Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Day passages, Coron and Kayagan lake

After Romblon we had four long passage days, where we were on the move from early morning to literally just before sunset most days, about 40-50 miles a day. It's not very nice to do night passages in the Philippines as there are a ton of fish traps, buoys and fishing boats all around, all not lit, but we also prefer to get a nice un-interrupted sleep every night. We sail the far majority of the time, but the wind is quite variable, and almost on all passage, we end up having to motor a bit as well.
Enjoying the sunset over Busuanga Group (Coron) after almost 800 steps, phew
What's at the top of the 800 steps
Our stops were: Santa Fee on Tables, Bulalacao on Mindoro and Grace Island Resort by Ambulong island, south of San Jose, Mindoro. We didn't even go ashore at the first two stops, we just slept there. We had intended to stop at San Jose to get new supplies, but the wind has suddenly turned NW (it's still NE trade season, although getting towards the end of it), so that anchorage was no good, and instead we went to Ambulong where we didn't expect to find anything, but there was a resort there, although we weren't too impressed with it, below average food for high prices and lots of animals in small cages. It was quite big, mostly floating houses, but there were no guests. The upside was the anchorage was super calm and protected.
We have now been in Coron a couple of days and have enjoyed staying put a little bit, weird/funny, we even had a day where we didn't do a single thing, except hang out on Sophia, read, play on the computers and only ventured ashore for one or two hours. You'd think we get enough quiet with all those passages where we literally just 'hang' on Sophia also. Ashore (in towns anyway) it's usually quite noisy, dirty and super hot, whereas Sophia is cooler (sea breeze), quiet and clean.
Amazing Coron Island. The beach in the corner was our picnic stop
Today we took a boat tour, just like regular tourists, but simply because we wanted to go to Kayagan lake, and there's no anchorages around there for Sophia, so this was easiest, plus we got to go to a couple of other snorkelling sites, and lunch was included. One of the snorkel sites was pretty good and even had some fish (there really aren't many left in Philippines!), but the total highlight was the lake. It's located in Coron island, which in itself also is quite spectacular, steep lime stony cliffs, and this lake (70-80% fresh water) is basically that same landscape turned upside town, like a mirror, underwater. There were hardly any fish, but it was the underwater landscape and ultra clear blue water that was the attraction. The snorkelling has also been especially cool after my newly learned freediving skill, I can stay down longer, go deeper and I equalise much better (my ears don't hurt after lots of dives like they sometimes used to. 
To get to Kayagan Lake you walk over a pass from where there's a beautiful view
Kayagan Lake, unfortunatley still no underwater pics as our underwater camera has pretty much been declared dead

Monday, 18 March 2013

The inevitable dunk from the dinghy, motorbike tour and tornado catamaran

After Gigantes Islands we sailed to Roxas on Panay where we stayed two nights. Here the inevitable happened: fall into drink from the dinghy! It's amazing it hasn't happened before now even, well, apart from our other dinghy accident in Tonga, but under different circumstances, where our dinghy was pushed backwards by a big wave when we tried to dinghy along in really choppy sea. Back then it was 'only' the outboard that got wet (besides us obviously) and Phil dealt with that immediately flushing it with WD40.
A long story short, Phil fell into the water as I was getting into the dinghy. We were both at fault, although mostly me, he didn't give me enough space, I 'sacrificed' him, because I had a small bag with wallet, keys and my old small camera (when I bring my big camera with the different lenses, I ALWAYS drybag it, just in case). However, it turned out he had his smart phone in the pocket, ups, why did he need the phone to a supermarket expedition anyway, nobody has his Filipino number? Unfortunately it didn't survive, so Phil had to go back into town a second time and get a new one. We use the smartphone all the time to create wifi hotspot so we have internet. At least he'll hopefully respects drybagging valuables a bit more from now on...

By the way, we're not going to Puerto Galera, Phil could luckily see sense in my arguing, or maybe it was just because he won the last time. We had another route discussion again though, Phil wanted to go to Boracay (a crazy tourist hotspot, a bit like Pukhet or Bali, but on a tiny tiny island). I was more than keen to give that a miss and instead go to Romblon which sounded like a quiet, pretty island well off the beaten track. We went to Romblon, but only because it made most sense to go there first, and then possibly back to Boracay (we haven't decided yet.)

