Saturday, November 27, 2010

Minalungao National Park

Minalungao is like a well kept secret mostly known to the people in Nueva Ecija.  It is best reached using a 4x4 wheel drive or a large vehicle.  Locals however, have used tricylces but the bumpy and unpaved roads could make the travel a lot longer.  It takes about 45 minutes to an hour from the city of Gapan, and one has to consider the muddy road.

Minalungao was declared a national park in 1967.  The park has a river which local folks use to transport firewood, coal and other local produce.  One can also see local women washing clothes by the river banks, water buffalo swimming in its crystal clear waters or children simply enjoying the cool, flowing water.  The deeper portions of the river has about 16 meters of limestone walls on both sides leading to a cave. Locals are easily available to guide any adventurer wishing to enter the cave.  One need not worry about locals overcharging any tourist.  The local government support also paved the way for the construction of some walkways, make shift bridge and raft to make the place more accessible.

To go to this place, it is best to bring your own provisions.  There are no restaurants, no potable water, and definitely best if one brings floatational devices.  There are no fees collected as this place is unspoilt - yet.  It is also best to travel on a sunny day, for the muddy roads may hamper travel.  There are no directions leading to the park, only steep and narrow roads with overgrown vegetation.  The limestones leading to the cave is passable but great care should be taken as a single misstep can lead one to the rocky and deep waters of the river.  Now, isn't this exciting enough?

And what is even more exciting is the food trip.  We discovered really delicious cassava cake (try Don Benito's), fried pugo, fried itik, adobong lama-loob ng pugo and freshly baked mulawin pandesal. 

And what makes this trip a special one?  It's the added opportunity to bond with friends so bring as many friends as possible.  The laughter echoes along the limestones...  memories worth your while and worth keeping.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Pristine Palawan

A lot of good things have been written about Puerto Princesa and they are all true.  This rustic, majestic place, albeit now tourist comfy, still offers beauty and wonder way beyond what pictures can capture.

I have been doing a lot of traveling and the web has been my constant source in planning for an adventure.  So if one wanderlust clicks on this site, I hope I am able to share my experience and pick a tip or two.  

Tara na byahe tayo!

Budget fares are heaven sent.  Friends were able to book a P900.00 two-way airfare to Puerto Princesa via Zest Air.  It's a steal!  Never mind the bumpy (airpockets aplenty on theway to Puerto Princesa) ride and the Zesto juice drink.  Yup, you read it right.  Zest Air offers Zesto juice.  And they give out the free drink after they offer you drinks for sale.  It's a cheap flight so no complaints.  Anyway, PAL offers Skyflakes and roasted highland legumes so there's really not much difference.

One thing I notice at the Puerto Princesa airport is there is no "welcome to puerto princesa" sign.  So kodak-ers like u
s were disappointed.  Tricycles abound, there's a queue and it's flat rate so no need to haggle.  P50.00 to the city for a group of four aint bad anyway.  Enterprising travel companies give leaflets to everyone.  Did you know that travel agencies give tricycle drivers one kilo of rice for every travel booked?  
We stayed at the Duchess Pension.  It's 20 years old or so and quite homey.  Oh, and do I need to say that there's a cute guy at the travel counter?  The room rates are unbelievable.  P950 for a family room.  There's aircon, tv, hot and cold shower, towels changed everyday, a pillow and blanket.. sorry cant get rid of urban comforts.  They do charge extra P100 for the tv.  For a group of six, we paid around P230 per night.  Not bad at all.

Going to local destinations?  One can always book a trip at a local travel agency (cute travel guy at the counter maybe?) and be worry-free. Just sit back and relax and your friendly travel guide will show you the way. They charge around P1,100 for Honda bay tour and P1,200 to P1,500 for underground river tour. This includes transpo, lunch, entrance fees, boat fee, etc. But sorry cute guy, but we opted to rent a van courtesy of Manong who even gave us pandesal for breakfast. I guess it's food and cheap tours over cute guys. 

