Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Fractured toe and land travel without Sophia

If you're following us on facebook (more action there now in Philippines when we have internet almost every day, and you don't even need an account to see our page), you may have already seen the picture of Phil's fracture little toe. Sigh. He was so unlucky to bang his foot into the genoa car track on the deck, right between his little toe and the next toe (ring toe?).

At first we didn't actually think it was serious, because it wasn't very painful. But the next day he had quite a limp and the foot was quite swollen and blue. We were going to the doctor anyway to find out about a vaccination booster shoot, and figured we might as well ask. We even betted on whether it was broken or not, I thought not, Phil was 50/50! Well, the x-ray showed a chip fracture on the little toe. A long day later, Phil got a half cast that can be removed for sleeping and swimming, however, we still thought this is very unpractical for boat life and especially for six long weeks! Luckily we have a orthopedic surgeon cruiser friend (the Americans we met in Stewart Island) and emailed him for advice. He suggested the much more practical solution of buddy taping the toe and wearing stiff soled shoes, so that's our approach now.

We sailed Sophia from Cebu City north to Port Carmen and while underway, Slick got a bunch of great sailing pics of Sophia, thanks so much!
Carmen has a basic sort of marina, or actually two but it seems like one, and it's full of crusty old sailors, most working on their boats. Here it's also very obvious about half or more old men cruising the Philippines have young Philipina wifes. We have left Sophia there while we backpack on land (and ferry) down south for various reasons: there's no anchorage where we want to go (Apo Island south of Negros) and we'd also have to bash against the wind to go north again, and also simply because we haven't been off Sophia for over nine months now.
We're now on Apo Island and are enjoying a proper bed that doesn't move at all. Apo Island is one of Philippine's (many) top dive destinations and also knows for lots of turtles that can be spotted just snorkelling off the beach. We can attest to that, we just saw four really big turtles, super cool!!
View from our room at Apo Island. I don't think it's possible to tire of an ocean view :-)

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Big city visit and more about clearing into Philippines

After Bohol and after Sheralee left, we're sailed north to Cebu City. It's quite a big city (800,000 inhabitants) and there is even a marina here! First marina since NZ, albeit it's really small (maybe 15 boats only) and there's no room for any visiting yachts. A couple other boats that we know from Palau are also anchored outside the marine, so it has been nice to catch up and hang out with them. The anchorage by the marina is actually just outside a shanty town. Add dirty smelly water and lots of big ferries driving past, it makes it a pretty unpleasant anchorage, but, the big city with the attractions that comes with that make up for it. We have now already been here six days, but that is about our max dose and we're ready to move on again.
The most important thing we had to get sorted was clearing properly into the country. They (as in various officials) were all a bit unhappy to learn that we had actually gotten some paperwork done by customs and immigration in Surigao, because that wasn't supposed to happen until we had seen quarantine, and there was no quarantine officer there, he had recently died! Anyway, luckily we didn't get into trouble for that, seeing it wasn't our fault. The good thing was that after having seen the quarantine officer at the yacht club and paying the only (as far as we can understand) legitimate fee of 2500 pesos, app NZ$ 70, we went to the customs office instead of having the customs officer coming to see us as is normal. This was good because we had heard from the other cruisers that the officer demanded US dollars, up to $70 for 'fees'. Very corrupt. Most ended up paying less $ and some pesos, but it didn't sounded like a pleasant officer.
We visited Hyde Sails, a big UK sail loft with production here in Cebu City. It was interesting and Phil got some industry gossip. Most interesting for me was to learn the minimum wage here is 349 pesos a day, about NZ$ 10. And their work week is 48 hours!
It did take almost two hours at the customs office getting all the paper work done (including half an hour wait for the right officer), but they were all really nice and even had a TV in their office and the other people there were keen to chat with us. The TV is surely not good for work morale, but they didn't seem to be doing any work anyway. We did end up paying 345 pesos which did seem legitimate enough, hard to say, but thankfully were not outrageous demands of US dollars.
At one of the malls we have been hanging out at, there was this super yummy youghurt ice cream place (OK, I know, I gotta try and cut back, but at least youghurt ice cream gotta be slightly healthier, right...). Anyways, they girls were super nice and chatty and asked us to come back after we had watched our movie, and we ended up chatting with the boss lady (in pink) and got more free ice cream, all while the whole mall was closing down. Also, the girl on the far right would like to let you all know she's single.
Next visit was immigration. We had heard that it was supposed to be free (21 days visa only, extension cost money), but that both the two officers in charge of yacht immigration try to charge 2500 pesos for the privilege. Again, the other cruisers had claimed not to have that much money with them, only just for taxi and a bit extra, and did get away with paying significantly less, so we had prepared for an argument. When they saw us, we immediately heard them repeat yachtie yachtie and some philipino and we saw dollar signs in their eyes, although admittedly we were suspicious from the start...

