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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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