This This post is the second part of my four-part series narrating my summer vacation in Palawan. Part one can be found here: https://lindley101.wordpress.com/2012/04/30/a-summer-in-palawan-part-1/
A beauty within darkness: The mysteries of Palawan’s Underground River
We were met by the morning under intense heat. We woke up and took our breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant area with bread, butter, jam, and two pieces of hotdog. From a nearby table, I heard group of female tourists, all wearing glamorous summer outfits and sarong, talking about their trip that day. Their tour guide, a male, stood by the table to explain that day’s itinerary while hungrily looking at the females enjoying their breakfast. The tour guide came with a warning – that the tourists needed to protect their feet as they visit the beach because of the species of fish known as the stone fish they might step onto and poison them. As soon as the tour guide told them so, the ladies came with a shriek, one even joking of not going to the place anymore.
The tour guide added the stone fish, once it has stung and poisoned a skin, would hurt like hell and because it was fatal, the victim would have to be brought to the nearest hospital. It added to the ladies’ fear. It made me ask myself if we too were going to the place referred to by the tour guide. It sounded exciting.
The road to the underground river was as smooth as silk, thanks to the roads made concrete by the local government for the convenience of the tourists; but not to forget that Palawan still was a mountainous region. The roads may be smooth but it could not help itself from forming rough zigzags. We passed through several mountains covered with a lush green forest before we reached Sabang.
It took us one boat ride before we reached the actual location of the underground river. We walked along a forest trail before reaching the underground river. As we stepped onto the riverside, a dark cavernous area was seen from a far, the entrance to the underground river. Eager tourists quickly picked up the ever-essential life jackets and a helmet to protect them from bat poop and urine. We were informed beforehand that there were a lot of bats hanging on different areas of the cave and protecting our head from their poop and urine (it was not poisonous though) may be one of the best ways to appreciate the cave’s beauty.
It was almost lunchtime when we entered the kilometers-long cave. A boat man guided us through the rest of our trip. It was my dad seated at the boat’s front who held the lamp that would later give us our only light throughout our journey inside the dark cave.
The boat started moving slowly, going towards the cave. As soon as we reached the cave’s entrance, the voice of the boat man started echoing all over. On the rocks near the cave’s entrance were etched writings by military men and soldiers who have went inside the cave several years ago. The writings near the entrance read that they were written in the 1930s.
The underground river was first discovered by foreign explorers and not be Filipino natives because they were said to have feared bad spirits that might lurk inside the cave. The cave had outstanding rock formations, stalactites, and stalagmites. The boat man told us to work with the most creative of our imaginations to identify the rock formations with names as fancy as you would have never imagined.
The underground river was formerly known as the St. Paul Subterranean National Park initially comprising 3,901 hectares. It was established as a tourist destination on March 26, 1971. On November 16, 1999, a proclamation was signed expanding the area of the park to 22,202 hectares and was renamed Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park. In 2010, environmentalists and geologists discovered that the underground river has a second floor. They found a bigger cave dome measuring 300 meters above the underground river, rock formations, larger bats, more river channels, a deeper cave, and marine creatures.
The underground river is a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site. On November 11, 2011, the Puerto Princesa Underground River was chosen, after a worldwide vote, as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature.
Since then tourists from around the world have started flocking to the area to see the wonder of the underground river. It has been reported that by 2016, because of the increasing popularity of the destination, tourists in the area may reach 1.2 million, more than double the number of visitors last year.
The cave opens up to a huge “cathedral” with a ceiling several meters above sea level. As the light held by my dad moved around the cave, we were welcomed by enthralling rock formations.
Inside the “cathedral” was a rock formation known as the “Holy Family”. One could clearly identify the characters such as Jesus, Mary, and Joseph from the rock formation.
This formation, the boat man called as “The Giant Candle” would astound a tourist with its size. On its body were lines and contours formed by nature. It was one of the largest formations found inside the cave.
We were brought in an area, after passing through the “cathedral” the boatman jokingly called as the vegetable section with rock formations that resembled huge vegetables. Some of them were a large petchay, a large corn, and a large mushroom.
The underground river is also home to some creatures such as a swallow birds flying around the cave numbered at about 200,000, and numerous bats hanging on the cave’s rock formation.
This photo shows a mound of hundreds of baby bats hanging on a hole formed by a rock. The boat man told my dad to move the lights to the direction of the bats. As the light hit them, they altogether flew outside the rock formation while making shrills of sounds.
There have been many explorations conducted inside the cave. One of which was an exploration team led by some Italians who found fossils and fossil formations further inside the cave. Because of being part of the New Seven Wonders of Nature, only a portion of the cave is shown to the public to avoid exploitation. Tourists would exit the cave through the same way they used to enter the cave.
We were bidding the tourists whom we came across just getting inside the cave a “Good night.” as they were only about the enter the cave’s darkness. After about an hour inside the cave, we finally saw a hint of light from afar indicating that we were about the come out of the cave.
Once again, we were faced with several writings from people who have visited the cave before its dedication as a tourist attraction. The cave’s wonder, and the mysteries lying beyond what we have seen made it deserve its spot as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature.