Saturday, November 24, 2012

Highlight * Underground River - One of the 7 Natural Wonders of Nature * Wow Philippines! * Puerto Princesa, Palawan (November 2012)

The St. Paul Subterranean Underground River has recently been declared as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature, due to its unique natural phenomenon.

Below the St. Paul mountains lie an 8.2 km long underground river that flows directly to the sea. The lower half of the river is brackish and subject to the oceans tide.

It's hard to fully envision the experience unless you go and visit it. The river is pitch-black dark and is only lighted by the small torches from the boats. Permits are required ahead of time and in recent months, there seem to be a 30 day advance booking required for tours. You can still go directly to Puerto Princesa in Palawan, which is about an hour flight from Manila, but there is a chance you will not be able to get a permit, so better to book ahead. You have to travel 2 hours by land from Puerto Princesa (where the airport is) to Sabang Beach, then hop on a 15-minute motorized banca (outrigger boat) to the entrance of the underground river (shown in the photo). The actual river tour starts there as you board a small paddle boat and enter the river. The boatman paddles your boat at the same time, be your guide inside the river and showing you the formations found inside the cave. The tour is about 45 min and it only covers less than 2km of the river. If you are a scientist or part of the media wanting to explore more of the river, you have to get a special permit to enter the inner portion of the river, which is now closed to the public.
Note: This highlight also appears in AFAR Website

Friday, November 23, 2012

Highlight * Spelunking and Ziplining for Beginners * Wow Philippines! * Puerto Princesa, Palawan (November 2012)

Spelunking? What an odd-sounding word, I thought! Half-way on our way to visit one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature, Palawan's famous Subterranean Underground River, we made a side stop to Ugong Rock for spelunking.

It is only then that I learned that there is a recreational sport for exploring caves and this is called spelunking, or rather, more commonly known nowadays as caving.

The experience here is quite interesting as you climb up the cave through a maze of tight passages, crawling through the small holes between the rocks, squeezing ourselves through tight spaces, climbing up steep rocks such as the one in the photo, and identifying the various natural sculptures around. The journey was around 30-40 minutes and for us beginners, it was tiring!

As we reached the top of the cave, we were presented with great views of the green terrain below. But not just that! We were also presented with an important decision: to get down in 21 seconds via a zip line or go back through the cave's maze and rapel down the steep rocks which we earlier climbed up on. Either way, the downhill journey didn't really excite me as I had a bit of fear of heights. So, it was a battle between a few seconds of fear while getting on the zip line or longer duration of fear through the several steep descends inside the cave, haha!

I chose to zip line & never regretted it!

Ugong Rock is located in Tagabinet, Puerto Princesa in Palawan - about an hour's plane ride from Metro Manila.

Related Highlight: St. Paul Subterranean Underground River

Note:  This highlight also appears in AFAR Website

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Friday, November 02, 2012

Highlight * Still Dreaming of that Island Paradise * Wow Philippines! * Mangenguey, Busuanga, Palawan (November 2012)

Mangenguey Island is literally the perfect island getaway. Here, you get to experience island life, go back to nature, while still getting the best gourmet food. Although some people associate it to a luxury hotel, this is definitely not one of those commercial paradise resorts.

I just got back 1-1/2 months ago & I still have a hang over! Mangenguey was my island home, at least for a few days :-) We got a cottage where you step out and it's the beach/waters. It actually reminded me of Robinson Crusoe :-) I literally took about 15 steps to go out to swim or go snorkeling in one of the nicest reefs I've seen. Nemos, manta rays, reef sharks, angel fishes, other colorful tropical fishes, hundreds of them. Every single day, I woke up at the crack of dawn, which I normally don't, afraid not to miss the breathtaking sunrise (see photo above); later in the day, experience each warm sunset; and even on nights, enjoy the bright moonlight and stars.

Food was heavenly, most of which is Spanish inspired but I was amazed at how it was fused with local ingredients. The amount of focus on getting table settings and ambiance right is one that surprised me too, it made the experience even more memorable.

The island is run by a couple and a small team, everything was very personal/homey that we felt like we're part of their family. And like a cruise's tradition of captain's night, everyone gets to sit with our hosts for dinner and have great conversations.

Not just a dream! :-)

Note: This highlight also appears in AFAR Website