If you think you know a lot about snorkeling, think again

 

Half-submerged in the raucous sea with our marine masks on, we battled the droplets and lines of rainwater hitting the transparent goggles, then dripping down. It was a few days before the coming of the strong monsoon – habagat – rains, and we were just in the nick of time, or else we might be swept away.  But still, we never defeated the surge of waters coming from above. Occasionally, we had to remove our masks and wipe out the droplets of water stuck on them. It was a fight we would never forget: a fight with the storm. All for Marine Science 1.

The time it took for the bus to take the road to Lian, Batangas where it all occurred was almost entirely negligible. We travelled without seeing a ray of the sun, only the dim lights coming from the bus’ ceiling. Almost everyone was trying to catch lost sleep, paying the debt. I myself was part of the team. I only opened my eyes for a few seconds to see the scene outside from peeping through the tiny window covered with curtains. The sun has risen but I saw, apart from the blurred views of the houses and trees, was fog. The bus crossed the foggy path.

Next off, we were able to get hold of snorkeling devices. I was amused when I saw people excited as they were already wearing the snorkeling goggles on their faces even before stepping into the sea. I used to snorkel in El Nido, Palawan and in Bohol with my family but what the tour guides taught us about snorkeling was just a about a percentage of what I learned from the field trip. I did learn a lot, seriously, on snorkeling alone. I didn’t think such a simple way of swimming would require a lot of patience.

Lesson number one – treat the snorkeling gear with respect

You heard it right, like how fencing athletes treat their weapons with respect, and like how taekwondo stars place a high regard on their belts, people who do snorkeling must do the same. On my experience, I have seen people throw the gear to another person or hit the gear on a boat. When at sea, the gears become your friend.

 Lesson number two – no toothpaste? Use your saliva

Fogging masks are a common problem of amateur people who snorkel. To avoid it, be prepared with a drop of toothpaste and spread it on both sides of the mask completely. Once done, wash it moderately with water until the seen toothpaste marks are cleared. Toothpastes are considered hydrophilic or they prevent water from staying on the masks. No toothpaste? Use another hydrophilic substance like your saliva. Just make sure it’s your personal snorkeling mask.

Lesson number three – learn how to wear it properly, with poise added

A no-no: placing the goggles on your face at the same time pulling the straps and putting it on. The proper way of wearing the mask is to first place it on your face and get the perfect position. Then you can now pull the straps over and wear it on.

Lesson number four – do not put your snorkeling gear on your head

If you’re dreaming of becoming like Catwoman who likes to put her goggles on her head when it’s not use, then the sea is not a good place for it. Placing the masks on your head or on your forehead while resting, is a signal that the swimmer is in distress and needs SOS. So don’t raise a false alarm. Wear it off and hang it on your neck.

Lesson number five – snorkel, don’t walk

Many people, especially those without background in swimming, or those who always want to swim like a drowning dog, would just bow their heads down on the water with the goggles on and look at the beautiful fish and marine creatures. But the fish is not the only creature underwater, the corals too. People usually step on and walk on the corals and when they do, the corals die instantly. When you get off a boat, make sure you hover horizontally on the water, and swim or paddle to avoid falling on your feet.

Take heed of these lessons. Enjoy snorkeling!

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Red tongue: Spice adventures

When God showered blessings of a tongue with taste buds friends with spicy foods, I was so in front of the line. And I call it a blessing, a bountiful one, that I am given this special ability of withstanding a dish’s spice at a certain level of threshold. It’s blessing because other cannot do that. My mom surrenders to a spice level I consider so low.

Here in the Philippines where spicy delicacies are only concentrated on specific regions and provinces, the taste is never a sidekick but a pet peeve. When eating sinigang laden with a single chili, my mom and my siblings would stop me if I try to slice the chili and let its seeds (which contain the spices) mix with the soup. I had to use a separate bowl to enjoy my craving.

In the university, whether it’s everyday, I never get tired of ordering a pack of pancit canton flavored “hot,” and not just hot but “extra hot.” The brand’s Chili-mansi flavor has a weak spice for me.

Until I visited Singapore (for the second time), the haven for spicy foods with Korea, Malaysia, and Thailand. I attended a conference called Model Asia-Europe Meeting summit with food and accommodation provided free for us.