It quickly became clear there was no legitimate 2500 pesos fee, although they kept repeating something about coming to our yacht to clear us in (to which we argued, but we came here!) and we even signed a paper (unfortunately didn't get to keep it) that said something about that we hadn't fed the officer any meals or given him accommodation, which proves at least there are some measures taken to fight the corruption. In the end they guy kept saying, it's up to you, it's up to you, meaning, it was up to us how much we wanted to pay him! Of course we choose to pay nothing, although they certainly didnt' look happy when we left. We do realise that a lot of things in Asia (and many other places) is done with baksheesh (tips/bribe), but this was just so obviously wrong and corrupt and we did not want to support it.We did go back a few days later and got our extension without a problem, although that at least is a standardised process that other tourists also go through and the fees were clearly printed on a poster.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Guest post by Sheralee - A to Z guide

We are very sad to have said good bye to Sheralee, it's been really great having her and sharing our fantastic cruising life with her. The ultimate success of the visit is that she (a non-sailor, but keen traveller) is now considering the cruising life as a way to go! Anyway, Sheralee kindly wrote an A to Z guide to her Philipino visit onboard Sophia. We love it, thanks so much Sheralee and thanks for coming to visit us and being our parts and mail mule :-)

ANCHORAGES - most important to find scenic, sheltered and secure! After Limasawa, also stayed at Guindulman for a couple of nights, then Loay near Villa Lumpia resort for another couple of nights (abandoned river anchorage as we crawled through very shallow water surrounded by reef and crowded with fishing boats), then the sheltered port of Tagbilaran where we saw the first other cruising sail boat since Palau.

BAKESHOPS - even on the smallest island you were never more than a few hundred metres from some sort of bakeshop, with bread, sweet buns, cakes etc starting from 2 pesos each (about 7 cents). Yummo! (Also see WEIGHTWATCHERS)

CORAL - stopped at several beautiful snorkelling spots, including popular divespot and Marine Reserve Balicasag Island enroute on Tuesday. Surrounded by coral reef so Phil and Astrid took turns piloting Sophia while we explored. Saw a turtle, lots of big parrot fish, and schools of the greater spotted tourist....

DINGHY - our lifeline from the shore to the boat and vice - versa. Have no idea how they fitted four people when Astrid's parents visited! By the end I had mastered entering and exiting gracefully (quiet Astrid!!!). Travel hint - luggage that fits into two dry bags is recommended (ie, not a big wheelie suitcase). If you wish to offer post-dinner entertainment, do the splits while getting back into Dinghy in the dark.

EMAIL - internet was surprisingly cheap and not too unreliable. 50 pesos ($1,50) per day including Unlitxt (unlimited texting I am guessing). Again, even in the most remote spots there were posters advertising Unlitxt and smartphone rates....

FISHING - 8 days, fish 0. Really need to work on that trawling guys...

GIMBALLED - that stove is a very clever idea, we should all be gimballed in rolly weather on a boat...

HABEL HABEL - you saw the evidence on the last blog post. 1 driver and 3 whiteys, no helmets. Couldn't believe we made it up the hill, wouldn't have won any speed records though.

