From Madras to Manila

Monday, August 07, 2006

Puerto Princessa Part 3: Sabang Underground River

Looks spooky, doesn't it? The Sabang river 'cruise' is an eerie, though fascinating, 1.5 km journey through the bowels of a mountain that is on the UNESCO World Heritage list for being the longest navigable underground river.

[I am of course referring to the river, not the mountain. It would be rather silly of UNESCO to list a mountain as the longest navigable underground river]

The actual river goes on for another 6-7 km beyond the end point of the cruise but you need a permit, exceptional intestinal fortitude and a rather poor sense of smell to go on. And, oh yes, you'll need to shed the boat and a few extra kilos off your waist or else you'll just get stuck up an orifice - and being stuck in an orifice in any sort of bowel, even a mountain's, is probably not a good thing. That's probably why you need a permit in the first place.

This is where it first hits you - the cave is darrrrrk!
And full of bats.

And it stinks to kingdom come. Like the collective farts of a million bats that subsist almost entirely on bugs and rotting carcasses and go entire lifetimes shunning sunlight and any sort of fresh air.

Which is, of course, exactly what you are smelling.

[The bats apparently live on fruit, but I'm not buying that story. Where would the fruit grow in the cave, for pete's sake?]

Artist's rendition of the woosiness you feel when taking in your first whiff of eau d' bat.

Puerto Princessa Part 2: Snake Island

I like sepia - it makes the worst pictures look classy!

Noble sentiments
Underlined by the two bottles carefully placed under the sign by the last reader

The star attraction!
We finally got to see a couple!

Leave nothing but footprints...

Puerto Princessa - Part 1

As with most of our posts, this is another long-overdue one, an account of our now-not-so-recent visit to Puerto Princessa, Palawan in late June.

The trip was conceived ages back when we took advantage of an unbelievable Cebu Pacific offer of 20 pesos for return airfare from Manila to Puerto Princessa.

Palawan, more famous for the pricey, but divine, resorts in El Nido, is yet another Filipino feast for the senses, with stunning beaches, endless opportunities for snorkeling and diving and light-green seascapes stretching as far as the eye can see. Puerto Princessa, the main city, is a great place to visit for tourists on a budget.

We stayed at a charming and friendly resort (little more than a B&B really), located conveniently near the airport and just off the main road of the city, a not-very-unusual location, it turned out, as the city basically consists of a main road with houses on either side and wilderness immediately beyond, making it quite possible for your living room to have a zip code and running water and your bedrooms to be outside city limits.

Near our little hotel were a number of karaoke places, one of which was closed down by a municipal ordinance on account of an hour-long medley of duets at 11 pm by visiting Indian tourists - I'm not saying who - and, what was more important, a row of absolutely super handicrafts shops of which one had really great stuff for very, VERY low prices!

But of course you want to see Palawan... well, here goes...

Starfish Island
No starfish... but what an island!

We were the only ones there at that time, and spent about half an hour there soaking in the beauty of the place and looking for the hundreds of starfish we had been promised before it began to rain and we began to soak in some rather unpleasantly cold rainwater that made us shrivel up like prunes before we made a beeline for the boat.

View from banca en route to Sabang underground river, a UNESCO heritage site

It was around this time that my camera case was falling into the water with our MP3 player and most of our cash. The same was retrieved by intrepid soul in next banca and handed over with cash intact and soul of MP3 player having ascended to the heavens, leaving only the earthly remains for us to weep salt tears over (like that would be a patch on the quart or so of brine it had taken in before expiring)