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Boating in the Batcave, Puerto Princesa

March 18, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Food, Places, Shopping, Traveling 8 Comments →

Being complete idiots about geography, we thought we could visit Calauit island and feed the giraffes on this trip. Wrong! Palawan is huge. As Cookie discovered while overthinking our trip, travel time from Puerto Princesa to Calauit is about ten hours. To do the safari thing, we’d have to fly direct from Manila to Coron or El Nido. We decided to stick to Puerto Princesa and its environs—fine by us, because we’re not a beach person. Mountains, caves, dungeons, troll holes, labyrinths: we’re there.

1. wharf

Cookie booked us a tour of the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, a.k.a. the underground river, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the world’s most important biodiversity conservation habitats. We expected there would be wading involved, so we wore flip-flops. Fortunately we had gotten a pedicure recently so we would not be mistaken for a gorilla escaping the forest. Also, being maniacally prepared, we put all our stuff in zip-loc bags inside our waterproof bags. At the last minute we decided not to bring a flare gun (It would have to be checked baggage).

2. karst

By the second day we were in total vacation mode, and by total we mean “No Internet”. The wifi in our room could only achieve dial-up modem speed, so we decided to take a break from blogging. And down the slippery slope to sloth and idleness we rolled. It was great.

Pick-up for the underground river tour was set for 0630, so imagine our discomposure when the van turned up at 0600. Getting up at 0530 when your regular sleeping time is 0300 is one thing, but traipsing off to the limestone forest before you’ve had two coffees is another. But Hernan the preternaturally chatty guide did not seem to mind that Grungella the Grouch auditioning for The Exorcist was in the van, and he kept up a steady stream of patter that could not be stopped by our iPod wall of sound.

We learned many things, such as the length of Palawan, the differences between north and south (Primary economic activity in the north, fishing; in the south, farming. Preferred alcoholic beverage north, rum; south, gin), the ratio of males to females in Palawan, and signs of economic development in the area (great leaps in the last decade or so). The ride to the wharf in Sabang took two hours, some of it over rough terrain (“By the way, this is what we call a massage!”). We stopped at the karst (limestone mountain) where part of The Amazing Race was shot; beneath those caves was Smaug the dragon with his hoard of gold. No, the subterranean river.

3. trail

As we queued up for the outrigger boats that would take us to the caves, Hernan the very knowledgeable pointed out improvements to the tour in the last few years. A system has been put in place so there’s no jostling or fighting for places (or passengers), standards have been set for the boats (the wooden ones used to get scraped on stalagmites and start taking in water), and the orange life vests have to be laundered regularly (the alternative would be gross). A 15-minute boat ride takes you to the trail through the forest, which is populated by monkeys. Visitors are asked not to feed them or open plastic bags, which they associate with snacks.

4. cave mouth

At the end of the trail we put on hard hats—stuff falls from the roofs of the caves, including bits of rock and bat droppings—and boarded another boat, manned by the effusive guide Piolo. “Not Pascual!” he announced, in case anyone was confused.

5. rocks1

Into the bat cave we rode—”The mines of Moria!” Cookie whispered—the pitch black relieved only by the beam of light from the boat’s lantern. Despite our ignorance of geology, we were fascinated by the rock formations. And entertained by Piolo’s running spiel. “Look over there…it’s a T-Rex! Doesn’t that rock look like a T-Rex? And there, see the hair and the beard? It’s the face of Jesus! And there…an angel without wings. Up on the ceiling: bats! To your left, Balin, son of Durin! Next to him, Kit Harington’s abs…” Okay, we made that up. Periodically our boat would meet a boat carrying foreign tourists and Piolo would interrupt his humming of the theme from Titanic to cry, “Annyeonghaseyo! Opa gangnam style!”

6. rocks2

The caves stretch for miles, and large sections have not been fully explored. Who knows what we may find in there: hominids, mermaids, dragons, Nessie’s relatives, mithril, Smeagol and the Precious. The Subterranean River cruise alone is worth a trip to Puerto Princesa.

7. beach

Forty-five minutes later we emerged in dazzling sunlight and pale, powdery sands. Swimming is forbidden on this strip of beach.

8. tiangge

Back in the bayan, we stopped at the mall to pay our phone bill. The shopping mall is new; another one is being built. We practically live in the mall, and it’s a great convenience, but we hope Puerto Princesa doesn’t become another Mallville. The laid-back, rustic, stress-free ambience is one of its main charms, and the profusion of small businesses ranging from family-owned restaurants to handicraft stores is another. Most restaurants don’t have air-conditioning, and they don’t need it—the air is clean, the breezes are cool, and motor traffic is light so dust and grime are minimized. Fine, there are too many renditions of the greatest hits of Bread, but they fit the relaxed atmosphere.

9. chichirya

We found the Tiangge, a souvenir market crammed with every conceivable type of pasalubong. The cashews and other nuts are excellent.

