On the last day of our trip to the Philippines, we had planned on visiting the subterranean river of Puerto Princesa. Opposite to what its name indicates, it is really in Sabang, about 2 hours van ride from the main city. But the tickets can only be bought in Puerto and the trip is almost impossible to arrange independently, especially in high season, so we signed up for an organized tour.
Once in Sabang, each group is assigned a number and you wait for a small bagka to take you on a 15 min ride to the national park shore. The whole thing is so touristed, it’s sad. At least, the area is beautiful, with limestone karsts, soft sand beaches, turquoise water and thick forest. From the beach there is a short walk to the mouth of the river, where the group gets hardhats and another number for the paddle boat tour.
Finally on the greenish river, we made our way slowly into the cave, with Elena holding the boat light in the front, pointing it wherever the guide/oarsman indicated. If you take this tour, volunteer for this function, it allows you to see and enjoy much more. The cave is pretty impressive, 24+ km long (4.4 km navigable, though tours only take you about 1.5 km in), really tall in some places, and full of curious stalactites, stalagmites and other formations, as well as thousands of bats. The 45 min of the tour went by quickly with the guide playing ‘reasonable lookalikes’ and making bad jokes. I would have enjoyed it much more if it were less touristy and my expectations were lower. And I’m certain there are cooler caves in the world.
A short boat ride and a 2 hour van drive back, broken with some scenic views, and our vacation had come to an end. We were catching a flight back to Manila that evening, and from there, in the morning, to LA… or so we thought. When we were already at the gate, our flight got cancelled until the morning due to bad weather, so we were left worried that we would miss our connection. We walked out of the airport and checked in at the first cheap hotel we found, and then kept walking on the same street (Rizal Ave, I believe) to get dinner. Somehow, we found the fanciest restaurant in the Philippines: La Terrasse. We relished a yummy farewell dinner, including a strange halo-halo, the local desert I had been wanting to try since day 1. The next morning, our internal flight was almost on time and after some running on the airstrips and terminals, we got on our flight back home.