“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.”
I’m a public senior high school teacher. Yes, I love teaching. Nothing is more fulfilling than watching your students succeed in all facets of life. Yet, it is not an easy task. It is indeed frustrating and drudging at times. I went home running out of energy, emotionally drained, and physically exhausted. I spent my nights sleepless with those routinely tasks such as planning lessons, preparing quizzes, and checking students’ papers. Oftentimes, I found myself falling asleep with students’ papers as my pillow. All these things, lately, became a predator that stalked my precious time.
Then, I realized when I looked at myself in the mirror and noticed that I am getting old quickly, perhaps, because I rarely find time pampering myself in beauty salons which I used to; socializing and hanging out with friends; and going out for a picnic with my family because of my hectic schedule.
This famous cliche , “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” is somehow true. It suddenly reminded me to do something more exciting, adventurous and worthwhile while there is still time. So, without hesitation I took the biggest break, so far, my first escapade which enkindled my passion for travel.
Because we wanted an adventure packed summer escapade, I did a research and bingo, Palawan is the best place to go. But wait, we hadn’t decided it yet, Coron, El Nido, or Puerto Princesa? Which is which? After researching and finding out about Palawan dubbed as the Best Island in the World, it was quite confusing which place to go and visit first given the limited time. I love to visit and dive Coron’s lagoons full of crytal waters, one loves to witness the breathtaking beauty of El Nido and its pristine and white sand beaches, and the other one loves to experience extreme adventures. Huh! Yet, after staggering momentarily, we decided to visit Puerto Princesa.
Puerto Princesa aptly called “A CITY IN THE FOREST”, due to its city’s attractions that have a lot to do with its world class natural wonders. It has been named as the “cleanest and greenest city”. It was historically named after Princess Eulalia, daughter of Queen Isabella II of Spain. People also attributed the name of the city to its geographical advantages as a seaport that is geographically typhoon-free, and a depth that can accommodate any size of shipping, thus, princess of ports. www.travel-palawan.com
Day 1 : City Tour: Baywalk, Plaza Cuartel, Cathedral Village, Tribal Village, Butterfly Garden, Mitra’s Ranch, Baker’s Hill
We arrived at the city around 6 in the morning and were picked up by our official tour van 30 minutes after our arrival and dropped us at our hotel to take a rest before heading the city tour after lunch. The long wait really pissed me off yet, it has been said that the best way to enjoy life is to realize that we are not always in control of everything.
Our city tour started with a running tour at the Baywalk. It was lovely and scenic but I do not have exciting stories to share except from what I have learned from our tour guide that the place was once a squatter area. Then, a fire swallowed the houses and after the incident, the residents weren’t allowed to build houses. The local government turned it to one of the city’s tourist destination. It was just a glimpse through our car windows as we headed fast to our second stop at Plaza Cuartel.
Plaza Cuartel & Plaza Cuartel
Puerto Princesa is not only a paradise for locals and tourists, but it has a historical significance as well. Be ready to hear its dark history that would bring you to tears.
Before Plaza Cuartel became a leisure park, it was a garrison of Spaniards during the World War II where the burning of more or less 150 American Prisoners of War by the Japanese soldiers took place on December 14, 1944.
Adjacent to the park, is another famous tourist destination, the Immaculate Conception Cathedral which according to our tour guide stands as the central church of the island. Its beautiful blue-colored facade is admirably fascinating. I went inside not to light candles or do stuff Catholics used to do (well……..not for a Protestant like me) during their church visit but took some great snaps of this wonderful work of architecture.
Butterfly Eco Garden & Tribal Village
Our next stop was at the Butterfly Garden and Tribal village located at Sta. Monica, Puerto Princesa. It is where the mesmerizing butterflies in Southeast Asia are cultured and preserved. A beautiful sanctuary of variety of butterfly species, insects, and flowering plants. Its showcase of variety of species of the Class Insecta which includes the arthropods goes to prove that Palawan, the last frontier of the Philippines is indeed true.
