Northern Philippines (mostly Puerto Galera area)
The northern Philippines is very different from Mindanao. Life here is more laid back and way safer than
Mindanao. In Puerto Galera you have a thriving ex-pat community that even hosts a yacht club. On the
weekends you see local children out sailing on boats similar to el toros. Friday and Wensday nights the
yacht club has special meals. Pretty much life here is safe, cheap, the people are friendly and everyone
Most mornings we are greeted by the famous Juan. He is the kamikaze sea plane pilot that buzzes the
anchorage and picks out the most likely open spot to land in. After circling once he kisses the treetops
and slams it down on one float most of the time and bounces the boats around. On takeoff he makes it
an art to nearly clip the mast and fling sea spray in your open ports, while lifting off to avoid the small
bankas and the hill. Sometimes he is a bit heavy and has to fly out the pass to avoid the hill. So far he
seems to land in anything short of a typhoon and it is windy and rainy here most of the time.
Bankas are the local boats that are monohulls with training wheels (sort of primitive amas like a trimaran)
and have not mastered the art of fitting a muffler to an automobile engine. Often the bigger bankas are
ferries and even have the car driver’s seat, steering wheel (with turn signal controls, but no idea how that
works), and even once the parking brake. We saw one using the actual manual shift and gas petal as
well. They don’t bother to fresh water cool them either. Likely they last longer than Volvos and Yanmars
that are “marine” grade. Certainly they are cheaper! One time we even saw the driver have to signal
with a bell or buzzer to the “engineer” (one sitting farther back at the actual car engine). They don’t have
any mechanical connection from the wheel to the engine so one ding for reverse, two for forward, etc.
They are quite amazing in this country for what they can put together or repair.
We had a great fireworks show one night. They set them off on the dock behind us. First off the dock is
wood… Next the wind was blowing toward shore… Anyway halfway through the show was interrupted by
a fire on the dock and some idiot was foolish enough to run with a bucket of water to put it out. He got
lucky, but the show was over. They are a bit lacking on safety rules around here.
You see trikes (motorcycles with a side car and a roof) having people on the sides and roof. Now they
still have only the brakes and tiny 125cc engine of the original motorbike, but weigh a ton more… They
can be quite elaborate things so look on the internet for trikes of the Philippines. They love to pull out or
U turn without bothering to look both ways. I saw maybe 1 out of 10 looking both ways before hitting a
major intersection. The trikes love to annoy you as you are walking along and practically demand you
get on. Our favorite is when they yell white bitch to us. Claudie is the famous white bitch and they
always call out to her. Ok they are really saying white beach with a bad accent and it is a popular tourist
Some towns have motorcycle helmet laws, just like in the states. So often you see folks riding along with
construction hard hats, bicycle helmets, etc. I wonder what good the hard hat is unless you are driving
along under those evil mango trees with falling fruit or possibly the even worse coconut trees. Dang that
is what we needed for those pacific atolls we explored. I have never seen more than 5 people on a
motorcycle, but likely someone has done it. Small kids appear exempt from the helmet law and freely ride
on the gas tank and sometimes even seem to be the one steering.
Some areas here are very safety conscious. The coast guard takes ferry safety here very seriously.
The make sure everyone has a life jacket on and takes a picture of every ferry leaving the dock. Then
go back to the office while everyone takes off their life vest. At least they have a photo.
Most of the local transport is on Jeepneys. It originated from the original jeeps in wwII and has gone a bit
off the original design. Look at photos on the internet. It would be hard to describe the experience. The
government taking safety seriously puts a notice up of the max number of passengers. Much like the
ferries it is more of a suggested number. Most times you are jammed in like sardines with no leg room
and most times I am too tall to actually sit up. They love to stop fast for any hint of another passenger
even if that person is not actually trying to flag them down. This might be why they are cheap and take
hours to get anywhere. They always manage to jam one more person in or they hang off the back and
sometimes on the roof or in your lap. They are also open sided and the local diesel trucks love to
exhaust out the side instead of the top so being stuck in traffic is hot and bad for your health. Oh for an
added bonus if you are one of the special few you can have your wallet stolen. The guy that tried that on
me failed at least, but he did get my wallet out of my buttoned pocket. I guess big cities are the same
anywhere and this did not happen in Puerto Galera.
The people of the Philippines are some of the most friendly folks around and they speak english. Just
stay away from Mindanao and you will have a nice experience here. Certainly with the strong US dollar
the prices here are quite cheap. One example of cheap is haircuts are 40 pesos. It is now almost 50
pesos to 1 US dollar! Labor is dirt cheap so getting a cook/cleaner or someone to do boat work is quite