10. pearls

You can get cultured pearl earrings for ten pesos and mother of pearl charm bracelets for twenty. There are miniature tribal wooden fridge magnets, woven bags, T-shirts and caps, beads in various configurations, wind chimes, dream catchers, wood carvings, and so many accessories, we shut up and shopped. The most expensive items are strands of real pearls which go for Php3,000.

11. kinabuchs 2

Dinner was at one of PP’s best-known restaurants, Kinabuchs. Go early because by 7pm there’s a queue.

12. crocodile sisig

We had the crocodile sisig. It tastes exactly like regular sisig, though the very concept of eating (farmed) crocodile is badass.

13. struklji

Puerto Princesa reminds us of Bali, and like Bali it’s not very big on dessert. We wandered along the main thoroughfare, Rizal Avenue, until we spotted a restaurant called Euro Chef. They serve a Slovenian dessert called struklji—rolls of dough filled with cottage cheese, apple, nuts, raisins. It’s not too sweet, and it goes very well with coffee.

Back to the hotel, where we did absolutely nothing and then slept for nine hours. Vacations are dangerous.

96 hours in Puerto Princesa: Day 1

March 17, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Food, Places, Shopping, Traveling 6 Comments →

1. floor
We’d been feeling a little antsy so we decided to go on a trip. Our sister Cookie had vacation time amassed, and after we had agreed on a definition of “vacation time amassed” (“Not exactly, I just have leaves I haven’t used”—Cookie) we convinced her to take a long weekend. Neither of us had been to Palawan, which is always a good reason to go. (Though it must be noted that we’ve never been to the Crimea, either.)

We booked a flight to Puerto Princesa on Tigerair (two round-trip tickets, no checked baggage, total Php6,920). Our flight was at 1010; by 0715 we were at NAIA Terminal 4. Because Cookie is at least three hours early for everything. By 0730 we were sitting on the floor with our coffees, waiting for the counter to open. Fortunately we had trained for sitting on floors by attending UP Diliman.

The counter opened exactly on time, and the whole check-in process was done in 30 seconds. By 0825 we were at the boarding gate. With chairs!

2. plane
The minute we buckled up we fell asleep. After the most efficient, stress-free flight we’ve ever been on, we landed at Puerto Princesa ten minutes ahead of schedule.

3. acacia
Cookie had booked us at a newish hotel called Acacia Tree, on a leafy street just five minutes from the airport. Immediately after we said “You choose the hotel,” we realized our mistake. The sister is maniacal about cost-efficiency and would happily book us in a lunatic asylum (“It’s been converted,” she assured us). Which she tried to do the last time we took a vacation together, in Prague. Luckily, the asylum had no vacancies.

Our room at Acacia Tree wasn’t ready yet, so we left our bags and went out to explore the terrain.

4. tricycle
There are no taxis in Puerto Princesa. You could rent a van, or go around on a tricycle (or as we say in English subtitles, “motorcycle with sidecar”). Rates are negotiated with the driver. Puerto Princesa has clean air and clean streets, so you can take a tricycle without getting exfoliated by grit, dust and wind shear.

5. baker's hill
Our first stop was Baker’s Hill, which was recommended by various travel sites. It’s a sort of theme park devoted to baked goods and landscaping.

6. theme parkish
Baker’s Hill is designed for entertaining children and taking selfies next to life-size statues of cartoon characters. They also offer baking classes. At the restaurant we had lunch: grilled lapu-lapu and laing. It was okay. Metro Manila prices.

hopia
At the store we found all manner of breads and pastries, and stacks of hopia. We’re a bit of a hopia snob and require the crust to be of a certain texture. So this is not purist hopia, but it’s quite delicious. And at Php45 for a box of ten, it’s a steal.

7. butterfly garden
Then we popped into the Butterfly Garden so we could report to butterfly enthusiast Noel. Noel had given us tips for getting photographed with butterflies: Wear bright colors like pink or orange, wear sweet floral perfumes, and stand still. Obviously we were not going to get photographed with butterflies. We did see a lot of them, and

8. pupae
these chrysalids or pupae, collected from the forest.

9. palaw'an
The Php50 ticket to the Butterfly Garden included admission to the Tribal Village, an indigenous Pala’wan forest house. A living exhibit. Made us uncomfortable, to tell the truth.

10. binuatan
Down the street is Binuatan Creations, a traditional weaving center. The weavers use fibers made of local grass. They urged us to try operating the loom, but we declined in the interest of public safety.

11. binuatan store
The souvenir shop carries colorful bags, hats, placemats, home decor and other items produced on the premises. Cookie bought table runners and placemats. One can never have too many placemats.

12. baywalk
Dinner was at Baywalk, a collection of open-air seafront restaurants. The tricycle driver recommended Kinaboyet, where the seafood is very fresh and amazingly cheap.

13. kinaboyet
Our dinner of squid and barbecued pork, plus soft drinks, cost Php100 each. In Puerto Princesa, one should always listen to tricycle drivers’ recommendations.

