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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

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