True Indulgence: Puerto Princesa Underground River Tour

To save us from any inconvenience, we booked a tour from Dallas Inn. Our tour guide was the very witty Harold Roxas. We were picked up from the inn at around 7:30am. The plan was to pick up all the other tourists who signed up for the tour from the nearby hotels before we take off to Sabang. When the tour van was finally filled, Harold took the spotlight. He was constantly reminding us that it was okay to sleep for the duration of the trip as it will take 2 hours till we reach Brgy. Cabayugan, Sabang which is the gateway to St. Paul Subterranean River National Park. But we begged him to tell stories, blurt away trivial facts about Palawan, crack jokes, and quiz us afterwards. He had the enthusiasm and charisma that only a seasoned tour guide could have despite having told us that it was his first time to lead a tour (well don’t they all tell that to tourists?).

We had a stop-over at the Buenavista viewdeck. Overlooking the beautiful Ulugan Bay, the deck adheres to its purpose with the sight imparting a sense of calm and content. And with the gentle breeze blowing against your skin as you look far out into the horizon, you can only hope for great things to come as the day progresses.

For those who do not know yet, the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites as it

“features a spectacular limestone karst landscape with its underground river. A distinguishing feature of the river is that it flows directly into the sea, and the lower portion of the river is subject to tidal influences. The area also represents a significant habitat for biodiversity conservation. The site contains a full mountain to the sea ecosystem and protects forests, which are among the most significant in Asia.”

The park is also one of the 28 finalists and the official entry of the Philippines to the Search for the New 7 Wonders of Nature. Harold, our tour guide, said that we are second to Jeju Island in terms of votes (as of 14 Oct). He encouraged us to persuade our friends and families to vote online or through text so the country could bag the top spot.

Update (06 Nov): Jim Paredes tweeted “Puerto Princesa Underground is officially no. 10. Let’s continue voting till we hit top 7.”

To reach the national park, we rode a motorized bangka. Upon docking, we immediately registered with the local tourism officers and cast our votes for the New 7 Wonders of Nature (as voting ends 11/11/11). Basically we were in a jungle where animals like monkeys and monitor lizards are able to roam freely. They were quite harmless and looked as if they were already accustomed to this much volume of people.

    Now our turn with the boatman (one of only 10 certified boatman/guides allowed to navigate within the subterranean river). We were told that we’re the last batch he will be touring before he takes his lunch. His dwindling energy level becomes apparent when he starts blurting out the formations inside the cave quite mechanically. We listen on, catching every trivial fact about the river and its unique ecosystem.

   

He tells us there are sections in the cave, the cathedral and the vegetable section, aptly named because of the various limestone formations held therein.

   

After 45 minutes in mystical darkness with only a handy spotlight to illuminate the way, our tour has come to an end.

To maximize our stay in Sabang, we signed up for the Mangrove Paddle tour. We were 8 in the boat including our paddler Cocoy and our guide, Lady Mangrove (she insists we call her as such).

  

The mangroves were humongous and looked like full-grown trees. Lady Mangrove tells us that it is in Palawan where one can find the largest concentration of century-old mangrove forests. Eerily majestic, the bakawan claims the area as their rightful home (when only years ago several profiteering men wanted to make fishponds out of this ecologically essential key area).

Evidently teeming with wildlife, I have spotted a mangrove snake (yellow striped), a Kingfisher, and a monitor lizard.

Lady Mangrove ends the tour with a song about the importance of mangroves. She then encourages us to sing along though we don’t know even a single word to it. As the beat is very much similar to the popular Filipino folk song, “Paru-parong Bukid”, we found ourselves shouting in unison “Oy!” after every line in the chorus.

Walking back to where we parked out tour van, we passed by some luxury resort hotels. And really, the view of the limestone mountains makes up about 80% of the whole WOW factor. I mean WOW (refer to photo below).

I think to myself, “someday I’ll be able to afford such luxury”. But then again, I have seen from afar the Karst mountains of Sabang. I have seen the majestic formations while navigating though the subterranean river. I have experienced nature in its raw form and have seen animals in their natural habitat. And I sigh with contentment because THAT FOR ME IS TRUE INDULGENCE.

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