Philippines Sailing

March 8th, 2004

Current Location - Puerto Princesa, Philippines
Local Currency - Piso (P55 = $1)
Language - Tegalo, but English widely spoken
Temperature - 90+
Songs defining this leg of the trip - Cowboy - Kid Rock
    Ryhmin' and Stealin' - Beastie Boys


So I send out my last email from Coron, and shortly afterwards meet up with Dave. He's heard about a place called Kayangan Lake. Its a huge lake in the middle of a small island 20 minutes from Coron. We quickly decide that this is our #1 thing we want to do (you must prioritize, as you never know if we have to leave due to weather) and make arrangements to go the next morning.

Next morning, we get up early, arrange a boat to take us to the lake and wait for us all day so we can spend the day exploring this magnificent place. We climb up the island, then head down to the lake, and true to claims, this was one of the most amazing places I've ever seen. Its not often that a sight will make you litterally drop your jaw. Imagine a huge deep aqua blue lake in the middle of jutting cliffs surrounded by lush trees. I dropped my backpack and took off the shirt and ran in.

The design of the lakes made it perfect for cliff jumping. The cliffs go straight up, and down straight under the water. So you dont have to jump outwards or worry about hitting bottom. There is one slight problem. Almost all of the rock in these parts of the Philippines is this super jagged formation that is best described later with a photo. For sake of this story, lets just say it resembles a bunch of knives sticking up. With shoes on, you can get up with minimal difficulty, because you can grab the side of the 'blade' of rock and then hope as you step on it, you dont puncture your sandal. Well, I got up, and made my jump, feet first. I went back for a second climb, and went head first. The water ripped my shoes off on entry, so when I went back, I reached the top, took off the shoes, tossed them in the water and jumped. Bad idea. The force of a 180lb body all on the toes on jagged rock punctured the bottom of my toe. About 3/4 inch in to my foot, but at an angle so its only 1/4 inch deep. Still hurt like the dickens.

I swam back to the shore, cut the sleeve off my shirt to make a wrap for the toe, and limped back to town and to the hospital.

They sat me down on the doctors table, a few geckos scurried out of the room from the commotion. Dave asked the nurse if she could clean up the blood on the table from the previous patient. Well, it didnt need stitches and I was bandaged and out in no time. The hospital is run for the community, and when you visit, you can pay a donation if you are able. The lady said that 50 to 100 pesos is average. It was such a nice little place, I left them 250.

We spent a couple more days in Coron, although it was really just to load the boat up with fuel, water and supplies, and to pick up our 4th crew member, Martin. Thats right, we now have a Martin and Martyn on the boat. Which in text is easy enough to differentiate, verbally it is not. We've been trying to think of ways to keep the two idenifyable, but the best we've come up with is Martyn1 and Martin2. Collectively known as The Martins.

I had to pass on the diving which Coron is famous for as I wasnt allowed to get the toe wet for 1 week.

Coron had perhaps some of the worst nightlife you could expect from a town of this size. Just about every bar (there were maybe a dozen) was a karaoke bar. Worse yet, the couple bars we popped in to just to check out, were filled with all guys. 100%. I just dont get it. What compells 40 guys to sit around in a bar and sing love ballads to each other? They all love it. I just don't understand.

After Coron we had a couple real short days of sailing, which I didnt really understand why. We all wanted to get to El Nido in Palawan which we had heard great things about, but for some reason we only sailed a couple hours each day. The anchorages were really nice though. The kind of idyllic places we were getting accustomed to being spoiled with. We spent some more time snorkeling, swimming, cleaning the hull and exploring the islands.

At one spot we anchored, we could walk across a narrow patch of land and hit a small beach on the other side of the island. As I was walking out around there, I noticed a few hermit crabs in one area, and bent over to look at them. Then I noticed in the pools that were created in the rock when the tide went out were nifty little star fish that had legs more like octopuses than starfish, long and agile with the ability to curl. Then I noticed that half the 'rocks' in there were actually pentagon shaped starfish. Then I saw a couple crabs, then noticed some sand colored fish sitting on the bottom. What I thought was an empty pool turned out to have the most amazing little aquatic neighborhood in it. I sat there and watched it alone for at least 30 minutes. You could tell who was afraid of who and what the pecking order was in the little pond. Neat.

