Thursday, January 17, 2008

In Love with Puerto Princesa


Patricia Bello fell in love three years ago. She went to Puerto Princesa for a vacation with friends and fell in love with the city. "It’s a bit silly how I can rhapsodize about Puerto Princesa and everything I experienced there," she said. "And me, having visited the place only that one time."

Palawan is one of the most beautiful islands to visit in the Philippines and Puerto Princesa is the best gateway and introduction to the Palawan island experience. It’s easy to fall in love with Puerto Princesa, the capital city of Palawan. The city exudes the slow and easy provincial pace, and hints of nature’s wonders in and around its city limits.

Patricia has a friend, Pierre, who is a native of Puerto Princesa and who helped fix their itinerary. "We were lucky Pierre was with us," she said. "He knew where to take us."

They toured the city, stopping by the Vietnamese Village for lunch, checking out the crocodile farm, and admired the view from Rancho Sta. Monica, the Mitras’ hilltop ranch.

"Don’t forget about the food," says Patricia. "There are restaurants in Puerto Princesa that you just can’t miss. The food was just so good."

There was the Vietnamese village for their cuisine and French bread. There was the table groaning, overflowing with food in Badjao Seafront, which can feed 10 but was served to 6, and costing less than expected. Ka-Lui’s for its seafood sisig and a quick game of sungka. Coffee and art was enjoyed in Kamarikutan. A visit to Kinabutch Bar and Resto, for a night out in town.

But the best thing about Puerto Princesa for Patricia is how easy it is to go back to mother nature. The Underground River is a usual destination of visitors to the city. A few hours’ drive from the city limits and a short boat ride takes you to a pristine cove of white sands as soft as Boracay and just as clear. Languid iguanas and naughty monkeys keep you company as you walk to the shallow pool leading up to the underground cave. Armed with only one powerful torch and anecdotes, the boatman guides you far enough into the labyrinth of the caves awesomely decorated with stalactites and stalagmites, traveling on a seemingly deep clear river.

Honda Bay, within Puerto Princesa’s city limits, boasts of a string of white sand islands for island hopping: There’s Bat Island, where thousands of Bats dwell; Starfish Island is abundant with starfish; Snorkeling in Snake Island reveals the entire cast of Finding Nemo many times over; Luli Island’s existence depends on the tides (Lubog-Litaw). While it helps to be a strong swimmer, life jackets make it easy for those not as skilled to enjoy the warm, clear waters of Honda Bay, above and below the water.

"The great thing about Puerto Princesa is the total lack of commercialism," Patricia observed. "There are no vendors or food stalls at the Underground River or in Honda Bay. Packed lunches are brought back with the boat to be disposed of somewhere else other than these spots. It’s all about eco-tourism here. Everything is so clean, beautiful and alive.

"The locals have learned to protect the environment as it’ll maintain their livelihood, and work with the NGOs in the area to safeguard its natural resources. It’s great."

So what makes visitors like Patricia to fall in love with Puerto Princesa? Is it the easy pace of the city? The good food and fresh seafood? The underground cave and the islands of Honda Bay? "That in Puerto Princesa, I feel like I can truly escape to nature. I wouldn’t know where to begin to explain how I feel."

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