Monkeys are no longer cute

Trip Start Apr 30, 2006
Trip End May 16, 2006

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Flag of Philippines  ,
Wednesday, May 3, 2006

The Underground River, my heart's desire in Palawan, my reason for coming here and it was all good.

I don't like walking up hills
I woke up early on Tuesday morning with the good news that we would be taking a private van to Sabang. Signe, Christine, Gaston and Laurence could only do a day trip to the Underground River, so I hitched a ride with them to Sabang and it was very comfortable.

I checked into Dab Dab pension and then took off with the others to the Underground River. We got our permit and were told that the Monkey Trail was closed, so we needed to take the Jungle Trail. It was described as a 5.3km walk that takes a maximum of 2 hours. When we got to the Underground River I read in the brochure that the walk was for the 'physically prepared'. This would probably have made me want to take the boat option.

We passed the central park station and had to produce our permit, so I pulled out the brochure, to which the woman looked at me in horror and said "This is just a brochure." What is funnier is that I had actually written my name on the permit and signed it, yet failed to pick it up at the tourist office. Thankfully Gaston had it in his possession, but we had another drama about 30 minutes later when he said "Did anyone get the permit again" to which we all looked at each other and Signe goes "That piece of white paper, yeah I got it." and so we all breathed a sigh of relief.

I brought up the rear, mostly because I was playing candid camera with the trees and partly because I am a slow walker, particularly when it comes to hills where I puff and wheeze my way up.

We got to where the Monkey Trail verged from the Jungle Trail and about 5 metres further on we were thrown into a scene from Planet of the Apes. We were surrounded by monkeys and at first it was fun to get a photo of them, but then their eyes glazed over and they peeled back their upper lip to reveal some nasty teeth that Nelly would get grillz on. I didn't like this one bit. I related my 'monkey stole my glasses in Colombia' story and that was enough for Signe to put her contacts in, despite having insect repellent all over her hands. While we waited for her, the monkeys circled us, cutting off all return and snarling at us if we looked at them. I did not wish for any more monkey sightings in the jungle, all too scary for me.

We went up a big big hill and I got really really tired but we stopped for a bit at the top, and all of a sudden Gaston's mobile beeps. Here we were in the, seemingly, middle of nowhere and he gets reception. It was like a bucket of reality was tipped over me. My mobile phone is many thousands of kilometres away, probably not collecting messages because I don't get many text messages cos I'm terrible at replying. It was certainly not on my packing list, far too much responsibility, I struggle to look after my camera and passport.

From the top there was just 730m to go, and this was the most interesting with a network of wooden steps leading us over the rocky karst mountain and over a swamp to the park ranger hut at the Underground River.

We stopped here to admire the 1.5m monitor lizards, although I've seen plenty of goannas in my time, so I wasn't as impressed as the Europeans. Whilst taking photos of the lizard and watching them crawl around I noticed a monkey in my peripheral vision, watching me. All of a sudden, with barely any warning, the monkey shot towards me in a massive leap and tried to clinch hold of my plastic bag containing a packet of chips. At the last second I jerked it up and waved it over my head while the monkey hid and watched again from the jungle. This was almost a little too much to bear. We had been told to put plastic bags of fruit in our bag as the monkeys like to steal them, but I didn't expect them to be so sneaky and aggressive.

The Underground River
As it was lunchtime for the guides, we had to wait at a picnic table with Noname (that's what he told us!) who filled us in on a bit about the nasty monkeys and made some jokes. As we couldn't walk back a different way we decided to take a boat back to Sabang, although my legs had had enough and would have boated back regardless.

We followed the path to the entrance to the cave and the water was so clear and dazzlinly blue. It reminded me of the lakes at Huaraz in Peru, the colour was so intense. I snapped a few pics of the limestone karst rising at the back and the cave entrance until my attention was caught by Signe and Christine already in lifejackets and hard hats (they were just to keep the falling water off our heads) tying each other together and then punching each others chests and trying to trip each other up. It was very comical!

The Underground River was awesome. We paddled up 1.5km into the cave and passed a number of rock formations, baby pig faced bats hanging from one leg, a giant cavern called the Cathedral, an area with a 60m ceiling and started down the highway, which was more like an airport gangway. Our guide, Teng, would direct Gaston (who was on lamp duty) and then say "Virgin Mary" "Candle" "Lion" "Curtain" "Magic Mushroom" "Jellyfish" and then "Sexy Woman" to all the various formations. The caves were made of limestone but there was white and grey marble also in there and they were discovered in about 1887 and made a national park in 1971.

After the tour we waited on the beach for our boat, and hoped that it would come before the brewing storm broke. We waited and waited and finally it appeared and got us halfway back to Sabang when it started to pour.

As I got out of the boat trying to do it as speedily and safely as possible, I put my foot on a step underwater and then when I went to go up a step my thong floated off. I quickly grabbed it and started to laugh my head off. These thongs have an interesting story of their own to tell of their travels around the world, with some very funny stories in Brazil in particular.

The others left in their van and I chilled out in the hammock on my private verandah for the rest of the day. This is where I also spent almost the entire following day as it poured for 3 hours straight and after it stopped I was just too relaxed to stop swinging.

Things I Learned
* Monkeys are mean and it's not nice being on the inside of the zoo.
* I like caves you can boat in.
* The tropics make me sleepy and hammocks just indulge my sleepiness.
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