Survivor: Cuyo

Trip Start Apr 01, 2012
Trip End Apr 24, 2012

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Flag of Philippines  , Mimaropa,
Monday, April 9, 2012

Cuyo Island

We awoke Monday morning to the final boarding stages of the Navy ship and we were in for quite a show. Tent city had grown overnight and the top deck was packed. But not quite packed enough. There was apparently one more goat that needed to join the party. But it was how he got aboard that provided the entertainment. From a dingy at the side of a boat they pulled him up on a rope. And then once the goat was up, two of the guys aboard the dinghy followed. Sadly no photographic proof of the goat hoisting exists but we didn't make the same mistake twice and were ready when it was time for the guys.



The plan for today was to rent some motorbikes and drive around the island. Unfortunately the bikes weren't available - but the same place that rented the bikes also owned the restaurant and we were told that squid was expected in time for lunch. A good trade off. A short walk from the waterfront was the main town church - built by the Spanish back in the 1600's. Of course there had been quite a few restorations but it was still pretty representative of the original and provided some beautiful views from the bell tower. During the Holy Week celebrations the church was of course the center of activity for the town.


In one festival they had races on crazy bamboo stilts. The stilts were still around and a couple of the workers were giving them a run while we were walking around. After a little work Simon actually became quite good. Deciding that the rest of my trip would be better without a broken leg I didn't get much further than the sizing them up stage.


 A few of the shops in town were open (and second-hand LeBron Cavs jerseys were going cheap!) but many places were closed for the final day of the long holiday weekend. Luckily the fishermen were not still on holiday and there was squid to be had. And not just any squid. We all went for the freshly prepared special sizzling squid and ate at a table overlooking the harbor with a view of a few kiteboarders at the end of the beach. Once we finished we headed down to check it out and ended up talking to a Filipino woman from Palawan who was taking lessons and filled us in on some of the basics of the sport. In time all of the boarders made their way up to the beach. Other than the instructor they were all Westerners who came to Cuyo for a few months every year. The big kiteboarding spot in the Philippines is Boracay but they liked Cuyo better because it was lower key.




Back at the boat, we used our slow but passable internet connection for a little uppdate on the weather and the news of the past week. And the news wasn't great. Palawan, our final Philippines destination, had been the target of a couple of bombings in two different areas: El Nido, a tourist resort area and Puerto Princesa, where I'd be catching my flight to Hong Kong and where the boat would check out of the country before heading to Borneo. Details were still sketchy but intital reports are that it was a politically motivated attack.

Cuyo Island

Today was motorbike day. Unfortunately my expectation of the motorbikes was slightly different than the actual motorbikes. I was thinking along the lines of a moped. The bikes were motorcycles. If you're thinking, "This isn't going to end well." you're certainly heading in the right direction. After a quick lesson on the finer points of riding the bike: turning it on, switching gears, using the brake... we were off - me on one bike and Simon driving the other with Amanda on back.

Once I got the hang of the gears and brake things were looking up. We had a pretty crude map and were in search of the grass landing strip, another church, and some ruins. There were quite a few paved roads which provided some smooth riding but there were many more dirt and rock roads and paths which were not only not smooth but a bit dangerous. Did I mention helmets are not an option in Cuyo? After almost taking a header down a rocky hill and then swerving around some dogs I had to slam on the brake to avoid a cow that stepped onto the road right as I was approaching.


We found the airstrip first. A few years ago there was a small airline that ran a couple of turbo-prop flights a week to Cuyo but they had since stopped. The strip was hardly used anymore. After a detour to the local market and some direction from one of the men there we found the church. The ruins - they were another story. We rode the bikes down a few off-road paths that could have been the ones marked by the map but came up empty. We asked a couple of young boys who pointed us to another off-road path. This one was unpassable on the bikes so we parked them in a little clearing and went for a hike. After about 15 minutes we came upon a house. The family spoke very little English and we spoke even less Tagalog so we didn't get too far. 



Back on the bikes we went a little further and found another path, so another little trek followed. This time, after about 20 minutes we ended up back at a half-built little compound down by the beach we had seen earlier in the day. Along the way we saw what appeared to be some old terraces which we decided were the ruins. By now we were starting to get hungry and went in search of food. And here's where things took a bit of a turn for the worse.


We had stopped to ask a few women sitting in front of a house if there were any restaurants on this side of the island. They said the only restaurants were back in town so we were turning around to head back when the bike got away from me. I ended up in a bit of a roadside ditch - almost taking out an 80 year old guy sitting on his porch shucking cashews in the process. Of course, at the time I was more focused on the fact that I was in a ditch with a motorcycle on top of me. The women all came running over and the guy started picking up his cashew bits and just repeating "No problem. An accident. An accident." He seemed rather unaffected by the whole thing considering how close I was to driving the bike into his house. The group pulled the bike up and remarkably neither the bike or I came away with anything more than a couple of scratches (although the next morning I had one nasty bruise).

You know the whole thing about getting right back on the horse? Well, being as we were about 3 kilometers out of town that's exactly what I had to do. I was a little shakey but made it back with no further near-death experiences.

My nerves settled, we set back out after lunch to explore the other side of the island. We ended up at a beach and while walking along the shore came across a bangka we had seen when we were arriving at the island. The bangka was anchored in front of a huge house on a property with a lot of construction going on. The owner of the house came out and it turns out he was from Seattle and had built the house and was building a little resort as well. We got a tour of the house and sat out on his second level deck while he filled us in on some of the Cuyo gossip. We asked him about the ruins we had spent half the day looking for and it turns out the ruins on the map aren't really ruins. It was a bit of a mean spirited slam by one land owner to another. Basically the half-built compound we had come across earlier in the day was the "ruins". A quick look at the map we had been using showed that it was drawn by the owner of a completed high-end resort further down the beach. When the owner of the not-completed resort ran out of money, the other guy called them "ruins". Nice, right?

The final bit of business before departing Cuyo would be restocking our beer supply. A case of beer bottles in the Philippines requires a deposit or bottle returns so we dinghied back to the boat to get our case of empty big Red Horse and then Simon & I dinghied back to the beach to make the exchange. There was one place in town that handled cases of beer and the trike driver knew exactly where it was. We got more than a few disapproving looks as we unloaded our case of Red Horse. The conversation went something like this:

Beer lady: "No."
Me: "No?" 
Beer lady: "No."
Simon: "Red Horse?"
Beer lady: "No."


Turns out because of the holiday the regular ferry shipment of beer hadn't arrived and the next one was still six days away.


We did spot a case of small San Miguels and convinced the woman to let us trade 12 of our large Red Horse empties for 24 of the San Miguels. Crisis averted.
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