Trips - Palawan

Venturing to St. Paul Underground River

by Geri Zarate

   Palawan the so-called "Last Frontier" is labeled rightly so. The airfare then (December '91) was approx. $125 R/T. My cousin got us the tickets while we were in Manila -- so he might have gotten us a discount through his company's private travel agent. I think I've heard higher prices. 

   Anyway, we landed in Puerto Princesa and took a 5 hour jeepney ride to Port Barton (northeast of Puerto Princesa). My friend Tom rode on the jeep's roof for 3 hours because it was so crowded inside. He got a chance to get to know some locals and got a real nice sunburn too! When we got to Port Barton -- it was beautiful -- we stayed at Elsa's resort. Sort of like a resort but nothing grand like you would see in Boracay or El Nido. It was actually very charming like Gilligan's Island. The electricity was provided by generators. They had a nice outdoor restaurant that overlooked the beach. They had cute little huts that accommodated three persons in each. There were six of us so we stayed at two. It wasn't very crowded maybe because it was the week before New Year's Eve. 

   We then hired a banka (outrigger canoe) the next day for $60 to take us to the St. Paul Underground River which was down the coast a bit. The River started from a little bay that connected to the sea. There were picinic tables and an outhouse at the entrance of the river along with monkees and big lizards that I think they were sort of brought there for part of the attraction. 

   We toured the Underground River with a different banka. The bankas that toured the Underground River were equipped with a kerosene lamp placed in front of the boat to light the way while the guide sat at the back to steer and paddle. The maximum capacity of the boat was six. The length of the river was one to 1-1/2 miles long and the tour lasted for about an hour. The end of the river was the coolest. It was sort of like taking that Pirates of the Carribean ride in Disneyland but no pirates or parrots. The cavern ceilings were really high (2-3 stories high) like being in a church but no doves flying around just a huge population of bats "hanging out". If you enjoy swatting mosquitoes, try ducking from the bats. The "batcave" had a new meaning for me. 

   The waters in Palawan are incredible! They're turquoise because of the white sand beaches. We saw a lot of flying fish while we were riding the outrigger in the ocean. 

   After the Underground River, which was quite a low-key tourist attraction (maybe we got lucky), we told our banka-guy to take us to Sabang where we would lodge for the evening. When we got there, they wouldn't let us anchor at the beach so they made us unload at 4ft of water. Maybe because they wanted to get home soon. Well when we got to Sabang all the cute little huts were occupied. A local man offered to put us up in one of his huts that was still under construction. It had a roof and we were desperate so we took him up on it. We didn't have any sleeping gear except for our pajamas. The kind man provided us with banigs (mats) and mosquito nets -- he was very generous and we compensated him for his generosity the next day with cash. I forget how much. I was just glad we had a place to stay. 

   That night we walked along the beach towards a restaurant at the other end of the beach. Another Gilligan's Island hut. The food was great -- fish and vegetables. But that walk to the restaurant was the best. It was like your ideal image of paradise! The stars, the palm trees swaying in the wind and the water lapping on the beach. I only wish we stayed there another night -- but I will be back. 

   The next day we hired another boat to take us to a town called Baheli. We were making our way back down towards Puerto Princesa. Baheli was not very interesting. It's a little more inland and very dusty. We waited 3 hours for a jeepney to take us back to Puerto Princesa. I wish we waited in Sabang instead. There was a jeepney going to Puerto Princesa from Sabang that morning -- if we only knew... 

   We spent our last day in Puerto Princesa and stayed at a real nice pension (I forget the name). We ate pizza at one of the local restaurants and goofed around in the swimming pool at one of the ritzy hotels. The tricycles (motorcycle-cabs) in Puerto Princesa were a lot bigger than the ones in Manila. They could fit 6 people, including the driver! You could say they are the "minivans" of the Philippines. 

   We then flew back to Manila the night of New Year's Eve around 10pm -- so traffic was bad and the atmosphere was chaotic with all the fireworks. It's funny despite all the celebration, I still slept through New Year's Eve due to total exhaustion. 

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Geri Zarate is a graphic artist living in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can see more of her photography at her Web site:

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