Petra | Jordan. A rose-red city half as old as time
San Vicente | Palawan. Counting solitary strides.
Taj Mahal | India. A teardrop on the cheek of time
Catanduanes Island. Postcard-pretty slideshow.
Keep Kalm (at Kalanggaman Island | Leyte).
Nikko | Japan. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil in this UNESCO heritage town.
Counting temples in Bagan | Myanmar.
Chasing UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka.
Where to Stay? | Luxury, Backpacking & Glamping
Inaul Festival | Maguindanao. In homage of a weaving tradition

A Spontaneous Process Interrupted at the Underground River | Palawan



I was looking forward to this trip for two months. I was stripping my psyche about the opportunity for that one fugitive emotion to flourish in its aftermath.  Beyond that, I was also excited at the notion of writing a narrative of what transpired beyond the obvious appeal of this natural wonder of the world. My ever restless mind was rolling with fervor and the tip of my fingers are giddy to hit the keyboards similar to an infantry man watching a thousand enemy charging in, would pull his machine gun's trigger.

Jem Magcalas

Here I am with zero idea about how to narrate this trip. Things are better left unwritten and kept as it is–as if nothing happened and no one invested emotion. Just for the sake of putting this on my blog, I'll write about the place without any memories or narratives that involves my self and the person I went there with.

Jem Magcalas

The Underground River at Puerto Princesa in Palawan has been always included in the poll for the "New 7 Wonders of the World". Coming from a country that votes everything that involves our own on online polls from Miss Universe Pageant's "Miss Photogenic" to CNN's "Hero of the Year", it comes as no surprise to see this place being included. 

Jem Magcalas

I am one of those guilty of voting for the Subterranean River even without seeing it up close, and a part of the reason I was excited for this trip was the chance to finally experience it, to see what it is inside, to be sure if the place really warrants that kind of hype and excitement. 

Jem Magcalas

We arrived at Puerto Princesa just before 11am on a Friday morning. The van picked us up at the Kawayanan Resort at around 12pm before taking a two-hour trip towards Sabang beach where we had our late lunch.  The cost of out tour package is 1,100 pesos per head. It already includes the underground river tour + van transfer + boat ride + lunch. There were many tourists that day that we waited for our turn to take the 15 minute boat ride going the underground river.

Jem Magcalas

While waiting, I took a short swim at Sabang beach with its bigger than normal waves providing a well needed body massage. One swell flattened me and when I stood up another one crashed into myself and I was caught in an odd body position that I thought I dislocated my shoulder after I started to feel a sharp pain while rotating it afterward. Good thing, it turned out okay after a while.

Jem Magcalas

At that point I was still on a high and totally unaware of the bipolar developments of the world around me. Somehow either I find ways to screw things up or the people up there are fond of messing me around. 


"A pain stabbed my heart as it did every time I saw a girl I loved who was going the opposite direction in this too-big world"  - Jack Kerouac

Whoa, where did that quote came from? anyway back to my little story. I remember having one San Miguel Light at the beach courtesy of her. To her credit, there's nothing unsavory I can say anything about her. If I have any, then I would not have cracked my head open and mourn over my failures that weekend. I'd be off on my own and not having to be war pals with a bottle of beer again, days after this trip to Puerto Princesa. 

Jem Magcalas

I know what she meant when she said, It's not the end of the story. We belong now on two separate lands with a large mass of ocean water in-between. These things takes time I told myself, but I was in a rush somehow that in this world something that is too much or too soon can burn bridges between two people. Alright back to my story again.


We arrived at the beach leading to the underground river at around 4:30 P.M., on the way we encountered some cool waves that rocked our boat harder than the norm. I enjoyed the brief hint of danger. I was on a high holding her hands unaware of an impending sh*t storm. There was a sign that says "Monkey Trail" this way and "Underground River" the other way. I saw a few monkeys near the trail and one of them even managed to steal an iPod case from one of the tables that tourists use. It's a good thing it was only a case, because the monkey was able to ran away with it and the owner was left but to laugh at being one upped by a monkey.


There were a dozen of US Navy men awaiting their turn to enter the underground river. Later on I'll read on the news that at that time, there were a few US Navy ships docked in Palawan to participate on a joint military exercise with Philippine soldiers. Two of them climbed a tree that pissed off one of the caretakers because they want to take a dive unto the water even though its the shallow part. They were threatened to be barred entry inside the river if they pushes through with their little adventure. In the end, the two Navy men decided to just drop their plans.

Palawan guide

When It was our turn, we took the 10-seater wooden boat inside and I remember a feeling of excitement as I was finally experiencing and seeing the Underground River for the first time. I've been inside caves before at Sagada, Caramoan, Callao cave in Tuguegarao and Marinduque so I sort of know what to expect inside.


Our guide was good in belting out jokes and eliciting laughter, by using the various rock formations as his material for humor. Inside, he pointed to rock figures that looked like a cathedral with an altar of what looked like a statue of the Virgin Mary. On another side, he directed our gaze to the "Vegetable section" because of rock formations that looks like carrots, corn, rotten carrots, cabbage and "sayote". According to him, he suffered a 'nose bleed' when earlier American visitors asked what's a sayote in English.


Our trip inside took us through a large part of the 8.2 kilometer navigable underground river. The rest are only open to experts and geologists as one of the guides told his visitors "That part over there, only the Jologs are allowed" to which one foreigner asks "What's a jologs" the guide simply answered "A Jologists" (Geologists). I laughed at that joke because when you're happy you laugh at everything. 

This river was the longest underground river in the world UNTIL another one was discovered in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico in 2007. Inscribed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999, Puerto Princesa's underground river teems with stalactites and stalagmites rocks sculpted by nature  through a thousand years. Its surrounding area represent a perfect location for biodiversity conservation.

It was almost dark when we bid goodbye to the underground river and in that moment, I told myself my online votes for this place isn't merely a blind expression of loving your own. It was in fact a justified move as it really is truly amazing and the trip itself was a welcome consolation for whatever I lost during this trip–and I'm not talking about the thousand bucks I lost on my backpack when I checked in at the airport on the way back to Manila.

Where to stay in Puerto Princesa

Yes, the case isn't shut and close one yet. But things are slowly closing in and I might have to accept that it was great while it lasted.