A river runs through it – Palawan, Philippines

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Puerto Princesa Underground River

Let’s see, where were we?  I have obviously fallen behind in my blogging.  I took some time off to socialize here in Texas, while enjoying the holidays and pausing from any activities that might tax my brain.  So here we are in a new year, and I still have stories to tell from our trip to the Philippines!

Sabang, Palawan

Parking can get a bit tight in parts of Palawan

Anyhow, in my previous post I was hinting about an amazing experience we enjoyed in Palawan.  If you’ve followed us during our travels, then you know of our explorations of caves big and small, which never fail to thrill and amaze us.  But here in Palawan was a cave that topped all others!

Just a 20-minute boat ride from our resort was the Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park, established in 1971.  Because of its globally significant natural value, it was inducted onto the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1999.

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The park encompasses one of the world’s most impressive cave systems, and its main feature is an underground river.  This river flows 5.09 miles as it passes through incredible rock formations before dumping directly into the sea.  The lower half of the river is brackish and subject to the ocean’s tides, making it the most unique natural cave phenomenon of its type in existence.  Our guided tour went only .7 mile into the cave; the remainder is off limits except for geologists and researchers with special permits.

Puerto Princesa Subeterranean River

Getting ready for our ride into the cave, the opening is to the right in the photo.

We walked a short distance from the motorboat to a paddle boat, locally known as a “sakayan” or “bangka.”  Our guide told us that access to the cave is limited each day, and the “no permit, no entry,” policy is strictly enforced.  This is part of the effort to conserve the river and cave in their natural state, as well as to avoid disrupting the ecosystem within. So after handing Steve the spotlight we rowed off in anticipation of what wonders we would see inside the cave.  We weren’t disappointed!

Puerto Princesa Subterranean River

The river flow is calm but steady.

Of course it was pitch black inside, but Steve was instructed by our rower/guide on where to point the spotlight as he described the various formations we were looking at.  Some were familiar from other caves we’ve explored, but many were unique to this environment. We glided over the river’s jade-green waters, in awe of the beautiful surroundings and almost complete silence – interrupted only by an occasional bat flying overhead 😉

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There’s nothing small about this cave system!

Hundreds of formations lined the river, ranging from very small to gigantic groups of stalactites and stalagmites.  As you may know, stalactites are the ones that hang from the ceiling of a cave, like the one shown below that they call the “Jelly Formation”…

Jelly Formation, Puerto Princesa

Jelly formation

…while stalagmites rise from the floor due to the accumulation of material deposited by water dripping from the ceiling.

Dripping Candle

The “Dripping Candle” stalagmite rising from below

Some of the formations looked similar to everyday objects, and of course the locals with their vivid imaginations had names for all of them.  Our guide made the trip very entertaining, as he pointed out a “Holy Family”, the “Crocodile Head”, the “T-Rex”, an upside down pile of poop, a lion and more.  Some were easy to visualize, others not so much.

Holy Family formation

The “Holy Family” formation

Italian Chamber

The Italian Chamber cave room measured 393 ft. wide and 196. ft high

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We were amazed at how these thin “sheets” of rock became separated from the wall through the water’s action. We’ve not seen this before

Hardhats were required, partly because some of the stalactites were low-hanging, but also because of the thousands of bats hanging from the ceiling over our heads.  We were advised to keep our mouths closed anytime we looked up, or to be prepared for a snack of guano droppings – yuck!

Puerto Princesa Subeterranean River and Cave

Thousands of bats hung precariously on the cave’s walls and ceilings

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After spending 45 minutes in the dark, we were happy to paddle back out into daylight. Our guide surprised us by giving me the SD disk out of his camera so I could post these photos of our tour (only a few of my pictures came out because my camera was not set up for low-light shots).  I am grateful to Jun, our guide and rower, for these amazing photos taken inside the cave.

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Light at the end of the tunnel

Puerto Princesa Underground River

The river empties into St. Paul Bay, completing its journey through the mountain and into the sea.

The eye-catching formations that could be admired only by using our spotlight put this cave at the top of our list.  It is absolutely pristine, due to the fact that there are no floors to be trampled over and the guides keep visitors safely out of “touching range” of the formations.

I could see why this park was nominated and officially recognized as one of the world’s New Seven Wonders of Nature.  The park shares the honor with Jeju Island in Korea, the Amazon in South America, Halong Bay in Vietnam, Iguazu Falls in Brazil, Komodo in Indonesia and Table Mountain in South Africa.

