We forced ourselves out of our exhaustion from yesterday’s island hopping and long evening van trip from El Nido to Puerto Princesa. This was our 4th day in Palawan and on the 5th day was our scheduled flight back to Cebu. So, despite my head feeling like it was about to cave in, I managed to call upon more energy for this day because, technically, it was our last to do some holiday stuff in Palawan.
After breakfast at Ysabelle Mansion, our ride came for us and finally our journey to the famous Underground River started. This group tour (which comes complete with a van, driver, perky tour guide, entrance fee to the UR and lunch) was booked beforehand through Ysabelle mansion and it cost us Php 1,540 per person. We were joined by four people from Manila and a British family of three. And we did not only have so much fun, we got to witness just how wonderful Nature can be!
Ugong Rock – A Preview Adventure
Before we reached the Underground River, we made a side trip to Ugong Rock Adventures located in Brgy. Tagabinet, Puerto Princesa City. It is basically a cave where you can find several rocks that produce bell-like sounds when tapped; and that’s why it is called ‘ugong’ – a local word meaning ‘sound’. It is where you can go caving and ziplining and we spent the whole morning there sorely testing the limits of our sleep-deprived bodies.
The community running Ugong Rock Adventures (meaning the guides there and the people manning the ziplines and the ropes for rappelling) used to be farmers who practiced kaingin or the burning of forests to create farm plots. To cease this damaging activity to nature, the Puerto Princesa government gave them an alternative livelihood – become tour guides for people who want to experience Ugong Rock cave.
After all that fun inside the cave, we then headed to a beach resort where we got served our lunch buffet.
Experiencing the Puerto Princesa Underground River
Our van then took us to Sabang Port where we needed to take a banca to get to the UR. Since the Underground River is arguably the most popular attraction in PP, what with it being hailed as one of the new 7 wonders of nature, there was a long queue at the port. After around thirty minutes, we finally got our turn to ride a banca and not long after, we arrived at the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park. The sea spray we got treated to while riding the small motorized boat to get to this place must have revived our energies because we were feeling excited again!
Our tour guide took care of the registration process so everything went smoothly despite the huge crowd we came upon there near the entrance. The number of people entering is strictly controlled and timed, a good thing since I certainly didn’t want the experience ruined by tourist-filled boats jostling each other in the narrow passages. The trade-off though is that you’ll have to wait a long while to enter.
When our turn came, we were asked to wear the blindingly orange life vests and safety helmets. We then boarded a small paddle boat; V was charged to hold a spot light since he sat at the front-most of the boat. One boatman is assigned per banca and he is responsible for paddling you around inside the cave system and regaling you with nothing but ridiculously hilarious quips about the stone formations inside the Underground River. I won’t tell you what the boatmen there have to say though, just that they’ve practically divided the caves into sections such as market, garbage area, cathedral, etc. But you really have to go and hear them for yourself to believe the craziness they’re spouting there! ^_^
As for the Underground River, wow… just wow! It is a very impressive cave system with exciting rock formations and diverse wildlife (saw lots of bats!). The fact that it emerges directly into the sea is awesome. The ‘cathedral’ was the best part for me because it was cavernous, like holy-cow-how-big-is-this-place-under-the-mountain-and-oh-what-happens-when-that-mountain-comes-crashing-in type of cavernous. At the center was the ‘candle’, which is a towering stalagmite and if I remember correctly – it is still growing!
The Underground River in Palawan is definitely a must-visit place and it’s worth all the hassle of going there, so just go, seriously! ^_^
Epic Fail Viewing of the Fireflies
It was dusk when we returned to Puerto Princesa fully satisfied of our Underground River experience. We were not ready to rest yet though because we still had a firefly viewing tour to go to. We, along with around 20 other people, rode a bigger motorized boat to the mangroves and it was around 7PM that we arrived there. Dinner was then served on the boat and that was an experience in itself because tables were laid out onto the katig (the bamboo poles you normally see attached to the sides of a Filipino boat for balance purposes). We then sat on the katig with our feet dangling close to the sea water and ate a delicious seafood dinner.
When it was time to actually get into the mangroves and see the fireflies, we boarded a smaller motorized banca in order to navigate the narrow passages winding through the mangroves. The sea was calm, the air was clear and the stars were twinkling brightly up in the sky. It was such a perfect night that I was really excited to see the fireflies because I’m sure it would be amazing in these conditions. At the entrance to the mangroves, we started seeing small groups of fireflies flashing their tiny lights and my excitement mounted. It wasn’t helped that the guide kept saying that what we’re seeing are just firefly ‘towns’ and that the firefly ‘city’ is just ahead. In my head I’m already imagining being surrounded by thousands of fireflies and enjoying one of the perfect nights of my life.
Unfortunately, the banca’s engine chose that moment to sputter and die out. It was already troubled even before we left the bigger boat. Worse, the guide announced that because of this, we’ll have to head back and due to time constraints, we’ll have to go back to Puerto Princesa. Seriously, I felt like punching something at that point. I was super disappointed because I didn’t reach the firefly city T_T
We headed back to Puerto Princesa and I just sat quietly on the boat feeling bad about the whole thing. When we got back on land though, I forced myself to just shrug it off so I wouldn’t be a bummer for my friends. The firefly watching was booked through Ysabelle Mansion again for Php 1,100 and because what happened was part of ‘circumstances they couldn’t control’, there was no refund. So sad. Since there wasn’t anything I could do, I just slept the whole thing off. Anyway, our trip to the Underground River was amazing so the day wasn’t a total failure at all.
The next morning, we availed of the hotel’s free van ride to the airport but told the driver to drop us off at a souvenirs shop. We purchased several shirts, sarongs and trinkets there for ourselves and for friends and family. With our bags heavier and wallets even lighter, we finally headed to the airport for our flight back to Cebu.
With the exception of the failed firefly watching, our 5 days holiday in Palawan was a total blast and we cannot praise El Nido and the Underground River enough!