For almost four years, I was shuffling back and forth to the island of Palawan for mostly work. I first stepped on its shores, as I was hired to design an eco-village in one of the many smaller islands of Palawan. My client was a Filipina who was raised in the USA, and she had recently gotten in touch with her roots.
Puerto Pricesa is the capital city in the main island of Palawan, and in that city alone there is so much to experience and enjoy that connects you with nature and the local indigenous cultures. One such place is the Kamarikutan Kafe at Galeri, which is just a short walk from the airport. Nestled in the thick forests that surround the city, Kamarikutan is a haven for those who are weary of the urban jungle. Aside from great food and coffee, they also feature exhibits by local and international artists.
Another great place to eat and relax is the Ka Lui Restaurant. Lui is another local patron of the arts, and his restaurant shows that eclectic collection and design aesthetic of the owner. He also owns a very beautiful getaway in the Sabang area, which can only be described as chaos tropical architecture.
During my first visits to Palawan, my client would bring me and some of her friends to the island property, which she called Kalipay (peace). To get to the island, we had to take a boat from Port Barton. This place is just like the Hundred Islands in Pangasinan Province, where many small islets pock the sea, amidst crystal clears waters. This place is no so known to many tourists; hence it is less developed and a little more laid back than the more famous attractions of Palawan.
December 1999, at the Kalipay island property, we had the bare necessities in life: water, a roof over our heads, a burning fire, and home cooked meals with ingredients fresh from the island itself (care of yours truly). However, the spirits of the island didn’t seem to like me, and threw everything it could to get rid of me, and because of that I collected every injury to my right foot that I could imagine. It was a sign that my relationship with the client would sour, and I would never step foot in that island again.
In 2000, I returned to Palawan to guide friends around for a magazine article about the island. One of the legs of the trip was to tour Honda Bay, which is just at the outskirts of Puerto Princesa City. Honda Bay is the choice spot for tourists to swim at the beach in when in Puerto Princesa, or explore the small islands around the bay.
While traveling on the local banka (motorized outrigger boat), we spied two waterspouts in the distance. These gigantic sea tornados were quite far, yet they were still frightening as they whipped the wind around us and showered rain. What was supposed to be a typical tourist trip became an adventure that we would never forget.
Near the city there are other places to visit, such as the Crocodile Farm (if watch crocodiles feed is your fancy) and the Iwahig Penal Colony, where you can buy local crafts created by the prisoners and their families. The livelihood projects of the penal colony are lauded for their efforts to develop a future for the inmates while incarcerated, which they can continue once they are released.
Another interesting place is the Vietnamese Village, just down the road from the airport. In the 1970s boat loads of Vietnamese refugees arrived in the Philippines, after the fall of Saigon to the Northern Vietnamese Forces. Although the Philippine government accepted the refugees, they didn’t know what to do with them and kept them in locked camps. After several news reports of the plight of the refugees lead some of them to eat poisoned toads, the government allowed the people to build their own businesses and mingle with the local populations. Because of that the Vietnamese Village became a tourist spot, with a restaurant that serves authentic Vietnamese dishes. There I was able to sample their coffee, which got me hooked.
In the middle of Puerto Princesa City is another Vietnamese restaurant, which serves delicious vegetarian Asian dishes, with traditional dishes using vegi-meat.
At the Sabang district, then 4 hours from Puerto Princessa City, is the Subterranean River National Park under the Saint Paul’s mountain range, which was elected as part of the New Seven Wonders of Nature in 2012. Art the Sabang beach side, one takes a banka towards the mouth of the caves, and then hope on a canoe as you paddle into the caves. Armed with a high powered flashlight connected to a car battery, you can see all the grand stalactites and stalagmites, while bats and snakes move about. One of my companions made the big mistake of swallowing the water outside the caves while swimming, only to realize that water was teeming with guano from the millions of bats residing in the caves.
Before the boat ride, we waiting in the many small huts at the water’s edge, and had lunch with the meals that we brought. However, we had to constantly on guard while the bands of macaque monkeys and huge monitor lizards roams about, as they waited for any chance to swipe away your food.
Returning to Puerto Princesa, I had always preferred to stay in a small hidden bed-and-breakfast called Banwa (forest). Owned and managed by Jane Orcullo, we became quite close, as I we would later call each other brother and sister. I would return many times, and take over the inn, so that she would be able to take a much deserved vacation. Sad to say the inn had recently burned down.
I have met many people in Palawan, whom I call my friends. Some were locals, while others were visitors, including the many people who had stayed with us at the Banwa Inn while.
One notable friend is Auraeus Solito, a Manila based filmmakers, who had recently discovered his roots among the indigenous Palaweno people. His journey was documented in the film “Pagbabalik sa Tribu” by Howie Severino.
I hope to return to Palawan soon, and with my family. There are still some complaints that the tourist industry being under developed, yet this is what gives Palawan its charm, and this also prevents greedy developers from trying to exploit this last frontier.