Monday, November 26, 2012

One night in Puerto

Today was meant to be a down day - recuperating from the sunburn and restless sleeps of the past few days. In that we succeeded. Except we didn't get the laundry done.
We just got back from a bar just down the road from our hotel - so close that the walk home home is barely a memory.  Katabom (pronounced kata-BOOM) is a quaint little spot with live music who will be celebrating their third year anniversary in a couple days. We happened to be walking by the entrance when another couple were walking in. The man said that the live music here is very good and the owner is the best singer in Puerto. A moment's debate by us (I had hoped to go to the Baywalk to see the action) and we went in.
The place was dimly lit, mostly by candlelight and a man was singing cover songs with a guitar. The walls were covered with empty bottles glued together to form a three-dimensional wall paper. We sat down on the heavy metal chairs, trying not to make too much noise as they dragged, screeching along the floor.
The San Miguel beers are still produced in "stubby' format, and here they were served so cold that they were misting in the evening heat (it's still 27°C at 10pm).  I wrote notes in our travel book while Julie took photos. Suddenly two more beers appeared and the server said they were from the couple over there (see over Julie's shoulder in the one image) - the same couple who invited us in.
I thanked them as I passed by to the comfort room and they invited us to join them. A few hours of storytelling ensued with our new friend Marius insisting that we pay him a visit in El Nido when we travel there. "Sleep on a mattress this thick on my balcony and we'll eat fresh fish and watch the stars" he said. Round after round passed through as we discussed scuba diving, tourist traps, engineering, rugby, seafood and Filipino cuisine. He introduced us to a "salad" called kinilaw, which is like a ceviche but larger chunks of raw Spanish mackerel in this case. It was quite tasty! He declared that his girlfriend made the best though, because she made it with coconut milk.
A couple of guys at the next table had a couple of pitchers on their table. Julie wondered what they were so our host asked them. Iced tea apparently. But the smaller one was the local Tanduay rum. Seems the way to drink it is to pour a shot of rum and chase it with the iced tea. (Julie had noted earlier in the day how iced tea is quite popular here.)  Naturally this repatriated Filipino (he moved back from Cali) who was cheerfully wearing his Giants champions T-shirt offered us all a sample. And naturally my Julie was the one in there making it happen! She hopped over to their table after learning that he also had contacts in El Nido whilst I discussed the finer details of Springbok and Allblack rugby.
We collected more contact numbers while sharing our new Filipino cell number and I'm sort of surprised that we outlasted the Cape Town lad, but he did have a 5am bus to catch in order to get his building supplies shipped.
Fortunately we are catching the 11am "Fort Wally" van so we can sleep this off.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Palawan sailing adventure (day 2 to 3) – Snake Island, Honda Bay

This blog is related to the following photo gallery: The adventure took place November 22-25, 2012.

Our second day with Gener on the Tao Philippines jungle tour. (

Today we would finish floating down the Babuyan River and trade boats to start sailing out into Honda Bay.

This tour is typically 3d/2n but we paid for an additional night out in the bay, and we are oh-so-glad that we did because it provided us the chance to experience an island to ourselves.

As we pulled out from the mouth of the river, we could see the white caps on the sea, and admittedly we got a bit nervous about it. So we strapped everything down on to the cargo net of the modified bangka boat. It was a good thing that we did, because it wasn't long before a wave came crashing into the hull and swept right over us! Oh, my, gosh! The water is SO wonderful here! It is the perfect temperature and amazingly clear azure blue. Plus, a few minutes of sitting in that intense sun and both of us were impatiently waiting for another wave to come crashing aboard and cool us down. It was really fun! Unfortunately I didn't have the water camera ready so no pictures of it.

As we sailed along on our little boat, Gener mentioned that he wasn’t sure where we’d stay tonight, as it would depend who was at this one island and how friendly they were feeling. We didn’t sail for long (and we sort of wished that we did a loop around the island just to be on the boat some more) until we coasted in towards a long narrow beach. There was a man there in a bamboo shelter on the beach, and after a bit of conversation, Gener pulled down his sail and happily announced that we were staying here on Snake Island! (I had to ease Julie’s fears that the island was named because of its shape, not because of a plethora of snakes living on it.)

It didn’t take long for our presence to be noticed by other boats going by and one enterprising fellow hauled his catch of day to shore for us to view. He proudly hoisted up an eel writhing on the end of his spear gun, to which Gener asked us if we wanted to eat eel tonight. Sure, why not? When else does one get to have super fresh eel? A bag of mussels was also exchanged, and I think Julie was a bigger fan of that purchase than the eel.

Snake Island was once a very popular tourist spot, but it has been shut down to save its ecosystem. There’s a guard who keeps watch, and with that a large rain barrel that Gener said we could use to bathe ourselves. So we did that. And only when you take off all your clothes on a desolate island does somebody suddenly pop around the corner.

We took a sunset stroll down the long strip of sand, maybe making it half way before we got tired and turned around.  And then look at that sight!  Awe-inspiring, really.  I cannot adequately describe it, other than to say that we could not believe we were here in the Philippines, on a trip that’s turning out to be a lot different than just going to a resort.

12-11-23 Snake Island 030

Gener’s cooking has been fabulous on this trip, and we’re becoming big fans of the calamansi limes that are used in almost everything here. The calamansi-onion-garlic-soy sauce-tomato salsa is great as a universal sauce on seafood. Tonight we learned that with a dash of sprite and a shot of local rum, it’s a tasty mixer too! After a couple glasses of that, it was bedtime in our tent on the beach.

There’s something about camping, and that moment when you unzip the door and there lies before you a view like no other, with sun streaming down from a blue sky shining onto clear blue water, and you think to yourself that this is truly amazing. Today was one of those mornings.

To make it better, a pot of coffee on the fire and then we learn a new word – bananacue! Gener explains that there are many varieties of bananas and some are good for eating raw, while others are best eaten cooked. These ones, called “saba”, are best eaten as bananacue; deep fried, and sprinkled with sugar.

After breakfast we grabbed our snorkel gear from the boat and ventured off down the beach to see what we could see.  It did not take long to see something as Julie stuck her head underwater and immediately came back up waving and pointing and trying to yell through her snorkel. grouper?Something with a large head was poking out of a hole in the sand.  It didn’t look like an eel, but we sure weren’t about to test it. Further along we were pleasantly surprised by the abundance and colour of fishes swimming amongst the sea grass and corals.  Also saw a pipe fish, and a number of large starfish, plus a new thing called a feather star that wisped along in the water.

Before we knew it we were being called back to the camp for lunch. Today it was fresh squid marinated in olive oil with black pepper and salt, breaded and stir fried. Tasty…

We snorkelled a bit more in the afternoon before loading up the boat and sailing away from our little strip of sand.