Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Palawan in 5 days

My 5 days in Palawan may have been the most grueling travel I had done. Yet it had been both fun and educational. We traveled from the southern most part of mainland Palawan (Rio Tuba, Bataraza) to the northern most part, which is the Calamianes Group of Islands. Below is a detailed account of my travel.

June 9, 2004 (Day 1)

I woke up at 5 AM to take the 7 am flight to Puerto Princesa City (Puerto for short) via Cebu Pacific. Upon arrival at Puerto, we had breakfast at Hotel Asturias before proceeding immediately to Western Philippines University (WPU) in Aborlan (about 1 ½ hour drive south of Puerto). There was a power failure at WPU. Fortunately, they had a generator so the budget hearing went on as scheduled. Lunch was served afterwards with crabs, calamares, sinigang (I can’t remember what kind of fish it was) and shrimps, which we all downed with fresh buko juice.

After lunch, we headed straight to the Quezon Campus of WPU. Most of the roads were unpaved but the travel was not that bad. I found out that, unlike the municipalities in mainland Luzon, it takes at least 1 hour to reach the next town. Located in Quezon are the campuses of WPU and the Palawan State University (PSU). Also found there are the Tabon Caves and a museum showcasing the finds from the caves. However, due to time constraints, we were unable to visit the caves. After visiting WPU Quezon Campus, we went to the Municipal Hall to visit the Mayor, who unfortunately was out of the office at the time. The Municipal Budget Officer (MBO) was there, though, to meet with us.

Having done our job for the day, we went to Crystal Paradise Resort in Narra, Palawan where we stayed for the night. We had a late dinner, after which we took a dip in their pool till midnight. Exhausted with the day’s activities, we slept soundly that night.

June 10, 2004 (Day 2)

The following morning, we had breakfast at 5 AM. Because it was dark the night before due to the power failure, I only found out that that the resort was located beside a beach. We didn’t have time to swim in the sea because we had to leave for Rio Tuba in Bataraza, the southern most town of mainland Palawan. Rio Tuba is famous (or should I say notorious to environmentalists?) because of the nickel mining and processing being done there. It was raining during our trip to Rio Tuba. The roads in the town of Brooke’s Point, the town we passed by going to Rio Tuba, were good but when we reached Bataraza it turned bad and muddy. We bought some pineapples by the roadside for P20 for a bundle of 4.

We went to Rio Tuba to meet the man who was going to donate some of his land where campus of WPU is proposed to be constructed. We were treated to a lunch of roast suckling pig and turkey.

We returned to Puerto Princesa after Rio Tuba where we immediately checked in at the Badjao Inn, which is near the Provincial Capitol. After checking in, we proceeded to Badjao Restaurant (located quite a distance from the inn) where we had our dinner.

June 11, 2004 (Day 3)

The Budget Officer of the Palawan State University (PSU) fetched us at the hotel for their budget hearing.

After the hearing, we went back to the hotel to get our things before going to the town of Roxas to visit the PSU campus there. The staff from PSU and WPU accompanied us in going to Roxas. We rode in two 4-wheel SUVs and a van. The road from Puerto to Roxas was well paved that I was able to get some sleep in the van. When we got to Roxas, an officemate and I were taken by the WPU staff to the parish church to have lunch, while another group was taken to the PSU campus. The parish priest told us that the roads in the next town, Taytay, was so bad that it was a good thing we brought along 4-wheel SUVs in case our van got stuck in the mud.

And true enough, we got to a place where the bridge was under construction so we had to pass below it which was very muddy. One of the SUVs helped pull two trucks from the mud, before we were able to pass the area.

The rest of the trip to Taytay was uneventful as we passed through thick foliage with scattered bald spots caused by kaingeros (slash and burn farmers) who burn parts of the forest to plant rice.

When we reached Taytay late in the afternoon, we went directly to the PSU campus to check the place. The campus was not that big but it was awesome to see so much greeneries considering that I grew up in Manila.

It was decided that we will be staying at Club Noah – Isabelle for the night. The PSU people were able to negotiate for us to stay at Club Noah for P1,000 each inclusive of buffet dinner and an overnight accommodation in a family cottage. We then proceeded to the Municipal Hall where we met the municipal budget officer. We had merienda at Casa Rosa, a bar and restaurant on top of a hill overlooking Taytay Bay and Fort Sta. Isabel, which used to be a military station during Spanish time and was constructed in the 17th century. After merienda, we went to the pier to catch our boat ride to Club Noah, a 45-minute ride away.

It was already dark when we reached the resort. The banca did not have any lights so the resort used a spotlight to guide us in. We found out that a few hundred meters before reaching the resort we had to transfer from the banca to the resort’s boat, which will take us to our destination. The waters were a little bit choppy, making the transfers between the two boats and to the pier a little bit difficult. Upon arriving in the resort, we were taken to the reception area where the dining hall was also located. The staff asked us if we wanted to have dinner first before going to our cottage or if we want, they can provide room service. We opted to go to the cottage first (about 500 meters from the dining hall) to have a shower before going back to have dinner. The cottage was built on top of the waters where one can do some snorkeling (during the day) as there were fishes right below the cottage.. After dinner, we took a dip in their small pool as we talked about the day’s journey. It drizzled a bit but we didn’t leave the pool until about 11 PM, after which we retired to our cottage.

