[Puerto Princesa] ~ From Wonder to Wander

For wonderful nature has its acts we have no control over. Let’s just wander in thought. – 06.22.13



For this entry, it is mostly words. But stories I find fascinating.

Well-rested from our first day in Puerto Princesa, we woke up early to make it in time for 7AM pick-up for our trip’s highlight and only definite plan – the Underground River tour! The van arrived about 20 minutes late but there was some cheerful music from the van’s speakers and some giddy tour guide that I almost didn’t mind.

The decision to hire a travel agency instead of going do-it-yourself came after getting advice from most online articles that permits are necessary which must be secured weeks prior to visit date. I personally find this tedious and again, I would normally risk trying and possibly failing if I am travelling solo. With little deliberation, I chose to book via asiatravel.com because booking is convenient online and compared to another site, it is a few bucks cheaper. I learned later on from the guide that agencies like asiatravel.com subcontract local tour agencies who do the actual tour. In our case, it was Topstar Travel and Tours.

It was my first time to go on a tour and I realized how it has its perks too. For one, our tour had an entertaining guide. We were not exclusive tourists (if there is such a thing!) but we were lucky to be the first to be picked up so we got the better seats. Our tour group was composed of a man in his 30s who was on a business trip, two ladies who went on a quick weekend getaway and a family of four – interesting sort of an older version of ours in profile but with opposite personalities. Quite interesting.

There was a funny story when we picked up the two ladies and the guide teased us saying how the hotel (Hotel Centro) they were staying in is the safest hotel in the entire city. He left us hanging  in curiosity while he picked up the ladies. And the answer – hmm, I shall be mean and not say.

puerto smallIt was an hour and a half ride to the port but our guide (Kuya German, Germs or whatever nickname you want to call him) did his job so passionately and well that it was a bearable ride. My father was the chattiest while I butt in from time to time while typing in some to-remembers in my phone.

To get to Sabang port, we passed by 12 barangays or towns,  one of which I specially remember because of an interesting history behind its name Bacungan. The said town was named such because it has been told that there are many bacung flies in the area. I did know about such flies but according to Kuya, those were insects 10-20 times as bigger than mosquitoes and that they are deadly. Then it became unclear to me whether these really exist when he started to share a story. It all started when a mother wanted his child to go home before it gets dark that she scared him by telling him about this giant fly that takes children at night. The news spread really fast the following day and so that day, all kids were safe at home before it got dark.

Little did I know also that roads could be interesting. I like how he described the noticeable difference between parts of the road that are made by Korean contractors versus the Filipinos. Former’s was like that of a smooth race track while that of Pinoys tend to be rough with sharp corners. He also shared stories on how the trip used to be a nightmare prior to construction of concrete roads around 2000. Free mud pack, so he said.

In one of the towns, we passed by  a giant white cross so visible against the lush mountains.  We found out that at the foot of that cross lives a nun (Sister Shirley) who does faith healing. She apparently migrated from Manila and goes back to the city from time to time to get supplies.

We also learned some interesting facts, mainly superlatives, about Palawan. That is, how it is the biggest city as well as the biggest, longest and oldest island in the Philippines. Interestingly, more than 1000 islands out of the 7000+ islands that comprise the Philippines are in Palawan.  And of its many islands, what they consider to be paradise is El Nido. I also heard this insider tip from a friend but Kuya validated that we should not believe what we read online that it is very expensive that island. Another interesting island is Cuyo Island where natives of Palawan reside. Aside from the natives looking extraordinarily beautiful, these people are also those few who still speak the native lost language of Palawan — Cuyono which is very close to the language of Guamanians.

As with Palawan being the longest island, there seemed to have some debate on whether it is Palawan or Davao but we were told that a quick check at Wiki would tell us that the numbers point to Palawan as the winner. He gave us the figures but I spaced out and could not remember what he said. (Really not a fan of numbers. Well, except money! Haha)

Then there was his stories about their fauna pride. He boasted of two kinds of deer, their small version of peacock but my favorites were the stink badger (locally called “pantot” according to Google), “kiyaw” or hill myna and red-vented cockatoos.

Described to be cute, we were told that the feeling of meeting one is similar to how a  child feels when being faced with a teddy bear she badly wants. It however gives off a smell so bad and strong that one can smell it from afar – even when passing a road inside an airconditioned vehicle. Whoa, so its smell must be THAT powerful. It is aptly called “pantot which sounds like a Filipino word for bad smell which is “bantot”.

As with the “kiyaw”, what makes it interesting is that it is an inverted version of the other bird “kilyawan (black-naped oriole). Meanwhile, the red-vented cockatoo is also interesting because it used to be kept as a pet in most Palawan households but it is now endangered. I think it is like a parrot that you can teach to say things like “pangit! pangit” (Filipino word for ugly). I did a quick Google search – it is truly endangered as there are only about less than 1000 left in total Philippines.

Kiyaw Kilyawan

Kiyaw and kilyawan.

(I could not find photos of two that are more alike though. Photos not mine – Kiyaw photo on the left is from http://www.pcsd.ph while Kilyawan photo is from http://www.manilaoldtimer.net)


Story-telling was interrupted when we had a stopover. Little did we know that after such, we shall hear some..well.. news.


Some lovely details in stopover’s viewing deck



Checking out some souvenirs


As soon as we sat down inside the van, our guide told us the not-so-good news our tour may be cancelled because the current inside the cave was strong. I did not understand at first because it was not a rainy day like the previous day. It was a fine day! But because it rained the previous day, apparently it was low tide which made the current in the underground river strong. We still had our hopes up and decided to push thru.

As soon as we arrived, though we were anticipating some disappointment, he still managed to give a fun fact about the name “Sabang”, which is also the name of the beach in my hometown Baler. Apparently, Sabang could mean two things depending on how it is pronounced. If stress is on first syllable, it means “mixture of salt and freshwater”. If on the second, it means “long beach”.

So we were asked to wait for a few minutes while Kuya speaks with whoever was in-charge. I surprisingly was not irritated at the high possibility of the tour being cancelled. (Good job, patience!) And so, it was not much of a blow when we all heard the sad news – we could not really see the river that day. Luckily though, we could rebook the following day. We just need to be there a bit early. Luckily also, our flight the next day is still at 6PM. The other family touring with us was scheduled to fly out right after lunch so they some rebooking decisions to make.

People could actually say we lost half a day but I think we didn’t. It was tiring, yes, and sad that we were not able to see what we aimed to see that day, but the stories along the way made the trip worth it.

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