Later that afternoon Dave and I spent some time cleaning up Alex's spear guns to get them usable. Neither of us had been spear fishing before, but we were eager to give it a try. We took the guns out to the reef and started hunting. My problem was that all the fish come right up to you as if to check you out and say hi. They're like my little friends. Perhaps its a defense mechanism that they're so likable. I just couldnt shoot them. I needed to find a fish that I didnt like. I finally settled on this black fish that I saw bullying everyone around and decided I'd teach him a lesson. Missed. I could feel that water was leaking in to the party balloon I was wearing on my foot to keep the toe dry, so I headed back. Dave was able to get a good sized fish which was some of the best fish I'd eaten in a while. We had it for dinner along with the rest of the fish meat from the very large tuna we had caught with the line the night before and BBQ'd.

We finally arrived in El Nido the next night around dusk. We had pulled around to the other side of the island from the main town, which made it about a 20 minute walk. We decided to make the trip in to town in the daylight the next day. That all changed when Alex told us he wanted to take us in to town. We usually go alone, but always ask him to join. Tonight he had already had enough drinks where he was raring to go out. We always did want to go out with him, so we decided not to pass on the chance so Dave, Martyn, and I went.

We went in to town and headed for a bar called the Hard Rocks Cafe (no relation to the Hard Rock), and as Alex opened the door, he turned to us and said in a slurred voice with a tone that simulatenously conveyed disgust, surprise and fascination, "Oh my god, its a pregnant dog.". Sure enough in the middle of the bar was a very pregnant dog. Unphased by this, Alex goes in.

The bar was actually an interesting little place with a friendly, if not overfriendly crowd. At this point, Alex had a bit too much, and Dave and I decided to check out the next bar down the road while Martyn and Alex stayed at the Hard Rocks. The next bar was a bit more relaxed and more our speed. We met a guy from London outside who was leaving as we were arriving. His motorcycle was extremely loud, and he did rev it up a bit unnecessarily as he was leaving. We heard him come back about 15 minutes later, same revving, then a pop like a motor backfiring. It was only the next day that I learned one of the neighbors took a shot at him with a 9mm because of the noise.

Alex came wandering in to our bar barely able to stand and told us Martyn was at the other bar and he was working. Working? Sure enough, we wander back over and find him there behind the bar. Dave and I order 2 Rum-n-Cokes and an explanation. Turns out they just invited him to work behind the bar for free and for fun and he accepted. Right on.

The power went out at 1am, which meant the party was over. That was fine with us as Alex was causing a bit of a scene at this point. We got him out of the bar and headed home. Unfortunately there were no trikes to get us to the other side of the island, so we had to walk it. It wasnt much of a fun walk with the babysitting duties.

The next day we headed to the internet cafe which we were soon to learn wasnt open yet. The owner was a British guy who set up the internet cafe but didnt have his business licence yet. So he said we could use it, but he wouldnt be allowed to charge us. Wow, how super nice! As he walks us to the place, which is under construction, I see a sign up that says "Dog Star Internet Cafe". I ask him if thats related to the "Dog Star Bar" in Brixton London where I spent a few nights just several weeks ago. He looked surprised I'd heard of it and said it was his bar. He sold it just last November and bought this place. Small world.

That night we invited a couple friends on to the boat for dinner, Ben and Eva. We had met them in the bar the night before and Alex saw them on the beach and invited them out. It was nice to have company on the boat and be able to entertain friends. We had wanted to do that since joining the boat, and now we had the chance. Their plan was to charter a boat to visit the small islands around El Nido tomorrow, which is what Dave and I wanted to do as well, so we decided to all go together.

