we slept most of the way to puerto princesa. six hours in an ice cold toyota van jam-packed with as many passengers as seat belts. you pay extra for air conditioned anything in the philippines, a luxury that we rarely opted for. this trip, however, we didn’t have a choice.
i bundled up in my blue patagonia puffy and tucked my freezing feet under ryan’s thigh. it’s so silly to think about being so layered in warmth when it was 100 degrees outside.
there is one surefire way to recognize where you are, traffic. as we pulled into puerto princesa, all the sudden there were cars again. lots of them. back in a city. a city named due to the sudden drop in its ocean shelf making it the perfect port for large ships. the princess of ports.
people come to puerto princesa to see palawan’s international treasure, the underground river. voted to be one of the new seven wonders of the world.
we had been warned that we might not be able to book a tour to see it because of its popularity, the weather, and our limited timeframe.
pshhh. don’t always listen to people. that is one lesson travelers should learn. always try.
we hopped off the van with no plans. luckily, our tricycle driver had all the plans we needed. when we said we didn’t know where we needed him to take us, that we had no accommodation, he pulled out a small flyer advertising a local hotel. sure, why not.
we pulled up to the relatively cheap hotel close to the airport that he had recommended. it was probably the shittiest room i have ever paid to sleep in, but it had wifi, and it was just for one night, so we checked in too lazy and hungry to drive around town looking for a better room.
next, our tricycle man took us to book our underground river tour. i saw the hotel was offering the same tour.
“why should we book with your guy when we can book it here?”
he smiled and ensured that we would get a better deal. and indeed we did. we booked our tickets for 200 pesos less than everyone else. and, with proof that we were flying out the next evening, we were able to get on the early tour.
done and done. good thing we didn’t listen to those people telling us we wouldn’t be able to see the underground river.
the rest of the day was eating and napping and working and eating and sleeping. we had to be up at 5am the next day, ready for the tour van to pick us up and drive us the two hours to the launch point for the tour.
it’s a shame that you can’t experience the underground river without an organized tour. we arrived at the boarding dock with hundreds of other tourists. the tours had been closed for the past four days due to the weather. the day we went was the first day the water was calm enough to make the journey. this meant even more tourists than usual for the low season.
vendors peddled their knockoff sunglasses, wide-brimmed hats, and waterproof sacks to the sea of foreigners crowded together waiting for their turn to climb aboard a rickety old outrigger-esque boat and head to the mouth of the underground river.
we waited for our turn and then set out across the ocean waves. after we docked on shore, we climbed out onto the sand and walked the wooden, monkey-streaked path to the tour entry point.
hurry up and wait. hurry up and wait. hurry up and wait. it is the way of all tourist activities.
but after we waited, we stepped into the front of a canoe decked out in fluorescent orange life vests and construction helmets. ryan held a car battery powered spotlight as our guide paddled us into the cave.
if you’re like me, you’ve probably been wondering what the hell it means to have an underground river. well, it’s basically a river that runs through a massive natural cave tunnel, and it is spectacular.
the ceiling is lined with bats and epic stalactites. they warn you to keep your mouth shut when you look up, and when bat guano landed on my hand, i was glad i had listened.
there is something magical about caves. even when several canoes of tourists are floating within their walls, you can feel their power. this whole world existing in darkness, away from it all. the spotlight, our only means of seeing behind the black.
i tuned out the tour guide as he pointed out different features and what they looked like. yes, that does look like the three wise man, but i really don’t care.
i care about the dank air coating my nostrils with every inhale and the echoing of the hidden waterfalls just waiting to be found. if only we had our own canoe; i would paddle the whole 8km of that underground river…