June 12, 2004 (Day 4)

Today is Philippine Independence Day. We got up at around 5:30 AM because we were determined to swim in the sea. There were a couple of rabbits and geese roaming freely around the resort. Again, we walked towards the dining hall where the small sandy beach is located. The beach is a little bit rocky so we didn’t remove our rubber sandals as we waded through the shallow waters and took a dip and did some snorkeling. After an hour of swimming, we immediately had breakfast because we planned to leave the resort at 8:00 AM. After a quick shower, we packed up our things to prepare for departure. As we waited for the boat to pick us up, we watched and fed the fishes with stale bread below the pier.

We left El Nido a little bit sad because we didn't have time to enjoy fully the resort. We got there late and we left early. When we docked at the Taytay pier, we decided to go and visit Fort Taytay also known as Fort Isabel. However, I guess it was too early as it was still closed. So, we decided to have pictures taken outside the walled fort.

We got back to our vehicle and left for El Nido. About 2 hours of travel on rough roads and surrounded by the Palawan forest, we reached our destination. We first visited the campus of WPU which is located about 30 minutes away from the town proper. The school's administration building, which was located on the top of a hill, has a breathtaking view of the surroundings. We had a light snack of cashew nuts and buko juice. Afterwhich, we went to the PSU campus, another 30 minutes away from WPU. The PSU campus has a bigger land area and it is located in a flatter terrain.

When were about to leave the school, we met the barangay captain of the place who happens to be a bird's nest concessionaire. The bird's nest is a Chinese delicacy believed to be an aphrodisiac. It is sold here at P150 per gram for the first class variety and about P80 per gram for the third class kind (and I thought shabu is expensive, he he he). We visited the barangay captain's place and we saw some ladies cleaning the nests removing some dirt and other particles from it. These nests are made by swifts which are located on the side of cliffs. The people who harvest them (called bosiador, I think) climb or go down to the cliffs to get the nests.

We had our lunch at Lally and Abeth Beach Resort. Unfortunately, we were on a tight schedule that we were not able to go on an island hopping tour of El Nido. So near and yet so far.

After lunch, we finally bade goodbye to El Nido as we took our ride to go to the El Nido airport. Vehicles were not allowed inside the airport but instead we were picked up by their own shuttle. We were charged (I think) about a P100 each to be shuttled to the airport terminal. We checked in our luggages. It was weighed together with the passengers. The plane we were taking is a 17-seater one from Seair. I was fortunate to seat just behind the pilot's seat (there was just a small divider between the cockpit and the passenger area. After we took off, he looked back at me and tried to point to the direction of the Malampaya platform (the natural gas found in Palawan). I strained a little bit and finally found what he was trying to point out, a very small dot in the sea.

After about an hour of flight, we finally saw Busuanga. The pilot turned the plane around as it prepared to land. We were so low that it seems we can almost touch the ground. After we landed, we got on board a jeep (P150 per passenger) where we will be taken on a 1 hour ride to Coron. We checked in at Sea Dive resort. I think the rate is P300 for a non-aircon room (good for 2) and P500 for an air- conditioned one. The view from the restaurant was great: the sea bounded by land almost on all sides. From here, you can see the boats arriving and leaving the pier.

After having merienda and an hour's rest, we decided to go to Maquinit hot spring to dip in the (very) hot spring pools. It was already dark when we left for the spring and we stayed there till 10 PM. We had dinner there where some of our companions cooked rice, sinigang and roasted some fish.

We returned to the resort and got to bed at around midnight.

June 13, 2004 (Day 5)

On our last day in Palawan (a Sunday), we decided to go to mass first before proceeding to our final destination: the Municipality of Busuanga. After the mass, we got into a hired Toyota Tamaraw FX, for our trip to Busuanga. The ride was so slow that it took us almost three hours, instead of the usual two hours as mentioned by our guides.

We reached Busuanga before lunch and went immediately to the campus of WPU. Their library used to be the old municipal legislative hall. The municipality had built a new municipal hall and legislative building. The Vice-Mayor and some of the councilors met with us and asked to be briefed about the budget. After the meeting, we were taken to the new municipal building for a tour. Lunch followed at a local restaurant where we had a meatless fare. We found out later that people in Busuanga prefer to fish rather than go into agriculture. In fact, most of their vegetables had to be brought in from Mindoro. WPU was requested to establish a campus here specifically to encourage the people to go into agriculture.

After lunch, we had a little time to go swimming. We went to the Rio Playa Beach resort. The resort seemed a bit abandoned. The water was quite cold, which maybe attributed to the fact that it is near the mouth of Busuanga River, the freshwater coming from the mountains. The water where we swam was shallow. In fact, we had to wade for a few hundred meters before we got to a waist high level. We stayed there for about an hour. We had to leave right away because we have to catch the WG&A Superferry at Coron bound for Manila. The ship leaves at around 8PM.

We got back to Coron at around 5 PM. Just enough time to pack our things and have an early dinner. We left Sea Dive when we saw the ship at the bay en route to the pier. An advance party went ahead to bring our baggages as the van we used would not fit all of us including our baggages.

When we got to the pier, there was a long queue waiting to board the ship. We all waited while some of the passengers alighted. When we were allowed to enter the port compound, our hand carried bags were inspected by a bored bomb-sniffing dog tried to check out all our bags. After passing the dog, our bags had to be inspected again by a police. Finally, we were able to board the ship. We were booked in a cabin which we shared with some strangers as there were only 3 of us males in a cabin good for 6.

I didn't notice the ship leaving as I dozed off immediately as I hit the bunk. The exhaustion finally took its toll as I had the best sleep since we got to Palawan.

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