The trip out to the smaller islands was amazing. I know I keep going on about how beautiful it is here, and its hard not to, so I'll leave the photos tell the rest. There are so many hundreds of beaches, that its easy to find deserted ones, despite the fact there are probably 20 or more tourists out touring the islands on any given day. Some had nice snorkeling, and others were just made for relaxing. One beach had a pavillion on it built for throwing parties. The beach was still public property though, so it was open for anyone to use. Dave and I are thinking about setting a party there sometime in 2005. Keep your calendars open.

The one beach had these 60ft tall coconut trees, up which our boat driver scurried withotu a belt or a care. He then hung on with one hand and banged and twisted a bunch of coconuts out, came down, chopped then open and gave to use to eat and drink. All in all a fantastic day out.

We headed back in to town the next night and Sonia had said it was her turn to go out as Alex had his night a couple days ago. It was our first time going out with her, and I'd have to say we all enjoyed it very much. Sonia still has a passion for traveling and it was nice to be able to go out and spend some time with her outside of the boat.

We left El Nido the next day and headed for the middle of Palawan Island where we need to 'check out'. Heres the way it works. When you come in to a country on a boat, you stop at the first major city on the shore and they will have somewhere for you to check in. You then take this paperwork to the last city you pass and have your papers documented as having checked out. It is these papers you show to any official, documenting that you have the proper documentation to sail in the waters of this country. As for Palawan Island, the lower half is all jungle, so you check out in the middle at Puerto Princesa, then sail south to Malaysia. However, Puerto Princesa is on the east side of the island and we were sailing down the west, which meant that one of us would have to take a bus across and get the papers signed, come back, then we leave.

We stopped before nightfall in some random bay, and had some kids paddle out in their canoes to come see us. We invited them on board and Sonia gave them some of Megan and Callums toys which they didnt use anymore as well as some clothes. I also gave them a couple polaroids.

Well, word must have gotten around the village because the next moring everyone paddled out to visit the boat that gives gifts, asking for various things. We gave them what we could spare, and took off for our point which would get us the bus to Puerto Princesa. As we were sailing we saw an increase in the number of jellyfish. These big red mean ones. We speared one off the side of the boat to check it out. Mean looking thing.

Well, we arrived at our anchorage which was a bit too deep and not to Alexs liking. It wasnt protected enough and he didnt think there were better anchorages around. He decided he didnt want to leave the boat there for a day while we was away and decided it was best just to not check out of the Philippines. Either that or just forge the papers.

I wanted to go ashore. Now.

We all went ashore and the crew filled up the water bottles while Alex tried to bribe the locals to find him some beer anywhere to replace his 7 empty cases, which were full a week ago when we left Coron.

The Martins helped by heading off looking for a place that might sell beer, while Dave and I tended to the water. Alex was off somewhere else. We had both made a comment before coming ashore and knew what the other was thinking. I told him point blank that I was getting off the boat in the morning. What might have first appeared as a seaman enjoying his time at sea with a few beers was actually alcoholism, which the more I looked at it, was the root of several problems. It had caused us to go in to the wrong bays twice, despite the use of GPS and charts. Also, asking a question pertaining to sailing that you want to learn about such as "Why are we anchoring here when its deep", will get you an answer of "Do you see anywhere better to anchor?", rather than an analysis of the area and why the chosen spot was best. Perhaps thats because it wasnt. In the month we traveled, we put up the sails 3 days. We had crappy wind a lot, but there were some days we could have tried, but didnt, and it appeared to be lazyness. I dont think any captian could have found a crew more intent on learning sailing. We read every book he had, practiced knots and asked questions all day. Just to put up and down the sails would have been a welcomed excersize. We could learn how sails react from too little wind if nothing else.

The topic of forging papers was just the last straw. Sailing is dangerous, no matter how long you've been doing it. Mother nature can turn ugly fast, and although the pirates usually stick to indonesia, there have been scattered reported cases through the path we were supposed to go. I needed to know that I had confidence in the captain who would be sailing the boat. I didn't.

