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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Palawan Day 3: Journey to the Center of the Earth and Firefly Tales

Having left El Nido at 10 pm (how I love that the RORO buses stick to the schedule), I was expecting to reach Puerto Princesa  at around 5 am, but apparently trips are shorter at night, because we arrived at around 3 am. The San Jose Terminal was alive with trike divers waiting for passengers. My companion, Tina, and two other backpackers were immediately surrounded by drivers offering a trip to the city center for Php 150. It was much too expensive for us, so we decided to just wait for daylight (when fares go dramatically lower) in a corner in the station.



But not for long. A city-center bound trike driver offered to take us for Php 20 each (Php 80 in total-- see, how dramatic) since he's going there anyway. Good thinking kuya. We asked to be taken to the 24hr Jollibee in Rizal St.

When we arrived, there weren't a lot of customers, so we each took a table and slept. Or tried, because I wasn't able to. I decided to eat breakfast while waiting for the Sabang-bound tour van to fetch me. To pass time, I talked to the very-accommodating Jollibee manager who told me more Palawan tales.

Bound for Sabang
Mangroves in front of Microtel.

At around 7, the van, together with Ate Cleo, the tour guide, arrived at Jollibee. There were already 3 people in the van when I got in, and we'd be fetching two more groups. The second group, who was checked in at Astoria, was composed of an elderly couple, their daughter and her husband. The last group, who was checked-in at the very out-of-way Microtel (which was on a beachfront, so I guess that balances out the out-of-way-ness), was a young family with a very perky little girl named Angela.

The road to Sabang was familiar, since that was also part of the way to El Nido. I was told that before the road upgrades, going to Sabang requires a steely stomach and an infinite patience. Thankfully, the roads are now cemented, so our trip was smooth.

Marble mountain which can be seen en route to Sabang port


Puerto Princesa Underground River
Sabang beach
When we arrived at Sabang wharf, there were already plenty of people there. Our guide took care of everything for us (that's Php1500 well-spent, although I could have manage all by myself just fine.:P)-- from the fee payments to the boat arrangements so we needn't fall in line. We had to divide into two groups for the boat ride, as the boat can only accommodate a maximum of six people. The boat ride was bumpy , as the waves were quite huge that day, and the whole ride took a little less than 20 minutes.

When we arrived at the beach, we had to wait a few minutes for our turn to the 45-minute boat ride inside the cave. We were told to don life-vests and helmets before getting into the boat. I looked like a Meralco worker with the orange vest and white helmet look. Haha
~May liwanag ang buhay~

It started to rain when we were almost at the mouth of the cave, and we urged our boatman to paddle faster for cover. Once inside, we were greeted with dripping stalactites and chirping birds (that could easily be mistaken for a bat). Our boatman gave us the first house rule inside the Underground River: do not leave your mouth hanging no matter how jaw-dropping the view is-- something, other than cave water, could get inside. :))

It was a leisurely tour along the 1.4km length of the river (the total navigable length is around 8km if I'm not mistaken, but only the first 1.4 is allowed for tourists), punctuated with the guide's well-rehearsed and well-recycled, but still funny, jokes. It's even funnier when you hear the other tour's guide saying the same joke in the exactly same manner. There wasn't much educational info if that's what you're after, for saved the little bit on the difference between the stalactite and the stalagmite,  most of the guide's spiel were witty observations about the rock formations.

The rock formations were certainly impressive. It's amazing how natural forces shaped the rocks into something so easily recognizable: we saw a dog, a human form, some fruits, and really amazing, the nativity scene. Wow, indeed.
Afterwards, we headed on to our beach-side buffet lunch (included in the package). It was a hearty lunch, coupled with a bottle of soft drinks and bananas for dessert. After resting a bit, we headed back to the city center.

To the fireflies!
The view outside Princessa Inn. It's really fascinating: at one side you see an almost untouched environment, but look to the right you see city center and it's establishment. I wonder how this place would like given a few more years.

We arrived in Rizal Ave at around 4pm, and I headed straight to Princessa Inn to book a room for a night. I got a double room with private CR for Php400 (which I shared with Tina, so it was just Php 200 each). After taking a bath and fixing my stuff, I decided to go out and explore the area on foot. It's one of my favorite activities in any trip. I wasn't able to walk around for long, however, because I received a text from Tina saying that she's fetching me for the Iwahig Firefly watching. She managed to haggle down the cost per person  to Php 500, including the van fare. Impressive, considering that the packaged tours are at Php1100 per person, with dinner.

I met the quite talkative van driver who gave me a rundown of his services, and the prices he quoted were really cheap. Tina and the group she met (they were four in all) paid only for less than a thousand for the Sabang tour. Sayang, Php 1500 yung nagastos ko. T.T. I'll post his number here later.

We arrived at the firefly watching site a little before seven. Before going on to the tour, I bought a glow-in-the-dark t-shirt for my niece for Php 230. Hehe, it was sooo cute.

I didn't know the lifejackets had reflective patches until I saw this picture.


So, the tour. It's 3 people per banca, and we had two guides. The one paddling in the back was the one giving the lectures. I know most of the things he was saying, though, since I gave similar firefly lectures for UPGL years ago. :D I am really fascinated with fireflies, see, and seeing mangroves so full of them was like seeing a dream come true. Awesome. <3

Kuya had this flashlight that flashed a red light, and every time he points it towards the fireflies, they glow in unison. It's awesome, but it's also stressful to the fireflies, since they perceive the red light as a threat. That's why they only do it at most twice, and for illustration purposes only. I've read somewhere that there are places where fireflies do a synchronous flashing, and I sooo wanna see that.

The tour lasted for about twenty minutes, and I was like, moooar. I was informed that there are even more fireflies during their mating season which is from November to January. Ok, check. I am definitely coming back.

Semi-related P.S.
It'd be nice to organize a walking firefly-watching tour in UP. But I'm not sure if there are as many fireflies there as there was before.

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