I promised myself, “I have to blog this place!” This splendid river is purely awesome! This is God’s wonderful creation in progress!
When Sister Sarah Sta. Ana, the lovely hearing wife of Deaf Pastor Isagani Sta. Ana texted me inviting me to conduct sign language training in their province from August 19 to 22, I immediately said yes. I could not let this pass. She personally asked me to teach sign language to the faculty, staff, social workers and other special education teachers in Puerto Princesa City.
She apologized for the abrupt invitation but she countered that their school in partnership with Christian Blind Mission, will sponsor all of my expenses including plane fare and hotel accommodation. However, she explained that I won’t receive any remuneration from the training. I said, it’s not a problem. But I requested that my deaf brother Ervin Reyes would accompany me while I pay for his plane ticket and tour expenses. That, we both agreed.
Off to Palawan
On board Zest Airways, we arrived Puerto Princesa City airport after nearly an hour. There, we were happily greeted by Ma’am Sarah. At first glance, Puerto Princesa is a clean and orderly city. There are porters roaming outside the parking area taking their share of work in assisting travelers for a fee. But they are very cordial and organized. The airport is new and well-ventilated. You won’t feel threatened. The place is comfortable for tourists.
There were unusually few taxicabs lining up. What caught our attention are tricycles that looked like mini-cars complete with two headlights protruding on its main nose. Its inside is uncrowded unlike some filthy and unkempt tricycles we have here in Manila.
Palawan is a long island southwest of Manila. Considered as the last frontier of the Philippines, this majestic island is shaped like a folded umbrella. It is bordered by South China Sea on the east and Sulu Sea to its right. Puerto Princesa is its capital city. It’s now the largest city in the country in terms of its land area. It’s also very clean and orderly. You can see green-painted garbage cans in every few meters and it’s strictly prohibited to just throw your wastes anywhere. The place is also very secured. Ervin and I went outside of our hotel even at 2 o’clock in the morning without fear of being mugged.
Off to the Mangrove River
The following day, we headed to the world famous Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park. It’s some 80 kilometers on the other side of Puerto Princesa City even though it’s still part of greater Puerto Princesa. It’s located at St. Paul’s Bay connecting through the South China Sea. There were nine of us in a uniform tourist van including the tour guide. We were informed that the tour package fee is the same in every travel agency. This is in order to protect the tourist and give every tour owner a chance to make a living without going into bad business tactics.
After nearly two hours of travel time, we have reached St. Paul’s Bay. Although it’s not part of our itinerary, the tour guide asked us if we want to add the Mangrove Park in our tour package. We simply add P150. All of us agreed. We weren’t let down.
After a few meters of walk by the Daluyon shore, we were led to a beautiful yet tranquil mangrove forest. We rode a small banca and was toured by volunteer workers who protect the sacredness of the forest. We saw wild lizards, snakes and even worms that are endemic to Palawan. At the middle of the mangrove river, the tour guides got us to hear their lullaby anthem. 🙂
Off to the Underground River
After a sumptuous meal of Filipino dish in buffet style, we all headed to where we came for, the famous Underground River. We first rode a mid-size motorized boat which brought us near the mouth of the cave.
After nearly 30 minutes, we stepped on the sandy beach of St. Paul Bay. We then traversed a man-made pavement for nearly 10 minutes. Lo and behold, the main cave entrance was in front of us!
For safety purposes, we were asked to wear life vests and helmets. I know that life vest is essential, But what is the helmet for? They explained, in order to protect our heads from bat poops! Ah ok. 🙂
Inside the Cave
The seven-man passenger alighted the small banca. Ervin sat in front and was given the chance to hold the battery-operated light and navigate the cave. Then, he got scared. So I volunteered to replace him and sat in front. Woooo! Scary!!!!
The main man, the one paddling our tour, started his work. As he paddles us inside the cave, he tells us of many stories about the cave and what we expect when we go inside.
As we go deep into the cave, everything is in pitch black. So I turned on our light. The place is so damp and cool yet dreary and eerie at the same time. The waters were so calm while the ceilings were so noisy with the chirping sounds of bats and what other beings that we can’t see. I know everybody is scared although we were too careful not to show it. A panicking passenger would turn our banca upside down.
As we traverse the whole 1.4 kilometers of dark, damp and dreary place, the main man, was pointing into rock formations, stalactites (limestones that fall from the ceiling) and stalagmites (limestones that are collected at the floor). The highest ceiling was around 10 meters. We saw many familiar figures like a huge lizard, some popular vegetables like carrots, pechay and cabbage. We also find rock contours of a lady with long hair, the Nativity scene, Jesus Christ and Virgin Mary. You can see almost anything as far as your imagination can figure it out.
There were other tourists whom we crossed as shown by the beacons of their lights. As we make our way deeper, my mind plays dirty tricks on me. Since I was seated in front, I can’t help but think, what if a sea creature would just appear from beneath us and eat us all alive? Sounds like a scene from a horror Hollywood film. But the main man calmed us about these things. He said that he never saw a live crocodile inside the cave. The only living creatures that live inside are bats and small blind fishes. Animals with clear eyesight can never survive that pitch black cave except of course, Batman. hehehe
Out of the Cave
The whole river stretch is around 8 kilometers. The end tip flows directly to the sea. We only traveled nearly 1 and a half kilometers because the rest of the river has a very small opening. Our boats cannot pass through those. But there are some tours that go as far as 4 kms.
As we see a dim light shining in the horizon, we are getting more excited and relieved that we are nearing the end. I believe claustrophobic people must not go to this place. But for the rest of us, this is a challenge and a great place to be.
Invitation to Visit and Vote
I congratulate the sincere efforts of Mayor Edward Hagedorn and the local government unit of Puerto Princesa for successfully transforming this majestic place into a tourist haven. The pavement leading to the river was 90% cemented. The people were very cordial and helpful. The volunteers were really doing a swell job in protecting the diversity of the place.
If I were you, I invite you to come and visit Palawan. It’s a great place to be! Aside from the river, there are other equally attractive places where you can go. There is the El Nido beach, the Honda Bay, dolphin and whale watching site and many more.
I also encourage you to come and vote for the only Philippine entry that made it as one of the top finalists in the New Seven Wonders of the Natural World. You may vote for it at New Seven Wonders of Nature. You may promote this wonderful God-given treasure from the Philippines and help boost our tourism. “Huwag maging dayuhan sa sariling bansa.” 🙂