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Greetings from Puerto Galera on north Mindoro (N13'30", E120'57")!

Well, we made Marinduque in time for the Easter celebrations and it was certainly worth it! What a party! After a couple of long days sailing from dawn until dusk (night sailing is out around here - the waters abound with small unlit fishing boats, unattended fishing nets and many, many FADs, or fish aggregating devices, which can be buoys, drums, rafts or poles, all unlit and haphazardly placed EVERYWHERE) we arrived at Port Balanacan at dusk, and as we dropped anchor, our jaws still grazing the deck at the sight of a 3-story technicolor Jesus (or maybe Mary - it was very androgynous and we didn't want to offend anyone by asking) attached to a kiosk on the end of the jetty, we were met by Jack, one of the local councillors in his banca. While we were chatting to him, we noticed a long line of candles weaving their way around the promontory. It turned out to be the village's annual Easter parade, so we headed in to watch that. Most of the villagers were following a group of religious statues transported by well-disguised motor tricycles and singing and chanting while weaving their way through the streets. We were the only outsiders there, so it was a pleasure to watch something that was done solely for the locals. Bruce & the Kantalans Michael & Sheila also went in at midnight on Saturday to watch the ascension of an angel taking Mary's veil of sorrow up to heaven (actually a small howling child being winched up into some bamboo scaffolding)but sleep won out for me on that occasion.

 

On the Sunday the last day of the Moriones Festival was being held in various towns in Marinduque, but local word had it that Mogpog, 7km from Balanacan was the place to go. Now a word about the Moriones Festival as we understand it, and we are certainly open to correction here... once upon a time there was a one-eyed Roman centurion called Longinus who was the guy who gave Jesus the coup de grace on the cross. The blood from Jesus's wound splashed in his eye and he was healed. A miracle! He converted to Christianity and was captured and beheaded a couple of days later because of his choice. A martyr! Now quite how this morphed into dozens of Filipinos dressed as centurions (more about this later!, wearing carved scowling masks and dancing wildly to Achey-breaky Heart, Billie Jean & YMCA, I have no idea, but all I know is many, many Christians were sitting po-faced in church on Easter Sunday, wishing their lives away during a tedious sermon, while these guys were having an absolute ball.

 

The day before we had made enquiries at the village about whether we could catch a jeepney to Mogpog for the festival and were assured it would be no problem. However language difficulties meant that we (us and Sheila and Michael from Kantala) ended up chartering a jeepney to ourselves (plus councillor Jack & his son James, acting as tour guides/translators and smoothers for us). However it was only a few dollars and it meant we didn't have to cram into a public one with 97000 faithful also on their way to the festival, so we went with it. The jeepney however wasn't quite up to the task, and expired in a geyser of steam on the first hill. A replacement arrived in due course on we made it to Mogpog in time for the judging. No, not Pontius Pilate, although he was there, but of the many, many categories of moriones (centurion) in attendance. There was the oldest moriones (male & female), youngest moriones, best flowers on their headpiece, most artistic (made from trash: sweet and drink packets being the most popular)and most unique (wearable art from rattan, coconut, shells, feathers etc) amongst other categories I couldn't quite translate. There were even a bunch of teenage boy Abu Sayyef terrorist moriones, but I don't think they had their own category. Each category had to come out for the judges and danced furiously to pop music while they were being inspected. While all this was happening, Longinus was being chased around the town by centurions, making frequent dashes through the crowds, climbing basketball hoops to pee on the crowd (concealed water bottle,I think,I hope!) until he was apprehended at the end of the morning and beheaded, after a passionate plea to the crowd, with much spurting of blood. Completely surreal, but a great morning's entertainment. After that our limo (joke!) took us to Boac, the next town where we had lunch and visited the 17th century hillside fortress/cathedral, which was pretty amazing.

 

After recuperating for a day, we did another big sail up to our current anchorage, Puerto Galera on Mindoro, which has an active yacht club and moorings, and provides, showers, internet and a water taxi. They also have Customs & Immigration, so we can clear in to the country at last (they are very lax about such things here), although only on Mon, Tues & Wed, so we have missed out for this week. It is also a tourist town, so that is coming as bit of a shock after our fishing villages to date. White faces other than us! We plan to leave the boat here for a couple of weeks and go traveling inland in Luzon. Much easier and cheaper than taking the boat over.

