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Saturday, April 9, 2011

My 3-Day Vacation in Puerto Princesa



Hubby's first out-of-town assignment was in Culion, Palawan. To get to Culion, he had to take a flight to Coron via Seair or Asian Spirit (now Zest). He would then catch the small boats who ferry daily to Culion. In his first week, we found out that there was barely mobile network coverage where he was staying. Because his stay ranged from two to six weeks, he was desperate in finding ways to catch a signal. His strategies included climbing the roof and sitting by the beach with an aluminum basin.

We scheduled our calls once a week to reduce my frustration with out-of-coverage notifications or no replies, which meant he didn't get my messages at all.

Fortunately, I had the opportunity to explore Palawan on my own. I planned a 3-day trip to cover Puerto Princesa to Culion, and then back. I was naive, then, and now I realize Palawan in 3 days was only possible if I hired a private vehicle to bring me back and forth. But I wouldn't enjoy the trip with such a short time. There is so much to discover and do in Palawan! Three days is definitely not enough.

I have heard media call Palawan as the last frontier. So I set off to discover its natural wonders - even on a tight budget. My airfare was provided by my sister so I didn't have to worry about it. But because I did not know enough about where I was heading, I chose to stay in basic accommodations so I have funds in case of an emergency. According to the maps I checked, only Puerto Princesa had ATMs. As a backpacker, it may not be wise to carry a lot of cash when traveling. But, yes, I had to keep 'em in unusual hiding places. And so should you ;)
As soon as I landed on Puerto Princesa's airport (local name), I took a trike to the North-bound terminal. I was hoping to get to the Puerto Princesa Underground River and return to the city to take another public transport to Honda Bay and Northern Palawan. I was expecting that trips were scheduled and that there were enough public transport to ferry tourists from the city to the popular St Paul Subterranean River. 

My plans burst like a bubble when the bus' hind wheel burst somewhere in the unpaved highway to PPUR. I haven't returned since but I hope its now fully paved. Anyway, the bus arrived just in time for lunch. I was told the last return trip to the city leaves at 1pm. So I had no choice but wait for next day's trip so I can explore my much-awaited forest trek, river adventure and spelunking. Oh yes, caves scare me and also give me the thrill. Sometimes, it takes more of understanding your fear and its source to manage how to react to it. 

PPUR can be reached by boat or by land via the mountain trails. I am more thrilled with the latter considering at the possibility that I can come across interesting flora and fauna. I just wished I had a digicam then :( The entry to the forest trail can be reached with a short walk by the beach. You'll pass by the mangrove river tour jump-off to get tot he trail.
The shorter trail took me almost three hours of leisure trek enjoying the forest. There's no chance you'll get lost as the trail has signs. I had almost given up seeing some action when I met these hospitable macaques welcomed me on the trail near the limestone cliffs.
They were actually waiting for treats. It seems that despite reminders and 'Do Not Feed' signs were all over the trail, some visitors still continue to give them something. This is one negative impact of irresponsible tourism. They followed me for a while, perhaps until they realized that I wasn't going to give them any treat. One snarled at me when I tried to step forward. So I decided to sit and take their photo while waiting for them to walk away. It was nice to meet them though.

My heart thumped all the more upon learning that I had to go alone. The boat/tour operators said I could wait. But I knew I couldn't because I had to walk back in time to pack and catch the 1pm return trip to the city. It was unbelievably calm when we paddled near the cave's mouth. From my boatman, I learned that operators had to undergo and pass extensive training as well as carry essential equipment (life vest, light, batteries and backup) in order to be able to ferry tourists inside the cave. By the time we were in the mouth, my mind was rushing with 'what ifs' so I asked my boatman more questions about the parts of the cave.
He explained that the tour only covers a short span of the river. To proceed deeper into the cave, explorers would have to secure more permits from DENR and the local government. They were also not equipped well to go further. There were a number of chambers, some shallow enough for swimming. Uh nah, I'm not up for that, yet.

Your cam has to have enough lighting range so you can shoot the beautiful natural sculptures. 
Afterwards, he also offered to accommodate me in their ride back to the city. What a lifesaver!

My return trip to the city was hassle-free, 2 or 3 hours (if I remember it right). After dropping his guests, I got to check out the Crocodile Farm and Mitra's Ranch before dark. From the ranch, you get a 360 degree view of Puerto Princesa. My host brought me to a modest hotel, as requested. And then invited me to watch the cultural dance at the Legend Hotel. I obliged, having no plans to walk alone (in unknown territory) at night. I was then hospitably treated to dinner at the Legend Hotel by my surprisingly generous lifesaver. I was a bit scared so instead of having beer with the 'kinilaw' and 'inihaw na tuna', I ordered iced tea. Not good at all, but I guess its one way to stay out of trouble. Despite my doubts, he drove me back at the hotel and offered to service me to the airport the next day for my early flight back to Manila.

I politely declined and said I'd rather commute since I have plans of going around the local market to buy pasalubong. I got some dried squid and tahong, cashew and Palawan keychains. And yes, the handful non-digital photos are part of my pasalubong :)

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