Our second day in Puerto Princesa was the scheduled Underground River Tour. Our hostess had arranged for the tour guide to come and pick us up at home at 7 sharpish. Given that our home-stay was tucked out of nowhere, with kachha roads abounding, this service was much appreciated. Since it was too early to have breakfast, our hostess arranged to have it packed and ready for us, and we had a cup of coffee before starting out. Like any Indian tour, there were some fellow tourists already in the van, and some we picked up along the way.
Our guide for the day introduced all of us, outlined our itinerary for the day and proceeded to cautious us about the dos and donts (Some like don’t feed the monkeys (which are apparently a major attraction at the site of the Underground river at Sabang), left us smiling. The others included not littering around as there are strict anti-littering laws in Philippines and you could land up in jail, if caught made us stand up and take notice. If only, there were such laws in India!!)
The route to Sabang (another village) is much like the road on the western ghats..many twists and turns making you clutch the handles of the vehicle. It was a good thing that we decided to skip the breakfast, as these hairpin bends would have emptied the contents of your stomach, no matter how used to you are to such roads. We arrived at Sabang by 10 AM (we had gone around the city and picked up fellow tourists, remember, so we actually set out at 8 AM). Here our guide left us at the waiting area, and went to procure our passes. We munched on our bread-jam-cheese sandwiches, as we waited, and polished off the elaichi keli (bananas), native to Philippines, as well.
After coming back with the required permits, we were grouped into sets of 6 each, for the motorboat which would take us to the island where the UR was. We are asked to remember our boat numbers, as that would be the exact boat that would bring us back. We had a fellow Italian, and an American family with us. The trip to the island was exhilarating enough, and we donned our bright life jackets and sat mesmerized taking in the view.
On the reaching the island, we had some time to explore, take photos, look at the monkeys (eyes rolling) and the giant lizards for those who were interested. Then we were handed out audio tapes and a group of 8 of us set out for the famous Underground River trail. This was a 35 min boat ride, into pitch blackness, with just a beam of light held by our guide who also doubled as our boatman who rowed and paddled our canoe-like boats.
I will now let the pictures do the talking:
A few facts of the Underground River at Puerto Princesa:
- Very recently, the Underground River was declared as one of new 7 wonders of nature.
- The 8.2 km river flows through natural rock formations, caves, stalactites and stalagmites (remember your Geography lesson?!)
- These formations have taken millions of years to form, drop by drop depositions..nature, as they say, is a very patient artist.
- These formations have been imaginatively called the Holy Family, Last Supper, Sharon Stone, and are in the shape of numerous vegetables and fruits, animals and birds
- It is home to a variety of flora and fauna, most important among them being bats.
- At any given time, there are around 80000 bats in residence, hanging by the ceiling.
After all our fellow tourists had concluded their tour of the UR, we proceeded to lunch at a simple beach shack. There was not much vegetarian option available, so I proceeded to buy a mango, coconut and banana smoothie on the beach. We made a detour at the Ugong Rock Adventures (zip-lining and all that), but no one from the group wanted any of it, so our tour guide decided to call it day, and we began our journey back to PP. We were dropped off last, again right at our doorstep, nearly at 4 PM.
We rested, and proceeded to head out to Ima’s again for our dinner. Today’s fare was jambalaya (rice and beans dish) and an all-vegetable pizza (brinjal and okra in pizza, anyone?). We had snacked on Haldirams’ samosas and the tomato theplas on return, so this was rather satisfying and early dinner. Today we had decided that we needed some much needed walking, and proceeded to walk back home, making enquiries on the way to hire a bike for the next day, and goof around PP and do the firefly watching tour. The roads were nearly deserted, but the sky was clear, and we walked back home under the star-lit sky.
….(to be continued)