Honda means calm sea.  So a trip to Honda bay is a breeze.  There are lots of islands to discover but for a
 day trip, one can only visit about three islands but if swimming at the sea is not an objective, then there could be more islands to explore.  We saw from a distance Lu-Li island (lulubog-lilitaw) which one can see depending on  the tide. Starfish island collects an entrance fee of P40 per person.  And Snake island is free.  We only managed to go to two islands because of the rain and again, because of the food.  Snake island is snake-shaped (now why didnt I think of that?) and the sand is white.  Our boatman accompanied us to go snorkeling.  We brought bread and feeding the fish was totally cool.  Mind you, we swam about 10 meters from the shore and it was already about 50 feet deep.  I know because manong boatman decided to show off by feeding larger fish at the bottom and we couldnt see him when he decided to go for a dive. The only store in the island sells fish and we had grilled fish and twas unbelievably delish...Honda Bay tour takes one full day.  And the best way to end this leg is to dip at the Puerto Princesa hot springs.  Divine.

A trip to Puerto Princesa would never be complete without seeng the underground river.  Best taken very early morning.  Going to the site via local jeeps is not recommended.  T
he road could be a bit bumpy and the wait could be eternal.  It's manong driver again who fetched us at 6:00 a.m. and best without any stop overs.  The kodak moments could wait.  It's a two hour ride to Sabang pier.  We asked manong to get us a permit the day before so we had no trouble getting in line.  Yes, a permit is needed and trips are scheduled.  We were off to the undergound river at 8:30 a.m.  
Now let's talk about the waves.  I have been a traveler and rode boats.  But nothing prepared me for the huge waves.  I mean, they really are huge and boat rides are oftentimes cancelled because of the waves.  So be prepared.  But never fear, you cannot leave the pier without lifejackets, boats aplenty and am sure the boatmen are reliable.  Just enjoy the boatride... see the cool boatmen in uniform?.....

The underground river is an amazing 45 minute tour.  The banca has a spotlight-like lighting device infront.  So if you want to be in control, ride infront.  The guide sits at the back and provides a light narrative of what's inside the river.  So if you are seated infront, you will be tasked to focus on the rock formations.  There's the fruit and vegetable section, the saint like formations, and what have you's.  Our guide was hilarious!  "Nakikita nyo po ba ang batong iyon sa bandang kanan?  Bawal po hawakan yun.  Bakit?  kasi po malayo, baka po tayo tumaob..."  There are a dozen or so boat inside at a given time.  It could be cool inside and you can feel the cold
 wind or it could be foul smelling as bat's dung abound.  The guide ended the tour by welcoming the incoming tourists with this word of caution:  'Tapos na po ang tour namin, kayo naman.  Ingat lang po kasi kanina 15 kaming pumasok dyan ngayon 10 na lang kameeee.....'

Where to eat?  There's Ka Lui where you eat barefoot.  The wooden floors are so nice and so is the ambience.  You need to reserve in advance though. Do you eat wood worm?  Then Kinabooch is the place for you.  They serve the wood worm kinilaw style or fried.  There are regular karinderyas by the roadside and be prepared to eat at a plate with Sandara Park's pic. In or out? On the way back to the city from underground river tour, drop by the Vietnamese Village and eat authentic Vietnamese noodles. But NEVER eat at Jollibee.  Andami nyan sa Manila 'no?

Sidelights and hindsights...
Pearls! They are unbelievably cheap.  Earrings cost P20.  In Davao and Zamboanga the cheapest is P50.

Lotsa kodak-an moments at the Baker's Hill.  They also sell hopia.  Go for a half day city tour and visit the Butterfly garden, the crocodile farm, Mitra's farm, Baker's hill, Iwahig penal colony (and I suggest you buy souvenirs at their shop.  help the inmates help themselves), and the local market where you will find more pearls, dried fish, fruits and cashew nuts. Love the roasted cashew nuts.

And if I have the chance.... I will come back.... to Coron naman, then to Calauit Island zoo...the adventures are endless.