Amelia and I left Port Barton by minibus and arrived a few hours later in the capital of Palawan, Puerto Princesa. As usual the bus terminal was outside walking distance to the city centre, so we took a tricycle.
Eventually, after finding that many places were fully booked or overpriced, our driver found a place for us to stay, it was called 'Natua's Cabins'. The location was perfect for us, literally right next to the airport. We could've almost rolled out of bed onto the runway it was that close!
Before we even had chance to drop our bags in the room, a Russian guy sat in reception whisked us off on the back of his motorbike to the nearest tour office. We'd merely mentioned the words 'Underground River', but because we were only around for one full day (the next day), he said we would have to go immediately to even stand half a chance of getting on a tour for the following day.
Luckily, because we had proof of our flights leaving the next day, the tour office was able to pull a few strings and get us on a tour. I even managed to haggle a few hundred pesos off the asking price too!
The rest of our afternoon and evening was spent wandering the streets, and eating at a fastfood chain called 'Greenwich' which serves Italian food. We both ate a lasagne, which was sloppy and reminiscent of a microwave meal, but it tasted ok and with some garlic bread it hit the spot!
We woke abruptly at 5am to the unpleasant sounds of our alarm. It was going to be a very long day trip to the 'Underground River'.
The guesthouse cook was kind enough to prepare our breakfast of Longanisa (small sausages, rice and egg) to takeaway. The minibus picked us up just before 6am, but as we were the first passengers, it took around an hour before we'd collected everyone else. Over half that time was spent searching for a place the driver had never even heard of before.
Before leaving the city we had to stop by the 'Department of Tourism' to pick up our permits and tour guide. Over an hour later we were still sat in the carpark. We were both baffled with the length of time it took for our particular group - other minibuses were in and out within half an hour. It was gone 8am before we were actually on our way, most of us were feeling pretty irritated by this point. I'm sure with competent organisation we could've spent this time either on the road, or in bed!
Halfway into the journey, we pulled off the main road towards a place called 'Ugong Rock'. When we stopped the tour guide gave us the opportunity to go ziplining and spelunking, or caving as it should be called. Apparently it was an added 'bonus' to our trip, but we soon found out the real reason for this extra 'bonus'... it was because we would be too late for the morning session in the Underground River.
Amelia and I, along with many others decided we'd spent enough money already on this day trip, so hung around while a handful of people coughed up the extra pesos. Whilst standing around waiting for another hour or so, we got to know a very friendly Aussie guy (originally from the UK) called Phillip. Phillip was in his fifties, and on a long holiday around the Philippines. He was a very interesting chap, and it was intriguing listening to him reminisce about his first back packing trip around South East Asia thirty years ago.
We reached 'Sabang' (the gateway to the Underground River) at lunchtime. Lunch was a Filippino buffet and included in the cost of the trip, so me being me made sure we got our money's worth! Once our group had finished eating, we were led by our guide to the pier where a group of six of us boarded a banca. The journey on the banca took us out onto the sea, alongside a jagged limestone coast and then to a cove where we disembarked onto a white sandy beach. Our group of six (including Phillip) walked inland through a dense rainforest to an opening, where we were obstructed by swarms of people. Behind them was an impressive turquoise blue river leading into a dark cave.
Due to the number of tourists going into the cave, we had another wait before being able to enter. We were obliged to gear up and glow in fluorescent orange life jackets and yellow 'Bob the Builder' hard hats, before boarding the boat with eight others.
The Underground River is one of the 'New Seven Wonders of Nature' and located in a complex cave system in the 'Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park'. At 8.2km in length, this underground river is one of the longest in the world and with its unique brackish waters directly flowing into the sea, it makes it a significant natural phenomenon. The discovery of at least 11 minerals, further add to its 'value'.
The cave itself was not as visually stunning as some of the caves we visited in Vietnam. But unlike Phong Nha cave in Vietnam, motorised boats were unauthorised, so we were quietly paddled into the humongous cave complex by wooden boat. It was a diverse cave, from low narrow passages to massive cathedral type openings. Apart from some fairly cheesy remarks or poor jokes coming from the tour guide (for a example, with reference to a stalagmite that had the profile of a naked lady - "look Sharon Stone"), the only other noises came from the tweets of hundreds, if not thousands of swiftlets, echolocating (like bats) there way through the caves.
Just forty-five minutes later we were back out of one of the biggest subterranean rivers in the world. Unfortunately due to time restrictions they only allow day trippers into the first kilometre. It was amazing to see, but I must admit, it was a long day with a lot of waiting around for such a short amount of time on the Underground River.
Thankfully there were no unscheduled stops, or waiting involved during our return journey. We arrived back at the guesthouse just before 6pm.
Trusting Paul and Caroline's dining recommendation for the third time (twice in Port Barton). We went to a very busy restaurant called 'Ka Liu'. We had actually tried to get a table the previous night, but it was booked to the rafters! So with our reservation this time, we sat down and thoroughly enjoyed their reasonably priced three course set menu for two - soup accompanied with seaweed to start. Then a main of, flame grilled fish steak, langoustines, fish cakes and vegetables fried in a coconut sauce. For dessert, fresh fruit served in a coconut - which we 'had to' scrape clean with our spoons!
The next day we rolled out of bed and into the airport to board a flight to Cebu...