Monday, October 1, 2012

Pampered in Palawan's Puerto Princesa City (Part 2)

All the pampering, which I had wished would never end, reached climactic proportions when we finally cruised into one of the world’s elite New Seven Wonders of Nature—the cryptic 8-kilometer watercourse once known as St. Paul’s Subterranean River National Park a.k.a. Puerto Princesa Underground River or simply PPUR. Geez, I thought for a while I’ve died and gone to heaven as we joined the huge crowds who explored PPUR, which, once upon a time, was “the longest underground river in the world” prior to the 2007 discovery of a 10-kilometer stretch in Mexico! 

Puerto Princesa Underground River
If there’s one thing I’d consider the crowning glory of my trek to Palawan, it would be none other than the underground river cruise, which was one helluva voyage that outclassed all the other adventures I’ve had around the Philippines. Not everyone who goes to Palawan gets to see PPUR so I consider myself one of the lucky ones who’ve explored “the longest navigable underground river in the world.”  

Getting there, however, was quite challenging as we had to board into one of the small motorized boats in Sabang which pass through the West Philippine Sea. I have a phobia about riding these types of boats because of what I’ve experienced in Davao del Sur years ago. Now, with Typhoon Lawin (international name: Jelawat) battering parts of Luzon and the Visayas, my misgivings about crossing the vast ocean quadrupled even as the Coast Guard finally gave the go signal to all vessels to ply that route— after making us wait for nearly an hour, huh!

Despite the bad weather, we opted to push through with our trek to PPUR, making it to our destination after a thrilling twenty-minute boat ride. By then, throngs were already assembled at the mouth of the river, all waiting to be boarded into canoes that would take us into the famed tourist attraction. Before lunch time, our tour guide managed to get us one canoe. Around that time, we learned that the Coast Guard superseded its previous directive with a new one, barring all vessels going to the subterranean river because of the heavy rains. 

At the mouth of the undeground river
That news hardly bothered us since we were already bound for the renowned wonder of nature. After finalizing our seating arrangement, our boatman then started rowing towards PPUR. The exhilarating journey into the inner sanctums of the subterranean river, which tourists were allowed to penetrate, really took my breath away. According to our boatman, the cavern where the river flows is divided into two parts: the “cathedral” section and the “market” section.  

At the cathedral section, we were all amazed to see a plethora of replicas, that is, rock formations of religious icons such as the Holy Family, Jesus, the Virgin Mary, etc. There were also stalagmites that resembled a giant candle and the apostles present during The Last Supper. Moving on to the market section, we were stunned to see, albeit vicariously, the natural sculptures of popular veggies: squash, eggplant, mushroom, onion, bitter gourd, papaya, to name some.  

Unfortunately, my Nikon wasn’t so cooperative that time. Alas, I have no internal shots of the underground river! It was difficult to take pictures of the natural wonders found there in the absence of an external flash. No matter how much I adjusted my camera’s ISO, getting decent shots was next to impossible since the cave was shrouded in darkness. Nonetheless, I enjoyed to the hilt our 45-minute exploration that covered some 1.5 kilometers. Satisfied, we headed back for Sabang Beach.  

On our return, something alarming happened that had me sending a mental SOS to all the angels and saints whose names I could recall. Barely had we left the coast when the downpour started to fall again. Sailing in the open sea, I became anxious as visibility hit almost zero. The island was literally nowhere in sight! No shores, no rocks, no structures. Nothing but the intimidating white expanse, the open sea, the monsoon rains, and the biting cold. 

As if this weren’t enough to scare the wits out of the passengers, howling winds came out of nowhere, which, in cahoots with the angry waves, rocked our fragile vessel. Holding on to my life vest, a morbidly ridiculous thought crossed my mind. OMG! Is this where it’s going to end? Where will the winds and the waves sweep us away? The Spratlys?! Geez, I don’t want to be a castaway! LOL!   

Then, after what seemed to me like eternity, we emerged out of the haze in one piece. It was comforting to finally see the vague outlines of Sabang’s beach, the marina, the vessels and other structures there. Soaked but solaced, I managed to chuckle as I joined my co-passengers walk back to the marina. Whew, that cruise back to Sabang would go down in my personal history as the longest, scariest and craziest twenty minutes of my life! And I’m so thankful that I’ve lived to tell my tale. LOL! 

All told, I couldn’t help but feel so pampered in Palawan notwithstanding the emotional  roller coaster—joy, excitement, anxiety, fear—I experienced during our 4D/3N vacay. After all, it isn’t every day that this irrepressible road warrior gets a chance to bunk at an expensive-looking but easy-on-the-pocket suite in one of the city’s luxurious hotels; capture the visually arresting seascapes of Sabang Beach; feast on a sumptuous all-seafood fare at Puerto Princesa’s baywalk strip; marvel at the beauty of Honda Bay during an island hopping tour; and have a face-to-face encounter with the stalactites and stalagmites scattered inside the chambers of the underground river. By golly, who wouldn’t feel he’s on cloud nine given these perks? 

Brief as it was, the trek to the country’s green paradise now holds the record of being the most fun-filled, fear-laden and fulfilling sojourn I’ve ever had around the Philippines. But I’m not done with Palawan yet. Why, I’ve barely scratched the island’s surface! There are so many amazing destinations I’m raring to explore—Calauit, Coron, Cuyo, El Nido and many others beckon. I’m in no rush to visit all of them though. Or else, I’d go broke. But then again, if there’s a willing sponsor out there who’d save my day, I’d hastily drop everything right here, right now…wink, wink. LOL!   

This recent escapade has overwhelmed me so much that the mental recollections there will probably flood this inveterate bagman’s memory bank for countless days to come. Indeed, the whole shebang during our short sojourn to the country’s biggest province exceeded my great expectations! And one thing is certain: I’ll surrender anew—open arms, legs and all!—to another seduction that would come my way, hopefully on a bright summer day. When that time comes, I wish Palawan won’t disappoint. And that it’ll remain as green a paradise as I first caught a glimpse of the Philippines’ Last Frontier. :D

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