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Old 07-05-2016, 01:25   #1
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Samal Island Philippines (SE Mindanao, near Davao)

Ahoy Sailors!
In January 2016 I moved temporarily to Davao City Philippines.
Davao is on the large and most eastern Philippine island of Mindanao, and is on the East Coast of Mindanao. About one mile from Davao is the smaller island of Samal Island. This is known as a "resort" island as there are several high priced luxury resorts on one side of the island. There are a few "bungalo on the water" type resorts, with high prices. The interior of this island is mostly rugged hills and some small coco palm plantations planted on the steep slopes. It is mostly undeveloped and rural, and it appears there are more goats than people.

Samal Island was in the world news spotlight back in November 2015 when four yachties were kidnapped from off their boats while their boats were tied up in a luxury private marina. To this day (May 7, 2016) the four kidnap victims have not been released or found. They were kidnapped by terrorists associated with the worst of the Muslim terror organizations. Despite extensive manhunts, they have not been found.

A few days ago I took an "aerial tour" in a small airplane (Cessna 172), as part of my work here. I asked the pilot to take off the passenger side door so I could get a good view as I was in the plane to photograph the island for a local magazine. It was a very nice flight, mostly at low level of about 500 feet. Having the door off on my side, and only held in the plane by a seat belt while my hands were busy holding and using my DSLR camera, was a bit thrilling as the pilot banked and circled spots I wanted to photograph.

This was not my first time in a plane like this, and I have skydived out of a plane that was similar, so I was comfortable and happy for the special seat and views. My local partner was seated behind me and unfortunately was air sick the entire flight.

But, here is what I saw, a selection of a few photos, including the now famous "Samal Island Yacht Club" (not sure of the proper name) where the yachties were kidnapped.

The island has steeply sloping contours so the water is pretty deep just a few feet from the shore line on the windward side of the island (East Coast), with few safe spots to anchor. There are a few beaches on the leeward or West side of the island, and those are where the more popular local "beaches" and "resorts" are located. There are a few condo developments, and some private homes scattered around the island periphery.

There are very few recreational sailboats in this area.
Aside from what few boats you see in this aerial view of the Samal Yacht Club, I have not seen any other sailboats of Western type. So, recreational sailing does not appear to exist here, as far as I can tell so far. I had hoped to meet some sailors and do some sailing here, but that has not happened as I have not met any sailors (even locals).

I hope you enjoy the aerial tour. I had a great time when the pilot took us very low (for my photo purposes) as we went down to about 15 feet above the water so I could get some low shots and video for the tour company. That was an unforgettable ride, but not one that is allowable for typical passengers. For a few moments I realized what it must have been like to be a WW2 Torpedo Bomber as we took a few "runs" at some local fishing boats for the video. Going 15 feet off the water at 80-90 knots is fun! Especially when there is nothing (no door) between you and the water flying by.

Is it safe?
The locals here tell me that it is still UNSAFE for Americans and Westerners (Europeans) to go out into the country or to local small villages outside of Davao. I have been warned by many people, including expats from Europe who live here, one who told me that he knows that some local gangsters would love to find Europeans or Americans to grab. Some have said that even a few miles outside of Davao is risky and kidnapping could occur. Sadly, I have heard this many times from locals.
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Old 07-05-2016, 01:36   #2
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Re: Samal Island Philippines (SE Mindanao, near Davao)

More photos.
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Old 07-05-2016, 02:00   #3
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Re: Samal Island Philippines (SE Mindanao, near Davao)

So glad you've surfaced again.

Be interested in your social comments after you've returned.

Ann
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Old 07-05-2016, 02:17   #4
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Re: Samal Island Philippines (SE Mindanao, near Davao)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ann T. Cate View Post
So glad you've surfaced again.

Be interested in your social comments after you've returned.

Ann
Thanks Ann!

I have limited access to the internet, so must limit my posting and surfing. I tried many times to look at CF late at night but the site would not load on my cell phone hotspot wifi. Too slow.

But, I have thought of my friends here and sailing has been on my mind. Just not able to do it where I am, despite being nearer to the ocean than I have been in a long time. Lots of water. No sailboats.

When I return to the USA in the future (not long from now) I will become more active again in CF. Miss you and the rest of the gang whose experience, wisdom, sea stories, and humor have kept me entertained and dreaming for so many nights in the past.

Regards!
Steady
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Old 07-05-2016, 02:41   #5
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Re: Samal Island Philippines (SE Mindanao, near Davao)

Hi Steady, looks like a beautiful place. Scary about the kidnappings, be careful!

I am not sure I could cope with that kind of threat, give me a storm off cape horn anyday..

Anyway good luck getting out onnthe water, and getting some decent internet!

