World’s longest Underground River

6 Jun
Did I tell you I went to the underground river?

Did I tell you I went to the underground river?

After a shakey ride in my almost private SEAir propeller jet (read here) I arrived in Puerto Princesa – the capital of Palawan Island. One phone call later I had a room in the Banwa Art Guesthouse – a bamboo affair with ethnic art smothered all over the place. Upon arrival the lady of the house told me about their package trips to the world’s longest Underground River, which was on my list of things to visit – so I jumped on the occasion and saved myself the hassle of finding transport and permits and all myself in exchange for 1500 Peso.

Having to be towed to salvation by another boat

Having to be towed to salvation by another boat

The road to the sea-side was only partly sealed – and partly a ‘massage road’… (nice way of putting it). Then was a boat ride to the entrance of the cave, where we changed to a paddle boat with guide (and funky fluorescent orange life vest and helmets) for a ride through stalagmites and tites. The trip on the river was a bit like a pre-recorded message (repetitive jokes inclusive) – but on the way back the engine of our boat broke down, so we were floating on the sea for an hour before another boat came to rescue us.

The main attraction of Puerto Princesa is the excursions that can be made around it – and the airport with relatively cheap flights also plays a role in getting tourists there. But the town in itself is very laid back (read: nothing much happening there). Actually the whole of Palawan island seems more nature and rough action, rather than modernity and sofistication.

That's where the worlds longest underground river ends

That's where the worlds longest underground river ends

I actually went for having a few last days of relaxation, and at the same time adding yet another Unesco world heritage site on my list of wonderful places I have visited – the world’s longest subterranean river. So I was very happy that the woman in the Bangwa Pension mentioned that they actually sold package tours to the site. I’m not a package person, but in my last few days of holidays I didn’t want to be organizing transport, boats, permits and the whole shebang myself. 1500 pesos would get me door to door transport, a tour guide and company of other travelers, snacks, drinks and lunch – and the boat trip into the cave (the boat trip back turned out to be a more difficult affair).

Lunch at the beach with view of... passing Karibus ???

Lunch at the beach with view of... passing Karibus ???

We were supposed to be picked up at 7h30 – so I made it at breakfast by 7am only to find out that the van would pick us up only by 8h30 – and in the end it arrived at 9h. We snaked up a windy road till Sabang – a road which was partly sealed – and partly in a natural state of hobbles and bubbles. So it took us more than 2 hours and a stop at a souvenir shop to get there. So we started with a lovely pinoy lunch buffet on the beach before embarking to the mouth of the river in a motorized bangka boat.

Getting ready for the expedition in the caves

Getting ready for the expedition in the caves

Once arrived at the marine park, with ‘versatile reptiles’ and ‘rich endangered forest’, we had to put on a life-jacket and helmet and jumped into a wobbly but agile paddle boat, with driver. The boatman also had the function of guide – but because of his thick pinoy accent in his English and the all-enveloping echo of the cave – I didn’t catch a 10th of what he was saying, and he didn’t understand any of my questions or remarks. So we just had to listen to ‘his tape’ with the same joke about crocodiles to the boats coming back out of the caves – and a splash of the paddle to scare us. Once is nice, twice ok, but after 10 times it became embaressing.

Back to the exit after a one hour, one km expedition

Back to the exit after a one hour, one km expedition

The caves through which the river meandered were impressive – even though we only had one torch – obediently operated by one of us and shining to the different stalagtites and mites indicated by the guide, who proclaimed it was mother Mary, Jesus, a candle, a fruit and what not. Because of the limited light (and the limits of my old Sony camera), most of the pictures came out black… The one hour ride was a bit like being in one of those theme park rides, but without the adrenaline rush.

Pushing back into the sea...

Pushing back into the sea...

The excitement came afterwards, when we took the bangka boat again to go back. My own private pleasure went to the boat guy that obviously didn’t know yet that black underwear and white trousers don’t go together when getting wet (and he was up to his chest in the water to push our boat out into the rough sea… hehe).

The next thing that happened, when about 5 minutes off the coast, was that the motor of the boat decided to take a break, dangerously close to some rocks sticking out of the water. Without engine we were just following the waves (and getting seasick) and the waves tend to bash into the rocks… Luckily the engine came back to life… for 5 minutes. And then nothing again. Luckily a boat came by and we threw a rope at them so they could tow us. But just at that moment the engine woke up again. So we thanked the rescue boat and sailed on own power again… for 5 minutes. The motor stalled again and this time there were no boats in sight… Only after about half an hour of sea-sickening waves another boat passed who brought us safely to the port… So we didn’t have to survive on the package of cookies and the half bottle of water for a few days after all…

  • What a day – but not sure if the 1 hour pre-programmed routinous boat ride in the cave was worth the 5 hours of traveling and the 1 hour abandoned at sea… Well, the boat guy in his wet white shorts made up for it ;-)
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