ICE CREAM - Astrid is finely tuned to hearing Mr Whippy jangles in NZ, and is now finely tuned at spotting any establishment which sells ice cream. The number of photos of Astrid eating ice cream is not proportionate to the number of ice creams Astrid has eaten :)

JEEPNEYS - brightly coloured small buses with two long bench seats in the covered back. They travel set routes and leave whenever full. For about 8 - 10 pesos per ride they are a bargain - Cheapneys... Travel tip - not recommended for people over 5 ft 5. Unless it is raining then you just jump in anyway.... (TRIKES are similarly colourful, with religious slogans on the back but is a Honda with a covered side wagon with two seats (additional seat on the bike behind driver, or a side 'seat' on the outside. Highly recommended.)

KINDLES - essential for any cruisers. Particularly during day long passages after the scenery has worn off and you are convinced there are no whales sharks or dolphins. Most commonly heard phrase on boat: ’where's my kindle?'

LIONFISH - the most impressive fish I've seen. Better than Nemo's. Go google it. Go on!

MANGOS - mmmmm, mangoes. (Yes both spellings are correct). I am pretty sure we ate mangos everyday, if not it was an unforgivable oversight...

NEXT TO NOTHING - what a lot of people got by on in the villages. Yet all were friendly and looked pretty content (living in paradise ain't too bad). Also defined as 'what they wore on the boat'. I soon got into the swing of this, when with the Danish girl.... And it was hot and saved washing! Travel tip - it is polite to warn Phil before he comes up on deck.

ORCHIDS - so many of the villages had the most beautiful street fronts and these gorgeous flowers would be sprouting out of gardens with pride.

PORK - what most Filipino dishes seem to have in them. Also a lot of Hot Dogs of questionable meat source. I do wonder if the Muslim population in the south have different traditional dishes. The majority of Filipinos are Catholic (and are hopeful that their young cardinal will be in the running to be the next pope!)

QUICKFOOD - Angels hamburgers, 2 for 25 pesos (about 70 cents). Phil and I gave them a go and survived!

RAIN - had only two significant downpours during my trip. The first was after our Chocolate Hills and Zipline ride experience. It pretty much kept raining all afternoon so we gave up trying to dry out or wait it out, and embraced it. We were like drowned rats in the dinghy, then had a full shower back on deck (shampooed out the salt soaked hair). Ahhhh, love the rain. Second downpour was after a perfect morning sailing and snorkelling at Balicasag. We headed upwind to Tagbilaran into a rock and rolly squall and while the crew 'kindled' below deck, the landlubber watched the horizon up in the fresh, wet air. Travel hint - water will pour out of the rolled up mainsail and straight down the back of your neck when seated in the cockpit and going down a wave. But it's not cold, so just embrace the rain!


TARSIER - the cutest little endangered primates, native to Bohol. See photos and captions on SY Sophia's Facebook page.

UNIFORMS - all schools and shops have neat and colorful uniforms. We looked like slobs in comparison!

VIDEOKE - Nuff said, seriously.

WEIGHTWATCHERS - what you need after a trip on SY Sophia. No fish and vege diet here! There were at least 3 cupboards with chocolates or chupa chups. The XL choc and maple syrup bottles needed their own cupboards. Astrid baked banana/choc bread and butter pudding, pear and choc self saucing pudding, and I had homemade baileys in my coffee at least 4 days.... Travel hint - the food is superb onboard. Enjoy!

XCELLENT - the time I had.

YACHT LIFE - definitely home away from home. Water was a major difference, washing dishes in salt water and rinsing with a spray bottle of rain water. There are 220 (?) litres and a great set up to catch rain water off the Bimini. Surprisingly spacious quarters and had everything you need, even an exhaustive library (I studied the books about cruising, have planted some seeds of a cruising lifestyle, sigh....)

ZIPLINE! - Astrid and I went on a 500 m zip line ride across the Loboc River gorge just so I would have something to put for 'Z'!

Disclaimer: the writer has not been paid for this independent review and contributed to her stay through grocery provision and being a courier for boat parts and 8 months of mail. Your experience may differ from the one described above and only humorous correspondence will be entered into.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Nemo land, ehh, or sea...

