Sunday, July 1, 2012

Palawan Day 1: Puerto Princesa and its Stories

The Solo Trip Planning Process
Months before this solo trip, I drew up this itinerary for a four day stay in Palawan that included a visit to the ff key spots: El Nido, Underground River and Puerto Princesa City. The RORO bus line hasn't begun their operations yet when I started researching about the place, so it was bit worrying how I'd manage to squeeze in those three places in the limited time that I had (yep, four days is sooo short for a Palawan vacation) in consideration with the van and other buses' schedule (no night trips~ >.<). I finally came up with an acceptable itinerary that left very little room for vehicle breakdown, delayed flights and other inconveniences that might come up (including what might be a lengthy search for an accommodation). But hey, to come up with an itinerary was already an Au achievement, since I rarely form plans and pretty much prefers the go-with-the-flow way of travelling. However, a cursory search about the place hints a requirement for a modicum of planning, so planning I did.

June 24, Sunday.
A few months later I've read about the starting of the RORO bus operation, and the very, very good news was, they had more trip schedules than the vans and other buses offer. And what's more, they have night trips. Hurrah! But I was lazy, so I didn't bother revising my itinerary. Haha. But knowing there are night trips was a huge relief. 

So June 24 came, and aboard the plane, I decided to throw away my most thought-of ITI to date and decided to go to El Nido first. Solo trip isn't fun if it's so structured, you know. I mean, what's the point of being alone if you can't go anywhere and do anything because you have an ITI to follow? XD

The plane landed 10 minutes before schedule (the first hint that this trip is so favored). I went outside the airport and hailed a trike to Badjao Inn where the Underground River office is located (fare: Php 30). The driver, kuya Oliver (09397910284), offered to tour me around the city for Php 600, which was the standard fare for a city tour. I told him I'm heading straight to El Nido, but I might go on the tour in my last day in the city, and promised to inform him if I ever decide to go.

I arrived at the UR office a little before 1pm, and there were already four people waiting in line despite the office still being closed.  A little chitchat with them revealed that they were a family, and that they're visiting the river tomorrow. I could have joined them, but in the light of my new plans, that isn't possible. There were touts outside offering them a Php 1,300 package tour, but since I was going alone, I wasn't pestered. At exactly 1pm, the office opened, and a few moments later I got my permit. They didn't collect any fees, telling me to pay in the Sabang entrance instead. I asked about the Monkey trail and found out it was closed for renovations. Aww. :(

I found kuya Oliver waiting outside, so I asked him to take me to the bus terminal. He asked me if I already have plans about my Underground river visit, and I said none yet. He offered to book a tour for me with an agency he knows. The Php1500 package included all fees, a picnic lunch by the beach and the van ride. It was pricey, but very convenient, and I thought I could use a little convenience, so I agreed. After going to the agency's office and arranging things with them, we headed straight to the terminal. 

It was a bit of a long ride to the terminal, and above the roar of the trike, kuya Oliver told me stories of Palawan. He had first hand accounts of the tragedies that shook the province some years ago, from the Dos Palmas kidnapping to Rico Yan's passing. The Dos Palmas incident had led to a one year travel ban. Well-established resorts survived the after-effects but others were not so fortunate. The resort he was working for closed, leaving him and several other staff suddenly in dire need of an income. It was a dark time, as their lifeblood, which was tourism, was suddenly cut.

Renaissance came in the form of the discovery of the Underground River and the succeeding bid to have it included in the "new seven wonders of the world". The campaign, which raised several eyebrows, is a bid to find the world's new seven wonders through worldwide online and sms voting. (In 2008, Palawan's Tubbataha Reef also made it to the list, but perhaps accessibility had hindered it from going all the way to the finals.) Aggressive campaigning and Filipino's fondness for online voting ushered the Underground River into a spot into the list, and since then, the visitors never stopped coming. It is specially crazy during summer, when the lines for permit would stretch all the way into the street. Some, despite having traveled from far-away places, would be denied the permission to see the famous site and would have to schedule another trip.

I still can't decide whether it's a good thing for the Underground River to become so famous. On one hand, the sudden influx of visitors, no matter how controlled, could bring untold consequences to the fragile environment of the site. Already, monkeys in the area are known for snatching stuff from people; their natural aversion to human beings disappearing as an effect of being constantly exposed to them. And then there is this prideful, spiteful side that I supposed most travelers (as opposed to tourists) have: the idea that the more beautiful a place is, the more that it should be difficult to travel to; that a place as unique and wonderful as the Underground River shouldn't be made so easily accessible to careless and noisy horde of vacationers. On the other hand, the tourism boom in the province had allowed people like kuya Oliver to recover from the slump they had experienced, and had also provided a source of livelihood to countless Filipinos living in that province. I suppose that the current set-up in Palawan (where there is a government office strictly monitoring the activities in the Underground River and other spots) is closest to a balance between economic gain from tourism and environmental protection of the tourist spot we could get. I just hope that the scales won't tip towards economic gain anytime soon.