 

Well, that's about it for now. I'm about to go in and have yet another go at updating the website. The Yacht Club purports to have broadband, so we shall see! They also have a webcam on their website if you want to check the place out go to http://www.pgyc.org and have a look.

 

Cheers!

Jill & Bruce

PS: Just bought some DVDs from one of the street vendors at NZ $4 each (and judging by the solicitous service we got plus the free extra one, paid way too much). One of them is The Reader, featuring Keith Winslet & Ralph Fiennes. Is there something Kate Winslet needs to tell us, or have I just been out of circulation? As my beloved asked in all naďveté, "Do you think they are knockoffs?".

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Well, as they say, we have traveled far and seen terrible things. And some pretty amazing ones as well. Our "boat holiday" (Large beds! Showers! Meals cooked by other people!) to Luzon, the main island of the Philippines, was full-on; a total reversion to our 20-something backpacking days. We had been reading up on the travel (& other) literature before we left and were somewhat apprehensive: "Cryptonomicon" by Neal Stephenson - "Filipinos are a warm, gentle, caring, giving people, which is a good thing since so many of them carry concealed weapons." (True, on both counts. Manila Doctors' Hospital has a bin outside the entrance, where, under the scrutiny of guards with machine guns, you have to unload your gun before you can enter.) Lonely Planet: "It should be noted that Filipino bus drivers are among the most maniacal on the face of the earth, although the number of accidents is surprisingly low. If you are not used to traveling at breakneck speed you may well be in for a white-knuckle ride." (Not true - coming from NZ, the home of the homicidal driver, we found them skilled and sensible drivers, even on the worst road I have ever been on.)

 

Our first stop was Manila, which was much better than I had expected, especially around the Malate area where we were staying. Sure, the footpaths were unusable, there were beggars and one frequently met "bare-tailed kittens" (sounds so much nicer than "rat", don't you think?) in the streets, but nothing too overwhelming and there was an on-going effort to keep the streets clean although everything is grimy from the constant diesel emissions of the jeepneys and tricycles. When we came back from the north and went out to suburbs such as Divisoria and Binondo in search of cheap clothes and fabric for a new boat awning, things changed - after rain, you were paddling around up to your ankles in what we will politely describe as "mud" (in case any of you were thinking about eating in the next few days), there were people living in the streets and at their market stalls with no sanitary facilities (contributing to the "mud") and there were some pretty desperate-looking people about. This is not a place I'd like to be at the bottom of the heap in. We had seen plenty of poverty in the Pacific, but that was balanced by the fact the people still had a subsistence lifestyle from their land, so could eat and retained some dignity. Here there is no dignity, just a grim desperate battle for survival. Very sobering.

 

From Manila we took the overnight (air conditioned to arctic levels) bus to Banaue (pronounced Ban-ar-way) in the hills of Northern Luzon. This is home to the alleged 8th wonder of the world, the ancient rice terraces of the hill tribes, or Igarot people, who have lived here for centuries. It was unbelievable spectacular: the terraces are created out of stone or clay (depending on which tribe has made them) and cascade down steep mountain faces, often wreathed in clouds, they are so high up (think Desert Road altitude). They were built over 2000 years ago, and cover over 100 square miles of hillside - apparently, put together, the terraces would span half the earth, hard to believe until you experience the number and scale of them. We had hoped to white-water raft the Chico River which runs along the bottom of the terraces, but it was the end of the dry season, so the river wasn't high enough to raft, and to be truly perverse, the rainy season was just starting to kick in, so it was too wet to hike down into some of the more remote villages, and several places were cut off by rain-induced landslides. We spent a few days hanging out there, doing some walks and trips to viewing spots, and bought a couple of amazing old rice god statues from a dealer in the town for a tenth of the price of the same thing in Manila, and probably a hundredth of the price of outside the Philippines. The dealer was great (got friendly with him and after chatting over a couple of beers I know far more about the sex life of the modern Ifugao man than I ever wanted to)and we got details of the age (in generations) of the figures and the history of who had owned them. (Too weird to be concocted: our best one is from an Ifugao tribesman named Kevin) After fostering an addiction to fried bananas on a stick from one of the local street stalls, we decided it was time to move on before we blimped out too badly, and caught the jeepney to Bontoc, 30 miles away where we could get a jeepney to Sagada, our next stop. Now that all sounds simple, doesn't it? Indeed getting on the jeepney was no problem, and the driver was fantastic, it was the road that was hell! Three hours later we arrived, and that was a white-knuckle ride! The rains had caused many slips on the (mainly) single lane, (mainly) unsealed road, which was 95% hairpin bends around steep mountain passes and sheer drops, which most of the time were shrouded in cloud - negotiating our way through was not easy. It was probably the worst road trip I've ever experienced, and probably the most spectacular. That jeepney driver earned his pesos! It made the 1 hour 15km trip to Sagada look like a breeze.

