The "Last Frontier" {Darrell}

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September 17th 2008
Published: September 23rd 2008
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1: Riding the jeepney 34 secs
Mud in actionMud in actionMud in action

A jeepney-eye view of the road across Palawan
It seems that travelling in the Philippines first involves learning to wake up early. By 7am we found ourselves still dazed and pre-coffee on the early jeepney riding the notoriously bad "abortion road" to Sabang. The island of Palawan is often touted as "The last Fronteir" of the Philippines for its rugged undeveloped-ness.

The jeepney was absolutely packed, loaded with goods, produce, and people on the roof. It actually turns out that the road is not all that bad. Most of it is on concrete, and they are busy sealing the rest. I guess as with all things, "bad" roads are relative, but after travelling around Southern Africa, most recently with a crazy trip on the wrong road to Hole-in-the-wall and our honeymoon in Mozambique, we were pleasantly surprised.

The dirt parts are still pretty bumpy though, and it was impressive to see how the loaded jeep ploughed through it all. The worst part of it was actually that our seats were facing into the jeepney, so it was difficult to get a good view of the incredibly beautiful road that traversed the island. As often as we could stand it, we would twist in our seats and crane
Glimpses of PalawanGlimpses of PalawanGlimpses of Palawan

Through the gaps in the thick jungle beside teh road
our necks to see out of the low open windows behind us. The lush jungle opened intermittantly to frame a view of lime-green rice paddies fringed with coconut palms and backed by massive white and black streaked granite cliffs. Little boys ran up to the road from their thatched huts to wave and shout to as we passed. It seemed like we accounted for a great deal of the day's traffic.

Sabang is a pretty line of bungallows and restaurants strung along an exquisite bay. We stayed in a place called Dab Dab on the quiet (rocky) end of the bay. The stilted rattan huts were set in a peaceful garden with a beautiful wooden lounging deck. Best of all, while some of the other resorts were booked up, we had this place to ourselves, simply because it was slightly out of the way.

After a lazy first day swimming in the warm water and drinking out of coconuts, we decided to take hike the next day to the subteranean river nearby. Most people pay a boat to carry them along the coast, but there is an intensely beautiful hike through primary rainforest that can take you there. Apparently the rainforests of Palawan are matched only by those in Madagascar for their biodiversity.

We took the more difficult Jungle Trail on the way to the river, which involved a lot of sweating, spidewebs in our faces and, when it started to rain towards the end, a whole lot of sliding around in the mud. But the route wound under a beautiful thick canopy with monkeys, large butterflies and even a monitor lizard along the way. We saw no-one else on the trail and were glad for the orange spray paint on the trees that marked the way.

Although not many people do the hike, the subterannean river itself is by no means off the map. It is in fact a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and as such attracts a fair amount of tourism. Despite this, it's really not an attraction anyone should miss. Having arrived in the afternoon we were pleased to find that we'd miussed the mornign rush. We hopped into a little boad and our guide paddled us slowly across the turquise lagoon at the river mouth and into the cave.

The cave was discovered only 20-odd years ago. An incredible 8km long channel has been cut by the river right throgh the mountains. The tourist canoes will take you 1.5km into the tunnel, although the guide did try to offer an extra kilometer in exchange for a steep tip. Inside there are some interestingly shaped rock formations, which have been given imaginative names, but the real attraction is just the sheer fact that you are slowly floating along, deep inside the dark bowels of a mountain.

On the way back we took the far established Monkey Trail. It was a much easier walk on concrete steps, but still passed through some beautiful jungle, opening at times onto small beaches surrounded on all sides by huge cliffs draped with dark green overgrowth. Such a beautiful place!

Our second night we moved to another bungsllow, the last on the quiet side of the beach. The owner was a strangely up-tight, but friendly woman. A local herself, she is now living in Dubai, and was really upset that upon visiting had found that her family had not maintained the place. Since we were the only guests she let us have the main bungallow, an large wooden structure with a private bathroom and an
The lifeThe lifeThe life

Chilling at DabDab
incredible view of the bay, for a mere 250 Pesos (less than $6).

As we were heading back to the bungalow, feeling pleased with ourselves for having arranged a boat to take us to a small offshore island the next morning, we bumped into our boatman, who told us no boats would be goiung out the next day. When we aske why, he pointed to the horizon. A huge blck cloudbank moving like a wall from the South was apparently an aproaching typhoon.

As we walked back, mentally re-planning our next few days, we watched the local shopkeepers boarding up their windows and hammering down corrogated steel onto the roofs. I guess that this is just a fact of life for them. Suddenly forced to take the same attitude as the locals and forgo all of our plans at the mercy of the weather, we stopped into a small restaurant to grab some chow and watch from inside as the wind and rains beat down on the little beach town.

It was ultiately the most relaxing experience and the best thing for driving out the last of our ideas of schedule and routine lef over from the
The Monkey TrailThe Monkey TrailThe Monkey Trail

Beautiful "Karst Forest"
last year-and-a-half of work.

Additional photos below
Photos: 15, Displayed: 15


Walking the Jungle TrailWalking the Jungle Trail
Walking the Jungle Trail

Keep an eye on those red spots!

Bad weather moving in
Boarding upBoarding up
Boarding up

Shopkeeper getting ready for the typhoon

25th September 2008

You guys did make your way
to Palawan...making your way to El Nido, I hope.

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