The thought of taking another five or so hours back to Puerto Princesa was not enough to douse cold water on our renewed spirits after that exhilarating day in El Nido. It did seem more bearable and faster this time around, though not any smoother, as we reached the port where we would take a boat toward the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park.
On our way to the underground river, our boatman pointed at the mountain shaped like a man’s face, with his Roman nose pointing up to the heavens. The mountain is called St. Paul Mountain, and underneath runs the underground river.
To get to the river, we had to go through a thin forest of tall trees. We would have wanted to walk slowly to enjoy the awe-inspiring forest around us, but we knew we have to catch a schedule. It was also difficult to look around while walking because the path was lined with wooden slabs. It was just as good since the earth was thick with mud from that morning’s rain.
The underground river is a full 8-km stretch. To explore the entire length would take one around 3 hours, plus a special permit. For regular tourists like us, the allowable length of exploration is 4.3 kms for about 1 ½ hours.
The boat carried 9 people, including the boatman. The boat was almost touching the water, which scared me since I don’t know how to swim (despite the life vest), and we would be entering a very dark cave. As the boatman started to paddle toward the dark cave, he started his guide spiel and made witty jokes that successfully dislodged my fear.
The cave was jet-black. The search light helped us see where we’re exactly going, although I’m sure our guide has already memorized the cave’s nook and cranny like the back of his paddle. The light was also helpful in revealing to us the amazing stone formations, the sleeping bats, the Balinsasayaw inhabitants, and even their bird poop stuck on the walls.
It was very difficult trying to shoot great photographs of all the amazing sights inside the underground river. It didn’t help that my camera almost ran out of battery (my friends from the DICC would be laughing at me again if they were there). I got a little bit frustrated that I didn’t get to catch some interesting formations, like the Holy Family. Our guide’s funny spiels saved the tour for me, though. Props to you, Manong Ed!
It didn’t seem like an hour and a half’s tour. I forgot that I was afraid going in. When I saw the light coming out of the mouth of the cave, signifying that the tour was over, I wanted to tell our guide to go back for one more round. Of course, that didn’t happen. There was a long line of tourists waiting for their turn.
We had a sumptuous dinner at the popular Badjao Restaurant. I reluctantly took my share of the lobster, remembering my awful experience with it when I last went to Cebu. This one by Badjao, however, I actually enjoyed. I think this place would look much better at daytime.
The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River successfully made it to the provisional list of the new 7 wonders of nature. The official announcement will be made in 2012.
On behalf of the people of Palawan and the Philippines, thank you for considering the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River.