It is 1821, and for 250 years the Philippine Islands have been under the thumb of the Spanish crown. But, in the end, the Spaniards do not really control everything. In the shadow of the colonial power, self-willed natives have established secret maritime trade with neighboring islands and the Asiatic mainland. Using odd-looking punts and fragile bamboo barks, these black market traders cram their boats with nutmeg, silk, jade, and ginseng, and set sail to smuggle them into Manila. Success in each venture is uncertain, as the seaworthiness of both boats and captains is poor. To add to their woes, pirates lie in wait to plunder boats that cannot escape them.