The city in a forest-A A +A
Wednesday, September 19, 2012
TWO weeks have passed since my trip to Puerto Princesa, and the city’s jingle that goes “the city in a forest!” still occasionally plays in my head. Quite helpful, because if I have to describe Puerto Princesa in one statement, then that would be it.
The capital city of the island tagged as the “last ecological frontier” is indeed nestled between rich, lush greenery—all 253,982 hectares of it! Century-old trees line up the main roads, its outskirts are blessed with amazing limestone formations, and rivers are only an hour’s drive away from the center.
As a resident of a relatively industrialized city, a trip to Puerto Princesa was very refreshing as it somehow reminded me that, hey, nature actually exists.
Jumpstarting our Puerto Princesa adventure was a tour of the famed Underground River, or what was formally called the Subterranean River National Park. We were met with light rain as we rode on the pump boat from Sabang Wharf to the park, but not in any way did it dampen our excitement. Upon reaching the park, we then moved to a small paddle boat and off to one of “New 7 Wonders of Nature” we went.
Magnificent would be a good way of putting it, this coming from someone who is not really an outdoor person. Inside were impressive rock formations, high cathedral-like ceilings, stalactite columns, and wild animals such as bats.
The boatman, who served as our guide, had a humorous way of touring us, too. According to him, nearly all formations found there resembled something else, could be a vegetable, an object or a person. By the time he pointed out a rock structure that he swore looked like the mythological creature Pegasus, I realized how unimaginative I was. I could not visualize all the “look-alikes” he mentioned, but I had fun listening to him anyway; especially when he introduced us to a stone formation they named Sharon (Get it?).
Our next stop that day was Sabang River, where we embarked on a paddle boat tour through a mangrove forest. My impression of mangroves had always been related to tree-planting activities in school, so imagine my surprise when we rowed through thickets of towering, age-old mangrove trees.
It was a very serene experience, with the trees somehow blocking out the noise of the rest of the world. The only sounds I could hear were the occasional click of the camera, and the boatman talking about the river’s flora and fauna.
Culture and heritage marked our second day in Puerto Princesa. First on the list was the Batak Cultural Village, a designated site where tourists can interact with one of Palawan’s oldest tribes. It is a miniature village fashioned after the real Batak communities found in the mountains. Also in the village is a gallery showcasing the tribe’s history and customs, as well as a souvenir shop of the tribe’s handicrafts.
In our short encounter with the “shy and hospitable” Batak people, they delighted us with a series of traditional dances, accompanied by beats from wooden instruments they themselves created. Apparently, they are very skillful with woodwork, as one of their major creations is the popular Palawan souvenir called “urang patong,” or what many people simply call a rainmaker.
We then had a stopover at Bacungan River, where we had a hearty lunch at the San Carlos Floating Restaurant. It was a river cruise along a pristine 378-hectare mangrove forest. It is home to talking mynahs and Philippine cockatoos, and it is also where one can find the puzzle fruit.
The day eventually culminated with a city tour, wherein we dropped by Binuatan Creations, Palawan Special Battalion World War II Memorial Museum and Palawan Heritage Center.
Binuatan Creations, another community-based effort, is a weaving center where they create products such as bags, placemats, curtains and various trinkets using Palawan’s local fibers. Not only was it a pasalubong center, but we were also able to go to the back room where the weavers were and try the traditional handlooms ourselves.
History lovers and armor buffs would certainly enjoy the World War II Museum, as it houses a wide collection of relics, weapons, uniforms, bayonets, as well as aircraft carrier and bomber plane models. They also have galleries dedicated to the major countries that participated in the war.
As much as I love history though, I wasn’t able to spend much time in the galleries because I was too preoccupied getting a Facebook-worthy photo of myself riding their vintage war jeep, donned in a military camouflage getup. You can get one, too, should
you decide to go there.
Next up was the Palawan Heritage Center, a place that I admit I was quite impressed with. Patterned after museums abroad, modern technology has been incorporated in the center’s various displays, like videos, headsets, and hologram presentations. In my case, I was able to view a couple of Cuyonon (language spoken in Palawan) music videos; it was quite fun.
Finally, the part of the trip that I had been excited for happened on the last day: island hopping at Honda Bay. Located on the eastern side of Palawan, this famous bay is known for its white-sand beaches as well as rich marine life, making it a popular destination for swimming and snorkeling. Among its major hotspots are Cowrie Island, Bat Island, Pandan Island, Snake Island, Starfish Island, Arreceffi Island and Pambato Reef.
As our tour guide explained, it’s easy to get an idea of what it is like in each area judging from the name alone. Bat Island, for instance, is home to a large population of bats; while Pandan Island is abundant with Pandan plants. As for Snake Island—relax—it was simply named after its winding sand bar that is shaped like a snake.
We spent most of our day lounging in Dos Palmas Resort and Spa, which pretty much occupies most of Arreceffi Island. As my companions went snorkeling, I chose to relax and doze off by the beach, under the shade of the palm trees. I had a beautiful view of the island’s crystal clear blue waters that seemed to go on and on. Rest and relaxation? You bet!
As all good things come to an end, so did my unforgettable Puerto Princesa escapade.
In a Palawan travel feature I wrote a year ago, I mentioned that on my next visit, “I would dip my toes in the white sand beaches of Honda Bay,” and I actually did this time around.
So as a parting statement to this piece, allow me to say this: I would love to see the infamous dive sites of Coron Island, or visit the scenic municipality of El Nido. Who knows? I just might be working on another travel story soon.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on September 20, 2012.