Road-trip to El Nido

It was almost two when we reached the terminal (travel time was around 30 minutes). I paid kuya Oliver Php 100 (I don't know how much the fare from Badjao Inn to the terminal really is, and I feel that Php 100 is too expensive. Nevertheless, I didn't have hard feelings paying more than I should have, since he had been very helpful and I enjoyed the stories very much-- and if the stories were to incite sympathy and tip, I guessed it worked. :)) ) There was a RORO bus already waiting at the terminal, and I reserved myself a seat. I decided to go to the CR first and when I went back to the bus, I found it pulling out of the station. Naturally, I panicked and ran after it (yes, with arms flailing), only to find it was just readjusting its position. So embarrassing. >.<
The fare to El Nido was Php 483 and would take about six hours, making our estimated time of arrival at 8pm. I texted the owner of Tay Miloy's, a guesthouse in El Nido. I asked if there's a room for me that night, and thankfully he replied in affirmative. And what's really nice is that Mang Rodrigo (the owner), offered to fetch me from the terminal at no additional cost (that would have been Php 50 one way) after finding out that I was travelling alone. 

The ride was smooth most of the time, but the road was winding so I think people prone to motion sickness would have a nasty time throughout the ride. Thankfully I had none, and I spent the ride alternating between sleep, staring at the countryside view or watching a movie that the bus was showing in an endless loop.

Now, travelling alone can you get either of this responses: you'll get conned because being alone makes you more vulnerable, or you'll get a lot of unexpected kindness from strangers because you look vulnerable. Fortunately for me, it was always the second case. Like for example, in one of the stopovers, my seatmate got off to buy food. I remained in my seat, too lazy to go and stretch. I wasn't hungry anyway. When he came back, he was carrying a snack for me, and insisted that I take it. I don't know if I looked hungry or what, but the gesture was very touching. If the fastest way to lose faith in humanity is to wallow through online comments, then I guess the best way to regain that faith is to travel, and experience first hand kindness from strangers when you least expect it. 

The bus ride took longer than expected, and we arrived in El Nido at around 9 pm. A few minutes later Mang Rodrigo fetched me in his motorcycle. It was very dark when I arrived, so I haven't seen much of the place when we were zipping through the town. Tay Miloy's was a few minutes away from the beach. I was pleasantly surprised that there are establishments and diners opened 24 hrs, which means I can get food whenever I want. Haha

I fixed my stuff in my room, then went and pay for a two nights' stay and the island hopping tour for the next day (Php800 for the room, and Php 700 for the tour which included lunch and use of snorkeling equipment). I'm really just staying for a night, but since I won't be able to check out at 12 noon, and I need a place to stay until the 10pm trip back to Puerto Princesa the next day, I decided to pay for two nights.

Afterwards, I walked towards the  beach in search for dinner. A 24-hr fastfood caught my eye (because they had danggit. One of the food I couldn't pass up) and I ate there. After dinner, I walked around a little. It's amazing that a place without much street lights is still alive and active after 9pm. Unfortunately, it started to rain, so I ran all the way back to the inn, and prepared to sleep. Tomorrow would be a busy day.

Wow. What a long entry. I wonder how many of you made it up to this point? >.< This Palawan trip is such a thought-provoking trip, and this is just day one! 

Cebu Pacific's free web-check in is really nice. Because I didn't have a check-in bag, I went straight to the pre-departure area. One less line to fall into. :)

The magic towel was very effective. And pretty useful. I used it to wring my clothes dry so that I won't be lugging around waterlogged clothes. 

In Summary
June 24, 2012
Time sched:
Arrival at Puerto Princesa Airport: 12:30 pm
To UR Office: 12:40 pm 
Get UR permit: 1:05 pm
Arrange UR tour with Hadefe Agency: 1:20 pm
San Jose Terminal: 1:50 pm
Departure of bus to El Nido: 2:00 pm
Arrival at El Nido: 9:05 pm

NAIA 3 terminal fee: Php 200
Trike fare to Badjao Inn: Php 30
Trike fare to Bus terminal: Php 100
Bus fare to El Nido: Php 483
Room (2 nights) in El Nido: Php 800
Island Hopping tour A: Php 700
Dinner: Php 75


  1. hi! this is real inspiring. I' am to go solo just like you. I have no itinerary prepared so this is really helpful. I might just follow yours. If it's not too much to ask, how can I contact Tay Miloy's Inn? Help! I really wanted to do this trip. ^_^

    1. Hi! Mang Rodrigo's number is 09297955756. Enjoy your trip. :)