Far Into the Perhaps World: Puerto Princesa, Palawan

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When you live in the city, like I do…(when you live in the city I do), it’s advisable to (from time to time) take a break and go somewhere drastically different. Somewhere you can be away – somewhere you can get away from the white noise, the hustle, the needless manufactured “necessities” of a capitalist society. It’s good to be alone sometimes. Max Ehrmann wrote, Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. And I couldn’t agree more. I’m a city girl at heart, having grown up in (or near) the metro most my life; but I do love being outdoors and in the sun. There is just something about BIG SKY. I remember all the long drives from Northern Virginia to New York City…the freeway stretching ahead and nothing but sky and clouds for miles, miles, miles.

Anyway, after my first year living in the cosmopolitan steel-and-concrete jungle that is Singapore, I was really starting to miss the stars…and the sky…and clean air. Thus, around Christmastime a friend and I planned a camping trip to Puerto Princesa, Palawan – a province on a peninsula in the beautiful Southeast Asian archipelago of the Philippines. We had first heard specifically about Puerto Princesa, because the St. Paul’s Subterranean River (the longest underground river in the world) in Sabang, Puerto Princesa had just been named a candidate for the new Natural Wonders of the World list. Further research told us that, though uncommon to do so, it would be possible to camp in the national park area that surrounds this river, as well as trek the surrounding hills/mountains/beaches.

It basically sounded like a tropical heaven – and a good, safe place to go (I mean, it really can’t get much safer for camping in the Philippines than an isolated, protected national park). Armed with cameras, hiking packs, trekking shoes, a two-person tent only big enough for one person, rations (nuts, dried fruit, baked beans, crackers, dried meat), and an aching desire to be with nature; we began our journey. We landed via plane in Puerto Princesa, Palawan the day before New Year’s Eve, and from there packed ourselves into a local jeepney that took us on an epic 5-hour long journey to Sabang.

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It should be noted that the trip to Sabang really is only meant to take 2 hours tops, but given that we had chosen to “travel like locals” (for P250, aka < $10 SG), we were subjected to a ride shared with everyone and their mother. And everyone and their mother needed to stop at everyone and their mother’s homes along the way to unload jerrycans of gasoline, buckets of water, sacks of rice……….you get the picture.

I’d definitely been on more comfortable rides in my life, but it was a good experience. Unfortunately, by the time we reached Sabang, it was too late and too dark to trek into the mountains and set up camp, so we were forced to pitch tent in the garden of a small bread and breakfast (for P150 for the night – with free use of their communal bathroom facilities).

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We awoke the next morning bright and earlier and set out to explore. We immediately left the main “town” area where the tourists were in favor of making it into the national park, and exploring the more isolated beaches.

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Image*Notice tiny me taking a photo? ^

It was amazing.

After the congestion and claustrophobia Singapore sometimes has to offer, the scenery was a more-than-welcome change. Life was suddenly big, and bright, the size of an endless shore, the depth of a bottomless ocean. Exploring the infinite abyss.

In the four days we spent there, we did everything

On the first day alone we fit all sorts of crazy in. From exploring the beach…

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And making friends with a random stray…

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To trekking through the mountains to get to the underground river…

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To setting up camp on the beach and lighting our New Year’s Eve fire…

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Honestly, there is nothing more relaxing than a quiet New Year’s Eve. You would think one might miss the fireworks, the celebration, the festivities……but being out there in the wild was far better than any other New Year’s I’ve had. Who needs a party when you’ve got a blanket of stars and the sea breeze? We were asleep before midnight, exhausted from the first full day…but it didn’t matter. At around 3 am, we awoke at the same time to the chilly ocean air, and sealed up the tent amidst groggy “Happy New Year” greetings.

By the time the second day rolled around, we found ourselves packing up our camp, walking back to the touristy area, and having fresh coconut – the way it’s meant to be had. I would show you guys a photo but I can’t seem to locate one at the moment. However, it should be noted that our fresh coconut was only P15 each (that’s less than 50 Singaporean Cents), and was literally picked off the tree for us on the spot. (Literally the guy we bought them from said “one minute”, climbed a tree, and sent two coconuts sailing down for us. And in slight keeping with my health food posts: coconut water is the best way to replenish your energy. It is full of electrolytes and all sorts of healthy sugars that rehydrate you and make you feel full and satisfied for hours thereafter.)

Anyway, the rest of the days proceeded without a hitch, from fresh seafood to swimming in a waterfall, we had done pretty much every awesome thing there was to do except one:visiting the local indigenous people. And on our last day we did just that:

After contracting a guide (who was from the indigenous tribe himself), we started our last full day in Palawan with a 7km trek up through the mountains to meet the Batak and Tagbanua tribes.

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We saw them building boats, fishing, building homes, lazing around, tending to their chickens, and foraging for worms. They even showed us what their source of livelihood is (a wax they harvest from trees and sell for P20/kg – <$10 SGD/kg — lord knows how they make any $$ at all). It was an amazing experience. After sharing lunch with them and leaving them some of our rations as a treat, we proceeded to make the hot high noon 7km trek back to the mouth of the mountain, took a tuktuk (a “tricycle/moped”) back to the beach, set up camp once again on the sand, and rested.

Notes: We trekked over 40km in total, which isn’t much for the amount of time we spent there, but a lot of it was uphill and downhill, and there was also plenty of swimming, mixed terrain, fire-building, and heavy-pack-carrying involved. Healthy Feat? ABSOLUTELY.

Assessment of the trip: If you are looking for a HEALTHY FEAT and HEALTHY TREAT all at the same time, I would absolutely suggest this. It’s cheap (you can get tickets for $180 roundtrip from Manila to Palawan, and then camping is basically free except for a meager $10 environmental fee you pay the tourism office in Sabang to use the national park grounds), it’s relatively safe, it’s quiet, it’s beautiful, and it’s endlessly fulfilling. If you have any questions or want further details, leave me a comment with your email and I would gladly get back to you and answer whatever wonderments you have. 🙂 Cheers!

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