 

After the Lord-of-the-Rings atmosphere of Banaue, Sagada was more of a sedate tourist place - it reminded me of the area around Manapouri. The main attraction (apart from more rice terraces) is their hanging coffins. These are coffins (mostly old but some quite new) attached to cliffsides or poked into rock crevices on the face of the mountains. Apparently the walk around the area can be quite confusing and it is easy to get lost unless you take a guide or go to a certain point and then retrace your steps, which was what we planned to do. That was, until we met our guides. We were accosted by three young boys at the entrance to the walk, who offered to guide us: "We are not like the other guides!" "No, you're eight years old." "We only charge 100 pesos, they will charge you 200!" It seemed good for a laugh, so off we went. They were very professional: one positioned in front, one in the middle and one at the rear, much concern about whether we needed to rest and so on with only a couple of lapses, the first being a couple of minutes of mayhem in a mudpool which no self-respecting 8 year old could pass up and a few cries of "Snake!... Joking!" We had a great time!

 

After Sagada it was the 6 hour 120km trip to Baguio through another winding mountain "highway", this one at least being paved if still full of hairpin bends. Baguio is quite a large city, very student-oriented (lots of universities) and has a great market where we got DVDs of heaps of TV series for NZ$2 per DVD. Dexter, Boston Legal, Weeds, Desperate Housewives, Saving Grace - what bliss! It was also home to one of the more surreal sights I have seen - the swan boats on Burnham Lake. This is a small, artificial lake in the middle of a park which is crammed, and I mean crammed, with rowboats, pedaloes etc all in the shape of swans, fish, mermaids etc all so close together they can barely move. Our trip back to Manila was equally odd - it was the day the Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao fought Michael Haddon for the Welterweight World Title and the Philippines had come to a standstill. There was hardly any traffic on our approach to Manila (unheard of!) and as luck would have it, we were on a bus with TV, so the excitement on board was tremendous. The conductor was sitting on a little plastic chair in the aisle and I fully expected the driver to be sitting beside him at any minute. When Hatton was knocked out in the second round the bus went nuts - it was hilarious. It was a huge deal here (there was only one crime reported in Manila that day) and there is going to be a public holiday to celebrate, Pacquiao is going into politics ("The People's Champ" party) and is the only topic of discussion when you talk to a local. Very Americas' Cup.

 

After a couple of days in Manila sorting out practical stuff we headed back here just in time to hunker down for a typhoon due to hit a few hundred miles north tomorrow. We had become a little blase about typhoon warnings here as it seems anything over 25knots gets an alert - in NZ there'd be a perpetual state of typhoon alert if the same criteria were used - but this one seems to be a bit more serious - all the big ferry bancas have canceled their trips and are hiding out behind us in the bay. We are on one of the typhoon moorings that the local yacht club rents out, so hopefully we should be ok, as long as nothing gets blown down on to us. A long couple of days watching our new DVDs, I guess.

 

All the best,

Jill & Bruce

PS: Have updated the website with photos

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Update

 

Having a Coron-ary...

.. which is a short break in Coron while I get my last assignments for my Semester One papers completed. Coron is a lovely wee town on the island of Busuanga in the Calamian Group, north of Palawan. (N 11"59.7" E120'11.8") It is predominantly a dive place, but there aren't many tourists here, and none of the retired alcoholic sex tourists so prevalent in Puerto Galera and Sabang: much nicer altogether! The town is quite amazing - whole neighbourhoods of it are built on stilts over the water, which solves the wastewater plumbing, but means we don't swim! They have taken a leaf from Hollywood's book and installed a large "CORON" sign on top of the hill, where it is quite at home with a giant illuminated cross (so tall it has its own red aircraft warning light) and half a dozen very unscenic cellphone towers. We won't even mention the over-water bar with about a dozen giant mermaids supporting the roof. We had dinner out at one of the dive places when we first arrived - NZ25 for 4 beers, a coke and 2 three course meals (mains were marlin & chili crab) - hardly worth cooking! You did need to turn a deaf ear to the rat fights behind the woven palm wall panels though. The market is great for veges, but Bruce came back pale, shaken and vegetarian after visiting the meat section yesterday. It either looked at him (chickens in cages, squealing pig trussed on pole) or looked as if it had been involved in a chainsaw massacre, and the market stalls are all out in the open, no refrigeration, doors, screens etc. He has been waxing lyrical about lentils ever since!

