Saturday, April 26, 2014

Happy Sailing Anniversary, Savannah!

On this day, four years ago, we quietly slipped off the police docks in San Diego, California at 6:00 a.m. and headed out for Isla Guadalupe, Mexico…no fanfare, no party…just a lot of clouds and fog. Savannah hasn't seen a US dock since. What better way to celebrate than with lobster and butter? And so we did.

It's been a fantastic four years. Ups and downs. Interesting places, scary people, beautiful people, dumps and pure postcard perfect beaches. We've swam with whale sharks, manta rays and lemon sharks. We can say hello (and cheers!) in over 6 different languages. We've been robbed. We've been shown generosity that blew our minds.

Tonight we sit at our last anchorage in the Philippines before hopping to Borneo tomorrow morning. It's beautiful, quiet, full of mangroves (and crocodiles), and in full Filipino style, people. It looks deserted, but at sundown, the canoes just emerge from the bushes. We traded our rice tonight for a big stalk of bananas…the first we've had in a long time. We bought a fish for a hundred pesos (they wanted rice, but despite our attempt to be prepared, we didn't buy enough). The last guy came with fish but Jake and I were on the transom cleaning the one we just bought (Andy didn't want to get 'dirty' tonight) so we just asked him what he needed. He wanted D cell batteries. Unfortunately, we only had one…we gave him some water and a big ' SOOOOO RRRYYYYY'. Ever since then, the canoes are going back and forth to the giant catamaran parked near us.

This was originally a five year cruise. Four years and we're half way around…geeesh…not as easy as we thought. But rest assured, we're on our way home. Our current plan (subject to change if we find a really cool place) is to make our way to Thailand by Christmas via Malaysia and Singapore ….haul the boat out, paint and check on some previous issues…then cross that next big ocean. Maldives? Chagos? Madagascar? Whatever the route, we'll head around S. Africa to cross our third big ocean to Brazil and then the Caribbean…. getting us back to the Eastern Time Zone in the next two years or so… While I can't guarantee it's going to happen that way or in that time frame, I can guarantee that we're still heading to the east coast and we're going to have a great time getting there. Tonight we're not only celebrating our anniversary of starting this adventure, we're also celebrating the next few years that we get to be together and explore this earth. On some level, I can't wait to get home and get reacquainted with our extended family (and get me a big ole dishwasher, shop at Target and eat at Chick-fil-a), there's a big part of me that just can't imagine what it'll be like to wake up every morning, watch Jake go to school, Andy go to work, and then God willing, go lay out by the pool with my cocktail get myself a job.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Rio Tuba, Philippines

We left Puerto Princessa a few days ago after a brief visit to the hospital (I'm going to try and spare what's left of my son's dignity, but if you're curious, it rhymes with 'book' and 'squirm'), and now we're anchored in our first ever river. We almost passed it up. We're both tired of the Philippines (please don't hold it against us), but we felt like we should suck it up and get one last cultural experience before we landed in Borneo.

And here we are. There are three girls paddling up to Savannah as I type this. We have spent the afternoon trying to converse with the small children in their canoes. They range anywhere from 3 to 12. It's not like Micronesia….these kids don't want candy (although they'll gladly take it), they want rice, milk, sugar… Their English is broken at best but they're about the cutest things I've ever seen.

Under normal circumstances, we wouldn't just give stuff away. If you do that, and the next boat does that, and the next and so on, then eventually, all you have is a group of people that bombard you all day and night wanting stuff that you don't have to give away. The conventional cruiser wisdom is that you give something but you ask for something in return. It could be a fish, a banana, or something as little as a coconut, but it's a trade thing, not a 'give me' thing. But for the life of me, I cannot barter with these 6 year olds…. This is the first time EVER that I have been asked for rice in a country that produces rice. I was asked for chicken and eggs… I wanted to tell them to wait until morning when all the roosters were crowing and they could surely find those darn pesky chickens… I know from my grandmother, just a quick ring of their necks and you'll be good for days….

Anyway, it's way past sundown and we just sent the last boat off with some soap and lotion and a few cup fulls of our pasta dinner (I sure hope they're not muslim…that cup was full of ground pork….).