It was one of the harder descions I had to make. I had some of the most unique experiences of my life on this boat. The people I met and the places I saw were just simply amazing and everything else was just fantastic. Oh, except the kids. They are evil little hellions, ungrateful and unaware of the life which they have been born in to. They are completely undisciplined, and when they scream at the tp of their lungs for anything for 20 minutes at a time, they are finally rewarded by getting it.

Dave was on the fence as to whether or not he would leave as well. He had the same concerns, but with future plans in the boating industry, accumulating sea miles is rather important for him. We met up with the Martins and I told them my descision. Ironically, they hadnt talked to each other about it, but told us that they were both wondering how they'd break it to us they were leaving. Same reasons. Alex and the kids. Martin had a good point that Malaysia might not let us in without exit papers, then our Malaysia leg would have to be scrapped. Dave said with all three of us leaving, he'd never survive the boat alone, and was coming with us.

A mutiny, how cool. I never thought I'd be part of a mutiny. That just sounds cool. Now, you might be saying that a mutiny is when we attack the skipper and throw him overboard or lock him up. Not true. Merriam Webster dictionary says its "forcible or passive resistance (as of a naval crew) against discipline or a superior officer". Passive resistance to a superior officer. Thats a mutiny as far as I'm concerned.

However, this hasnt put me off sailing one bit. I am just as eager to get on another boat and learn some more. Dave and I are checking internet resources now to see whats out there, and scanning the harbor every morning for anchored boats.

We thought it best to wait until the next morning around breakfast to bring it up and then go ashore. Our plan was thrown in to the blender when Alex woke at 5am and decided Sonia should go to check out. It was a typical decision swing, but we didnt see it coming. I got the rest of the crew up and said we needed to talk. It wasnt the most comfortable of situations or discussions, but it needed to be done. I'll leave the details out, but suffice to say the reactions were calm and understanding of our views.

So we got Sonia to drop us off at shore in this tiny remote fishing village. Now heres a weird scenario. We kind of know where we are. We know that Puerto Princesa is about 3 hours maybe, and theres a way to get there. Somehow. But if you had told me a month ago that you'd be dropping me in a remote fishing village in the middle of nowhere and I'd have to find my way to civilization, I'd think you were nuts. But here I was doing it by choice.

We had met a real nice couple named Romeo and Jackie. Romeo was a fisherman and had a boat and agreed to take us to Peurto Princesa (aka "Puerto") if we paid for gas. Our plan was to go there, then head to Sabang where the famed underground river was. We had wanted to stop there with Alex, but it was another one of his mysterious cancelations. It turned out that Sabang was closer to the fishing village (only 2 hours) and from there we could get a local Jeepney to Puerto. Romeo and his family didnt get to that part of the island often, and Jackie was from there, so we decided to head a little further north and visit the town that Jackie was from.

On the way there, they told us that we were in fact the first tourists to have stopped in their tiny village. That would stand to be true, as it has no road access. We arrived at the village and met Jackies mom and her cousins and family. It was such a cool little village and a cool little house. They invited us to stay for lunch which we did. Such amazingly nice people. At one point I stopped to think how incredibly unique this experience is. Sitting in a tiny village in the middle of no where, eating lunch with this family. Afterwards, on the way to Sabang, we asked Romeo if he would allow us to come stay with him for a few days and go fishing with him. He said that we would be more than welcome, and we may just be doing that next week.

Before we got to Sabang, we noticed the number of jellyfish slowly increasing as we got closer. Each time they increased in the amount of jellies in the water, we couldnt believe it. You'd think you couldnt get any denser in jellies, then they'd double. At one point, I'd honestly say there was equal parts jellies and water. The bay looked pink as far as you could see in any direction. The locals said it was a once-a-year thing and over the next few days a lot of them washed up on the beach.

We got in to Sabang and checked in to a couple little cottages on the beach. Ahh, this is what I pictured when I thought of asia. A small cottage right smack on the beach, made of bamboo, with a nice big porch facing the water, costing me $5 a night. Right on. After a few beers on the porch, we fell asleep listening to the sound of crashing waves.

