Back to basics!

Trip Start Aug 07, 2011
Trip End Jul 14, 2012

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Where I stayed
Green Verde Beach House

Flag of Philippines  , Mimaropa,
Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Hi there,

Andy here today!

Well after what was a truly relaxing time we had to tear ourselves away from the powdery white sand beach of Borocay on Saturday to see what the rest of the Philippines had to offer.

There are 7,107 islands in the Philippines (fact!) and probably the biggest downside of travelling around here is that to realistically get anywhere you have to go by plane which makes it that bit more expensive.  Nevertheless our next destination was Puerto Princesa on the island of Palawan, which we had to take two flights to get to, via Manila again.  To be honest I was a little apprehensive of the airlines in Philippines because they're all on the list of banned carriers in the EU (gulp!) but what else can you do!

Unfortuantely my apprehension was increased somewhat when we got on the first of the two planes to take us to Palawan to find the cabin full of smoke! Ah!  Fortunately we soon realised it was just the steam from the air con - phew!

Anyway, we arrived into Puerto Princesa early evening and tried to grab a tricycle to the hostel we'd booked into.  As with any airport out this side of the world the local transport cartel works a charm and they charge tourists set (and high) prices.  Luckily Fran had had a brief conversation with a guy on the plane, who turned out to be a Deputy Commander in the Philippine Navy, who spotted us outside and offered us a lift to our digs. Sweeeeet!  He even gave us his card and told us to contact him if we had any trouble.  What a fine example of Philippino hospitality! They have been the friendliest people we've met on our travels!

We checked into our hostel, which turned out to be a hut outside, and so after having 3 months of decent digs we were firmly back to basics in SE Asia travelling territory again - I'd missed the rawness of 'proper' travelling if I'm honest!

That evening we went for a quick meal down the main drag.  It was a bit of a random place - basically a massive room attached to a hotel, that looked like a marquee from the inside, in which we were the only one's eating.  There was a live band setting up but to be honest the atmosphere was pretty dead so we just left after eating and headed back to Skype Sarah, Kayleigh, Tash & Owen.

The next day, we headed to town to check out the delights of Puerto Princesa. To be honest there aren't really any delights in PP, it's a typical small Philippino provincial capital. We wandered down the rather run down city baywalk park by the port and then through town to look in the cathedral.  Most of the country is catholic so there are plenty of churches around but this was the first time I'd seen a blue coloured cathedral. Afterwards, we headed through a WWII memorial before walking through the local fishing village. Everywhere we went we were greeted with warm smiles and locals saying "hello" to us.  Philippinos truly are very friendly people and you can't believe all the bad press - i.e. kidnappings, murders, and the like - happening in the southern islands.

That pretty much was all there was to do in PP.  We were going to stay another 2 nights but as there was nothing more to do in the city we decided to travel a little further north the next day (Monday) to a small beach side village called Sabang. 

The next day we got up early and booked a mini-van out of PP to Sabang.  Sabang is home to another one of the new 7 natural wonders of the world - the 8km long 'Puerto Princesa Undergound River'!  After picking up our permit from the town centre we caught the mini van 2 hours north to Sabang. 

We arrived around 4pm and did our usual thing when we arrived - wandered the beach checking out the different accommodation to decide where to stay.  We plumped for a cluster of beach huts called Green Verde.  Again they were pretty basic - double bed, mosquito net, fan, toilet (without a toilet seat!) and cold shower - but when you have a veranda to your beachside hut overlooking the white powdery sand and blue ocean you don't really care!  :-)

On Tuesday we had a day at the all but empty beach - we were probably sharing it with more wild dogs than people!  Although I must admit the wild dogs are great comedy value.  There was one dog in particular who'd just done the business on the beach with one of his 'b**ches', and thinking it was just a 'one night thing' attempted to leg it after doing the deed. Unfortuanately for him he couldn't "unattach himself" shall we say, and even though he struggled he was still stuck.  I suppose it's a bit like those awkard one night stand moments in the movies where all the bloke wants to do is bite his own arm off just to get away! Anyway, after a good 10 minutes of patiently waiting finally his moment came (no pun intended) and he made a bid for freedom running down the beach with his new 'ex-girlfriend' pining after him!  He was one sly old dog!

Anyway, we organised our boat trip for the underground river for the next day. On the way back we bumped into a random bloke carrying a python - as you do! I've never actually held a snake before so I thought 'what the heck' and the man duly put it around my neck. I don't actually mind snakes but at the point its head began to double back on its body and crawl towards my face I had to get rid, so after a few pics I wimped out and gave it back!

We got up early the next morning to the sound of birds chirping and waves crashing and headed for the boat jetty at 8am to catch our boat to the underground river.  We ended up sharing our boat with just another Australian couple, Jamie and Dawn, who were spending their retirement sailing around SE Asia. In order to get to the underground river you have to sail round the coast for 15 minutes before landing on the beach near the start of the river, walk for a few minutes through the forest and then embark on another boat at the actual mouth of the river

So eventually we were on the second boat and about to go into the underground river.  The water at the mouth of the river was a lovely colour and it was only 50 yards or so to the cave opening where our boat would be heading. It's pitch black inside the underground river so they give you a big flash-light to point at things (and so the guide can steer his way though). The entrance is only just wide enough for one boat to fit down and at the beginning the roof of the river is only a couple of metres above the water line. The first thing I noticed once we were properly inside was how dark it was (pitch black without the flashlight!) and also the plentiful amount of starlings whizzing around our heads. The first thing we thought after this was "this would be Sarah's worst nightmare" - birds flying around you in the pitch blackness of an underground river! Sorry Sare! ;-)

Anyway, it was a fascinating place and we've never seen anything like it.  The roof undulates throughout with stalactites all over the place, some of which stretch down almost touching the surface of the water. As you paddle on through you reach various subterranean caverns - the one we passed through was massive at 65m high and that wasn't even the biggest! All the while you're paddling on water at a depth of about 8m. We ended up travelling about 1.5km into the river - it carries on for another 6.5km inland! Amazing! The last part of the river you see before turning around is a 5m wide by 3m high grey cave appearing to just go on into infinity and darkness - it's all rather freaky and totally unique! We've never seen anything like it.

Anyway, as we went through the river the guide pointed out various rock formations that dubiously looked like the Virgin Mary or Jesus' face and of course the bats hanging above your head. As you come to the opening to the outside world it feels a little bit like salvation after being stuck in the dark for half an hour or so.  Overall, it was fantastic though!  Like I say we've never seen anything like this and probably never will do again.

So we made our way back to the village of Sabang for some more chill out time on the beach.  Unfortunately the weather decided it was going to rain soon after we got back and so the afternoon ended up being a bit of a wash-out where we read and I was trying to finish The Lord of the Rings. I've been reading it for about 3 months already- man JR Tolkien can go on!

We've decided to leave Sabang tomorrow (Thursday) as to be honest there's not much going on in the village and the main reason for coming was to see the underground river.

We're ready to move onto the next place though 6 hours north of here, a place called El Nido and looking forward to it as the surroundings to El Nido are supposed to be beautiful so I'll let Fran tell you all about it!

Talk to you later,
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