Where the heck are my group mates!? I was at the port of Sabang en route to the world famous Puerto Princesa Underground River and I cannot remember who my guide was and who my van-mates were. Giving up, I boarded the nearest boat and tagged along with an international convoy of Singaporeans, Malaysians and a Japanese gal with short funky blond hair. I’m going underground, van-mates missing or not.
Star Cruises’ Superstar Aquarius has finally docked at Puerto Princesa after steaming overnight from Kota Kinabalu through the Sulu Sea. Looking out from my cabin’s port hole, I can see that the city has prepared for our arrival; a welcome band of kids dressed in festive garbs twirling batons and banging drums greeted us with much fervor.
With our day passes on hand, we quickly filed out of the cruise liner and were directed to our appointed van. We were going to see the sights of Puerto Princesa City. Once everyone was inside, our very bubbly tour guide Joey Estrada started to brief us on what to expect and where we would go. After finishing her litany of places, she asked if we had any more questions.
Indeed my companions have. Where and when do we go shopping?
Our first stop cannot be farther from a shopping center.
Our gaze went up as we alighted from the coolness of the van to the afternoon heat of Palawan; we were at the Immaculate Concepcion Cathedral.
This church, the largest of its kind in the city, is one of the most prominent landmarks of Puerto Princesa. It is said that its neo-gothic facade is patterned after the Minor Basilica of San Sebastian in Manila. Well, there are indeed similarities between the two, but it can definitely stand on its own merit.
From the church, it was only a few steps to our next destination, the small park of Plaza Cuartel.
To be honest, there really isn’t much to see here. It’s a park with benches and lush trees, a perfect place to lounge and read a book, that is if you have time to spare.
The old garrison’s claim to fame, or more like infamy, is that it was the site where Japanese soldiers from the Second World War set 143 American GI’s aflame. Alive.
With not enough time to cover the usual Puerto Princesa City Tour, our convoy finally relented to the heaps of request to go shopping and headed to Robinson’s, the largest mall in the city. This might be a point of interest to the lots of other Asian media contingents with us wanting to buy much cheaper goods and what-nots, but for us Filipinos, it was just another mall in the city.
So what we did, we sat ourselves inside Island Coffee, a local café, and sipped ourselves to relaxation.
Still not satiated from shopping, the cruise peeps decided to hit another shopping joint before having dinner. The target, the LRC Tiangge. It’s a local marketplace where souvenirs and local products are sold at very affordable prices on open-aired stalls. You can get your ref magnets, key chains and shirts here, all the way to gynormous Tagbanuan sculptures and South Sea pearls.
With everyone dead-tired from looking, asking and buying, we at last went to the Puerto Princesa provincial capitol for dinner. I was so hungry I totally forgot to take a photo of delectable pork lechon that I mainly feasted on.
And while we’re at it, the Palawan Performing Arts and the Provincial Capitol Chorale entertained us with traditional folk songs and dances. I must say, I am definitely impressed. So much so that I was able to leave the lechon alone and go near the stage to take some photographs.
Before going back to the Superstar Aquarius cruise ship, our group decided to drop by Puerto Princesa’s Baywalk Park to unwind a bit. From the park, we can clearly see the hulk of the ship which is docked near the area.
We ordered a few bottles of Red Horse Beer, which apparently most stalls in the baywalk only have in litro-size. Bring it on then! We listened as locals talk about the cruise ship, which they were thankful for since it would surely strengthen tourism in Puerto Princesa.
Due to the ship’s arrival, the whole baywalk strip was open for 24 hours. It was just too bad that we needed to get up early tomorrow for the Puerto Princesa Underground River Tour, else we would’ve drank more and stayed longer.
After downing our beer and finishing our croc sisig, it was time to bed down.
The next day found our group on separate vans. I was grouped with some Malaysian dudes.
I was sitting out front, working on my laptop the whole way to the Underground River so I wasn’t really able to ID my companions, even my guide. And as soon as we alighted at Sabang Port to catch a boat to our destination, I took a CR break and completely lost sight of my new companions.
The short of it was that I simply went off on a boat with another group, totally clueless if that was allowed or not. Eventually, forgetful me did make it to the mouth of the Underground River where I still probably wouldn’t be able to identify my van companions even if they stood right in front of me and told me they’re it.
This was gonna be my third time inside the UNESCO World Heritage Site stamped Underground River, but it’s still a thrill for me.
The cave is formed under the hollows of the St. Paul mountain range and was discovered by early Palawan tribesmen. It was formed by water slowly hollowing away the insides of the limestone mountain. The whole river goes for about 24 kilometers but the tour only allows tourists up to a kilometer of the cave.
As usual, the boatmen were hilarious, pointing out shapes formed by stalactites to the group and making jokes out of them. It was my first time to hear them guide foreigners and it’s quite heartening to see them handle it well. Their English is quite good and they connect well with their guests.
I made it out of the Underground River and all the way back to Sabang still without finding my van companions. By the time I reached the Sheridan Beach Resort in Sabang, I found my co-travelers from Star Cruises Philippines. We enjoyed a hearty lunch at the resort’s South Sea Restaurant and after filling myself fat with their pork liempo, I went back to the van I was assigned in and finally found my missing Malaysian van-mates.
Where the heck did you guys went?! You just missed the Underground River! And they were like, duh!
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