Sabang Beach

Back to the outrigger for the short ride home

Because of the cave’s popularity, tourism is booming and is now the main means of livelihood for island locals.  From what I saw during our visit, it is well-managed and controlled so far – I hope they can continue to handle the influx of tourists.  We totally enjoyed the experience of what we saw looming in the darkness, and highly recommend it to anyone coming to the Philippines!

 

Next up:  It’s a jungle out there!



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A slice of “2014’s Most Beautiful Island in the World” – Palawan Island

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Sabang Beach

My country is an archipelago of 7,107 islands brimming with wondrous natural treasures and beauties – both in nature and in the people.  Among many other things, white sand beaches, beautiful jagged mountains and amazing scuba diving locations can be found there.  Unfortunately, some islands are overdeveloped and others overrun by tourist and entrepreneurs, but many remained unspoiled.

One island that is considered a last frontier in the Philippines is Palawan.  It is a hidden piece of paradise that was recently named 2014’s “Top Island in the World” by Conde Nast Traveler’s Reader’s Choice Awards.  A recent article  by Huffington Post Travel accompanied by stunning photos also dubbed Palawan The Most Beautiful Island in the World.  We had to make this our new island to check out on our recent trip to the Philippines.

St Paul Karst Mountains

A small section of the St. Paul karst mountain range

Accolades like these make me proud and motivated us to experience the island – if not all of it then at least a slice of paradise.  To get there we left my mom’s house and drove the three hours from Moalboal to Cebu City, where we caught the hour and fifteen minute flight to Puerto Princesa, the capital of Palawan island.

Palawan Island

Cebu Interanational Airport

But we weren’t there yet!  From the Puerto Princesa airport we had to endure another two-hour van ride that hauled us over the narrow, twisty and hilly road to the Daluyon Beach and Mountain Resort in Sabang.  At least the concrete road was in good condition!

Highway to Sabang, Palawan

The driver told us this passenger truck was on its last trip of the day from the city to Sabang

The drive there was long but very scenic.  Our driver pointed out several places to check out if we had time, including Honda Bay for island hopping and snorkeling, and Ugong Rock for rock climbing.  We stopped for a few minutes at a large karst mountain range, where if you are imaginative you can make out the “elephant cave” hovering over the small nipa huts.

Elephant Cave

Karst mountain range with rice fields in the foreground

Can you see it in this closeup?

Elephant Cave

Can you make out the elephant hovering over the nipa huts?  Steve couldn’t!

This unspoiled rock formation is immense, and within the range are numerous caves and narrow passageways carved out of the limestone.  A trail here can be followed by folks who sign up for the Ugong Rock Adventure.  We intended to take it, but many of the excursions here were far from our resort and involved long drives – which we just weren’t up for at the time 😦

For those not familiar with “karst”, I should explain.  Karst refers to water-soluble rock, including limestone, that can be dissolved by acidic water to form many different topographies, including interesting caves, outcroppings or even entire mountain ranges.  In combination with other types of rock, the resulting formations and features can take on amazing complexity and beauty.

Our driver took a picture as we posed for a few minutes to soak in the sweeping, serene, pastoral panorama.

Karst Mountains

More karst mountain ranges behind us

After a long travel day we finally arrived at our fabulous room with a beach view, where we holed up for the next 5 nights.  If you plan to come to this part of the island, we cannot recommend this resort enough.  Although there are other places to eat that we enjoyed a lot, these rooms facing the beach are by far the best on Sabang Beach.  That said, this is a very big island and there are many other areas that we did not see during our stay.

Daluyon Beach and Mountain Resort

This is what we came here for!

Our mornings and evenings were spent walking up and down this white sand beach surrounded by the St. Paul karst mountain range.  Unfortunately, due to high waves this time of the year, the warning flags were up and we were forbidden to swim in the ocean. The lifeguard told us the waves are this high during the months of October to December. The best time to enjoy calm waters is in the summer, but be prepared for huge crowds and very hot weather!

Sabang Beach

Sabang Beach

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And so our exploration of the beautiful island had begun.  Within hiking (they call it “trekking” here) distance of our resort was an underground river in the heart of the karts mountain ranges a UNESCO World Heritage Site which put us in awe. But more on that and our other Palawan adventures when we come back after the holidays….