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The Adventure ....



where are we ?

February 2011
Palawan, The Philippines

We'd been warned not to travel in SE Asia over public holidays, and guess we'd forgotten as we arrived back in Malaysia after our Aussie holiday at the start of the Chinese New Year weekend. The congestion at Kuala Lumpur's LCCT airport had to be seen to be believed - it was hard work to find the end of the queues in front of the immigration booths. We thought we'd been generous allowing 3 hours before our onward flight to Borneo but were seriously wondering if we were going to make it. But just when we thought we'd have to rebook (which would've been next to impossible), a few more booths opened - hallelujah !!!!

Beautifully decorated paper-mache dragon heads
great acrobatic skills required to leap from one pole to the next

On arrival at Kudat, Destiny got her yearly antifoul and then it was quick smart into the water and onward to Palawan, The Phippines. Thanks to El Nino weather conditions and unseasonal northerly winds, it became a long and tedious journey as we bashed into waves & winds (one day we only managed to travelled 11 nautical miles before giving up till the next day). Our pain was shared with Bill and Lyda (sv Viajero) with whom we sailed in company (yes, really - we did manage to do some sailing). The best part of each day would be to find the nearest least rolly anchorage and lick our respective wounds over sundowners.

the most fragile looking boats - often seen miles offshore
local fishermen were very inquisitive and would always come
over to say hello - there's 13 people aboard this vessel
after a late anchoring one evening, we awoke the next morning near this fishtrap! No lights! We'd been extremely luckily to have missed it.

So you can imagine how very relieved we were to finally arrive in Puerto Princesa and straight away we started enjoying the wonderful hospitality at the Abanico Yacht Club. The owners, John and Cissy, have built a very rustic and welcoming clubhouse, with friendly "always a big smile" staff - nothing was too much of a hassle and we immediately felt at home. It was delightful to catch up with old friends - Dancing on Water, Katani II, Mana Mana, Crabby, Arnak; as well as meeting other cruisers and getting to know the local club members - some life-long friendships were made. Every get-together was a party - cooking classes every Thursday, a fantastic buffet every Sunday, Dutch Auction raising funds for their sailing school, outings to people's homes, shopping and sightseeing trips - we had a fantastic time and we'll definitely be back.

Abanico Yacht Club and the fantastic staff
Abanico Yacht Club sailing school students
the girls after a cooking class
Cissy giving us a lesson in Filipino cooking
Everyone enjoyed the Sunday buffets - a highlight of the week

Getting around on the island was fun. For everyday travelling to town and back, you'd flag down a cyclo - essentially a motorbike with a sidecar attached. It's a very spartan arrangement and there's not much room - 3 Europeans can just about squeeze in - 2 sitting alongside the driver, 1 riding pilion (with groceries, it gets a bit tricky). Once you've managed to flag down a cyclo, then you need to work out where you're going as there's a strange system of where cyclo's can go - to go to the town centre you need to determine if it's a white cyclo or a blue cyclo day. Get picked up by a different coloured cyclo and you'll be on the perimeter of town. Then there's cute hi-ace type mini buses (sadly we forgot to take a photo) with 2 long narrow benches in the back and they service the outer districts and travel up and down the main road through town. Again, put a few Europeans in there and it's almost full. These buses are also colour coded but with the added bonus of the district painted on the side. And if you want to go further afield, there's beautifully painted "pre-war" type buses, that will carry anything and everything - passengers on the roof are also a go.
Couldn't resist this photo of Cissy on her motorbike

The festival commemorates the founding anniversary of the City of Puerto Princesa highlighted by balayong tree-planting, street dancing and colorful floral parade depicting the Palawan Cherry Blossoms from which the festival derived its name.

We were very fortunate to be in town during the week long Balayong festival, celebrating the founding anniversary of the City of Puerto Princesa. We enjoyed a very colourful street parade that lasted for ages - it seemed to go on and on. There were numerous marching bands and cheerleaders - every single school in the region was represented. The uniforms were quite extravagant - bet their mums had spent hours and hours putting them together. As each marching band passed by us it seemed as if they were trying to outdo the band before - they were all very good. In between were decorated floats and community groups decked out in different coloured t-shirts. The whole event was a feast for all the senses. Then on another day there was a dance competition with each group having wonderful costumes and gimmicks as a means to be noticed - one group was body painted in blue, another would throw young girls high into the air as part of an acrobatic routine, others had huge drums that made loads of noise. It was wonderful.

Cheerleaders, marching bands and even Miss Palawan float
The dancing "smurfs" - they placed 2nd in the dance competition
Beautiful girls, great costumes, wonderful bamboo headgear
our friend Tony (sv Dancing on Water) - not the best coffee in town
Doesn't everyone have their photo taken with a giant bottle of beer?
not the normal balloons for sale - but it was very colourful

We'd tried to sail north of Puerto Princesa but again weren't having any luck with the weather - still very strong northerly winds and this time, we ripped the mainsail - ouch. So we turned around, this time leaving Destiny at anchor and travelled by land to the west coast with Bill and Lyda (sv Viajero) for an overnighter to Sabang and to visit the world heritage listed Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, or more commonly called the underground river. We'd planned on travelling in one of the very colourful "pre-war" buses but for 50 peso's more, we decided to take an airconditioned mini bus with suspension. Maybe not as much fun as the old bus, but alot more comfortable and certainly quicker.

