A Whiff of Palawan
By Gabriela Isobelle Niña Vaño
The Palawan Experience, or “Pax” as the locals call it, is most certainly compelling. How so? Once you’ve been to Palawan, you’ll always feel compelled to go back again someday.
I remember feeling so excited on my first trip to Palawan. As the plane was gathering speed and readying for takeoff, I was feeling so much anticipation I didn’t realize I was popping one sour Skittle after another into my mouth.
From above, Palawan is a beautiful strip of land, like a green brushstroke on blue canvass. Palawan is an island province of the Philippines located in the MIMAROPA region. Its capital is Puerto Princesa City and it is the largest province in the country in terms of total area jurisdiction.
The province boasts of many splendid beaches and resorts and it is where the Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park and the Subterranean River National Park, the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, are located.
When we arrived in Palawan, the first thing I noticed was how clean the place was. The roads, though not that wide, had no visible litter. And the place was so green. In a blur of green, our van sped past countless trees lining both sides of the road.
We stayed at one of the many hotels in Palawan, the Asturias Hotel. After dropping off our things, we immediately hit the road.
Palawan has a beautiful world under the sea just as it is beautiful on land. We went island-hopping and snorkeling in Honda Bay. As we snorkeled near one of the small islands in Palawan, the Pandan Island, we were greeted by different schools of fish displaying different splashes of color under the summer sun. We were all too pleased feeding or in my little sister’s case, force-feeding, the fish with bread that our guides provided. The corals were very beautiful and alive. It’s a shame I only got to take a few pictures.
Then, we went to other islands. We snorkeled and paddled like there was no tomorrow. The boatmen were really good with their jobs. Just like our tour guide, Ma’am Elvie. If you pointed out a certain coral, they’d know what it was called and they’d tell you a lot of interesting stuff about it. Speaking of interesting things, from afar, we got to see Cleopatra’s Nipple, a mountain peak shaped like the breast of a woman.
At dinner we ate at Ka Lui. It was a nice place. It was very homey. The restaurant had native furniture made from bamboo and from the walls hung carved wooden masks. Everyone had to go barefoot to get into the restaurant.
Ka Lui is often rated as one of the best restaurants in Palawan. It’s proudly famous for the fresh catch of the day set meal. Its seafood was very delicious. My sister even gobbled down a kilo of crab like she hadn’t eaten in days. And Ma’am Elvie kept on insisting that I eat everything she put on my plate. After dinner, I felt too full to even move.
The next day was a long trip to the Subterranean River National Park. From my seat in the van, I could only take everything in. I mean, the view was incredible! We had a lot of stops along the way. One was in a place where you could see Ulugan Bay from the top. My mouth hung open for so long I bet if there were any bugs flying around up there I would’ve accidentally included one to my digestive process. There were a lot of breathtaking views along the stops. One was a rock formation that reminded of Minas Tirith in J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous The Lord of the Rings.
After the land trip, we took a boat to the Subterranean River National Park. The water was so clear you could see the sand, the corals and the occasional school of fish that flitted past as our boat sped on. We got off the boat, and then walked the rest of the way to another boatyard. When we got there, we were the second group to arrive. We got into a small paddleboat with five other tourists and finally headed into the famous underground river.
The Subterranean River National Park features a large limestone Karst landscape with an underground river.
Aside from the smell of bat droppings and stale humid air lingering about, getting into the cave was interesting partly because of our boatman, “Totong”, who was very well-versed about the cave and obviously liked to talk and drop jokes that made a lot of sense.
Totong showed us awesome rock formations and told us funny tales about those rock formations. We saw stalactites and stalagmites at their best. The underground river had many sections including the vegetable section and the Cathedral. In the Cathedral, we found interesting figures formed such as Tres Marias, Jesus and Mary, Pegasus, a lion and a snake. Totong later revealed that he came out on National Geographic and Living Asia and we were pleased to know that we had the privilege of having him as our boatman-slash-tour guide.
After the tour, Totong led us back to safe harbor. From there we walked to a picnic area and ate. As we ate, huge, unchained, monitor lizards roamed around us freely.
After lunch, we decided to explore the rest of the Subterranean River National Park. We stumbled into a Karst Forest and went up the three hundred or so steps of the so-called monkey trail. It was good exercise. After that, we went on our way back to the hotel.
Before reaching the hotel, we stopped over at a few more places. Among these stops were Vietville, the Iwahig Penal colony, the Crocodile farm, Baker’s Hill, Puerto Princesa’s Cathedral and Plaza Cuartel, and the Baywalk.
Vietville, as the name suggests, is a small Vietnamese village. We only stopped by to eat so there’s not much to say. At the Iwahig Penal colony though, we bought souvenirs. Ma’am Elvie shared that the prisoners staying at Iwahig were the ones who made the souvenirs. I was shocked to know that the key chains I bought for my friends were actually just made from melted Coke plastic cups.
The next stop was at Palawan’s famous Crocodile farm. There was a guided tour to the whole farm where they showed us the skin and bones of the largest crocodile ever caught and the baby alligators and big crocodiles in their pens.
Then we just stopped to get pictures at Baker’s Hill where they housed a number of peacocks and Puerto Princesa’s Cathedral and Plaza Cuartel. Finally, we stopped at Palawan’s Baywalk and watched the sunset.
At the end of the day, Palawan was well worth it. Palawan is a beautiful place, in fact one of the many places the Philippines should really treasure. Its beauty lingers, etched into my mind. And though my trip only gave me a whiff of Palawan, I will definitely be coming back for more someday. ?