Cheers for the update.
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Old 07-05-2016, 02:57   #6
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Re: Samal Island Philippines (SE Mindanao, near Davao)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Snowpetrel View Post
Hi Steady, looks like a beautiful place. Scary about the kidnappings, be careful!

I am not sure I could cope with that kind of threat, give me a storm off cape horn anyday..

Anyway good luck getting out onnthe water, and getting some decent internet!

Cheers for the update.
Thanks for the nice note!

Not only is my internet connection sporadic, but for several weeks the electricity was sporadic too, due to daily "brownouts" that turn the power off to big parts of the city for up to FIVE hours during the day, and possibly at night too. This also affects the downtown area, or the business district. It is something to see an entire city that has nice businesses, restaurants, banks, shopping malls, and nice stores, reduced to darkness without power. To say the least, it puts a big damper on doing business for many businesses that depend on electricity.

As for sailing, I am resigned to postponing my sailing till the future, but eventually the future becomes the present. Until then I have CF.

Cheers to you!
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Old 07-05-2016, 04:12   #7
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Re: Samal Island Philippines (SE Mindanao, near Davao)

Nice gig, Steady. Thanks for sharing the photos and story. I had been thinking about those people and wondered about their fates. It's very sad to hear. I hope they are OK and will be released soon. More than likely they're still alive, but being kept until some insane ransom is provided. It seems to be US policy to keep this sort of thing out of the media. I sincerely hope it ends well.

I just got back from visiting Palawan Island and then a week on a liveaboard diving on Tubbataha Reef. Before getting on the boat, I spent 3 days in Puerto Princesa about as far away from the main center of town as one can get. The "B&B" was down a dirt road and tucked in between all the local shanties. I took a "trike" to get around but walked to town once (about 2 miles). There were no locks on the front door, and my room, just to the left as you walk in, had a flimsy lock. I say all this because nothing about it was "safe" by Western standards yet I was never harassed, my stuff was never messed with, and it was a very nice experience. A friend came over one morning to snorkel with me on the nearby reef at Hartman Beach and left his booties outside at the front door when we both left to go catch the boat. Not only were they still at the place a week later, but the owner personally delivered them to him back in town when he got off the dive boat. Contrast this to the time I was in Kauai, Hawaii about 4 years go. I turned my back to walk 100 feet to my car from a camp site and when I turned around, my booties that were in front of my tent were walking away with this kid while the adults watched him from a picnic table nearby. I yelled (nicely) "hey, bring those back" which he did and the adults laughed like it was a game. All experiences vary and things could always be switched around, but I just mention this because many places in the world get a bum rap out of a perception that is often misplaced. This is not to say the southeastern Philippines should be on your bucket list because everyone I spoke with seems to agree that the situation is too volatile, but you're down there helping with PR at a resort that wants to cater to tourists who will be behind high fences, protected by armed guards and shielded from the locals. I was amazed, too, at the level of corruption that one hears about from the locals, expats and the news that really, deeply affects these people. The poverty in Palawan was huge; it must be similar in Mindanao. I hope this doesn't come off sounding like a rant against Western tourists (and I'm not specifically putting cruisers in that category), but I think we're helping create some of this problem. I hope, too, that I didn't just turn this into a political diatribe either because it's not going to change anyone's opinion about where they stay in foreign countries. These are just my limited observations from my travels and that when we choose to be isolated from the locals, it doesn't always endear us to them.
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Old 07-05-2016, 05:45   #8
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Re: Samal Island Philippines (SE Mindanao, near Davao)

Samal is a lovely island with great people. I was there for approx 3 months and really enjoyed it.
For those that missed it, John one of the guys kidnapped was murdered gruesomely last week. Sad stuff.

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Old 07-05-2016, 07:47   #9
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Re: Samal Island Philippines (SE Mindanao, near Davao)

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Originally Posted by daletournier View Post
Samal is a lovely island with great people. I was there for approx 3 months and really enjoyed it.
For those that missed it, John one of the guys kidnapped was murdered gruesomely last week. Sad stuff.

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I was not aware one of the kidnapped sailors had been killed. If you have a link to a news report, please post it here in this thread.
Thanks.
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Old 07-05-2016, 08:21   #10
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Re: Samal Island Philippines (SE Mindanao, near Davao)

Gamayun,
Thanks for adding your interesting comments too.
My local friends in Davao tell me that Southern Mindanao has a very difficult history (violence, warlords, rebels, gangs, terrorists, kidnappings, murders, etc.) and much of the southern part of this large island is considered "off limits" to Westerners and even risky for people from other parts of the island. The Army and government forces evidently have little control or no control over the area.