We have now been here three days and have really enjoyed it. It's a small town, but quite nice and with hardly any shanty parts, plus a fort up a hill with a nice view. There are colourful buntings hanging over the plaza and amazingly beautiful orchids growing on houses everywhere. Here is another collage or them, I just can't help it...
We also met a Danish backpacker couple, Ida and Nicolaj, whom we originally met back on Apo Island! So funny. They had spotted Sophia anchored as they came in on the ferry and wondered if that was our boat, they did remember something about us saying the red canvas is pretty unique. They were just sitting at a cafe and wondering how they would find us when we happened to walk past them! We invited them out on Sophia for sunset drinks and dinner and have been hanging out them them these last few days.

Yesterday Phil and I rented a motorbike to go right around the island. We came prepared and wore long pants and shoes (first time I have worn shoes in 9 months, felt soooo weird and not good...) and asked about helmets. We got these flimsy almost hard hat ones, but they were better than nothing. We haven't seen a single other person wear a helmet here on the island, so I sure that accounted for at least some of the staring and laughing at us :-) But it was a fun day and a pretty island. It has a lot of marble and we drove by lots of little marble work places, dusty men chiseling away on these rough white rocks!

On our drive we spotted a tornado (fast catamaran dinghy) and they it was for hire, so today we took Ida and Nicolaj there and had a fun time on the water. It was an old German one the owner's daughter managed to get while she was there working at the embassy, and could therefore import it without the normal 200% import tax, apparently. It was made slightly Filipino with some bamboo rafts, pretty funny, but it was workable. Unfortunately it wasn't very windy, so we never went super fast, but it was still a good time. Maybe we're just silly sailing geeks that while sailing around in our yacht, on the water every day, we're still keen to sail for fun and as a touristy activity.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Island hopping through Visayas

It is almost a week ago that we left Carmen. We have since then slowly hopped our way through Visayas (kind of the middle island part of Philippines). Our first stop was Camotes Island (anchored off Pacijan Island by Santiago). The water was amazing, crystal clear and inviting, although we didn't see many fish snorkelling. Ashore we chickened out of a motorcycle ride on the island, although fun, we have our lives too dear. Next stop was Palompon on North Leyte. The best thing about that anchorage was its protection, no rolling!
From Palompon we had a long days beating into the wind (it's supposed to be NE trades, but this particular day, when we finally were heading west after a lot of northing (since Bohol), it was NW! It was still lovely sailing, and we did arrive at Malapascua before sunset. Malapascua is a tourist island most known for the place to see thresher sharks (scuba diving), but we gave those a miss and did our own snorkelling instead.

From Malapascua we headed more NW and are now at Giantes Islands, north-east of Panay. This is the most remote we have been since our very first stop in Philippines at Lapinigan Island. It's also super pretty islands with lots of limestone cliffs, green bush and white beaches. And just like in Melanesia, we got visited by local kids, although these paddled out on sacks filled with styrofoam. They were quite shy, but warmed up when I gave them a lollipop. As I had guessed might happen, ten minutes later a whole mob came out, all giggling and laughing and they got some lollies too.

Our cruising guide had mentioned something about caves and white monkeys, and suggested getting a guide in the village. Ashore we again got mobbed by about 50 kids (people claustrophobia would not be a good thing) who first took us to a mango tree where we were given green mangoes (the owner refused payment). We were told nobody wanted to guide us to the caves, as it was too hot a day. Luckily a couple of young girls came to our rescue, they were keen to take us, so we jumped in our dinghy and off we went. We did see a beautiful enclosed lagoon and another small cave, but the white monkeys were hiding.

