The gang is on the move again, haha. This time, I, Ting, Doods, and Joy are going to Palawan, specifically targeting El Nido and the Underground River. Prior to the trip, I reserved a Quad Room in La Casa Teresa Beach Resort for 3 days and 2 nights. The resort is ideally located in Barangay Corong-Corong, just outside of El Nido town proper. The reservation includes free breakfast and van transport from the Puerto Princesa International Airport to the resort and back to Puerto Princesa City on the 3rd day.
We also availed of their Tour A package worth 1,200 PHP per head. The package consists of island hopping, inclusive of buffet lunch and drinks, motorized “banca” to and from and life vests.
Arriving at the airport on June 8, 2015, we found the van already waiting and along with the other tourists, off we go to El Nido. It was a long trip and midway, we made a stopover for lunch in an eatery. The scenery is beautiful along the road. All in all, it took around 6 hours to reach our destination.
We made ourselves comfy in our room and briefly rested. Then, we rode a tricycle to town. The gang strolled about a kilometer of the shoreline, marveling at the beach full of boats and foreign and local beauties, haha. Getting dark, the seaside came to life and the group selected a food house to hunker down for dinner. After enjoying the nightlife with moderate alcoholics, we went back and get ready for tomorrow’s activity.
As a side note, there are plenty of peddlers selling pearls along the beach. This is not a surprise considering that Palawan is also famous because of it. In fact, the world’s biggest pearls were discovered here. The Pearl of Allah also called Pearl of Lao Tzu has a diameter of 24 cms and weighs 6.4 kgs. Recently, a Puerto Princesa pearl was found with a length of 67 cms and 34 kgs weight. It is estimated to value at a whopping 100 million USD!
Pearls are cultured for jewelry and basically, there are two varieties: freshwater and saltwater. Freshwater pearls come from mussels grown in lakes and reservoirs. While, saltwater ones are from oysters raised in bays, inlets, and atolls.
Generally, seawater pearls are more expensive than freshwater ones. Oysters can produce only one pearl at a time. Mussels, on the other hand, are capable of up to 30. Oyster pearls have more shape symmetry and luster. South Sea Pearl, among the top saltwater pearls in the market, is produced in Palawan.
Having said all this, if you want to buy, be careful. Some vendors are selling freshwater versions for the price of South Sea pearl. I suggest purchasing from trusted merchants like Delma Pearl and Souvenir Shop located at Mercado de San Miguel in Puerto Princesa City. I purchased a Golden South Sea pearl necklace from them for a much cheaper price.
The next day, I woke up early and excitedly went to the terrace. My eyes were treated to a misty morning view, but the fog is not able to hide the beautiful sunrise emerging from the surrounding islands and open sea. I was so relaxed seeing this.
After breakfast, we boarded a pump boat along with other tourists and the island hopping begins!
The first stop is the Small Lagoon, then Big Lagoon, both located in Miniloc Island. While on our way, there’s a sudden downpour, and we are all wet. Luckily, before departing, we waterproofed our phones, cameras and other belongings with plastic bags. As tips, don’t forget to bring your own drinking water and wear a hat, preferably a “sombrero”. One more thing, consider proper clothing. Ting, for example, wore a rash guard to protect against sharp corals, stones, and barnacles. And fish bites too.
From the boat, I can’t help but admire the majestic limestones that dot the waters.
We didn’t bother to explore Small Lagoon as it’s only accessible by swimming or kayaking through a gap between two limestone cliffs. The group will not settle for a small swimming pool when we can frolic in the Big Lagoon, haha. The crystal clear water is so enticing that I jumped from the boat’s bow, thinking that the water is deep, only to find out that it is not. I have a small gash on my left knee as proof, haha.
From there, we went to Shimizu Island which is ideal for snorkeling. We had rice, “sinugbang isda” and grilled pork served with watermelon for lunch here.
The last leg of the tour is 7 Commandos Beach, where we had juice drinks and soaked in the sun, water and sand like kids, haha.