All kidding aside, this is the first time in four years when I would have gladly given all of our stores away. It's no secret the Philippines are poor (as a whole, I know there are those that are not), but this is a reality check for us. Jake has gotten some good lessons here; "I feel good when I give away mommy." Andy and I have as well… Very few of us in the US have any idea what poor is compared to these folks. Dad goes out and fishes all day in the hot sun (about 40 miles out from shore in a tiny little canoe). Mom washes clothes or sells things at the market. Kids go out and peddle. And when the day ends, they have a few cups of rice and a fish. They live in a shack out on the water with no electricity or running water. They poop in a hole. No shoes, ripped shirts. And you know what? They're smiling. Today was a good day. They got to eat. And I sit in my first world country called Savannah and drink my wine, watch a movie and eat my pasta on a soft cushy sofa. I sleep in a real bed with a mattress and sheets and while we don't have AC, we do have a fan. Tomorrow I will wash with fresh water, eat some pancakes and wipe my butt with actual toilet paper.

Tonight we are humbled as never before. We came unprepared. Tomorrow is market day and we'll go in and restock and buy more than we need so we'll be prepared next time. And if there's not a next time, well, now we have rice. We're glad we stopped.

4 more days to Borneo….not sure we're prepared for that either.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park

Monday we decided to do the touristy thing and visit one of the world's largest underground navigable rivers here in Palawan.  It goes back at least 8 km, but the tour is only 1.5 km.  We organized our tour through the yacht club here and it all seemed very easy... if you bring a lot of patience, that is.

I wrote a long play by play because at the time, every moment seemed funny, stupid, or at the very least memorable.  But after reading over it, I realized I would lose most people after the first paragraph.

So I'm going summarize the day like this.... We had a nine hour day.  It included 4 hours of heart stopping travel in an air conditioned van of which we felt none, 2 hours of waiting/lunch and 45 minutes of touring and 2 hours wasted somewhere.  Was it worth it?  We think so.  We're glad we went.  The cave was like none of us had ever seen before and the scenery was beautiful.  Would we do it again.  No.  Not without a morning shot and a flask of rum to get that patience going.

I wonder what that life jacket is going to do for Jake?

Bad Monkeys

Like our helmets?  I think I sported it the best :)

Andy thinks we look like roadside workers.
Andy's flash wasn't cooperating so these pictures aren't
NatGeo...but you get the idea.

I had to ask Andy what this's a bat.  The cave had several
different species of bats as well as swiftlets.

This is not us, but imagine us in the back there by the guide.

Kind of like the parking lot at Disney World...Filipino Style.

Today we did our grocery run.  Malaysia has a huge Muslim population and we hear the the pork and booze is hard to come in true Savannah style, we stocked up.  We've got a few things to do tomorrow and then Friday we're heading to our first stop about 30 miles down the coast.  We'll continue to day hop as the reefs get thicker and the fishing boats keep coming.

In the meantime, enjoy the pics!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Last stop in the Philippines

Jake is becoming quite the photog :)

I know it’s been a while since we posted anything substantial for the family, but quite honestly, it’s been kind of boring on Savannah.  We’ve been moving around a bit and have not had good internet either.

We spent a few days in Coron Town.  Not sure what to say about Coron.  It was a quaint little town, but not much to look at.  Andy was able to go diving one day and thought that was pretty good.  Other than that, we spent our time stocking up for our next leg down to Puerto Princessa.

If cross contamination is an issue, the local market may not be your
cup of tea ;).

Tableside cooking of our very first ox tongue...very swanky restaurant.

The Philippines is feeling more and more like Mexico to us.  The people are similar, the language is similar, and now that we’re in the drier islands, the topography is similar.  Sadly, my attitude is similar, too.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved Mexico, but when it was time to go, it was time to go.  So that’s kind of where we are with the Philippines. 

I’m not sure if it’s the Philippines that’s putting me in my funky mood, or if it’s just my desire to keep moving.  We sat in Pohnpei for a long time.  We sat in Yap for a while.  We sat in Palau for a really long time.  If you’re going to stay somewhere for that long, those are some good places to do it, but I have to say, I’m ready to keep moving…get back in the cruising mode…not the sitting around mode.   The Philippines have been wonderful, the people friendly, and very beautiful.  (Jake has been a little frustrated at how populated everything is…no deserted beaches…poor kid, huh?  Can you say ‘spoiled?’) But it’s time to move on.

