2011: The Year That Was

And here goes my year summarized in photos taken from all over the Philippines. I have thus proven that once bitten by the travel bug, one can never go back. Thanks to all the friends I met online at first, on the road eventually. I hope 2012 has a lot more in store for me and my itchy feet. 🙂 Cheers!
































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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.

Where to Stay in Puerto Princesa: Dallas Inn

Cozy little fan rooms for PhP300 a night (twin sharing or dorm basis) with free wifi and unlimited coffee? It’s not often that you chance upon finds like these in a tourism giant like Puerto Princesa. In Dallas Inn, however, they have all these and more- they have Ate Oring.

Free drinking water (hot and cold), coffee and milk tea

The most gracious and approachable host that she is, Ate Oring will help you fix your day’s schedule and hook you up with only the best tour providers. She would even share her stories with you in the mornings over a cup of hot milk tea or coffee. She’ll ask you how you found her place and in the case of a friend recommending it, she’ll recall with all clarity the name of that friend who’s stayed at Dallas Inn weeks or even months before you.

spotless clean bathroom

The place is actually a private residence converted into an inn by Ate Oring and her family. The rooms are clean and it is encouraged that guests leave their footwear outside their rooms in the shoe rack provided.

Clean sheets, towels, free soap - bare necessities

perfect mornings here at Dallas inn comprise of two things- coffee and a good conversation

There is a common living room where a table is set up holding the mugs, hot water, and sachets of instant NaiCha (milk tea) and coffee. Just near the gate, a mini lounge is provided with a native woven hammock and some chairs and a table, perfect for lazy afternoons after tiring countryside tours.

lazy lounge

I highly recommend the place for those wanting to stay for a night or two in Puerto Princesa on a budget without compromising comfort. Well I should say that more than being budget-friendly, clean, and cozy, the place owes a chunk of its character to Ate Oring and the many backpackers from around the globe that make Dallas Inn their home in Puerto Princesa City.

huge map on the wall where backpackers could pop in pins to represent where in the world they're from

Dallas Inn & Cafe

Cel No.: +639199678558
Complete Address: #11 Carandang St. Mangahan
Puerto Princesa City Palawan, Philippines
contact person: Oring Gonzales
email: dallasinnpalawan@yahoo.com

5D4N El Nido and Puerto Princesa Itinerary

This was the itinerary we had in mind when we planned our 5days 4nights Palawan escapade for 11-15 October 2011. We were able to follow it except for the afternoon’s activity on the third day which is the Puerto Princesa City Tour. It was raining cats and dogs that day and we were able to reach PPC at around 1:30pm in the afternoon. Most tours take off by 1pm and it was impossible for us to join one since we didn’t really book in advance. We spent roughly 7K each (twin sharing basis for the accommodation) for the entire trip (inclusive of terminal fees) and I’ll be sharing to you the detailed expense breakdown in my next post. The airfare was pretty cheap too! 353-peso roundtrip tickets were purchased 5months prior to the trip. Thanks to Airphil’s 100-peso seat sale.

For now, here’s the itinerary.

Day 1

12:20 – 1:30pm – Manila to Puerto Princesa
1:30 pm – go to Fort Wally booking office near airport, catch van to El Nido

Fort wally Shuttle Tel. 0917-2762875,
0920-9815702
Fare: P700
9:00 pm – Arrival in El Nido town, check in at Makulay Lodge and Villas ( P700.00/night.)

Day 2

09:00AM – Island Hopping (tour A+B)
1:00PM – Lunch Buffet at Shimezu Island
04:00PM – End of island tour
05:00PM – Back to Makulay Lodge and Villas (see contact details in my previous post)

Day 3

07:00AM – leave El Nido bound for Puerto Princesa
12:00PM – ETA Puerto Princesa
12:30 PM- Check in at Dallas Inn, P600 a room (good for 2),

Dallas Inn Palawan
Cel No.:             +639199678558
E-mail Add: [dallasinnpalawan (at) yahoo . com]
Complete Address: #11 Carandang St. Mangahan,
Puerto Princesa City Palawan, Philippines

1:00pm- LUNCH
1:30pm – 5pm  – city tour P600.00/pax
7:00 pm – 9pm – Dinner/food trip at Rizal Avenue

Day 4

4:30 – 6:00am – Waking up/prep time
6:30-8:30am – breakfast
9:00am – start of underground river tour P1,300.00/pax
5:00 pm – back to Dallas inn
7:00 -8pm – dinner at Kalui’s

Day 5

7:00-11:00 FREE TIME (Buy Pasalubong)
11:00am – checkout from Dallas Inn
11:30 – Lunch
1:00pm – airport check-in
2:00pm – Flight to Manila
3:10 – ETA, NAIA 3