Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Underground River

Apparently the formerly world's longest underground river (until the found a longer one in Brazil a few years ago) is on Palawan, about a 2 1/2 hour drive from Puerto Princesa.

Actually, the city of Puerto Princesa is huge, spanning a couple hundred kilometers. Which is a bit of a cheat. So the river may actually be in the city, but don't be confused by that part. It's a long drive.

I woke up in the morning and had the omelette prepared by the staff at The Green House. Then the van came to pick me up. I was the first guy they picked up, which worked well since I could get a seat where I could stretch my legs out. Then we proceed to pick up another dozen people all around town. I was the only foreigner in the group. Apparently this is the place to go visit if you're coming from Manila or other parts of the Philippines.

On the way there we stopped a few times. The first stop was at a viewpoint, where we had the opportunity to take pictures. It was at this point that I discovered what my role was to be for the day - Token White Guy. After the rest of the group had taken pictures of themselves and their family, they started to ask me to appear in their photos. I did one, then another, then a family shot, then with a couple. I tried to evoke Blue Steel, but probably didn't pull it off too well. My inclusion continued like that for the rest of the day. Everywhere we went I was in photos. Years from now these people are going to look back and say "Who the hell is the funny white guy in all our photos?"

Our second stop was at a place called Ugong rock. It was supposed to be an amazing cave that we would spelunk through. Then, at the top, we could take the zipline down. One price for sitting zipline, and a higher one for the Superman pose. I went for Superman. We had to get kitted up with helmets and gloves, making us all look super-dorky.

The cave was "fine". Not terribly impressive. What was interesting was a few very narrow openings and climbs, that I could barely fit through. I'm not in great shape, but I'm not obese either. I wonder about other larger western tourists and whether they'd be able to make it. One of the guides said she'd gotten a 280 pounder up to the top, so I guess they've sorted a way.

The Superman zipline down was great. From the top of a hill over farm land and rice fields. I wish I'd had my camera to film it and capture the water buffalo just hanging out underneath the line. Slightly terrifying. And I couldn't help think that this would be a dumb way to die, with no one knowing where I was that day. Lots of fun and worth it.

Afterwards we all climbed in the van again and drove to the beach, where you catch a boat to take you to the mouth of the river. We had lunch here, which was a buffet of unknown Filipino food. (By the way, I just figured out that Filipino is spelled with an F. No wonder spell check keeps highlighting it. How odd. But, of course, I've been living in Holland / The Netherlands with the Dutch. So who am I to judge.) Lunch wasn't bad, but I chose to not embrace the other side dish for sale - Wood worm. The woman sitting beside me at lunch decided to give it a go though. I'm slightly disappointed in myself, but I just couldn't do it. Based on the description in -  this is called Tamilok. The woodworms are found in mangrove trees, and they're not worms at all. They're molluscs, like oysters. And they're served with vinegar and chili peppers and onions. Pretty nasty looking though.

After lunch we jumped on a boat that took us to another part of the island, which was a short walk from the entrance to the river. We had been told to look out for the monkeys on the island, who would go after any food left in bags. We got off the boat and there were also signs for Monitor Lizards, which I wanted to see. But we didn't catch a sighting of either.

I thought the monitor lizard sign was funny. It's almost like they promoted how delicious they are, and useful for their leather. No wonder they're endangered.

We put on another set of helmets and we caught a smaller boat for the river trip. It was actually pretty cool. The underground river is apparently about 8k long, although we only went about 1.5k in. You can do a longer trip for 4k, but to be honest there didn't seem to be much point. There are amazing formations in the cave, and huge stalagmites and stalactites. It's not lit up inside at all, which is nice, but the guy in the bow of the boat spent all of his time lighting up formations on the wall under the direction of the guide, and the guide paddling would point out all the things that the formations looked it. It was silly, but it kept it entertaining. If they hadn't I think we all would have lost interest after about 15 minutes. It was interesting how many of the formations in an underground river in a very Catholic country ended up looking like biblical scenes. For me the most amazing area was I think called the Great Dome or something like that, which was the biggest open area within the cave. It was incredible to think that there was an entire mountain on top of this huge open space. Unfortunately, photos inside didn't work at all, so you'll just have to go yourself.

Afterwards we took the van back to Puerto Princesa and I took a tricycle to  dinner. This time I just went to Kinabuch's again, which seemed simpler. There they had a dish called Crocodile Sisig, which I decided to give a try. Delicious. A couple of San Miguel's later and I called it a day. A good little adventure.

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