We arrived after a 2 hour journey (an interesting trip with one section of the road unconcreted and very bumpy - our driver jokingly referred to it as "abortion drive" - charming!) and set about getting our park permit and a bangka (a small outrigger motorized canoe), our transport to get us there and back. Our allocated time to visit the underground river was within the next hour so after a leisurely lunch, we enjoyed a laid back ferry ride to the park entrance. Then it was just a ten minute wait for a canoe to take us into the cavern where we were shown beautiful rock formations - tried to take some photo's but it was too dark. We were very surprised that it all went very smoothly and effortlessly as we'd been warned to expect long queues and long periods hanging around - our timing must have been just right.

Later that afternoon, we strolled around Sabang and enjoyed the peace and tranquility. Sabang is a very laid back coastal town, almost forgotten in time - not on the electricity grid and no internet signal. Most of the hotels, guesthouses and restaurants are right on the beach front. We stayed at Dab Dab Cottages and had our own very rustic cottage and their restaurant was sublime - the best chicken coconut curry I've every had. It would've been nice to have spent a few days there.

The quickest checkout till at NCCC supermarket
Our rustic cottage at Dab Dab Cottages
bangka's at the underground river ferry terminal
the mouth of the underground river
water monitors at the underground river
preparations for a cock fighting tournament - it's big business here,
very well advertised, and lots of money to be won
one of the water front resorts
what a perfect spot for sundowners, Subang waterfront

It was a bit of a "hit and miss" affair when trying to find bread in Puerto Princesa. We always seemed to arrive at the bakers with no crusty bread on the shelves and being told "new bread in the oven, come back this afternoon" which was hours away and a hassle to make a return trip to town just for bread. So it was a real treat and one of our hightlights to be invited along with a group of yachties and some locals to the home of Theresa, an Abanico Yacht Club member AND professional baker, to learn how to make bread, "to die for" chocolate muffins and one of the best carrot cakes we ever eaten. We all shared in the costs for ingredients and it was a great hands-on afternoon with the ladies in the kitchen frantically taking notes in between mixing, sifting and baking under Theresa's watchful gaze. There was lots of laughter and lots of sampling - it's a wonder anything made it to the table. The guys apparently had a great time too - Theresa's husband Gill was the perfect host seating them at the outside bar with a seemingly never ending supply of ice-cold beers and enjoying the goodies from the kitchen - what's not to like?

A large number of locals, including Theresa and Gill, grow their own environmently friendly, organic "green" vegetables and herbs - we bought basil and lettuce and we were blown away with the appearance, texture and taste. Later that evening, we feasted on freshly made bread, home grown salads, the most fragrant and tasty pesto, with moist carrot cake to finish. And on top of that, Theresa ensured that everyone had a loaf or two to take home. A truly memorable day!

what a great place to have a massage, Subang waterfront
Theresa's kitchen - looks tidy, clean and organised here,
looked very different at the end of the day
Maria (sv Mana Mana) sampling "to die for" chocolate topping
fruits of our labour - "to die for" chocolate muffins and crusty bread

Back at the Yacht Club, we needed to repair our ripped mainsail - it looked like a very large cat had clawed it to pieces and all the way from the first to the second batten. With the nearest sail loft in far away Manilla (and hopefully they were busy making our newly ordered mainsail), we set about doing the repairs ourselves to tide us over till we were able to sail to Manilla to pick up the new sail. We and got some great help and advise from John, and he very kindly let us use his premises as a temporary loft. For months we'd been carrying round some spare sail cloth (one of the things that yachties do - have stuff on board that'll hopefully come in use one day) and we used this for our patches - one on each side. Using a few bottles of the cheapest and best glue we've come across, and with fingers crossed, we were right to set sail again.

Now that's what you call a rip
The fixed mainsail

As much as we'd loved Puerto Princesa and Palawan, it was time to move on - we were looking forward to explore more of The Philippines. But fate intervened, and by this stage we'd made a radical decision to return to Australia. A month previously when we were holidaying in Australia, Brian became aware of career opportunities for himself - it certainly wasn't planned but the timing was right. So we thought we'd continue cruising through The Philippines, pick up the mainsail in Manila, head across to Palau, then across to the Solomons, for a run into Cairns.

But once again, the weather wasn't co-operating - there was no way we'd endure anymore bashing into northerly winds. The alternative and most direct route for us was to turn around, sail across the Sulu Sea towards Mindanao, through the Basilan Strait, into the Molucca Sea, through Eastern Indonesia, into the Arafura Sea, checking into Gove Australia ...... but more about that in our next post :-)

Till then, take care
B & G