Soon we have to decide if we're going straight to Palawan (with several stops on the way), or if we go via Puerto Galera, which is quite a detour. I'm keen on the first and see no attraction in another cruiser hang-out place (most likely a bunch of old men with Philipina wives, sorry, don't mean to offend anyone, but that does define most cruisers in Philippines), but Phil is keen to go. I think I should win this one, as Phil won our last route argument we had back in Vanuatu when we missed out a couple of islands that I was keen on.
Unfortunately this post comes without photos, as the internet we get with the smart phone here is excruciatingly slow, no pics on facebook either. (Update 24 hours later, with better internet have uploaded the photos, both here and to facebook.)

Friday, 8 March 2013

February cruising budget

In the month of February we spent NZ$ 2019. The biggies were Phil's doctor bills for his fractured toe ($280) and our little break from Sophia while going backpacking wasn't cheap either, so far it was $435. And this is only the first part of our trip, the whale sharks trip and my freediving course occurred in March. I have gathered all the costs for the land travel under sightseeing, rather than divide it into eating out, transport etc.

I have deleted the item Drinks and food for internet, as we haven't had any costs there since Vanuatu and I don't think we will anytime soon.

We haven't had much transport cost before now, and even though transport in Philippines is very cheap, we have travelled a lot on land and in cities and it all adds up.

Very interesting is we actually spent more on eating out than buying food in February!! That's for sure a first! It means we have eaten out A LOT, but it has still been really cheap, considering how many days we have eaten out!

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Turtles, whale sharks and freediving course

After one week away from Sophia and lots of adventures, we're now both back onboard and boy oh boy, she sure is home sweet home. It's been so much fun to be off her and do something totally different (well, still visiting beautiful islands and snorkelling), but backpacking is different from cruising. One of the biggest differences is we have met so many young white people, haha. Probably the most since New Zealand. Backpackers are young, most even younger than us, and cruisers are old, broad generalisation, but pretty true. Maybe I'm getting old, but I really like my own bed every night, being able to do my own cooking, and having all my things handy.

 As already mentioned in the last blog post, we left Sophia in Carmen and travelled to Apo Island where we had two great days. It's a tiny island with great reef life, lots of big turtles and fish, even just right off the beach. I did two dives, the first one a drift dive, soooo much fun and beautiful life and we probably almost covered about a third of the island's coast because we drifted so fast. The other one I did was a night dive, just off the beach, but it was super cool and we saw huge sleeping turtles, big nudibranches, scrimps, tiny baby squid (half little finger nail sized), a tiny frog fish and a scorpion fish.
 After Apo Island we went back to Durmagete where we celebrated Phil's birthday (35, he's getting pretty old) with a nice German backpacker couple. They also told us of this place south of Cebu City called Oslob where you can see whale sharks right off the coast, so we had to give that a go, as we had otherwise planned to go way up north to Donsol where you can also see them.
 We weren't really sure what to expect, but we got into this little banka (the Philipino style outrigger boats) and were paddled out to several small tiny bankas that are feeding the whale sharks squid or crill. The whale sharks were basically like puppies following the bankas, sticking their head right up inbetween the ourrigger and what looked like begging for food!!!! OK, so it wasn't quite the wild life experience, but nonetheless, it was still really cool to see the whale sharks right up close in the water with them. They are in family with sharks and look a bit like a gigant flat-ish shark, but they eat plancton like whales. The ones we saw (there were seven in total that stick around although they are free to leave) were maybe 3-5 meters long. You're supposed to keep a distance of at least 4 meters, but in reality they were much closers and I kept having to move back so they wouldn't touch me.
 At Oslob Phil and I split up, I went to Moalboal to do a freediving course, but Phil wasn't as keen, and especially not with a broken toe, so he went back to Carmen to Sophia. It was again the first time in we don't even know how long, that we didn't sleep together, and first time in over nine month that we weren't together 24/7 round the clock.

Over the weekend I did a beginner freediving course and I loved it. I learned a lot of interesting things and did much better than I had ever thought I would. Total brag, but I held my breath for 3.38 minutes, and my best freedive (one single breath of air) was to 26.4 meters. It was also fun to do some learning (super teacher does that) and being part of a 'team' with the other guys on the course. Now I just look forward to even more enjoyable snorkelling.
 Now we're back in Port Carmen and are heading off to Camotes tomorrow morning and will continue cruising through Philippines.