We have also visited the tribal village where we had the chance to meet the members of the Palaw’an tribe, one of the many indigenous people of Palawan. We learned about their culture which includes their way of hunting food and starting a fire without using matches. It was worth the visit. It was educational.
Lucky enough to have visited Congressman Ramon Mitra’s old residence which became one of the tourist’s destinations in the city. It is situated on a hilltop of Puerto Princesa overlooking the alluring view of Honday Bay. It is the perfect place for people seeking for serenity and refuge with nature after all the tiresome routinely tasks at the workplace. Such, an ideal place to relax, unwind and meditate with family, friends and loved ones. Sad, we hadn’t tried horse riding which is available at the ranch for it was just a quick stop because we’re running out of time to visit other places in the city for our half day city tour.
Our city tour’s final stop was at the famous Disney-themed park, adults and kids will surely love, Baker’s Hill. No wonder why it became one of the famous places in Puerto Princesa where visitors always keep coming back. This place is awesome; it has a lot to offer. Aside from being the home of Shrek, Fiona and other human-sized Disney character statues; it also has a playground where children could have a lot of fun; beautiful landscapes and gardens making it a perfect place for selfies and groupies; a mini zoo where you can see a beautiful peacock proudly struts his colorful plumage, and other few animals; most of all, it sells freshly baked bread and goodies, chocolate crinkles and its best seller, my favorite ube-flavored hopia, the most delicious hopia I have ever tasted so far, such are perfect for pasalubong!
My toes were aching after the strolling, sight-seeing and picture taking so we rested for a while, refreshed ourselves with their fresh fruit juice, and appeased our tummy with yummy baked goodies and flavored hopia which offered for free by our tour guide then headed back to the hotel to get enough rest for another adventure the next day.
This place is a must-visit. Don’t miss dropping by.
Day 2 : Highlight Tour-Underground River, Side Trip-Elephant Karst Mountain, Ugong Rock Cave
Though I did not get enough sleep on the first night due to over excitement still the show went on. The sun was up, yipee, time for another exciting adventure. The moment we’ve all been waiting for. Angela, our enthusiastic tour guide of the day, picked us up at the hotel and together with other tourists, we took the 80-kilometer ride from the city to Sabang, the gateway of the famous Underground River.
The sun was excruciatingly hot when we arrived at Sabang wharf. We waited for half an hour until, we finally, took more or less, a 20-minute boat ride to the underground river park. It was summer and a peak season so as expected there were lots of tourists at the site. So we waited for another long hours since it was a first come first serve basis. While Angela was busy settling our bills (environment and entrance fees), we strolled around the mini forest and took some few great snaps. The place is perfectly awesome that one could hardly resist but capture its stunning views.
Fact: On November 11, 2011, Puerto Princesa Underground River was provisionally chosen as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature and was officially confirmed on January 28, 2012. The Puerto Princesa Subterannean River, a UNESCO World Heritage Site is said to be the longest navigable underground river in the world located about 80 kilometers north of the city in St. Paul mountain range on the western coast of the island. Wikipedia
Good things come to those who wait. Atlast, it came and it was our turn to take the 45-minute paddled boat ride inside the cave. Life jackets and helmets were given by the staffs. To prevent noise inside the cave, we were given headsets in which we could hear a recorded voice giving informations and telling stories about the site.
I almost could not believe that I was already at one of my dream destinations. I thought I was only watching Discovery or National Geographic Channel because I thought I would only witness it on television but praise God it’s for real this time. I was gliding through a canoe on its ways to the underground river. Dream came true. Wow just wow. It was an experience I would never forget. Seeing those amazingly formed stalagmites and stalactites made me realize how blessed I am to have witnessed God’s wonderful creation, a testament of his love. Inside the cave, we have visited a supermarket where we have seen a formed stalactite resembling image of a fried eggplant; we have also passed by a titanic ship formed stalagmite; a huge opera stage; a cathedral and most of all we have seen P-noy’s tuwid na daan where our tour ended as it was the prohibited area.