 

The trip down was great, the weather was sunny, but we didn't get enough wind to sail, however that meant we could spend a couple of days

anchored at Apo Reef, a deserted reef between Mindoro and Palawan, snorkeling & relaxing and avoiding the onmipresent roosters that populate this cock-fight-mad country - the peace was bliss! Co-ordinates were N12'14.9, E120'28.7 - quite weird to be anchored in the middle of nowhere, just an island in the distance. Great snorkeling though.

 

After Coron it is off big game hunting! One of the islands was made into a game reserve, with tigers, giraffes etc imported from Africa (they had to get rid of the tigers - they ate everything else) as well as local wildlife, such as bearcats. Apparently, although it was set up as a National park, originally one of the Marcos sons used it as a big game shooting reserve. Could be fun.

 

Had a great disappointment the other day - lashed out and had a girl's day out at the spa in Sabang (the vile sex-tourism/dive resort near Puerto Galera) with one of the other yacht women for 4 hours of massage, salt & coffee scrubs and a pedicure- bliss! Despite my joy at having fabulous feet after years of skanky battered calloused yacht-person feet, I found most of my tan had disappeared in the scrubs - I now suspect it may have been accumulated dirt. The horror! Now I know why we have navy or charcoal sheets (and yes, they were that colour originally!). Working on new colouration as I write!

 

Well, that's about it from us,

Cheers,

Jill & Bruce

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Update:

 

Yup, we're aliens, illegal ones as of yesterday. Our visas have expired and there is nowhere to renew them until we reach Puerto Princesa, in another couple of days. However, the local bureaucracy is pretty lax on these things (we were in the country for 3 weeks before clearing in), so there may be some "fees" but shouldn't be a problem. According to the Immigration website the fee for overstaying is the same as for a visa extension anyway. Please visit/send care parcels if it all goes horribly wrong.

 

As you can tell from the above, we are a bit behind schedule. I finally got all my term papers completed in submitted just in time for the heavens to open and for it to rain and blow for 40 days and nights (OK, 9, but it seemed longer). It was good having our own ark, but relying on us, our resident cockroaches and family of geckos doesn't seem a good bet for a new world population. Actually being stuck in the cabin for all that time in rain, wind and thunder wasn't much fun but fortunately we had lots of DVDs - board games in close quarters can lead to mutiny/spouseicide. At least I got my first bath since our last visit to NZ - the dinghy filled with water, so an excellent opportunity to hop in with soap and shampoo, wearing my modesty sarong and ignoring passing bancas of tourists and fishermen. If it hadn't been for the accompanying rain and electrical storm, I would have had a glass of wine and a book too!

 

I enjoyed Coron (Bruce wasn't so keen) but it was good to leave - we had been there a month. The main excitement was having our dinghy stolen - someone swum out during the night and cut both the ropes tying it on. After being visited by heavily-armed policemen eager to see the scene of the crime (ie: have a nosy at the yacht) we got it back from Coastguard who had it reported found in a nearby village. We had the starter activator cord removed, so we think the thief couldn't get it going and let it drift. That was a relief as a) there is very little in the way of boating supplies around so we would have had to import another one at great time and expense and B) it is a long way to swim to the shore and back carrying groceries! We at least had our inflatable kayaks for backup transport.

 

We are trickling down the coast of Palawan heading towards Malaysia. The season has changed and we are now in the SW monsoon, which means we either have headwinds or no wind, so the motor is getting a workout. We are currently anchored off a little town called Taytay, which has a wonderful old Spanish fort on the waterfront, dating from 1660. We had a look around it yesterday, and it was quite magical. We then had dinner at a little place in town and arrived back to find the tide had receded dramatically and we had to drag/carry the dinghy over a couple of hundred metres of sand, rock and seagrass before we could float it. Not so magical...

