[141221, 0712 UTC, Samal Island, Davao Gulf, Philippines, 07-11.8 N / 125-42.7 E]
The holiday season is once again fast upon us and as I sit here at the navigation station aboard Carina with Jake and Leslie nearby, listening to Christmas music and trying to reflect upon our good fortune and the hundreds of lovely people we've met this year, I find it a struggle to push back the news of ugliness in the world. Despite the despair I read about, I have hope, because during this year we found many peaceful places on this earth and good will in many men. Longfellow expresses it much better than I...
"I heard the bells on Christmas Day, Their old familiar carols play, And wild and sweet the words repeat of peace on earth, good will to men...
And in despair I bowed my head: "There is no peace on earth," I said, "For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men."
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: God is not dead, nor doth he sleep; the wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men."
After 13 months in Pohnpei, we said painful good byes to friends made there, set sail on January 11 and put 3,474 nautical miles of ocean behind us before we stopped again here to catch up on deferred maintenance. "Here" is a marina and a boatyard on Samal Island in the Davao Gulf of Mindanao Island in the southern Philippines.
Some of our passages were glorious, others trying, but our stops were always memorable. In August, after years of Pacific Island cultures, we crossed some invisible line and suddenly we were in Asia and the people and atmosphere changed. We've only experienced a tiny corner of Asia so far, but we have been impressed by many things: tasty foods and new spices, interesting warm faces, plus different forms of dancing, art, culture and religion intermingling in a seemingly chaotic way that seems to work.
The year was not without its challenges. For those fans of the fat-cat Jake, he was seriously ill for a time but has since rebounded. But he ain't so fat anymore despite his rate of consumption of the finest gourmet cat food that our pesos will buy. In the end, the best guess as to the cause of his suffering was that he had been poisoned by aflatoxins from moldy kibble. He survived because he's tough and has a strong will but he has surely used up another of his nine lives and may have suffered some organ damage. All we can do is give him the best care possible and lots of love. He is quite happy being tied to a dock for the first time since Nicaragua in 2005. He is affectionate, purring and more vocal than he ever was. He has lots of biped buddies who stop by and rub his belly and he's taken to lounging regally on a fancy powerboat on our finger pier. He makes us laugh every day.
Though it may be easier to get into the Christmas spirit when jack frost is nipping at your nose, the holiday cheer still finds us here where, if the tropical tradewinds don't blow, Carina's deck is about 120 degrees by high noon. Nearby Davao City is big and crowded and its population never seems to stop. The pace is frenetic, the music loud and the bustle a bit disconcerting. We wander in awe through its super-cooled super malls, watching the jolly crowds selecting holiday gifts and decorations in outrageous colors - like orange or purple Christmas trees. Smiling elves are everywhere, hawking everything from ham to handbags and sweets to smart phones, and everyone calls out brightly, "afternoon mum" or "Merry Christmas, sir".
A trip to the city, even for one small item, consumes most of the day. We travel by truck, ferry and jeepney and a fast trip consumes an hour and a half one way. Jeepneys are brightly painted trucks with bench seats built in their beds. They are driven aggressively by men with a death wish and peso notes juliened between the fingers of their left hand who simultaneously drive, honk their horn, make change, chat and text message. Jeepneys are the predominant form of public transportation in the Davao del Sur province. Trying to get back from our errands deep in the city center, we find a jeepney going our way and wiggle in so we're hip to hip with kids from 1 to 92 in every shape and size, half of whom are continuously staring at the screen of their smart phones. For our 15 pesos (35 cents) and in moderate discomfort, we get great people watching, plus a hot, dusty 10 km ride through the crowded streets of Davao to the Samal Island ferry wharf. The ferry is owned by the same company that owns the marina so, as a benefit of our slip fees, we jump the ticket line and ride the ferry for free. Ferries are small and the trip is short, but the currents and deep draft vessels run swiftly through the strait between the suburb of Sasa and the "Garden Island" of Samal Island. If we haven't been delayed in a jeepney jam and have timed our arrival on the island well, we catch a ride back with Dondon in the marina truck. Otherwise, it's a long, loud, fume-filled 150 peso ride in a habal habal, a crazy-looking sidecar-like motorcycle taxi. By the time we're back on Carina our sweat is caked with dust. Even if we have hours left in the day, we're too exhausted to be productive.
Still, we're slooowwwly making progress with a major rigging refit (chainplates), addressing the acres of peeling varnish, and successfully fighting back against feelings of desperation at the sheer number of items on our Carina to-do list. Unfortunately, the worst is yet to come, when we actually haul Carina out after the first of the year and begin life on the hot tarmac. Then it's onto serious stripping and painting and sewing and sail repair and through hulls, etc., etc., etc. Thankfully we have friends nearby and are learning something interesting and meeting new people every day.
For this moment, we will focus on making the season merry. Looking back on the experiences we have had this year, I hope we've grown a little wiser as we've grown a little older. We have stayed healthy and tried very hard to leave a clean wake and promote peace in a tiny corner of this earth that we have been so fortunate to visit.
And though it's been said many times and in many ways, happy holidays to you and yours. We wish you good health, prosperity, love and peace in the new year. If you have time during your busy holiday season, be sure to visit our website for our latest photos - including jeepneys and habal habals at www.sv-carina.org.
Your friends of the yacht Carina,
Philip, Leslie and (the formerly) fat cat, Jake