all for a shopping cart, and you are constantly stepping over someone with a carton of canned goods, on the floor, restocking shelves. The streets are small, often paved, but too small to carry much traffic, not even made for cars it seems, and the town is for living in, not just shopping, with two story wood houses with balconies looking over the streets. There is a bit of Mexico in these towns, and as you walk the quiet, shady streets, there are people sitting in doorways, and they smile at you, and a mother tries to get a toddler to wave.

There are election posters all over town. The candidates are referred to by first name, "Gloria", "Roy", their pictures show them with bright shiny faces, looking slightly upwards, and promise good things for the Philippine people.

That's the first stop, sort of a culture shock for me, but interesting. We're on the move towards the big city hereabouts, Cebu City. I'm sure that will be much different.

Fred & Judy, SV WINGS, The Philippines
09deg 45min N, 126deg 03min E

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