So we’re here at our last stop in Puerto Princessa on the island of Palawan.  We’re pleasantly surprised with the area, despite the view on the way in.  It’s a fairly large city complete with a mall. As a matter of fact, we’ve spent the last few days enjoying the air conditioning, a western size/style grocery store and a movie complete with popcorn and a soda.  Tomorrow we’re taking a tour of one of the largest underground navigable rivers in the world….very cool.  Finally, we’ll stock up and head out….next sop, Borneo!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

My two cents...

Well, I wasn’t going to weigh in on this as I think it’s been done enough, but in support of my friend Charlotte and her family, I feel like I need to say something.  By now, most of you guys have probably heard about the rescue of the sailing vessel Rebel Heart off the coast of Mexico.  On board were Eric, Charlotte, and their two little girls.  The youngest, Lyra, was ill and the family decided to call for help.  The US Military came to the rescue.

I think my fellow cruisers and the boating community have done an outstanding job of supporting Charlotte and her family, while attempting to educate those who are well…uneducated in the sailing world.  Anything I would write would probably just detract from the eloquent words of others.

With that said, we heard the news of the rescue only 2 weeks after having another good friend here in the Philippines lose her boat on a reef that was way off the mark and subsequently have it stripped clean by pirates that heard her distress call….they even took her cushions from what we heard.  We read and heard unkind comments about that situation as well.  Mostly from armchair sailors or people that have never been on the water to start with…another group of uneducated folks.

I guess I’m shocked (though I don’t know why) at the arrogance of others to comment on things they know absolutely nothing about.   Andy and I feel close to both of these tragedies as we feel there are a lot of parallels to our life and I hate to think how it would feel to suddenly have an entire country weighing in their various opinions on how you chose to live your life and raise your kids.  With Charlotte and Eric, well, we’re about the same age, Eric was in the Navy like Andy, we were both in the financial industry, Savannah and Rebel Heart both left from San Diego and they were following a very similar path to us, just a few years later.  It could have been us (and still could). 

As for our other friend, we’re here in the Philippines and get to see first hand how off the various charts are in these waters.  One of our navigational programs actually says “Inaccurately surveyed area”  and other smart things like “Breakers reported, unsurveyed.”  Hell, the US Navy ran aground on a reef here that was 7 MILES off on the chart.  One guy actually said to us (I’m not sure if he was talking about the Navy or our friend at this point) “You’re not supposed to get within 100 miles of Tubataha Reef.”   Well, Mr. Non-sailing, Dingleberry, that means every single boat that sails down the east coast of Palawan is breaking the law.  The only way you could conceivably follow that rule (if it even exists) is to sail through the pirate waters south of Mindanao….uh, no thanks.  

All of this publicity has done some good on Savannah.  We’ve always prided ourselves on being as prepared as possible, but it’s easy to become complacent about things the longer you’re out here.  We’re now even more cautious as we make our plans to continue through S.E. Asia and eventually home, to the United States.  We only sail in the day time here in the Philippines so as to gain as many visuals on those nasty reefs and limit our surprises as much as possible (Not to mention the thousands of fish traps, fisherman, pearl farms and seaweed farms to be avoided).  We’re stocking up more than usual (I honestly didn’t think that was possible), so that we’re not dependent on pulling in somewhere for food, gas or diesel.  We’re keeping in touch with friends and other cruisers around the area so we can try to have the most up to date information as possible on the various areas we’re traveling.  And it may sound dramatic, but I’m keeping an eye on my kid more than usual as well, I hear the pale ones go for a fair price.

We are so blessed to have supporting families and friends and not to have to worry about constantly defending ourselves and our way of life.  We’re also blessed to not have had any tragic experiences this far (knocking on wood here in the cabin) keeping us from having to defend ourselves publically. For those not so lucky, we wanted to at least speak out a bit and join the hundreds if not thousands of other folks on your side…  I would hate to think that we had dreams and were so scared of failure that we never tried.  And for all of those out there that think we’re crazy and irresponsible for doing this at all, much less with a kid….think twice about how and when you express your opinions (Remember that whole do unto others thing?).  We’re just ordinary people doing something different.  We get that you don’t understand it.  We honestly don’t understand you either.  That’s why life is so cool….if we were all the same, what would we have to talk about on Facebook?