I always loved Europe and South America for their cultures more than Asia. If I were to travel around the world, I would visit London, UK or Sao Paolo, Brazil first than Asian countries. But after I visited Singapore, there was a sudden shift and change of heart. I am starting to love Asia because of the richness of its flavor – that if I go to an Asian country, the first thing I’ll look for is its specialty dish.

In Singapore, we ate this fried chicken breaded with spices, chicken rice with a chili pepper paste, a sting ray topped with chili sauce, and a hot and spicy ground beef. The country also serves a spicy chicken burger and fries dipped in a mixture of chili sauce and ketchup. I loved them! I think I’ve found my home in Singapore in terms of its food.

When I came back to the Philippines, I felt homesickness for that wild craving and thirst for authentic – and spicy – Singaporean dishes, that I began looking for restaurants that serve those kinds of Asian food.

But it came to me, why don’t the Philippines have a love for spice – despite the fact that we were discovered by the Spaniards mainly because of spices? The reason perhaps is that, our dishes are more Spanish than Asian. Menudo, mechado, adobo, tinola, etc.

Today, I was able to satisfy my thirst after my encounter with bibimbap, a Korean signature dish with beef and mixed vegetables (usually carrot and cabbage strips). I asked for an extra chili pepper sauce from the crew.

And I must say, it’s like eating in hell. But I loved it. You get to enjoy the food at the same time become happy as you dread with it. I was on fire eating it, drinking water every now and then, and the moment it is done, everything turns back to normal and becomes calm once more.

This is my first food adventure – equivalent to extreme sports and jawbreaking recreations. And I can’t wait to have more.

 

 

The mysteries of Palawan’s Underground River

ImageThis 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/

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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.

A summer in Palawan — Part 1

More than the pristine beaches of Boracay, the white sands and heat of Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte, the classic aura of Vigan, Ilocos Sur, and the huge waves of Siargao Island, there seemed to be a place the Filipinos have yet to see and discover.

The plane flew from Manila with its passengers either reading books and magazines with their headlights on or simply were lying on their backs on the reclining chairs trying to get a good night sleep. The plane flew with the passengers seeing the beautiful skyline of Manila by night. It was as if we were hovering like Peter Pan amidst the night sky seeing lighted buildings which looked as if they were like Christmas lights from afar.

It took us only one and half hours (one of shortest travel times I’ve ever encountered considering we were going to a place miles away from the capital) before the plane reached Puerto Princesa City, Palawan. The small but affectionate airport welcomed us with pictures, tarpaulins, and paintings of what we would be seeing in Palawan – such as the underground river, the Tubbataha reef, and a crocodile farm. Such tourism slogans pulling the tourists closer to Palawan as home. I could well remember the face of Puerto Princesa City mayor Edward Hagedorn’s face on a tarpaulin welcoming the tourists to the country’s last frontier.

We came to Palawan never expecting and never knowing what to see. But what Palawan showcased during the rest of our trip was beyond imagination. Palawan has been known to many as the “Last Frontier” in the Philippines because of being the last unsettled area in the country.

Palawan is a thin archipelago of about 1,700 islands on the western border of the Philippines. Palawan is the country’s largest province with a land area of nearly 1.5 million hectares. Its irregular coastline stretches almost 2,000 kilometers long, indented by several coves and bays.

Puerto Princesa City appeared as if it was a city distant from its neighboring area being a bustling urban center, with almost the same establishments found in Metro Manila. Few years from now, it could probably be able to stand in line with the progressive capitals and cities in the country. Puerto Princesa by night is not as lively as other cities. Some of its establishments have already closed its doors from the public with only a few buildings open, most of which were serving 24/7.

On our way to our hotel, we passed along Rizal Avenue, one of the main roads in the city. Rizal Avenue is abundant in seafood restaurants serving sea foods fresh from catch. From crabs, fishes, squids, to clams, the street would offer you a variety of choices.

We arrived to Palawan at almost nine in the evening. There was nothing much to see during the night except from going out of your hotel and trying out dining in some of the seafoods restaurant. Puerto Princesa is not a city fond of a night life. And so there was nothing to do but sleep and wait for the coming of the next day to see the true nature of Palawan.

Part 2 will be posted tomorrow!