The Underground River and the Jungle Trail

Trip Start May 19, 2010
Trip End May 23, 2010

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Flag of Philippines  , Puerto Princesa,
Friday, May 21, 2010

The boat ride to the underground river gave us a picturesque view of the karst mountains and the forests that we’d be encountering when we trekked the Jungle Trail. Certainly looked more challenging than we expected and some of us were sorry that we were using rubber tongs, not
proper hiking sandals or rubber shoes.

Welcome to the Underground River, said a sign on the beach where the motorized bancas dropped us. The beach looks utterly delicious for swimming but swimming is not allowed here (neither is it permitted in the small cove at the mouth of the cave) so all we could do was take
the usual group pictures with the welcome sign. From there, a wooden trail led us to huts in a picnic area, a small administration building, and comfort rooms.

We were warned about monkeys snatching plastic bags but we didn’t see monkeys, only 5 or so large monitor lizards that didn’t seem to care about our presence. Our guide told us that a pair of Palawan peacocks used to live in the area but the birds hadn’t been seen for a long time.

From here, we followed the wooden trail again, this time to the cove where we were to ride the paddle boats that would take us into the underground river.

Underground River, Here we come.

The P150 per person permit fee includes the 45 minute paddle boat tour of the underground river. This only reaches about a kilometer and a half inside a cave system that’s more than 8 kilometers long. To go double the usual distance, one has to pay double the fee per person.

Perhaps if we had more powerful lights than the one provided and the ones we brought, perhaps if we had better cameras, perhaps if we didn’t have the two little boys. They behaved at first, even though they couldn’t have appreciated the rock formations, the cathedral spaces, and our guide’s chatter in the half darkness of the underground river.

After a while, Ice decided that nothing was more interesting than the river itself so how could he not play with it? How was he to know what horrors we adults imagined could be lurking there? Hadn’t I read of a resident python? Yikes. But the little boy was squirming and crying. My
daughter checked with the boatman. “Just make sure he doesn’t fall out of the boat, he said.” Big relief though we did see a big fish, about two feet long, passing near our boat. Ice had so much fun with the river and getting the rest of us wet, that I too found the courage to run my hand through the cool water. Of course there was no stopping Daniel from following suit.

End of tour. After all the “Good evenings” and “Good nights” inside the cave, it was “Good morning” again. A good thing we’d planned to do the jungle trail too.
(For more pictures of the underground river and the jungle trail)

Jungle Trail

Eva and the boys weren’t going back through the Jungle Trail but there was no harm in their seeing as much as they could of the forest and the trail. Ice was too heavy to lug around though and he wasn’t very stable with his legs yet, so we left him with the yaya. Daniel enjoyed the walk and was happy to identify the Palawan peacock when we saw one. We didn’t get far, though. When we reached the swampy area beside the sign which said “Monkey Trail”, Eva complained about the mosquitoes. The guide assured us that there have been no cases of
malaria in Palawan but how can one ever be sure? Sarah had Off in her backpack but this was in the hotel. Too bad. The rustic wooden stairway up the steep, karst (limestone) mountain promised adventure that I thought Daniel would enjoy.

Before Eva and the boys left on the bancas and the rest of us began our jungle trek, lunch was the order of the day. Drinks are available for sale but not food so we brought with us bread, canned salmon, sausages, and cream cheese spread. Being frugal, we also brought our own water, supposed to be enough for lunch and for two hours and a half of trekking. Where only monkeys used to go.

After lunch, comfort rooms and then we were off. Our guide Cabug, told us that the Monkey Trail is called such because without the wooden steps and bridges in some areas, only monkeys can make their way over the treacherous, jagged terrain of the karst mountains.

Monkeys met us in one area, probably before we left the “Monkey Trail” for the “Jungle Trail.” The macaques knew what people meant and my ever disobedient husband gave them crackers, which was cute but not really advisable. “Careful about the big guy, he bit a tourist one time.” Cabug explained it wasn’t the big Macaque’s fault, though. The tourist moved his hand away just when the monkey was reaching for the tidbit he held.

According to the literature posted along the way, we were travelling through a karst forest, a forest growing on the thin topsoil of a karst or limestone mountain. Trees and shrubs are naturally stunted and gnarled in many areas but what made the forest more interesting was the
fact that in the entire country, only 2% of our forests classify as karst forests. The St. Paul Subterranean National Park of which the Underground River is part, is also home to 60% of the bird species of specie rich Palawan.

We came looking for a work-out and we got it. In my case, the Jungle trail gave me good reason for thanking God that we were only making a one way trip. Halfway through, we met a heavyweight who was sweating profusely and huffing and puffing even as he rested. For my family, 2 hours of going up and down was just right for a relaxing outing after the hard work of an election campaign. With a reserve of energy, Anthony and Francis showed off their Tarzan vine climbing skill and the girls – Sarah, Josephine, and Michelle took turns climbing up as far as they could so that they could have their vine-climbing experience documented too.

After about an hour and a half of climbing and trekking,. we were relieved to see a sign that said there was only 1.1 kilometers left of the Jungle Trail. It turned out that the end of the Jungle Trail didn’t mean we’d arrived. After the official end of the trail, we still had to walk about two kilometers, part of this over a karst mountain trail, part along a white sand beach, part through “Central Park,” where a warden should have been. Tired from the exertion, we ate left over hopia and shared what water remained, as we rested on picnic tables near the beach. Then we went to see some baby “Pawikans” or sea turtles which had been rescued earlier, after they hatched from eggs laid on our strip of beach in Sabang.

The rest of the way seemed an easy stroll until we reached a river without a bridge. Anthony tested the water depth. No way we could get across without getting our shorts wet. Cameras and cellphones were transferred to bags that would be carried overhead by those who were
determined to stay as dry as possible. Since we were going to get partially wet anyway, I thought it was as good a time as any to go for a swim.

(For more pictures of the underground river and the jungle trail)

End of the Day
The rest of the afternoon, we went swimming at our beach. Manuel went looking for fresh fish which he bought at only P70 per kilo, P80 for the fancier varieties. Our resort restaurant cooked the fish and the squid for us, charging only P100 per kilo. The spicy squid was delicious and of course we were never without fish Sinigang. For desert, I had mangoes which I got from a tiangge at P50 per kilo.

No television, no internet, no computers for us to use in Taraw. The girls brought flashlights and headlamps so they could go strolling along the beach and take pictures of whatever there was to see. The big boys were tired and went to bed early, so did the little boys. So ended our first full day in Sabang.
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