10th-11th January, 2015
After a very comfortable Christmas and New Year spent with friends in Taiwan, I was back on the road again. Destination: the Philippines.
No longer alone, I had three travel buddies with me: Jody, James and Chloe. All of us are old friends and went to University together. Jody has been living in Taiwan for the last four years, teaching English. James and Chloe are a couple, and have also been travelling around Asia this year – while I was roaming around Indonesia, they were backpacking around Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
We left Taipei in the early hours of the morning and had a three hour stopover at Manilla airport, where we waited for our connecting flight to Puerto Princesca.
It was during this transit at Manila airport that I first encountered the carefree attitude Filipinos have towards time: almost every flight was delayed that morning, but nobody seemed all too bothered or surprised. Even when the planes were ready to leave, the airlines then had to chase up missing passengers who had not turned up to their gates. Streams of names were called out in the intercom over and over again, followed by; “your flight is ready to leave. Can you report to gate [X] for boarding… please?” each time, a little more pleadingly. The delayees were, presumably, sat in cafés, obliviously slurping upon drinks without a worry in the world.
I decided that I was going to have to ‘get with’ this laid-back vibe during my time here, or otherwise it might begin to annoy me.
We reached Puerto Princesca in the morning and caught a bus straight to Sabang.
We were too tired to do much else other than find ourselves a lovely little cottage by the sea to stay in, book our permits to visit the nearby underground river the next day, and finish off a long journey with a beer on the balcony.
The Puerto Princesca Subterranean River National Park has recently been named one of the Seven New Wonders of the Natural World, and has thus become a little overcrowded. After we had finished patiently queuing alongside all of the tour groups, through several stages of a hopelessly bureaucratic system, we were finally loaded up onto a boat and taken to a small cove further along the coast to the entrance of the cave.
It was a very scenic area, with large monitor lizards wandering around and cheeky crab-eating macaques trying to scrounge food. The brackish waters were a beautiful greenish colour and were teeming with fish. Swimming was not allowed; as the eco-system is very unique and part of a protected area.
Once our group number was called out we were loaded up onto another boat and we began our tour of the cave.
Our guide’s commentary was comical and gimmicky, rather than scientific, but entertaining. Between all the wise-cracks and one-liners, he did tell us a little bit about the history of the place. Mostly, he pointed out different formations and told us their names: “this is Medusa, can you see the hair?” “that one is The Dolphin,” “this one, is for adults only.”
It was a very nice cave, and definitely worth the visit.
Once our tour was over we decided to walk back to Sabang through a jungle walkway I had read good things about in my Lonely Planet guide, only to discover that in the year since my guide was written the footpath – which locals and travellers alike have been casually strolling through over the years – has been rebranded as a trail which, for the purposes of ‘safety’, (*cough* *cough*) white people need a guide.
To be fair, the price for the guide was quite cheap so we grudgingly paid it. It vexes me though, when the concept of Health and Safety is abused as a money-making scheme – it is a very western habit which seems to be slowly creeping into Asia. Most of the path was paved, and it was all very well signposted – there really is no need for people to be ‘guided’ through it.
The walk went past some lovely limestone scenery, swamplands and mangroves. We even saw a snake along the way, as well as a cave which is used by monitor lizards to lay their eggs.
When we got back to Sabang, we grabbed our bags and jumped upon a bus heading towards Port Barton.
For more photos, go to my Flickr account.