*Aside* As if it all hasn’t been different already, right?
*Disclaimer* This is a long posting. We did a lot in Puerta Princesa
Tuesday, July 5, 2016
Our email documents from the 2Go Ferry tell us to check in at the dock four hours before the departure time of 1:30pm. We have our doubts that this is completely necessary but when we arrive (earlier than the advised four hours) we see why. It’s not 10:00 AM yet and already there is pandemonium at the entrance. Cars and taxis are dumping people and cargo to load carts with luggage and boxes. This is not the polite zone. You grab a porter who grabs a 2Go Ferry Adjuster who makes a note about weight on your ticket. Then you push your way to the counter to pay a fee for the porter who will take your luggage to your room on the ferry. Receipt in hand, you proceed to the ticket counter with 2 signed copies of your email ticket and two copies of ID’s for all passengers and the credit card that paid for the ticket.
*Aside* The people in the Philippines seem to love redundant paperwork, but they assure us this is all necessary.
With your receipt and your stamped copy of your ticket, you proceed through screening, then on to pay your port fee to get out of Manila. Finally you enter the big waiting room to listen for the signal to board. Luckily we found a person to help us through this process since, really, we didn’t have a clue. As we sat down we realized that it was now only just about 10:25 AM. We were really lucky because instead of boarding beginning at 11:30, as announced, at 10:55 we headed onto the ferry.
*Aside* Our tickets cost us roughly $165.00 for both of us. There were about $15.00 additional fees at the port. This is less than it would cost both of us to fly - especially when you add in fees for the excess baggage we are hauling with us - that is if they would even let us on a domestic flight as over-weight as we are.
As we enter the ferry, upon checking our ticket the young lady pulls us out of line, saying, “Yes Sir, Ma’am, please have a seat. I will get your key for you.” Then we are shown to Stateroom 304. We have a double bed and a bunk bed in the room with ensuite bathroom. . The shower is small - about 2 feet by 3 feet (the whole bathroom is about 3 feet by 5 feet - but since there is a shower curtain not a solid door, showering does not feel too claustrophobic. We shove our big suitcases out of our way on the upper bunk. Tom chooses the lower bunk with an outlet for his CPAP machine adjacent, so Rebecca gets the double bed all to herself. There is a pot for hot water with a couple of cups and glasses, a TV that will probably never be turned on (although we can hear other TVs in other cabins), and a 1 meter square window that lets us look out at the scattered islands we are passing. A little refrigerator next to under-counter storage that shares space with the life jackets completes the room. We actually have more space than we’ve had in some budget cabins on cruise ships. This will be our home sweet home for the next 36 hours.
As we made our way to our stateroom we passed row upon row of open bunks. These are the “cheap seats,” well, beds. You bring your own linens (or pay to rent them) and you have one bunk. These are like a cubbyhole for the bottom bunk - enclosed with an opening on the aisle to get in and out, back to back with the next bunk. The top bunk is just open so you basically stretch out to sleep next to your neighbor. If you are the bottom bunk occupant you can hang a sheet over the opening for a little privacy. With the top bunk you have the circulation of air but virtually no privacy. These people all share bathrooms but I’m not even sure where they are. As we wander around the vessel we see a door that says “Showers” - also shared. When you book these spaces they are assigned in order one by one so you may not actually be sleeping next to your family.
Then we found the really “cheap seats” on the next floor above. These are completely open bunks in a non-air-conditioned space. These beds are “super economy” class. For about thirty dollars you can have a bed to Puerto Princesa. It’s totally different level of getting from one place to another. It’s a great way to go for backpackers who want to travel on a dime, but this is also how entire Filipino families travel - even sharing that small single bunk with a child or two. I can hardly wrap my brain around the disparity.
*Aside* I expect if you are in the “cheap beds” you hope everyone around you uses that door marked “Showers” and avoids beans at dinner!
Meals are included with our tickets so we find our way upstairs to the dining room. The food is not overly exciting. We quickly learn that choosing something with broth or sauce will go a long way in making the plain rice tastier.
*Aside* We have come to really enjoy the garlic rice that is served all over the Philippines including with breakfast. But, alas, this is not garlic rice.
We have dinner on the 5th then breakfast, lunch, and dinner on the 6th. In the night we stop in Coron (at about three in the morning) which produces a lot of whining and grinding from the belly of the ferry, finally leaving many of the passengers in Coron. Also apparently the rooster that was somewhere on the ship got off as well, as we no longer hear him crowing every 5 minutes. Unless he’s what’s for lunch tomorrow?
