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Published: February 8th 2009
St. Paul's Subterranean River National Park in Puerto Princesa, Palawan certainly deserves to count among the 7 wonders of the world. My friends and I thought it's about time we visit this famous underground river which has been declared a UNESCO Heritage Site , and check out the many other attractions of this southern part of Palawan (the northern part deserves a separate blog!). We were pleasantly surprised to find many more wonders in Puerto Princesa. And this is how our adventure went.
St. Paul's Underground River
It took us a couple of hours to reach the place. That's over land. Next step is to board a boat passing limestone cliffs to reach the entrance to the underground river. The boat ride was another 30 minutes. When we got off the boat, we found a path "guarded" by monitor lizards and swinging monkeys through this mini rainforest which led towards the river. Waiting for us at the mouth of the cave were professional guides who divided us into small groups. Each small group to a professional rower guide to each boat. While waiting for an earlier batch to come out of the cave entrance, we listened to
instructions from our guide while taking in the sights around the entrance. I asked about this tree which must have stood by the cave entrance for many years to witness all the comings and goings in this world wonder. The Dangkalan tree is a fitting guard that stands between the open sea and the cave entrance. By the time we were instructed to board our boat and don our helmet, I was satisfied with the pictures I took of the lovely tree.
Inside the cave, the underground river snaked through for some 4 kilometers before we were led back the same way to get out. We must have spent a good hour inside........enough to see many of the stalactite and stalagmite formations. I've got to hand it to the guide who cheerfully flashed his light on cave formations in different shapes and sizes, resembling various fruits and vegetables, as if we were all out in the market. There was also a spot aptly called Cathedral because of it s height which looked like an atrium with the "Holy Family" cave formation somewhere near. We were careful to keep our mouths shut as there were too many bats too
eager to shed some droppings!
Iwahig Penal Colony
If there was ever a prison community with the most cheerful inmates, this is the place. The penal colony spanned many hectares. This correctional institute is really more like a farming community much like the kibbutz farms I have visited in Israel. Some prisoners lived with their families and were given lots to till to earn a living. Along the river were picnic cottages where families of other prisoners stay during "visits". I met an inmate there with a pet snake, just a small one, but no matter - those slimy creatures still give me the creeps. Another inmate had a pet turtle. Still another had various handicraft products for sale. It felt kind of strange to roam around the place, meeting inmates, chatting with them, even haggling with them for some keychains and other souvenir wood products which they crafted with their own hands.
In another part of the penal colony, we found this old structure with lovely windows. Must be at least 50 years old. Certainly not too old, but it's got character. Reminded me of some of the old structures that can be found
in the old Sangley Point back in Cavite City where our family once lived. Right beside this structure was the handicraft store. Wooden souvenirs, keychains, table mats, etc were up for sale. One can tell these prisoners had their hands full, busy working with their hands to earn a living. No wonder they look happy in this place.
Dining at Kalui's and Badjao
Not to be missed are these 2 fine establishments. Kalui's has such a homey atmosphere where diners are asked to leave their slippers outside the hut and don house slippers while enjoying many of Kalui's seafood delicacies. The grilled fish selections were so yummy, and paired with the local seagrapes salad called "lato" make for a really good lunch. I like the ambience in this place. It is truly an artist's place.
Badjao Restaurant on the other is a lot bigger, built on stilts looking out into the sea. Seafood is the place's attraction too. Freshly harvested prawns and lobsters, grilled tuna, and some local vegetable dishes. I can imagine many weddings and birthdays held here.
Crocodile Farm in Palawan's Wildlife Center
I have never been to any
crocodile farm, so this is my first outing with these crocs. Each one of us in the group was made to hold a baby croc and pose for a picture. Naturally, i did not pass up the opportunity. But just like the snake, I have no affection for these reptiles. Forgive me. We crossed a short bridge passing a group of crocodiles who looked like they were waiting for their lunch. Hopefully they did not expect me for lunch.
On our way back to Legend Hotel where we were booked, we stopped by this place for dinner. We met some ex-refugees from Vietnam here. Obviously, not everyone left for good old America. Some chose to stay behind, and married their Filipina girlfriends. The Vietnamese restaurant where we had dinner boasts of authentic Vietnamese cuisine. We had the usual rolls, barbecued meats and noodle soups. We even tried their air-dried jackfruit slices.
We took a boat and braved the waves in Honda Bay , passing a number of islands. We chose to eat our lunch of grilled fish, salted eggs with tomatoes, mangoes with bagoong (shrimp paste), and rice
in Snake Island. We also found a couple of snorkelling guides who found the perfect spot for us to see schools of fish. Frankly, I was a bit scared venturing out in open sea. My guide was kind of advanced in years and I was praying he won't have an attack while watching out for me. Tried hard not to panic, and simply enjoyed snorkelling.
The house of the late Congressman Mitra is atop a hill and provided a lovely view of Honda Bay. It was also a house with a unique architecture............round in shape, with wooden balcony rails to hem in the tourists enjoying the panoramic view. Inside the house, one finds pictures of the entire family. The caretaker still speaks lovingly of the late Speaker of the House. As do most people from Palawan. What a waste. Now, we'd never know if Mitra could have been the republic's greatest ever president.
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