We are having a great time with Sheralee and are loving Philippines so far. Sheralee arrived in Surigao Tuesday and we left there early Wednesday and had a super nice sail to Panoan Island, south of Leyte, we anchored off Pintuyan village. It was a surprising clean and nice village, it seemed they had some campaign going to keep it tidy and it looked like it was working. The most amazing is all the orchids just growing in people's front yards and trees!

Next morning we weighed anchor and sailed to Limasawa which is a tiny island also south of Leyte, but much smaller than Panoan. Both islands were literally covered with coconut palms, we have never seen so many trees in one place! The shores of the villages are packed full of the out-rigger boats in all sizes, but mostly small ones for rowing. A lot of them go fishing at around sunset.

At Limasawa we were anchored off Triana on the east coast. We had a really good snorkel around the point off beautiful lime rock formation and palm trees, beautiful both above and below the water. The visibility was excellent and there were HEAPS of clown fish all over the place, Nemos is all kinds of sizes and colours! Some were almost nude coloured, very pale light orange, other were almost dark red! We didn't see any big fish (must be fished out), but still lots of smaller ones and pretty cool coral and rock landscape.

Later in the afternoon we went ashore to find the place where the Spanish first celebrated mass in Philippines in 1521 and thereby starting the Christianisation of the country. The occasional was marked with  a cross atop a hill, although apparently Magellan didn't even go up the hill, but just watched it. Again the little town was very tidy and pretty and of course everyone smiles at us and says hello, especially kids and women. So far we're impressed by Philippino towns' tidiness.

We found out the cross was accessed from the side of the island, but that we could just go over there on a habal-habal: a motorcycle with a long seat so that it fits several passengers, we have seen up to 6 people on them sometimes, so it was no problem fitting all three of us behind the driver! Of course no one wears a helmet, pants or proper shoes and I don't dare think of the potential accidents.

A few days ago I would have sworn I'd never ride a bike without proper protection, but that idea quickly went out the window along with safety 101. To be fair, we didn't go very fast and there seems only to be motor bikes on the island. Anyway, it was actually a lot of fun riding the bike, although I think it was even more fun for people to see these three big white people on the back of a bike!

There were 450 steps up the hill and some of us living on a boat aren't used to stairs at all, but we managed to stagger up! It wasn't the grand view we had anticipated and that the guidebook promised, but it was OK. To be honest, the bike ride there and back was more exciting.

Limasawa sometimes also gets visited by whale sharks and one local guy did row out and told us he spots them and maybe even takes people out to see them, we're not sure, his English was really poor, as is our Philippino! How he manages to spot them from his small rowing canoe remains a mystery. He never did turn up the next morning at 6am as he said he would. Instead I was hauled up the mast in order to try and spot them from there. Either there were none, or my spotting was faulty, we didn't see any, but it was still a nice view from the top of the mast.

We then just kept going and sailed/motored (when the wind died) over to Bohol and are now anchored in Guindulman Bay on the southern coast. Sheralee and I went for another snorkel just off Sophia, but visibility wasn't very good and there weren't many fish, although we did see several Nemos again! We were also stung a little bit although continuously by some sort of tiny jelly fish, so that was a quick snorkel!

Monday, 4 February 2013

January's cruising costs

Phew, again we knew it was going to be an expensive month, but let me say it one more time, phew. January has been our most expensive month so far at NZ$ 3205. The by far biggest cost is boat parts and mainly a new tiller auto pilot ram, which was US$ 700. Add a dripless shaft seal (US$ 300) plus a few other bits and bobs, including new anchor winch switches which Sheralee is bringing along in her suitcase when she comes to visit tomorrow.

One small new change to the budget is eating out which now includes drinking out, as that item normally is very small and it's natural that when we eat out, we sometimes drink alcohol with the food, although generally not much, we are pretty boring. I think back in Tonga we used to include non-alchoholic drinks in that category, so this way it's easier anyway. A fairly large part of eating out is actually ice cream, we (OK, mostly me) are pretty addicted and Palau (well, US really) has some really good ice creams, one example is snickers brownie sandwich ice cream, yum!

