By Rene Calalang Scarborough-Ontario September 22. 2014
SECOND DAY was the climax of the tour – that of visiting the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River better known as the Puerto Princesa Underground River, that 8.2 kilometer river under the mountain, which in January 2012, was voted as one of the Seven Wonders of Nature. This title alone was more than enough to make me very eager and excited.
Second day started with a breakfast at the hotel of healthy, bountiful and delicious foods - a combination of Filipino and Western foods, to satisfy tourists.
As usual, we left early as we were told that if we leave late, we would have to have a long wait at the pier.
SABANG, the town where the attraction is located, and at its pier we would board the boat that would bring us to the Underground River, was about fifty miles from the hotel where we were staying. I know that along the way, sightseeing would be very interesting and exciting.
True enough, all that I expected were right, for along the way, while travelling on beautiful and paved roads, I saw nature at its best - that of vegetation I had never seen before in our country and that of mountains and plains fully covered with forests. Maybe because of thick forests, I did not see any landslide as the rainforests prevented it. I did not see the kaingineros (people who illegally cut trees) bringing the trees down with their chain saws and the mag-uuling (people who burn the remainder of the trees to make charcoal) burning the remains. These did not happen because the people and the government care.
I told myself. This is so different when compared to some of my other visits, like a trip to my wife’s place in Pangasinan, where along the way; I saw some areas of Zambales Mountain on fire.
Our tour guide explained to us that most of Palawan is covered with forest.
This announcement triggered something in my mind. I remembered that in some of my readings about rainforests in the Philippines, the same percentage applied to the whole country in the early to the middle part of the last century. Now, only Palawan survived our lack of proper education about nature and the greed of our leaders and business people.
After about an hour, we reached the town of Sabang. Waiting for us and other tourists were local boat called banca (boat with bamboo stabilizer on the side) that would bring us to the Underground River.
As expected, there were already plenty of people lined up in order to pay for the tour, but because we had reservation, we don’t have to wait that long for the boat ride.
At the pier, dozens of local people, mostly women were selling the precious product of the sea – that of pearl and other gems weaved into nylon strings to produce rosaries, bracelets and other necklaces.
“Mister, Mister, buy rosaries from me.” I heard one of the vendors said to a man.
“How much,” the man answered.
“Five hundred pesos,” she replied.
“Two hundred,” he bargained.
Here, bargaining is normal.
“No…No…No, three hundred. And that’s the bottom price.”
“OK. We meet in the middle. Two hundred and fifty.”
“OK. It’s only because you are my first customer. How many?”
“Give me two. One for my wife and one for my girlfriend,” the man jokingly said.
And they both laughed.
We then embarked into the banca. By Western Standard, this boat would not pass its Safety Standards, but this form of transportation had been used for hundreds of years by our forefathers, and I don’t really hear of any accidents happening. Of course, the availability and use of safety vests further added to my confidence. As such, I boarded the boat without any hesitation.
After about half an hour ride in the sometimes not too calm sea and whose wave would sometime made me feel as if I were in a cradle, we reached the end of our short journey.
We disembarked and after a short walk, we reached the entrance to the Underground River.
There, another boat was waiting us.
This was a lot smaller, canoe type boat that carries a maximum of ten people. It had narrower side stabilizers that would provide lateral stability. There was no engine that would propel the boat forward. All it had was the skilled bangkero (the guy who paddled the boat) and his paddle that would move the boat forward and maneuver it to avoid many obstacles in the peaceful river.
As we boarded the boat, I and my wife were asked if we don’t mind to sit in the front. “No problem,” I answered.
Again, in a polite way, I was asked if I could help him, the Bangkero. “In what way, I asked.”
In broken and accented English I was told to remove the portable head light from its holding fixture as I would help him by following his instructions to focus the light to the scenery and rock formation we would see during the short trip. He would then explain to us what those represent.
And there we were, in the entrance of the magnificent river. As we enter the cave, the breathtaking scenery that greeted us was, almost without doubt, one of the most beautiful scenery I had ever seen.
And there I was, a witness to the beauty and mystery of nature – that is the amazing shapes of rock formation, many of whom have names because of the shape they represent.
In the silence of the cave, I could hear the Oh!!! And Ah!!! And the Oh My God!!!, and the Unbelievable!!! Comments of the other passengers in our boat as well those in other boats coming in the opposite direction.
After about one and a half kilometer trip, the boat turned around and thus ended the first half of our trip.
The second half would be similar with more rock formations to see.
Happy and impressed after the trip, we gave the Bangkero a generous tip.
In gratitude and happiness, the Bangkero said, “Salamat Po. Pambili na po ng bigas ito.” (Thank you very much. This will help us buy some rice.”
Touched by what we heard, me and my friend Marc emptied whatever we had on our front pockets and handed it him.
Upon receiving it, I saw tears flowed on his cheeks.
In my mind, I thank God how lucky we were for living a comfortable life without working this hard.
We then proceeded to the Souvenir Store and viewed some of the pictures taken by the professional photographer.
My wife chose a few.
We were then told that we have some time left and it was free time for us. We were told that we could roam around the park and view some of the animals on the loose. We were warned not to eat any bananas as the monkeys may jump on us and grab the bananas.
And so, I once again admired the animals, some of which I used to see when our barrio in Malolos was thickly forested: that of different kind of beautiful birds singing some beautiful tunes, that of roaming monitor lizard (bayawak) that lives inside the thick bamboo trees in the swamp at the backyard of our family home, and who at night, if my mother failed to secure her chicken, would be raided by the monitor lizard.
We then boarded the banca and returned to the pier, where a delicious pre arranged lunch was waiting for us.
On the way home, we stopped by to a site where an episode of the popular TV series THE AMAZING RACE was held.
As usual, we took some pictures for souvenirs.
We then proceeded to the hotel to rest and had a wonderful dinner of sea foods, with Lapu-lapu cooked differently.
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