 

Well, that's about it from us,

Cheers,

jill & Bruce

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Update:

 

Well, we are now firmly ensconced in pirate-land. I seem to vaguely remember saying before we left, "Oh no, about the only place there are pirates is the Sulu Sea, and we won't be going THERE!", and have been trying to ignore the fact we have been cruising about the Sulu Sea for the last month or so. Fortunately most of the bad stuff took place over the other side by Mindanao (and we're not going THERE - at the moment) but the area we are in at the moment, Balabac, does have its warnings attached in the cruising guides (not in the Lonely Planet, because NO tourists ever make it down here, as far as I can tell). Balabac is the island closest to Malaysia (25 miles), and a lot of cross-border smuggling goes on, so of course, given the food chain thing, smugglers get preyed on by pirates after their loads of cargo, hence the "do not sail at night" warnings for the area. We haven't seen anyone that looks like Johnny Depp yet (damn), but a couple of days ago we anchored off a deserted islet in a lagoon in some islands off the bottom of Palawan (one being the aptly-named Bugsuk), only to notice that the village on the island a couple of miles away sported an awfully large number of big fast-looking boats for such a small settlement. This combined with several small bancas coming to ask for food and/or money gave us an uneasy feeling, so after a nervous night we decamped for the island and town of Balabac, where we are anchored at present. The people here are friendly, smiley people, and there are two Philippines Navy vessels anchored here as well, which gives a sense of security, even if they run their noisy generators day and night!

 

We went into "town" this morning for supplies (large bunch of bananas, 2 avocadoes and a handful of chillies for NZ80 cents), and Bruce managed yet again to display his new-found talent for locating the local beer wholesaler and doing deals for cheap cases of beer (Malaysian beer prices are not user-friendly apparently). We were wandering along the main street when Bruce dived off into what I thought was a private residence and came out with a man who opened his wholesale warehouse especially for us, and sold us 2 dozen beers for NZ$10! I was stunned and impressed - the man is the yachtie equivalent of a drug dog!

 

As we are getting further south, the towns are becoming more and more Moslem, meaning I have to cover up more, not so pleasant in this heat. Where we are anchored we can hear the call to prayer over the loudspeaker as the sun sets. Well, I'm presuming it is the call to prayer - either that or it is an announcement that the infidel yacht whore is having a shower in the cockpit (I'm waiting for the fatwahs...)

 

We had a great time in Puerto Princesa, the main city of Palawan. There was a great little yacht club there, and the local woman who owns it has some clout with the Head of Immigration, so we got away with only being charged about $NZ15 each for being overstayers, and we excused having to extend our visas, which would have been around NZ$150 each, despite the insistence of the Immigration office women who were adamant we needed to pay that as well. When they were over-ruled they got very shirty, and Bruce suspects they have put the international secret symbol for "Cavity Search" on our passports. He was most concerned about meeting one down a dark alley (he reckons they are really scary - the women and the alleys, no doubt), which begs the question of what he would be doing in the alley in the first place. However...

 

As well as socialising, we got some practical things done in PP as well - I got a pair of back-up specs made, and we had some seat cushions made up for the cockpit from fabric we bought in Manila. Such comfort! Just as well there are no more overnighters until we leave Thailand, or there'd be napping on watch. We are finding it hard to believe the decadence of day-sailing everywhere - we have made our way down here from Coron, and most days have only been 5 hours or so, not taxing at all. Mind you, there isn't much sailing, as the wind here is minimal (unless there is a typhoon, and you don't want to be going out in that anyway). We have done around 900 miles during our time in the Philippines and have sailed for about 18 hours: most on the first day, and then almost all the rest yesterday, otherwise it has been motoring. The trip down the Palawan coast was nice and we stopped at some interesting towns on the way.

 

Weather permitting, tomorrow we plan to head to the bottom of Balabac Island, where there is an old Spanish lighthouse we want to visit, then we'll hop across the Balabac Straits to the islands just north of Kudat for a day or so before heading into Kudat to clear into Malaysia, a trip of 15 miles, but we wouldn't want to over-extend ourselves...

 

That's about it for now, hope all you Americans had a good Independence Day!

Cheers,

Jill & Bruce

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Yes,

Have some friends who are currently working their way back from South East Asia, so I fwd them on, they have found them interesting, different route but may visit some of the same places

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I try not to , but dammit, I can't help myself.

 

:lol: :lol: Me too.

 

They are seriously irritatingly compulsive :?

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