We set out the next day to see the underground river, which was about a 5km walk through a jungle-like trail. It was actually a beach jungle, which was unique in its flora and fauna. After a couple hours we reached the entrance to the underground river. You could say its just a really deep cave. It goes 8kms deep in to the mountain, but if you add up all the arms off the main river, theres 20kms of waterway. The roof is anywhere from 3 feet high to 60 feet high, making it passable only at low tide, as its connected with the ocean. Pretty amazing cave and tour, although it was strange to be at a tourist site after being so isolated for so long. Walking back from the caves we saw a couple of 2-foot long monitor lizards and a family of monkeys walking through the jungle.

That afternoon, we had a small gathering of kids outside our cottage as Dave was playing his drum. He's traveling with a drum that he's brought from home in hopes of finding other people traveling with instruments he can play with. He said he's been sadly dissapointed in the fact that in the 4 months he's been traveling with it, he's only used it 3 times, and was in fact thinking of sending it home.

As much as we liked Sabang, the Martins had adjendas and Dave and I were cashless and the nearest ATMs were in Peurto. We took the Jeepney, and took seats on top as I had raved about how superior they were to those inside. Well, last time I was sitting on my bag, but this time my bag was up front and I was sitting on the roof rack in the back. After an hour, my butt hurt. So I decided to stand on the rear step and hang on to the roof rack. Locals often ride for short distances like this. Well, around some of these corners you swing around a fair bit. (Everyone but my mother may read the rest of this paragraph). Well, after a bit I was finding it quite fun. I always thought it looked cool when stuntmen in the movies were hanging off the back of a speeding truck. So there I was hanging on with one hand and one foot playing stuntman off the back of the Jeepney. How cool. I always wanted to do that.

Arriving in Puerto we were amazed at how big it was. We all had the impression it was an El Nido or Coron, which were small towns. But this place has 2 Jollybee burger joints, a Chow King fast food, and several bars that dont have karaoke! As well as speedy internet connections. Woo Hoo.

We all checked in and headed out for dinner and then to check out the nightlife as we luckily arrived here on a Friday. We headed out to a couple of local bars, the last one which closed at 3am and we all left. The Martins headed back to the hotel, and Dave and I went to go buy bottled water. Right next to the convenience store there was a bar that looked open. We walked in and found a band playing there. It was a jam band, dressed in cool hippie-style clothes, and playing real relaxed music. We sat down, ordered drinks and listened. As if by some weird twist of fate, there were 2 drums sitting there, not being played, looking exactly like Daves. I asked if he saw them. He said he did and planned to ask if he could play with them the next song, but wished they'd do something more upbeat.

2 minutes later, he got up, asked the band if he may join at the exact same moment they invited him to join. They must have seen him eyeing the drums. They started out playing a mellow melody, but slowly Dave began to pick up the pace. The other drummer kind of looked over with a "What is this guy doing?" look, but the rest of the band picked right up on it, and within a few minutes, they were jamming at full hilt. I have never seen anything like it. Dave stepped in and just cranked everything up about 50 notches and the result was incredible. The whole band was amazingly talented and the music was incredible. They played for about 45 mintutes until the neighbors made them stop. We said our goodbyes, Dave made plans to play with them the next night, then we stopped at the 24 hour bar for one more beer then called it a night.

Dave did go meet up with the band and had what he said was one of the best jam sessions hes ever had. I was too tired as I was up during the day, and didnt see the whole thing. We've spent the rest of the time here heading to the beaches with new friends, playing pool, and enjoying the non-karaoke bars.

Dave and I parted ways with the Martins last night as they both had obligations calling them elsewhere. It was sad to see them go - we made a pretty great crew. Couldnt have asked for better people to be aboard the boat with.

So Dave and I are here for a few more days until we devise a new plan. Theres a good chance it will involve going to stay with Romeo and his family for a few days, and/or trying to find another boat heading to Singapore.

But for now, just relaxin.

Hope you're well.


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