To get to Palawan we needed to fly through either Manila or Cebu, so I booked a flight to Cebu and we decided since we were there we’d spent a day on Mactan Island—where they have beach resorts and nearby islands you can explore. We arrived in the morning and spent the afternoon island hopping: one of the locations we went snorkeling had fantastic blue coral and a great selection of fish. We had lunch at a “floating restaurant” just off the coast of one island—sounded like a cool option but we found it to be an overpriced tourist trap. We really enjoyed our stay at the Maribago Bluewater Resort that evening but were a bit surprised to see poverty levels similar to that in Bacolod in areas surrounding the luxury resorts: I guess I was hoping that higher rent areas would translate to better opportunities for the local work force.
For dinner we headed to the Magellan and Lapu Lapu monuments. Then northern tip of Mactan Island was where Magellan was killed by Lapu Lapu in his famous trip around the world. One of the monuments takes a politically correct approach of having one side honor Lapu Lapu’s victory while the other hail Magellan’s voyage. Near the monuments are markets where you pick fresh seafood and have it cooked for you: we had the best crab!
The next morning we headed off to Palawan which is often referenced as the last frontier of the Philippines. Of course, with only three days on the Island we only had time to stay on the beaten path. We arrived Sunday and enjoyed attending the local LDS church services and having a tri-cyle rider take us around the city of Puerto Princessa. The town is advertised as the “cleanest and greenest” city of the Philippines—they have a zero tolerance for littering with jail time on the third offense. The policy certainly was working—the town was significantly clearer than any I saw previously. The views of the mountains and coast provided the tropical view you would see in a postcard.
Monday morning we headed off to Honda Bay for more island hopping. We had a great day jumping between pandan, snake and starfish islands. We enjoyed the beautiful beaches and snorkeling. That evening we enjoyed a meal at the popular Ka Lui’s—both the ambience and food were fantastic.
Tuesday was our big day on the island: we took a tour of the famous Subterranean River—an 8 kilometer cave right off the ocean. It’s a World Heritage Site and a finalist in the New7Wonders of the World survey. The drive to the cave took us through lush hills, by gorgeous coastal views and along interesting rock formations. As usual, the tour driver took the windy road like he was in the grand prix: not a good combination if you tend to get car sick.
When we got out of the van we were at a beautiful white sand beach and boarded a pump boat to get to the cave; cruising along the coastal cliffs felt like we were in another world. When we arrived at the mouth of the cave we were greeted by the local monkeys: one mother was looking after her baby.
The tour of the cave takes you into the first 1.5 kilometers of the cave via a boat paddled by your guide. There are no lights so one of the riders has a spotlight that is used to show off the various formations and bats in the cave. The largest room we entered was around 90 feet high. On our way back to the pump boat we saw several more monkeys and a large monitor lizard (I’d guess around five feet long).
The last thing on our tour was a guided river tour through a mangrove forest. As we went through the forest we saw poisonous snakes sleeping in the trees, more monitor lizards and some cool birds. Maralee and I both agreed our day was the most exotic travel we’ve ever had.
That evening we flew back to Manila and wandered around the Mall of Asia: the forth largest mall in the world. I was amazed that a mall of that scale would be so close to the poverty I saw when driving through Manila five weeks ago.