Palawan 2015: Back to Busuanga

March 11-18, 2015: After the highs and lows of Matinloc Island, we decided it was time to start on the first leg of our northbound journey, leaving plenty of time to enjoy cruising in the waters around the Calamian group of islands.

We anticipated two overnight stops on our way from Matinloc to the Busuanga Yacht Club, planning to head again up the east side of Culion Island. For the first day, it was just a short run to Japilao Cove, despite a detour through the channel between El Nido town and Cadlao Island, which we made so we could pick up the Smart 3G Network and get a weather forecast. We only learned too late that the Globe Network has better coverage in Northern Palawan.

Our auto pilot, which had been having a harder and harder time getting a heading fix, finally packed it in altogether. So that meant hand steering all the way. Not too bad on day one, but we weren’t looking forward to the second day’s run from the northern tip of Palawan Island across the Linipacan Straight and up the Culion coast. It had been rough on the way down, and we expected more of the same.

Along the coast, we passed a large commercial fishing fleet busy setting nets. Obviously there was a big run of something. Tuna, we suspect. I wonder how the local fishermen like it when the big boys move in and scoop all the fish?

Japilao Cove was busier than last time. There were two expedition bancas anchored in the bay; ones that take tourists island hopping between El Nido and Coron (or vice versa). We could hear karaoke coming from the beach and the young men were drag racing their suped up bancas around us. Things quieted down later in the evening, but we had to contend with a swell coming in from offshore which made for a bit of a rolly night. At least it wasn’t too bad.

Next morning we were up early with a long day of hand steering ahead of us to get to an anchorage on Ditaytayan Island that we hoped would be protected from the prevailing NE winds. As we feared, the crossing was rough and I had a particularly hard time finding the rudder’s sweet spot when I was at the helm as we took turns in one hour shifts. It made for a long day.

As we got closer to Ditaytayan, we discovered that the anchorage was not very sheltered, so we continued on to another one not far away at Bulalacao Island. While this one was more sheltered, we were not comfortable anchoring on the steep sloping seabed so close to a very shallow reef. We thought it too precarious if the winds shifted during the night.

That left option number three. The moorings buoys at Two Seasons Resort, just around the corner. We cruised in, tied up to one we liked and kayaked the short distance to shore to find out what the fees would be. I’d stashed a couple thousand pesos in our dry bag before we left MOKEN, expecting that should cover it. Boy, was I mistaken. The mooring fee alone was 1500 pesos for the night, unless we consumed at least 3000 pesos in the restaurant and bar. Then the mooring fee would be forgiven. With just a quick look at their menu, we realized it wouldn’t be a big stretch to reach 3000 pesos. But first, Chris had to kayak back to MOKEN to retrieve a passport for check-in and bring back more cash. (We also learned that just the basic room started at 27,000 pesos per night. There was also a dive centre and spa, with prices to match. Holy smokes.)

The resort was indeed beautiful and located on an incredible narrow strip of land with the sea on two sides, scattered mangroves one way, white sandy beach the other. The architecture, interior design and landscaping was tastefully done, but I wasn’t too impressed with how close the bungalows were to one another. If I was paying that much money to stay there, I’d want the whole place to myself. In reality, we learned they had about 25 guests registered. I think they had more staff than that.

We enjoyed a couple of welcome beverages and appetizers near the pool bar before heading to the restaurant for dinner. (We couldn’t use the pool itself without forking out another 1000 pesos each. Needless to say, that did not happen.) Despite the high end nature of the resort, when I asked about the catch of the day, I was informed that it was Dorado, frozen because it was actually caught yesterday. That was a disappointment.

After dinner, we retired to MOKEN and turned in early.

The next morning, it was just a short hop from Two Seasons to the mooring buoys at the Busuanga Yacht Club and we were there in time for lunch. We dropped off some laundry and that afternoon we rented a scooter for the three kilometre ride to Concepcion town, where I was hoping to replenish our dwindling supply of fresh fruit, vegetables and eggs. I managed to find a few items at one of the sari sari stores in town then went hunting for more. After asking directions from a couple of different people, I was sent down to the waterfront at the far end of town, where the stilted fishermen’s huts perched over the muck at low tide. Here I picked up a few more items directly from a couple of men selling pumpkins, onions, mangoes and more out of large baskets that they carried on sticks over their shoulders. They even had a scale.

While in town, we also stopped in at our favourite hole in the wall, Mike & Ann’s Resto Bar, to catch up on all the latest local news and gossip since our visit the previous year. Sadly, we learned from Mike that cute little Binga the dog had been killed by a ray while playing in the water on one of the nearby islands. I felt bad that we hadn’t whisked Binga away last year, and worried anew about Nukaat falling into the water at the yacht club in Subic again, because we’ve seen rays there too.

For the rest of the week, we took it easy, dining sometimes at Al Faro Resort, sometimes at Puerto Del Sol, sometimes at the ultra modern and decidedly un-Filipino-like Busuanga Bay Lodge, and once (after a bumpy dinghy ride) at Mike & Ann’s. We also managed to squeeze in a couple of repeat dives on the World War II Japanese wrecks in the area that we first explored last year. More on that in the next post.

All too soon it was time to move on again. Before resuming our northern route back to Subic, we opted to spend one more night anchored just off Coron town so we could have lunch and hit the market one more time. From here we expected to make a lumpy four-day run to Subic, anchoring at night along the way. And all without auto pilot. I feared the worst.

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