Puerto Princesa: The City in the Forest

As the sun shines bright over Puerto Princesa City in Palawan, visitors are welcomed by a sea of blue and white tricycles along Rizal Avenue. The usual city establishments can be seen but they are distinguished by the beautiful green scenery that emerges from the trees surrounding the city.

As I look outside from the windows of an empty van, the city makes me feel close to home but in a different kind of way. It is an urbanized place where businesses continue to thrive, but dazzling white sand beaches, thrilling coral reefs and landscapes are just minutes or hours away from the city centre. 

As the shuttle took its last turn to get to the hotel, I was delighted to see how Puerto Princesa City can effortlessly breathe life into the picture post card scenes and online photographs that we see constantly.

New 7 Wonders of Nature

The tour shuttle arrived as I was finishing my dangit (dried fish) for breakfast. Kuya Bojie introduced himself as the tour guide for our cruise tour of the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park. This unique site is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is declared one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature.

This incredible view is available from the Sabang X Zipline
Copyright Photo: travelling_bk/PFN
As the van moved through the concrete jagged road, a relaxing green landscape full of trees and mountains was ready to be captured. You will be left in awe that nature could be so beautiful, while feeling inspired that the locals are committed to keeping it that way. As the van arrived at Sabang Port, the primary gateway to the underground river, we were greeted by the sight of numbered boats adorned with colorful banderitas. Overall, the system is well organized with a central dispatcher advising which boat is next and where to receive the next group of tourists.

"Be careful when opening your bags upon reaching our destination and do not leave your things out of sight," advised our tour guide as we put on our orange life jackets. I looked at him oddly with a puzzled look on my face. He then added, "There are no thieves in the city but all of them are here. The real thieves are the monkeys."
The boatman prepares to dock the boat on the shore
Copyright Photo: travelling_bk/PFN
The frequent visitors to the river park have influenced the natural way that the macaques, the species of monkey living on the island, hunt for food. As tourists used to constantly provide them with food, the macaques became dependent. In an effort to encourage the species to go back to their normal food hunting patterns, tourists are now prevented from giving food or bringing anything that could be mistakenly seen as food.

As the boat docked at the entrance of the national park, a shore with calming waves and towering limestone rock formations could be seen. We were guided on a trail to get to the paddle boats that would bring us inside the cave. The trail encompasses a collection of magnificent trees all fighting for light.

The trail heading to the paddled boat area
Copyright Photo: travelling_bk/PFN
As we encountered a sign stating, “To the Caves,” we felt hypnotized to run to the edge of the trail as we grew excited knowing that we were close to our destination. Standing at the foot of a mountain of limestone firmly submerged in the frigid turquoise waters was the opening where the boats paddle into the cave. The water was so peaceful and tranquil as if the Gods had used all of their powers to keep it so idyllic.

Copyright Photo: travelling_bk/PFN
"Look up but please keep your mouth shut," said the boatman. As I looked up, a school of bats hanged above me with some either sleeping or looking back at me. The cave is home to almost 40,000 bats, which all come out when it is dawn. As the boat man slowly paddled while telling stories, I felt a surge of excitement as if I was moving from one room to another in a magnificent museum with the beauty of the inside equally as beautiful as the outside.

Copyright Photo: travelling_bk/PFN
As the boat reached the end of the area that is open for tourists, I asked myself what is beyond the 7 kilometres of this dark cold cave. I wondered if there were waterfalls or even an area where you could dock and swim in the cold brackish water. But still, the 45 minute trip was already an impressive leap to a different world and seeing the light made it so clear why people want to preserve this beautiful heritage site.

Copyright Photo: travelling_bk/PFN
Copyright Photo: travelling_bk/PFN
Copyright Photo: travelling_bk/PFN

The Islands

The next day, I encountered the sun’s heat beating down on me as I cruised aboard a boat along the calm dark blue sea towards the islands of Honda Bay. It is one of the most popular destinations in Palawan where snorkelers and divers can enjoy a stunning marine sanctuary. You can see different species of fish, clams and corals living together in harmony. As I prepared my aquatic gear for a day of exploration, we approached the floating structure that is the gateway to the Pambato Reefs. A brown roof, shaped into a big sea turtle provided us with shade.

The Dalubkaragatan area.
Copyright Photo: travelling_bk/PFN
The entire floating structure was mostly made of wood where blue plastic containers are used to keep the Dalubkaragatan (School in the Sea) afloat. All visitors were oriented regarding the protected sanctuary and informed of guidelines and expectations. As I walked towards the diving site, I checked my life jacket and camera twice to ensure that they were secure as the reef was said to measure 40 meters deep. Anything that leaves your body would likely be lost forever.

The corals that can bee seen in the area
Copyright Photo: travelling_bk/PFN
The boatman takes a picture of the visitors in Pambato Reefs
Copyright Photo: travelling_bk/PFN
“Langoy kayo doon pa sir, mas marami pang magagandang corals doon!” (Sir, swim over to that area. There are more corals to see there!) said our tour guide. Totally scared, I let go of the orange circular floater and let myself swim towards the end. To my surprise, it was just like a scene in a mermaid show where a stunning color palette had been splashed over the entire area. There was a blue violet coral at the bottom, a red one on top, a white yellowish one on the side, and small fishes swimming everywhere. It's a scene that is just so beautiful like watching a 3D movie right in front of you. Though I wanted to stay at this location, the tour group needed to head to another island where we could swim and do other water activities.

School of Fish / Copyright Photo: travelling_bk/PFN
The boat docked on another white sandy shore where several brown cottages were lined up. Towards the left, a group of young people holding a monopod posed beside a sign that said, ‘Pandan Island.’ This island is where people usually do water activities and eat lunch on the Honda Bay Island Hopping Tour. Though most tours provide lunch, there are a lot of local people who offer seafood that they will cook and serve for your entire group. Lunch was a feast with shrimps, steamed fish, crabs, clams, seaweed and abalone. To my surprise, tamilok (naval shipworm) is not offered but I would have loved to try it if it was. Tamilok is a clam that is usually mistaken as a worm. Though I tasted fried tamilok around the city, I have never tasted it as kinilaw.

Sand castle built by the locals on Pandan Island.
Copyright Photo: travelling_bk/PFN
Boats parked as they wait for their visitors to head back to the city.
Copyright Photo: travelling_bk/PFN
After eating, I decided to take a short walk to a place where small starfishes are unnoticeable because of their color. They almost look like fossils but turning them upside down, you see the ampulla where the tube foot is continuously extending and retracting. As I sat and returned the starfishes to the water, I saw two kids making their own sand castle. I felt happy seeing that children get the chance to play in this wonderful environment, and at the same time, thankful for the locals who are committed to caring for this sanctuary.

The white and almost colorless starfish
Copyright Photo: travelling_bk/PFN
Children making their own sand castle
Copyright Photo: travelling_bk/PFN
After staying on the island for roughly 5 hours, we decided to head back to the city. As the small waves sprayed mist towards me, I felt so blessed to see the wonders of the island. The islands are an integral part of sustaining tourism in the province of Palawan and it will only flourish as long as people continue to take care of these natural wonders. As I ended my quick tour, I would definitely say that the pictures on those postcards are real and would definitely come back to visit again. See you soon, Palawan!

The view that sums up my Palawan experience.
Copyright Photo: travelling_bk/PFN
Traveler's Notes:

1 comment:

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