Another bigger than usual cost is groceries. There's no excuse really, except when there's a huge (compared to what we're used to) selection, it's easy to buy lots of food, including some more exotic and expensive things. We haven't even stocked up Sophia very much, as we know there will be good and cheap food in Philippines.

The entry fee and visa item is pretty ridiculous big also. Palau sure knows how to make money on cruisers! The entry fee was paid back in December, so January's amount includes: rock island permit for 10 days cruising (US$ 120), visa extension for another 30 days (because auto pilot was delayed from US) for us and Sophia (US$ 150) and exit fees (US$ 100).

Arrived in Philippines

It took us just over four days to sail from Palau to Philippines and we couldn't really have asked for a better passage. It was only on the last days that we had a ton of squalls and variable winds. Anyway, a nice passage was especially nice after our last two uncomfortable passages. Sure, Sophia was still rolling around, but it wasn't too bad (eg throwing us across the saloon) and it is to be expected on any open ocean passage and especially with such a relatively light boat as Sophia. The plus side of her being light is we very often sail with just head sail and no main, where as most other cruising boats need both sails. One interesting thing about our passages in general is also that we have never been becalmed, well, not for more than a few hours anyway at the most. We wonder if that is just our luck, or if it's because even in very light winds we still manage to sail (and we're OK with only 2-3 knots of speed sometimes), where other boats can't sail. 

Out first impression of Philippine landscape is it's as green and lush as all the other islands we have visited on our way, and we have even seen quite a few nice beaches as well. The only problem so far is there aren't as many anchorages as you'd think. Not around the Hinatuan Passage anyway. We tried finding a spot in a really neat lagoon on the east coast of Bucas Grande Island, as it was indicated in our guide book (old and not very detailed, so that doesn't help it much either) as a possibility with a stern line ashore, but we only saw 35 m depths and shallow coral on the shore lines, although we did not search the whole lagoon. Instead went to the only other anchorage by Lapinigan Island and we only just made it before night fall.

There we even had the typical island welcome committee, two out-rigger canoes with motors came zooming up to us, one of them waving a tuna, and they told us which side to go around the island (south) because of power lines and where to anchor. Andrius, the one with the tuna, was quick to come and visit us after we had anchored off his village. He was keen to chat, he has worked two years in Qatar as an electrician and his English was pretty good. After a great sleep (and a yummy tuna) we went ashore to visit the village the next morning. We got the same royal treatment like in Melanesia with a huge entourage of curious kids following us around :-) Andrius told us 1000 people lived in the village, although that seems exaggerated, maybe he just wanted his village to sound more impressive. But there sure was an astonishing amount of kids. The biggest change from Melanesia is that they have electricity. This electricity also powered a karaoke place which explained the terrible music we had heard the night before. The houses were about the same or maybe slightly better, although still shags by NZ standard, for example many don't have glass for windows, just holes that can be covered. The houses were also crowded together really close. People were were super friendly and smiley, as far as we understood, we're only the second yacht to visit in several years!

We then sailed to Surigao, thinking we had gotten the tide right the day before when we were going through the first pass with a bit of current with us, but we ended up having the tide against us, a few times we were down to 0.8 of a knot on the gps, but doing over 7 knots on the speedo with the motor in high rev and head sail up helping as well! It was pretty much just about dark when we finally arrived, so we were very happy to drop the anchor. Surigao is a fairly big place with 130.000 inhabitants, and a ton of boats and ferries around, but being dark we couldn't really do or see much, so it was interesting waking up the next day! We walked into town, not sure what to expect on a Sunday, but most shops and all street stalls were open and crazy noisy busy traffic on the streets. A bit of a shock to the island mojo we have been in for over half a year! And we feel like giants walking around towering at least a head taller than all the Philippinos.

Today, Monday, we spent all morning with customs and immigration, mostly just waiting, but in the end, we are not even fully checked into the country, that will have to wait until Cebu City. We are now waiting here until tomorrow when Sheralee arrives, as she can fly directly and cheaply to here from Cebu City rather than ferry and bus to where ever else we might be. Then it's time to see as many islands and beaches and do as much snorkelling as possible for the next 9 days she's here.