*Aside* I noticed on our ticket’s disclaimers that livestock is not allowed on the ferry except for fighting cocks with proper quarantine certificates from the Bureau of Animal Industry and a Bill of Lading. I guess that makes sense because cock fighting is big business in the Philippines. I understand it is the sport of choice on the weekends apparently rivaled only by the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James. Go figure? As we travel around the cities and through the countryside it is not unusual to see three or four (or more) roosters tethered with a leg cord or in cages outside a home or business. I didn’t think much about it until I heard the crowing all evening long. Gosh, wouldn’t you think it would eventually lose its voice or something? Maybe at least take a nap? Oh shoot! I was wrong. He didn’t get off. There he goes again!
Wednesday, July 6, 2016 9:00pm - Yes, we arrived at night!
When we arrive at Puerto Princesa, our hired porter hauls our luggage off the ship for us. If we thought Manila was pandemonium, it did not prepare us for the dock at Puerto Princesa. Our porter tried to help us secure motorized tricycles to Roma Pension but unfortunately his help wasn’t helpful. Tom and I had agreed we would take two trikes since the luggage is so unwieldy. Suddenly one driver grabs one bag going off in one direction while another driver grabs another bag, running the other way. I follow one driver while trying to keep my eyes on where the other bag went. Tom follows me to my driver to be sure I can handle this bag and then off he runs after the other bag. I suddenly realize I’m not even sure Tom knows where we are going! I thought I saw Tom negotiated with the driver before I got in, but he didn’t. Thus we arrived at Roma Pension with no set price. Midway of the trip I asked the price. The driver gave the ubiquitous, “Pay what you want.” This is always a suspicious phrase.
*Aside* Before we left Manila I made a connection on Couchsurfing to a young man, Josh Smiley (his Couchsurfing moniker), in Puerto Princesa. He helped with reservations at Roma Pension telling us that p50 to p100 ($1.10 to $2.15) should cover the tricycle to get us there. We said we’ll take two they’re cheap. My driver was not happy with what “I wanted to pay” which was the high end at p100. When Tom arrived, his driver was no happier - they each wanted p250. According to them we needed to pay them to go back to the pier. What? In a word, “No.” In the end they each took p150 (about $3.25).
*Aside* Honestly p250 each is not much money - less than eleven dollars, but there was a principle involved. I knew they were just trying to take advantage of us. All in all, we paid a cheap “stupid tax.” We knew to negotiate before we got in the trike.
Our host turns on the air conditioning in our room for us to settle in. We have a queen sized bed with bunks on the side. We stow the luggage, take showers and head to bed. The bathroom has an open shower in the corner and no hot water. However our room only costs us about fifteen dollars a night and comes with breakfast. How can you complain?
Thursday, July 7, 2016
Our new friend Josh Smiley meets us the next morning to give us a tour.
*Aside* Josh is an engineering student and a part time tour guide and an aspiring actor. He also does outreach for the native tribesmen of Palawan. He is sweet, sincere and sarcastic. In my research and in most of our interactions, it’s clear the Filipino people don’t “get” American sarcasm and of course especially when it’s connected to American idioms. But Josh does get sarcasm and is sarcastic right back. He says it’s from watching too many American films. His favorite current film? Deadpool. He says his friends don’t like it - they just don’t get the sarcasm. Josh is one of us!
We have a list of things we want/need to do. Josh patiently helps us do them, one by one. Rebecca needs to exchange dollars for pesos. Tom needs more prescription medicine. The pharmacy may or may not need a prescription so he may or may not need to see a doctor. Tom gets the majority of his meds (cholesterol and blood pressure) without prescriptions but has a problem with the malaria medicine. We check with several pharmacies finding it only available with a prescription. Josh takes us to the free clinic. The doctor there gives Tom a prescription for all his medicine including the malaria meds, just in case he needs any of them next time.
*Aside* The clinic doctor says malaria really isn’t that bad. If you get malaria you get sick, but you recover. All the preventative medicines have side effects. Generally the chance of avoiding malaria probably will not justify taking the drugs long term. So Tom gets his prescription but decides not to fill it.
Taskings completed, next we visit Baker’s Hill for lunch. This a European style restaurant and bakery with beautifully maintained gardens, a menagerie of animals including peacocks and a talking mynah bird interspersed with artfully arranged fresh cut flowers floating in trays and birdbaths throughout the lush plantings. Additionally they have lots of clever decorations made out of recycled materials. It’s delightful!