The winner of the Philippine Heritage Sites photography contest is…

February 06, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Contest, Places, Traveling No Comments →

juliusdelacruz-718x1024

Julius Joseph L. dela Cruz for his photograph of the Negros Provincial Capitol and lagoon in Bacolod City. It stood out among the entries showing facades, facades, and more facades. Congratulations, Julius. Your Tigerair domestic ticket voucher will be emailed to you today.

Tiger Traveller: Third set of entries to our Philippine Heritage Sites photo contest

February 04, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Contest, Traveling No Comments →

This is the last set of entries eligible to win a round-trip ticket to any Tigerair domestic destination in this month’s Tiger Traveller: Heritage Sites of the Philippines photo contest.

The winner will be announced on Thursday.

kristinasantosniere
Balay Dr. Niere by Kristina Cassandra T. Santos
“Built in 1928 during the American occupation, the Balay Dr. Dionisio Niere belonged to the first Doctor of Medicine of Boljoon. During the Second World War, this house was used as headquarters for the Japanese Imperial Army. It is now part of the popular Boljoon Heritage Trail.” Taken December 28, 2011 with a Canon 550D (18-55mm)

avenasanjuanico
San Juanico Bridge at dusk by Norman Jay V. Avena. Taken at the Leyte-Samar border, October 2009 with a Nikon D80.

untalanbaclayon
Baclayon Church by Kiko Untalan
Taken inside the Baclayon church in May 2009 using the missus’s Nikon D90 camera. With 15 family members, we visited the church during our 3 day summer tour of Bohol. Of the several hundred photos I took during that trip, this is my favorite.

mercado banaue
The Rice Terraces of Batad by Michael Vincent Mercado
Taken December 2012 in Brgy. Batad, Banaue, Ifugao with a Canon EOS Kiss X4. Walking along the narrow paths of the 2000-year-old rice terraces requires calculated steps and great balance. Something that the natives do not have problems with. What they struggle with however, is the decreasing interest in agriculture among the young.

viriportico
Portico of Baclayon Church by Jeffrey Catha Viri
Baclayon Church in Bohol was founded in 1596. Its portico is the focal point of its interiors. Taken September 6, 2009 with a Sony Cybershot DSC-TX10.

quesadabinondo
Binondo Church by Allan Jay Quesada. Taken March 28, 2013 with a Nikon D5100

allanjayquesadacalle
Calle Crisologo, Vigan by Allan Jay Quesada
“Calle Crisologo is packed with well-preserved Bahay na Bato. The street’s cobblestone finish is intact as well. Along the calle, calesas are also available for hire.” Taken May 21, 2012 with a Nikon D5100

kristinasantosboljoon
Boljoon Church by Kristina Cassandra T. Santos.
“Established in 1692, it is the oldest remaining original stone church in Cebu. In 1999, the National Historical Institute declared it a National Historical Landmark.”Taken December 28, 2011 with a Canon 550D (18-55mm)

quesadaimmaculate
Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Puerto Princesa, Palawan by Allan Jay Quesada. Taken June 27, 2012 with a Nikon D5100

This contest is sponsored by Tigerair Philippines. To find out more about Tigerair deals and promos, follow TigerAir Philippines on Facebook and Twitter.

Tiger Alert: Hassle-free transfers from Kalibo to Boracay

January 29, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Announcements, Traveling No Comments →

A word from our sponsor

southwest
“With the Tigerair Transfer Service, your vacation begins the moment you board any of our daily direct flights to Kalibo from Manila, Clark, and Singapore,” says Olive Ramos, president and CEO of Tigerair Philippines. No more queueing up to buy tickets for multiple transfers from the airport to the boat port, no more getting hit with exorbitant “tourist rates”.

All you need is one ticket. As soon as you land in Kalibo, you are ushered to an air-conditioned bus for a scenic land transfer to Caticlan port, express boat transfer from Caticlan Port to Boracay Port, and land transfer from Boracay Port to your hotel—with your own priority lane.

boat

The Tiger Transfer Service voucher may be purchased on board before landing in Kalibo International Airport, and at the check-in counters at the Manila and Clark Airports. To facilitate the Tiger Transfer Service, Tigerair Philippines tapped Aklan’s tourist transport service pioneer Southwest Tours Boracay Inc.

Tigerair Philippines is the first commercial airline to fly direct between Kalibo and Singapore. The carrier also flies to Clark, Bacolod, Cebu, Iloilo, Davao and Puerto Princesa, and to international destinations including Hong Kong, Bangkok and Singapore.

To celebrate the Chinese New Year, Tigerair offers one-way Domestic fares for Php88 and one-way International fares for Php888 if you book from January 27-29. Travel period for this promo is from February 1- March 29, 2014. For more information, log on to tigerair.com or visit any 7-11 Convenience stores or Cebuana Lhuillier outlets nationwide for bookings and payments.

Lucky international fares start at Php1399

January 10, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Traveling No Comments →

A word from our sponsor

-1

Get your tickets here.

To find out more about Tigerair deals and promos, follow TigerAir Philippines on Facebook and Twitter.