Off to Northern Palawan (Day 1)



April 6, 2013: After a final flurry of preparations (which ended up taking us two days instead of the usual one), we were ready to set off on our first real adventure…just the three of us. Our water tanks were full. We had lots of fuel. The fridge was fully stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables, and yummy smoked bacon thanks to Dave who owns the Cajun restaurant, New Orleans, in Sabang. We were ready. We pulled up our anchor just after three in the morning and slowly made our way out of the harbour at Puerto Galera.

It was a clear and perfectly calm night. There wasn’t a breath of wind. The moon was just a sliver, so there wasn’t much light. Knowing that there are always small fishing boats working just off the coast at night, fishing marker buoys, and other debris in the water, Sandra kept watch at the bow with Chris at the helm until the sun came up just before six o’clock.

We’d been warned that the seas around Cape Calavite, the northwest point of Mindora Island can be pretty rough, so we had everything tucked away, expecting the worst. When we arrived at the point around 11 a.m., the seas were incredibly calm. In fact, the whole day continued calm and relaxed. Even kitty didn’t put up a fuss.

The biggest excitement of the journey was seeing the wide variety of odd looking fishing vessels and playing dodge the drift nets in the water.

Originally, we had hoped to get as far south as North Pandan Island, but cruising against a current for a good part of the day meant we spent most of the time averaging between five and six knots. It would have been well after dark when we arrived, so we changed our plans and decided to anchor at Mamburao Bay instead.

Our first attempt to anchor along a stretch of beach at Mamburao Bay was quickly aborted when we discovered that the water was not nearly as deep as the chart indicated. Instead, we opted for a small cove near a little fishing village off Cumalog Point. This time we were more successful.

It was only two in the afternoon, but we didn’t feel like lowering the tender for a trip to the village. So we decided to snorkel there instead. We loaded a small dry bag with our camera and some pesos and made for shore. The water was incredibly warm and clear, but the distance was a lot further than it looked from MOKEN’s deck. At least there were some fish and coral to look at on the way in.

We reached the shore well away from the village and walked around the bay. The beach, which had looked really lovely from the distance, was disappointingly strewn with garbage. Mostly plastic bags and foil food packaging. Not just a problem here. Most of it gets washed in from the ocean. It’s amazing how much plastic and styrofoam you see in the water when you are miles offshore.

After walking for about one kilometre, we reached the village and the first person we came across was a Swede who filled us in on some of the types of fishing the villagers do here. At the first part of the village that we came to, there’s a small resort popular with Filipinos and Koreans tucked back into the trees. Here the beach was clean and lots of kids and some adults were swimming in the water.

Three fishermen stopped me and asked me to take their picture, so I obliged. And then they jumped on a bale of fishing nets and pulled themselves out to their boat.

While I was busy taking photos, Chris was meeting the locals and they invited him into a large nipa hut where a group of men were enjoying some brandy supplied by one of the local election candidates. There were propaganda stickers with the candidate’s name and photo printed right on the bottles. Somehow I think that would be against election rules in Canada.

Chris’ new friends invited us to try fried fish and a goat stew made with intestines still containing fou fou (aka poo poo). A few days later, we learned that Papaitan, a spicy stew made with goat innards is a Mindoro delicacy…maybe next time.

We politely declined on both counts and after an entertaining conversation with the group (some who spoke English very well, some who spoke even less than Sandra’s minimal Tagalog and one fellow who didn’t speak at all), we continued on our way.

Once we figured out how to get past the breakwater, the village changed from clean and spacious to cramped and garbage strewn. Life in a small fishing village isn’t easy and the homes are tiny and made out of whatever materials are at hand. Most of them definitely wouldn’t stand up to a hurricane. And apparently neither did their pier, which collapsed several years ago when a hurricane blew through the town.

A large barge was tied up at the dock and being loaded by another group of men carrying huge bags of rice brought in by delivery trucks. The rice was destined for Manila. Fish and rice. The two main staples.

With the sun getting low in the sky, we debated whether to swim back to MOKEN or try and hire a banca to take us back. With all the boats on the beach, you would think it would be a piece of cake to find someone willing to make a little extra money. We eventually did but the boat that came for us was having a spot of engine trouble. Just when we figured we might have to swim after all, at last they managed to get it started. Sitting atop fishing nets we headed back to MOKEN.

I have to say, getting in and out of a small banca is no easy task when you aren’t as nimble as a monkey. Chris, however, didn’t seem to have any difficulty.

Back on MOKEN, we felt incredibly fortunate for the chance to take a small peek into the real lives of hardworking Filipino fishermen and their families. Despite having so little, they were ready to share what they had with complete strangers off a “yacht” that came uninvited into their village. An incredible start to MOKEN’s big adventure.

Tomorrow we’d leave Mindoro and cross to Apo Reef.

Distance Covered: 70 NM
Travel Time: 11 hours
Anchorage: Mamburao Bay, Mindoro Island, Occidental Mindoro 13⁰ 13.587 N / 120⁰ 34.185 E

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