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The island of Palawan, also dubbed "The last frontier in Philippines", is where Alex Garland found inspiration to write his book "The Beach". We spent 10 days exploring white beaches, hidden lagoons, razor-sharp limestone cliffs, spooky underground rivers....and horrible roads.

Puerto Princesa

We flew from Manila to Puerto Princesa May 4, the provincial capital of Palawan. Puerto Princesa is just an ugly busy city, so we only spent one night here at arrival.

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Hell getting to El Nido, but paradise once there

Next morning we took a tricycle to the bus station, which is situated 6 km outside of downtown Puerto Princesa. But the 7am bus was already full, so instead of waiting for the next departure at 9am, we opted for a shared van. That was a disastrous mistake. They managed to put 12 travelers in the small van, and we eventually felt like sardines in a box, especially when the air condition started to fail too.

The first leg to Roxas, however, was on paved roads and the two hours passed quite easily by. But after the quick lunch in Roxas we set out for the worst imaginable roads. It had rained continuous for 3 days and nights because of a nearby typhoon, which transformed the roads into mud, sometimes so deep that it was not even passable for a 4WD vehicle and much less for a 2WD van like ours.

The KIA van got stuck in the mud several times, and a couple of times it even had to be pulled out by trucks. A lot of other 2WD vehicles suffered the same thing. This resulted in traffic jams and long halts, at one occasion we waited almost two hours for the road to clear. With envious looks we saw the local buses, which reminded me of the buses in Nepal, passing easily by in the mud. So much for the van driver who promised us that a van was much faster than a local bus, thus worth the double price....

When the driver told us that the worst part was behind us, a new disaster struck. There was a strong smell of burned rubber/plastic, and a few seconds later the driver shouted "out, out, get out now!". In wild panic we escaped the vehicle, as the smoke started to flow out under the front seats. The electricity system and it's wiring was on fire. The driver managed to control it, and it never turned into flames.

The battery, electricity and wiring was completely destroyed, but the driver tried to convince us that it was possible to continue if we push-started the van. But who would continue to sit like sardines on top of a potential bomb? No one, even the driver agreed about that. So he called for another van, which showed up after 1-2 hours. That was a 4WD van, but it had only capacity for 8 people, so the last 3 hours to El Nido was even more uncomfortable, especially for the three of us who had no seats...

We arrived El Nido after an almost 13 hours nightmare. We checked into the first pension with vacancy, Rovic's Inn, right on the town beach in El Nido.

Next day was a sunny one, but we were too exhausted for island hopping, so we spent most of the day on an easily accessible beach nearby (Marimegmeg). On the second day it was too bad weather for island hopping, so we mostly played chess on the front beach terrace. The third day showed no improvement in weather, besides that I also had diarrhea, so I had no desire to venture far away from a toilet. The fourth day, however, was when all misfortune turned into one of my most memorable days ever. We went island hopping in the Bacuit Archipelago, a paradise on earth with unspoilt white sand beaches, snorkeling in hidden lagoons.

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Sabang and the underground river

We had spent two more nights in El Nido than expected, so our original plan to include a couple of days and nights in Port Barton vanished. Later we also heard that Port Barton was a Malaria hot spot, so being without anti malaria drugs, it was a wise decision to leave it out.

Instead we decided to return to Puerto Princesa. We were wise enough too choose a bus instead of a van this time, but as the roads were in even poorer condition, the buses also had problems. At one occasion we were certain that the bus would tip over when it got stuck in deep mud on the right wheels. Emily even panicked and almost fainted of fear. I did my best to calm her down.

We arrived Puerto Princesa after "only" 9 hours, and spent a night there. The next morning we took a shared van to Sabang, only a couple of hours away. Most tourists seem to only go here for a day trip, exploring Philippines no 1 attraction and one of the hottest candidates for the New 7 Wonders of Nature. The spectacular underground river is 8.2 km, but during summer season one are only allowed to paddle 1.5 km upstream. During off-season one can even get a special permit to paddle 4 km upstream into the cave !!!

The day of arrival we spent on beautiful Sabang Beach where we hired a cottage right on the beach for two nights. The next day we joined a paddle excursion into the cave, watching all those spectacular limestone formations inside the cave. The 40.000 bats reported to live in the cave, was flying everywhere around us.

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Our 10 days in Palawan has come to an end. Palawan lived up to its expectations and more than that. If I have the opportunity I wish to return one day to do more island hopping around El Nido. The road to El Nido will be completely paved before 2011, so a journey to this outpost will certainly be more easy in the future.

Posted by gfg on Thursday, May 14, 2009. Filed under , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Feel free to leave a response

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