How great thou art, oh Lord!
After that exceptional ride experience at the underground river, we headed back to Sabang wharf where a sumptuous meal was served.
Side Trip: Elephant Karst Mountain
After we took our lunch at one of the restaurants in Sabang wharf, we headed our way back and had a quick stop over at the Elephant Karst mountain as it was not part of our tour package. Thanks to Angel, our friendly tour guide for giving us time and allowing us to document another God’s fantastic creation. Elephant Karst mountain became famous when seen in the popular reality tv show, The Amazing Race Philippines. I couldn’t help but pose with this beautiful landscape: mountain and cliff of limestone resembling elephant face plus the scenic rice field, amazing isn’t it? Then, headed to our next destination.
Ultimate Adventure: Ugong Rock Cave Adventure
Before heading back to the city, we dropped by at Ugong Rock at Barangay Tagabinet, Puerto Princesa for another, this time, an ultimate adventure of exhilarating and eye-popping activities such as caving, spelunking and zip-lining.
In the middle of rice fields and karst mountains stands a 75 feet-high limestone formation known as Ugong rock. “Ugong” which means reverberating sounds produced when limestones inside the cave hit with a palm.
It is a community based tourism project initiated by ABS CBN Foundation Bantay Kalikasan and in partnership with the local government of Puerto Princesa giving the locals the means of earning a living.
Visitors are welcomed by the friendly locals and are accommodated at the reception area where orientation, instructions, precautions and the like are given. After watching the video, paying our dues and suited the helmet and gloves, we headed to the cave’s entrance to start the adventure.
It was indeed an unforgettable experience. We climbed through steep rocks; passed through some narrow passageways; took the man made-wooden bridge inside; and took the wooden ladder.
Alas, we’re almost halfway to the summit. We have reached at what the locals called the spelunking area which I considered to be the most challenging part of the adventure in which one would take about 12 feet climb at a steep slope requiring enough strength and balance. I was hesitant at first, considering my weight I thought I couldn’t make it. But looking how fearless and determined my fellow teachers were and seeing how the staffs have assisted every step, I finally have given myself a try. I love to call it self-discovery of some sorts.
We continued and passed through another narrow passageways then took another but shorter wooden stairs leading its way to the top of the mountain. Finally, I have reached the summit of Ugong rock. I somehow felt a sense of accomplishment even if did not try the zip line. I recall how I have fought and conquered my fear of height at that time. When I was still at the bottom of the cliff I was so eager to try the zip line, but when I was already on the summit and have seen how steep the cliff was I made a second thought and backed out. I probably give a try next visit, hopefully I’ll find the courage to do so. Wow! The fascinating and panoramic view was all worth the climb.
Last Day : Honda Bay Island Hopping
Because we wanted an adventure-packed escapade, we spent our last day in Puerto Princesa island hopping and exploring the crystal waters of Honda Bay. At first, I thought it was a huge island but learning from our tour guide it isn’t and when you reach Puerto Princesa and ask the locals to bring you to the place, you’ll never find one but many for it has 17 islands and islets and only few are open for tourists and some are already private owned. We were able to explore the three islands : Cowrie, Starfish and Luli. Our first stop was at the Cowrie island which named after a mollusk, a snail with a brightly colored shell. Then, after taking our lunch, we headed to Starfish island. I was amazed how enormous starfish spread everywhere in the island. No wonder it was named as such. Then, our final stop was at an island which disappears or “lulubog” in Tagalog term during high tide and appears or “lilitaw” during low tide, hence, it was called LULI island.
Note: Yes, that was my biggest break so far and it was so amazing for I had fun.
At some point in our life, we need to get out of the cycle of everyday routine; and escape life’s daily grind and get a life. Spice it up with exciting adventures with friends, family, and loved ones. So that when you look back you can say, “Yes, I have lived my life the way I want it to.” After all, it’s your life and nobody can live it for you. Remember, YOLO. God bless!