*Aside* Josh tells us this is a great place to bring a date. It is very romantic and we see several couples wandering the paths and taking pictures. We also see signs that admonish “Public display of affections not acceptable.” So what were they expecting when they put up the pair of great big red hearts topping the balcony overlooking the bay???
We go to a different restaurant for dessert: mango graham cake paired with four season shakes (mango, papaya, lime and pineapple, I think. It really doesn’t matter what’s in the shakes as they are delicious and refreshing.)
*Aside* So why mango graham cake from this particular restaurant, you ask? Josh explains: he and his friends visited this restaurant for dinner one evening. After they ate they realized they only had enough money among themselves for one piece of the mango graham cake which they bought and shared. They loved it so much that they bought another piece using all their tricycle money, then walked home. I see why - it’s also delicious.
We visit a Butterfly Garden. It was rainy so the butterflies were not too active but there were other interesting creatures as well. We also learned a little about the native tribesmen of Palawan. This is the tribe Josh helps.
*Aside* Tom “Goes Native” and tries his hand at the blow-darts. He hitsthe cardboard boar three out of 4 times, including once in the shoulder which he explains to Josh is a great shot as will disable boar making it easier to catch.
We make reservations for the Underground River tour in Sabang. We visit one of the oldest
churches in Puerto Princesa. We visit an historic site where Japanese soldiers burned 150 American POWS alive at the end of the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, miraculously with 11 survivors.
We walk down to the bay to watch the activity on the water, while families and children wander and play around us.
*Aside* At the end of the bay there is a tricycle rental - mechanical trikes not motorized. This leads to pedestrians being threatened with physical injury from small demonic pedalers (ages five to twelve or so) trying to out-pedal their peers. It’s all fun till someone loses an eye, however as nearly as I can tell no one lost an eye. So I guess, in the end, it was all fun.
Okay it’s time to eat dinner. Josh takes us to Kinabuch. We order a couple local dishes including Kare Kare (the way Josh’s mom makes it). We have enough food for four people, not three - and again, it’s delicious. Josh has zoned in on our palette sweet spot. We’re stuffed and exhausted so Josh helps us negotiate back to Roma Pension. Tomorrow: the Underground River.
Friday, July 8, 2016
The van picks us up at 7:10 AM for the ride to Sabang for the Underground River Tour. There are eight people in the van when we get in with five more joining us for the two hour ride. We arrive at the dock, our guide picks up our reservation, then we head to the boat that will take us across the inlet to the entrance of the tour. We disembark into the surf walking up through the (well you really can’t call it anything but) jungle to the boats that will paddle us on the Underground River through the caves. At first I think there are bats flying around outside, but it’s actually hundreds of swallows swerving up and down and back and forth. The bats are all asleep inside the caves and there were hundreds of them as well: eight different species my personal audio tape speaks into my ear. The tape also gives me the background of the cave system, interspersed with descriptions of what I’m seeing so there is little noise in the cave while our guide points out things with his flashlight. The limestone cave’s stalactites and stalagmites are fascinating! We travel 1.5 KM of the known 7 KM of the cave.
*Aside* This cave system has been known since the 1970s, but only recently opened to the public. The number of people entering on a daily basis is limited, trying hard to not disturb the balance of nature in the cave system. I am happy to see the hard work to preserve this amazing resource and not over-exploit it. The cave system is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site (hey! This is the second one on this trip. The first was Shurijo Castle in Okinawa) and is referred to as one of the Seven Modern Natural Wonders of the World. It was a definite “Do Not Miss”!
After a buffet lunch we return to Puerto Princesa. However during lunch we notice some people are eating lobster which was not on the buffet we were served. The family that shared our boat to the island asked, “Where did the lobster come from?” It turns out it is the Philippine Minister of Heath eating lobster (she had ordered it in advance) and she presents one to the family. They invite us to join them for a taste and it’s delicious. There is also some calamari, which to our palette is overdone and rubbery, but the lobster is outstanding.
*Aside*The family’s youngest son said he didn’t think he got a big enough taste. No more room in his belly now, but he would need some more later. I totally agree with what he said!!
When we arrived back at Roma Pension we texted Josh to join us for dinner. He chose a place called KaLui with delicious fresh seafood.
*Aside* I found later that Kalui is rated #1 on Tripadvisor. I have a new favorite: green mango ginger shake. Yes friends and family it is a dream come true. We are eating our way through the Philippines!
We say our last goodbye to Josh, but I think we’ll be back to dine with him again!
Look out El Nido! Here we come!