[PHOTO - Kris Aquino says, ‘Welcome everybody!’ before the start of the Puerto Princesa Underground River (PPUR) tour PHOTOS by RAOUL TIDALGO and JULIUS SEVILLA]

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, MAY 8, 2012 (PHILSTAR) FUNFARE By Ricardo F. Lo - A river runs through it. I don’t mean the city but the bottom of an unnamed mountain in Barangay Sabang, now known worldwide as the Puerto Princesa Underground River (PPUR) which was formally declared one of The New Seven Wonders of Nature last Monday, April 23, with Pres. Noynoy Aquino as special guest.

Actually, the eight-kilometer-plus winding river, home to thousands of bats, is located at sea level and not really underground. If you are booked in the city like we were (at the Tropical Sun Inn which was highly-recommended by Salesian Sister Catherine Tidalgo Urgello, first cousin of Balikbayan journalist Raoul Tidalgo who was with us), you have to wake up before sunrise to catch your 7:30 a.m. tour of The River because the drive to Sabang takes almost two hours. It’s in Sabang where you take the motorboat to The River. The tour lasts for about 30 minutes (as ours did because we didn’t cover the whole eight-kilometer-plus stretch, only six of it). You wear life vest throughout the tour as a safety measure. It’s a must.

Our schedule was originally set for 3:30 p.m. on Monday but fortunately, we bumped into Kris Aquino and her entourage (27 all in all including her make-up artist, her new BFF Karla Estrada, her factotum Alvin, cameramen, etc.) on the PAL flight to this city. When she learned that our group was also touring The River, she invited us to tag along with her group which was conveniently billeted at the Sheridan Resort in Sabang. Suwerte namin! It was smooth sailing from thereon.

Like Aga (whom we didn’t see) who was there to shoot an episode for his TV5 show Pinoy Explorer, Kris was there also to shoot a two-part episode for her Kris TV show (airing today and tomorrow, 9 to 10 a.m. on ABS-CBN).

But first, we have Puerto Princesa Mayor Edward Hagedorn to thank for facilitating our PPUR tour. You see, the influx of local and foreign tourists has grown so huge that you have to book for the tour weeks or even months in advance. I learned that 800 permits (one per head) are issued every day, 100 of them reserved for Mayor Edward’s guests, and still, the city’s Tourism Office still runs out of permits every day. We were last-minute visitors, but thanks to Raffy Tulfo who contacted the Mayor Hagedorn’s office. Presto, seven permits were waiting for us. And then came Kris…

[PHOTO -Kris with her new BFF (Best Friend Forever) Karla Estrada. Below: Two of the several rock formations inside the PPUR.]

“Bring along a singer so she could sing as you tour The River,” Sister Catherine reminded us in jest, “and you will hear how her voice will resound throughout the River.”

No need for the singer because, as our witty guide rowing the boat kept reminding us, “You must not talk aloud because you will disturb the bats.” Even the irrepressible Kris observed decorum and kept the volume of her voice to a lower-than-usual level.

As your boat winds around the pitch-black River (the boatmen have so memorized the tour that, surprisingly, they don’t lose their way), you marvel at the Great Artist behind it and how He, maybe with a flick of a finger, created the perfect rock formations, one of which looks like the Holy Trinity and one like the face of Christ with a bleeding nose.

Said the tour guide, “It started to bleed when the foreign tourists started coming. Sa ka-e-English namin, nag- nosebleed kami, pati na rin ang figure na ‘yon!”

Even only the PPUR tour was worth the trip but, if you have time to spare (and you should!) there are more exciting places to see, a few of them we did visit including…

[PHOTO -Inset: Puerto Princesa Mayor Edward Hagedorn receives a plaque officially naming the PPUR as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature from Bernard Weber, founder-president of New7Wonders, during a press conference at Heritage Hotel in Pasay City over the weekend.]

= The Crocodile Farm, not as big as the one on Thailand but good enough. During the briefing, the lady guide pointed to the preserved skin of a large crocodile (slightly smaller than Crocodile Lolong) that adorns one wall. “He had eaten a man before he died of stress,” said the guide, pointing to the specimen at her back. “Unfortunately, the man died because half of his body was eaten by the crocodile.” I felt the whole group swallowed hard as if to remind themselves to behave during the tour and to beware, or else…

= If you are not afraid of the dark (black as a moonless/starless night), ride a banca (each good for three, excluding the rower) along a mangrove and watch thousands of fireflies flickering around the trees. “Parang Christmas lights,” said one of our companions who caught four fireflies as “souvenirs.”

= Then, go island-hopping on Honda Bay, snorkel around one of them (as Kris and company did) and make a stop in another one for a swim capped by a late lunch of seafood cooked before your eyes.

= On the way back to the Tropical Sun Inn, we dropped by the Rancho Sta. Monica (a.k.a. Rancho Mitra) and, while feeling on top of the world, have a breathtaking, panoramic view of Palawan, the greenest of green as far as your eyes can see, and try the Zipline Adventure; Kris also did). The Rancho is where the house of the late Sen. Ramon Mitra is, now unoccupied. Along the way back, take a quick look-see of Baker’s Hill where you can buy some pasalubong for folks back home (delicious hopia and other native delicacies).

[PHOTO- Wearing a life vest as a safety measure, Kris didn’t mind getting wet in the rain on the boat ride to the PPUR.]

= There’s also Vietville, the site set up for Vietnamese refugees by former First Lady Imelda R. Marcos. We learned that while some of the refugees have left for other countries, most of them have opted to stay.

= We also visited the school managed by Sister Catherine and her group, with 50 students from poor families (farmers and fishermen) as stay-in scholars, doing household chores…and more, such as gardening, etc…. during their spare time. The classes are conducted by volunteer teachers in five cottages in front of the main building. The school is affiliated with Angelicum (Quezon City).

Whew!!! Tiresome but uplifting. Four days were just not enough for us to cover other attractions of Palawan, such as El Nido which is eight hours boat ride to and from where we stayed. Oh well, there’s always a next time! Soon!!!



[PHOTO -The entrance to the PPUR. Right: This motor boat can take you on an exciting ride during the Honda Bay island hopping. Below: For pasalubong of delicious native goodies, visit the Baker’s Hill in Barangay Sta. Monica at the outskirts of Puerto Princesa.]








Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved