Manila, August 7, 2003 (STAR) By Honey Jarque Loop  - Though a stranger to Palawan and its is lands, they have always fascinated me. So, joining the Cebu Pacific Airways Cebu-Palawan inaugural flight provided me the opportunity to explore the endless wealth of natural wonders it offers – from rich farmlands to rugged landscapes, rural picturesque towns to windswept isolated beaches, all challenges to the senses.

Upon arrival, we were met by the efficient airline staff, led by dynamic promotions and general merchandising director Ana Marie Mendoza, top-notch PR lady Viveca Singson and amiable customs service manager Charlie Palpalatoc.

Without wasting any valuable time, all first-time travellers to this frontier land, we immediately did the must-do tourist attractions that included the visually captivating butterfly gardens and the educational reservation that is known as the Crocodile Farm. We made a brief stop at the Iwahig Penal Colony where most of the prisoners move freely within the 37,000 hectares of rice fields and orchards. We were impressed by the inmates’ handcarved items on display for sale, which supplements their income from agriculture.

We likewise visited the Vietnamese Village, a self-managed community run by the much read and talked about boat people, who landed on our shores in 1975 when Vietnam turned to communism. Over 300 individuals reside in the settlement with several exemplary livelihood projects, such as the manufacturing of noodles, processing of meat and making of fish sauce, cooperatives run with Filipino and Vietnamese working hand in hand.

Having done the most important tourist spots by sundown, we hurriedly freshened up in our respective rooms at the Barcelo Asturias Hotel ready to join the on-going Spanish Food Festival.

Hosts for the affair were Barcelo Hotels and Resorts Asia Pacific CEO John Cogul, sales and marketing regional director Melotte Mondelo, F&B consultant Alfredo Roca and representatives from the Commercial and Trade Office of the Spanish Embassy in Manila led by Jose Primo Santos Jr., Oscar Via and Cristina Lozano.

The excellent buffet dinner with the delectable spread of tapas, ensaladas, entremeses and typical dishes, such as paella and fabada, all served with superb Spanish wines, brought back pleasant memories when I was a resident in Spain.

The following days’ highlights began with an early two-hour trip by land, which was not exactly smooth as the road was not paved and potholes seemed to appear when they were least expected. But Selracho CEO Charles Lim, who was our tour organizer, firmly reassured us that the temporary relative discomfort would be well worth it. It really was and how!

After yet another 20-minute motorized boat ride, we reached the 22,202-hectare Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park. We inched our way into the eight-kilometer cavern of the St. Paul’s Underground River. Stalactites and stalagmites glistened in the light of our battery-operated torches as thousands upon thousands of bats slept and swiflets hung from the rocks above. What a sight!

As we moved further upstream, the interestingly unique rock formations changed constantly. We noticed what is locally called the vegetable and flower gardens, the dome amphitheater and the cathedral with the unbelievable likeness of the Holy Family and the Three Kings. We were simply awed by all its natural beauty.

After a delightful lunch at the Badjao Seafront Restaurant, hosted by dynamic Mayor Edward Hagedorn, we once again took a 45-minute boat ride to our finale destination of the day, Dos Palmas Arreceffi Island Resort.

Dos Palmas is a place of tranquillity, its serenity broken only by the occasional chirping of birds and the gentle breaking of waves over a white sand beach that stretches in the distance in a gentle curve.

For those seeking more than just swimming and relaxing by the pool, the recreational resort has facilities, such as tennis courts, plus a range of available water sports, from snorkelling to windsurfing. Boat charters, fishing, sailing and scuba diving can all be arranged with a minimum fuss.

In spite of our much-too-short stay, Tourism regional director Dawnie Roa and Travel Vision’s Jenny Franco found time for a game of table tennis, Destination Specialists’ Marget Villarica and Leisure Travel’s Sheila Colmenares enjoyed the wonders of a spa. Nautica Tours’ Robert Crisolo, Cebu Pacific’s Chat Alo and Chichi Bautista opted to sing the night away at the karaoke sports bar, much to the amusement of resort owner and the perfect host, the gentleman Ivan Lim, and the property’s sales and marketing manager Leeds Trompete.

Palawan… truly memorable!

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Cebu Pacific Air flies four times weekly from Cebu to Puerto Princesa, every Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday, departing Mactan at 11:15 a.m. and Puerto Princesa at 1:05 p.m.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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