Carolina: Cruising Past 70: OLA: Marveling at Palawan's Beauty, Part 1

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

OLA: Marveling at Palawan's Beauty, Part 1

the entrance to the Subterranean River, 7th New Wonder of the World!

inside the Underground River
Palawan is the fifth largest (4,700 sq. miles) of 7,107 islands in the Philippine archipelago, after Luzon, Mindanao, Negros, and Samar. It juts out such that it has the westernmost point of the country.  Recently, it won a coveted spot in the 2011 National Geographic’s 7 New Wonders of the World for the world’s longest (8.2 km.) navigable Subterranean River! It is also home to the Philippines’ best dive spot: the Tubbataha Reef. Palawan is so isolated it is called The Last Frontier of the Philippines (just like Alaska is for the US. And it is beautiful for three special reasons.

One: It is a bastion of eco-tourism.
light at the end of the tunnel

For just under $100 each we took a one-hour flight to Puerto Princesa, the capital of Palawan, from Manila on a Cebu Pacific flight. The very next day, for just a little over $30 each, we joined a tour to the Underground River, a World Heritage Site, only a 2-hour van ride plus a 30-minute boat ride outside of the city. After a short walk through wooden planks in a forest inhabited by monkeys and monitor lizards, we took to paddle boats, marveled at the limestone karst mountain landscape outside and the stunning  formations inside its deep chambers, and sighed as the light at the end of the tunnel signaled the finish. Later we were treated to a scrumptious Filipino buffet on a beach resort on the way back to our hotels. 

an Asian bearcat
The efforts of Palawan at eco-tourism are quite admirable. The Palawan Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Center is home to about 2,000 endangered Philippine crocodiles (both salt and fresh water) in various stages of development. The largest at 17 feet is a 60-year old male. For just under a $1 per person, you can learn about them and the Asian bearcats, Asian white-bellied eagles, Philippine turtles, and other endangered species, endemic to the island.   
the Asian white-bellied eagle
a Christmas tree of fireflies
An interesting sidelight is the Firefly Watching Tour, at about $15 per person. After nightfall, sometimes even past midnight, more than 10 boats paddle waves of tourists to and fro the Iwahig River. This has been a protected area since 2008. Thousands of ‘lightning bugs’ cling to  nipa, nilad  (Maynilad, original name of Manila, means ‘with nilad’), and other trees on the lush 20 hectare mangrove forest on its banks, making a spectacle of Christmas trees year round! The river bed plankton also adds to the area’s luminescence when you dip your hands and wave them in the water on a pitch black night.

Pambato Reef in Honda Bay
Two: It is great natural playground!

We went on an island hopping spree for just a little over $20 each on Honda (meaning, open, deep as opposed to land-locked) Bay, home to 13 islands, 3 islets, emerald waters, and white beaches.  First stop was Pambato Reef, a man-made cluster of 2 floating connected huts where we fed schools of colorful fish and snorkeled around beautiful live corrals.

Snake Island off Honda Bay
Then our boat took us to Pandan Island where many pandan trees, whose leaves give rice and other dishes enhanced flavor and fragrance, prosper. There, not content with our Filipino buffet, we bought, for just $6, 6 crabs from a vendor who steamed them for us. Our last stop was Snake Island, shaped like a snake, its beach is 2 miles long.  Our guide pointed out an interesting islet: Lu-Li,  ‘lulubog-lilitaw’ meaning ‘sinking down/coming up’ depending on the tide.

the Lu-Li Islet of Honda Bay
Next: Part 2: Reasons Two and Three