There are so many islands in the Philippines, that there are bound to be differences in how safe or how welcoming or risky they are. As another point of reference, I was told by many here in Davao that Manilla is much more dangerous for westerners because of crime and violence. I was recently told by several people, locals who live in both Manilla and Cebu (the second largest city in PI) that one can walk around Davao at night, but to do so in Manilla or even Cebu would invite trouble which could be a mugging, rape, kidnapping or murder. These same people say that Davao has a reputation as a safer place to live.

But that reputation for less crime in Davao has a dark side too, because extrajudicial "death squads" operated here for decades, killing people in the streets with impunity. The common method was described as a drive by shooting by masked men riding motorcycles who would gun down others in broad daylight in front of mipultiple witnesses. The claim is that those killed were drug dealers or criminals who were eliminated by the death squads who did the killings for the local government. It is a dark side story, and no one here disputes this story, as it is common knowledge. In fact, several people I spoke with seemed proud of the killings and spoke of them as good things that make the city safer.

So, it is a place with a sense of safety based on violence and surrounded by a countryside where even locals can fear to go.

The people I have spoken with here, and that is many locals, and several expats that have lived here for years, all seem to have very consistent stories and warnings. Most were consistent in expressing some level of fear, more than caution. Of course they say that the risk is higher for Westerners, who are perceived as wealthy and easy targets.

On another note, there are many private armed security guards all over this city. They are in every store. At every shopping mall, the shoppers bags are checked for bombs and grenades with visual inspection and metal detectors. Every car or vehicle entering the car parking lot is searched. Why? Because not long ago some terrorists set off explosives in a movie theater in a shopping mall.

And, in the local news there were reports of more pirate attacks on commercial ships and boats that have been stopped and boarded by pirates in the Philippines. As I recall, the targets were smaller commercial boats (tugs or freighters) used between Indonesia and the Philippines. So, piracy does happen.

Finally, I did not intend this post to be all about crime and killings. I simply wanted to give a brief overview of this area in case someone thought of cruising here, which I did think about last year. I do not want to seem alarmist or afraid as I don't feel that way. But, the facts are that sailors have been taken, and westerners are targets for violent crime, both in the major cities and in the countryside and even while in a marina or coastal cruising. Best to be forewarned.

I hope this information proves helpful.
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Old 07-05-2016, 08:21   #11
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Re: Samal Island Philippines (SE Mindanao, near Davao)

Canadian killed by terrorist group in Philippines, another held hostage - The Globe and Mail


Terrible.
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Old 07-05-2016, 11:27   #12
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Re: Samal Island Philippines (SE Mindanao, near Davao)

Thank you for posting this - so timely for me as I try to decide whether to proceed with a planned volunteer post with OceansWatch. We're going to Ontong Java, Solomon's to help set up a coconut oil processing project with the women in the village, but the boat we are using to get there is in Davao. Troubling.
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Old 07-05-2016, 11:41   #13
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Re: Samal Island Philippines (SE Mindanao, near Davao)

oh.no. more than terrible.
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Old 07-05-2016, 13:27   #14
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Re: Samal Island Philippines (SE Mindanao, near Davao)

Travel at your peril : The Philippines′ ′kidnapping capital′ | All media content | DW.COM | 28.01.2014
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Old 07-05-2016, 15:15   #15
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Re: Samal Island Philippines (SE Mindanao, near Davao)

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Originally Posted by kimwindjammin View Post
Thank you for posting this - so timely for me as I try to decide whether to proceed with a planned volunteer post with OceansWatch. We're going to Ontong Java, Solomon's to help set up a coconut oil processing project with the women in the village, but the boat we are using to get there is in Davao. Troubling.
The above posts may put you off going, I'm not disputing what's written but perspective is also needed. Ex pats commute around Davao everyday. You can catch a cab everywhere. I never felt threatened. I've had a number of yachtie friends travel on motor bikes throughout the Philippines.
In regards to the sailors that were taken, Samal is a peaceful Christian island , when the kidnapping occured attention had been drawn to the marina in the form of a advertised yacht rally, the marina was full, in hindsight I see how it possibly attracted the situation. The kidnappers come from far away, this was planned and not spontaneous. Filipinos are not aggressive by nature, thus it dosent feel like a threatening environment. In regards to a bomb going off, bombs have recently also gone off in Paris, Belgium and Jakarta.
I wouldn't go back based on what's happened, but there's an emotional element to that decision, rationally I feel I'm more likely to die on a motorbike here in Bali than be kidnapped in Davao. From a tourist perspective I see no real reason to go to Davao but your situation is different.
What happened to John is horrific but statisically unlikely to happen to you. Some people that were at the marina when it happened are still there, life goes on.
Would I go to southern Mindanao? no way! Davao isn't southern Mindanao.
Only you can decide what your comfortable with.

Cheers Dale.

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