Valentine’s Day, South of Manila

Jump shot!

I spent my Valentine’s Day vacationing with my siblings and nieces in Palawan.  This is my third time to visit Puerto Princesa but the only time that I will finally get to visit most of the tourist places.  My first two visits were work-related- checking out Road n Trip studio when we were doing “Urduja,” then setting up their scanning system.

We left Manila on Saturday at 8am and arrived Puerto Princesa at 9:10am.  We were picked up by a van from Casa Fuerte, a bed-and-breakfast place we were billeted in.  With Bali-inspired surroundings, it was okay since we’ll be spending most of the time outdoors anyway.

Right after lunch, we were off to Honda Bay for some island hopping.  We got in a tricycle- we had to take two because there were 7 of us- and made the 20-min ride to the pier.  Visitors have to register as a rule, an all-accounted-for precautionary measure.  It also indicates what bangka (boat) number you are on.  After paying the necessary fees, we loaded into our bangka.

We decided to just target one island because we might not have time to enjoy swimming.  It was already 3pm.  So, Starfish Island was where we docked.  We did pass a few ones, notably Luli Island.  It was named as such because of it’s “Lulubog/Lilitaw”  condition: submerged (lulubog) during high tide and emerged (lilitaw) during low tide.

Starfish Island

As the island’s name denotes, there were a lot of starfish.  The shoreline was a bit rocky but if you venture farther from where the boats docked, it becomes smoother.  We picked a lot of sand dollars and even saw a couple of horseshoe crabs.  Sand is almost white but not as fine as that in Boracay.  It also had a lot of broken shells, which made it quite painful to walk on barefoot.  The water was very clear.

We munched on chips, did a couple of jump shots, and lounged around before we headed back to the main pier at 4:30pm.  We took the same tricycles back to Casa Fuerte.  We showered and prepared for dinner at Ka Lui.  When you get to Puerto Princesa, make it a point to eat here and make sure you make reservations.

We arrived early but were accomodated right away.  The first thing you do is remove your footwear.  There are drawers at the entrance to the restaurant where you keep them, sort of a keyless locker.  This means that you will be barefoot the whole time.

The restaurant is set up like a house: all wooden floors, with some areas covered by a banig, a mat made of local materials like buri leaves.  There are normal tables with chairs or low tables with cushions on the floor.  The menu changes everyday and is mainly seafood-oriented.  We had steamed fish with black bean sauce, seafood tempura, seafood pinakbet, and clam soup.  Dessert was fresh fruits topped with muscovado, a sugar alternative.  Sated with food, we went back and rested for awhile before hitting the bed.  We had an early trip to Sabang the next day, jump off point to the Underground River.

Sunday, Valentine’s Day- we were up by 6am.  We took breakfast and prepared for the day’s trip.  The van picked us up at 8:30am and were off to Sabang.  It was an almost 2-hour trip, with a 10-min. stopover at the Uluyan Bay viewdeck.

View of Uluyan Bay

When we got to the pier at Sabang, we were told that they could not accomodate us on the morning trip to the Underground River because we did not have a permit then.  We were told that we could get it there but the girl in charge said that it would have been better if we got it earlier at their office in the city.  Huh? We were not aware of that.  Anyway, we were told to return at 2pm.  It was nearly 11am so we decided to do a little sight-seeing to kill time.

Mangrove Reservation

We first went to Taraw restaurant to make reservations for lunch.  We then went to the mangrove reservation where they had a paddle tour.  My brother, Sandy, did not want to wait that long since we were the third batch in line, so they decided to just go swimming at the beach.  Nessie and I remained to take the 45-min tour and we all agreed to meet at Taraw by 12pm for lunch.  Since it was just the two of us, we were squeezed in with another group about to board the bangka.  Cool!

Mangrove Reservation

The mangrove tour was educational and very enlightening- makes you want to go be a full-time environment advocate.  Most of the mangroves there were hundreds of years old.  The reservation is its own eco-system.  After the tour, we walked to Taraw, passing Sandy and the others by the beach.

Lunch was buffet-style with chicken/pork adobo, kangkong with oyster sauce, grilled tuna, grilled pork liempo, soup with coconut juice base and cucumber/tomato salad.  By the time we were done, it was past 1pm.  We walked to the pier and went in to get our permit.

After paying the necessary fees, we boarded a big bangka to the island where the Underground River is.  When we got there, we registered again and was given a batch number.  The wait was quite long but had a fun time taking pictures.  When our number was called, we boarded the bangka.  Sandy sat in front and was in charge of the light once inside the cave.

To the Underground River

No words can really explain the feeling when one enters the cave.  It was simply being in awe of the whole place.  The rock formations reminded me of those at the Sumaguing cave in Sagada, another memorable place.  The underground river is worthy to be one of the seven wonders of the world.  I do hope that it does make it.

Our boatman was a barrel of laughs.  Every stone formation had something funny attached to it.  The cave is home to at least 3 species of bats.  The deepest water is around 27 meters, the lowest at 1 meter.  We travelled about 1.5 km and turned back then.  The whole cave stretches about 4 km more.  The water was clear and you can see the rocks under when the light is pointed there.  Exiting the cave, one truly marvels at how beautiful the Philippines is!

We got back to the main pier almost 5pm and made the less than 2-hour trip back to the city.  We went to the market to buy some stuff to bring home, mainly food- hehehe.  We were then dropped off at Casa Fuerte by 7pm.  We showered and prepared for dinner at Kinabuch.

Being Valentine’s Day, we were just hoping to get a table.  We were met at the entrance and the guy said it was full but we could look around in case a group is done and leaves.  There was a stage in the middle where some singers performed.

Nessie got a table inside right away- it was just pure luck.  Sandy and Elena brought champagne (it was their 1st year anniversary that day) and we gulped it with our food.  We were really full that night and I even suggested walking back to Casa for some exercise.  They thought I was crazy- I was serious. 🙂

Our last night in Palawan and Valentine’s Day to boot!  This was one memorable vacation, quite early for summer, but one needed.  This place will always have a special place in my heart, with the likes of Batanes, Bohol, Banaue and Sagada.

Now, where do we go next? Hmm, maybe Busuanga, eh?

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