I had a really nice stay in the Philippines. Most of the time was spent with a friend in the outer islands of the Province of Palawan and I got a little bit of time in the capital city of Manila on my way in and out of the country.
All photo credit - Chuck Handy
Manila is a sprawling metro center that puts the very wealthy, the destitute and all those in between in close proximity. I am staying in a very nice, moderately priced hotel right on Manila Bay and across the street from the US Embassy in the neighborhood of Ermita. It is not as posh a neighborhood as Makati or as artistically oriented as Quezon City but it is quite acceptable.
During the day it is very busy with a big park (Rizal Park), an Ocean Park Aquarium, the biggest and most modern mall in all of Asia (MOA, the Mall of Asia), the Manila Yacht Club (which proved its worth by denying riff raff like me from entering) and many historical and cultural sites. The streets seem very safe, even a couple of blocks from the waterfront which are filled with small shops, money changers and hotels. At night it remains very busy but a whole new set of inhabitants appear and it doesn’t feel quite so safe. Street children run in groups begging for hand-outs. I am told that many of these street children are controlled by gangsters who take the money that they receive from their begging. Homeless families sleep on mats and cardboard and cook their rice over small fires. I wonder what they do when the rainy season starts in a month or so. It is a city of amazing contrasts in a country of amazing contrasts. I loved it!
We flew to the Palawan Islands from Manila landing in the Provincial capital, Puerto Princesa. Google it! It’s a fascinating place with much natural beauty including the longest navigable underground river in the world and El Nido, another designated UN World Heritage site and the site of some wonderful diving, spectacular scenery, hidden beaches and stunning sunsets.
I did not expect to be too impressed with the underground river but I was. It is the home of over 50,000 bats and thousands of swallows along with cave dwelling manatees. The stalactites and stalagmites are beautiful and some areas open up into huge cathedral type rooms. The Natural Resources Department of the Philippines only allows tours to go in a couple of kilometers, less than half way. The rest is protected. The tour operators collect all the many, many tourists at a nearby town wharf and shuttle them by boat to a mangrove area near the cave entrance.
From there we were put into smaller boats that a guide paddled into the cave with about 8 of us on each craft. I got to hold the light! I had to laugh at the start… While on the town wharf and waiting for our shuttle some enterprising vendors were selling tubes of sun block at highly inflated prices and they were selling like hotcakes. Most of the tourists were diligently smearing themselves with the stuff. I thought to myself, “Are we not going into a cave? Wouldn’t that constitute the best possible sun block in the world?” I did not buy any…
Travel around Palawan is difficult with very poor roads. Fortunately we were met at the airport there by Rolando, a friend of a friend of a friend who had a brand new 2013 Mitsubishi King Cab pick up truck and he drove us to El Nido in 4 hours, a trip that can take up to 16 hours by public transport.
When we stopped for a snack we left our gear in the back of the truck and I asked Rolando if it was safe there. He said “Yes, it’s safe. This is Palawan, not Manila!”. He also lined us up with a dive operator with whom we made 5 different dives over 2 days. The price was about $75-$80 per person per day and included all our gear, beautiful boat rides, coffee and cookies between dives and lunch.
|(I think this is my favorite photo - MJ)|
Each day was an 8 hour adventure. The dives were spectacular. I saw things I have never seen before and I am a certified divemaster and have been diving for over 40 years! Great stuff!
I look forward to another trip to the Philippines but now I must prepare for a side trip to Yap on my way back to Majuro. I’ll let you know what I find there…
Have a take a trip Tuesday! Do something travel worthy.