Friday, May 05, 2006

Palawan Day 2: St. Paul Underground River

This day we woke up late. We agreed with dad that we'd leave the pension house by 7 am. But dad texted that he was still having breakfast with a former Mayor-friend of his and we were all too tired to get up anyway. At least I got a little time left to charge my cam which I forgot to do the night before.

It was almost 10 am when we checked out of Lola Itang's. On our way to Sabang where the underground river was, we found this view deck and asked the driver to stop for some photo op. Little did we know that there would be several viewdecks before sabang. Of course we were running late so we just had one more stop for a photo op.

The road to Sabang is made up of 40% very good road and 60% really rough and brain-joggling, bone-breaking, muddy trail. But these were all worth the trip since the underground river is a beautiful, beautiful place. It is 1 of the 5 world heritage sites in the Philippines as declared by the UNESCO, along with the Banaue Rice Terraces, Vigan, Tubataha Reef (at the southern tip of Palawan), and some Churches.

It was almost 12 NN when we got to Sabang. There's a port in Sabang from where we bought tickets and took the boat ride to reach the other side of the coast. We could have reached it by land but we would need to walk for 2.5 hours through the jungle going there and another 2.5 hours coming back. Besides I don't think any of us were really fit to walk that far.

We ate lunch first. The Pier is full of small cafeteria that serve local fare most of which are seafood. There are several souvenir shops that sell mostly shirts, and shorts, and other beach items. Somehow I think these guys are more tame than their counterparts in the other beaches in the country. They just greet you with a smile but ask you what item you are looking for. I hate it so much when vendors practically drag you into their store just like they would drag their goods in after a delivery.

It took us 30 minutes to get to the beach just a few hundred meters away from the entrance of the underground river. From, there we were met by the regular inhabitants of the area - the monkeys and the monitor lizards. The people who were running the place didn't seem to mind them and in fact tried to warn us to keep our things and not to bring food with us because the monkeys would steal those anyway.

There was another 5-minute walk to get to another port where a smaller, non-motorized boat was waiting for us. Our boatman, Chris, welcomed us and gave us a brief orientation on our do's and don'ts, what we would see and expect to learn from the trip. We were told that the boats used to have engines. but the fumes would discolor the rock formations so these were discontinued. The river is subterranean and for a while I thought our "banca" (filipino for a mall boat) wouldn't fit and our heads would hit the ceiling. But I was proven wrong. there was enough room for 2 bancas at the entrance and even 3 or four could fit inside. The trip took us about 1.5 hours to finish. The stalactites and stalagmites took on different shapes that resembled several "everyday" things that we see - mushroom, candle, lrt, dog, corn, a sexy lady. It was very dark in the river you wouldn't see a single thing when the rechargeable light is put out. It was also surprisingly cool.

What added to the pleasure of seeing the beauty of the underground river was the fact that our boatman was really a humorous guy. At one point I asked him whether the water in the river was salty. He answered promptly and said that it was not so salty. Just to satisfy my curiosity, and since I knew noone would be seeing me in the dark anyway, I tasted the water. Of course I reported about what I had learned about it. Just as though he didn't quite hear what I said, he announced that the bats used the cave as it "batroom" to relieve themselves when nature called! Yuck! But of course we all laughed at my experience.

When we were on our way back, we saw a macaque. and another macaque. and more macaques... that the whole troop was there! The boatmen who had gathered to leave the place with us pointed at a particular one and said that it was the leader and the bossy one of all. Not that we didn't like seeing them (macaques) but we didn't want to lose any of our stuff. So we left them alone as they did us.

We went back to our service vehicle and proceeded to Port Barton where we would be staying on our third and last day since the fourth day would be the trip back home. It was nighttime when we reached our destination. There was hardly any light on the path to the Greenviews Resort. But I had not seen so many stars in all my life as I had in Port Barton that night. Awesome!

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