Returning to the resort, we slept and woke up in the evening. It’s time to infuse ourselves in the locality for one last time. Along with the alleyways, I bought a mug as memorabilia and some shirts for “pasalubong”.
The morning after, we went back to the Puerto Princesa for our visit to the Underground River the following day.
The river is part of the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park and declared as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature and a protected World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It is a must-see tourist destination and visitors from around the world flock to see it. To this point, the local government has set a daily limit on the number of tourists to ensure the preservation of the area. Because of this, it is essential to plan and book your trip ahead.
To spare us the hassle, we requested the La Casa Teresa management to arrange a group tour for us. The package takes care of everything, from securing the permits, transport to and from, and lunch. Our only responsibility is to show up, haha.
En route to Go Hotels, where we have a two-room reservation, the van dropped by the MCA Market Mall – Pasalubong Center in San Miguel, where we purchased more “pasalubong”, haha. I bought clothes for everyone back home. Reaching the hotel, we cozied up in our rooms. The location is very convenient as it is beside Robinson’s Place.
The gang went out in the evening to prowl the streets of the city. We rode a jeepney and dropped off to the very end of its route. Looking for a place to satiate hunger, as destiny would have it, we stumbled on an ongoing food festival held in the City Hall itself, haha. With our bellies full, we went back to rest and get ready for the adventure tomorrow.
By next morning, we are on the way to Sabang Port, our drop off point to the Underground River. It is a 2.5-hour trip along an enjoyable scenery. After securing our permits from the Tourist Information Center, we boarded a motorized “banca” for a 20-minute boat ride to the river’s landing area.
From there, we followed a trail through the dense forest. There’s a lot of wildlife and visitors are advised not to feed them. At the dock, we registered and waited for our turn to cruise the river. Safety measures are strictly followed. Life vests and helmets are provided. Passengers are limited to 9 per “banca”. The boat is not motorized but paddled by the tour guide himself, who by the way is a trained professional and speaks English.
The Underground River is a subterranean river flowing under a protected cave that features spectacular formations of stalactites and stalagmites. The limestone landscape is one of the most complex cave systems in the world.
With a distance of 8.2 kilometers, it is the world’s second-longest underground river. However, tourists are only allowed to see the first 1.5 kilometers. Despite its popularity, there are areas still unexplored. Who knows what awaits deeper down there, haha.
Finally, our boat arrived. Passengers are seated in front, while the tour guide sits at the back. Upon entering the mouth of the river, we were greeted by darkness and the familiar smell of bat dung, haha. The guide handed a flashlight and tasked me to focus the light on various natural rock formations that resemble images of saints, animals, plants, fruits, and whatnot.
The first stop is a section, aptly named “Cathedral”. It is a huge dome-like cavern rising from 65 to 300 meters high. Water drips from a large opening into a candle-like stone structure at the bottom.
As we navigate, our guide is tirelessly sharing useful information related to the notable features and areas. This highlights one of the keys to making the trip enjoyable. The guide is “entertaining”, in a way by being funny and by the way he speaks. Otherwise, it will be boring.
Throughout the ride, I was on edge as the boat isn’t steady and sways left and right from time to time. I felt like it’s going to turn sideways at any time. I can say the trip isn’t for the nyctophobia. With the pitch-black darkness and shaky boat, what’s your reaction if I spook you by lighting the flashlight on my face? Haha, that would be fun but on second thought also dangerous.
When the boat turned towards the exit, my heart jumped with gratefulness to finally see the light at the end of the cave, haha.
Back in Sabang Port, we had lunch before returning to the hotel. After resting, Ting and I went out to buy “danggit” in the public market. It is essentially salted dried fish, which is just another thing Palawan is known for. They carefully enclose it in plastic wrap, to hide the smell so it won’t get rejected at the airport. Then, we had dinner in a rooftop restaurant and called it a day.
The group woke up early to prepare for our trip back to Iloilo. Ting and I had a light breakfast of oatmeal, cracker and “salabat”. Then we waited in the lobby for the van that will take us to the airport. When it came, I was holding back, as I’m not yet ready to leave. Reluctantly, I took my seat and vowed “I shall return”, haha.
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