Keeping Paradise

Saving the country’s last frontier
(1st in a series)

This isn’t my first time to Palawan but I still get excited every time. Who wouldn’t? It’s a special place.

This time around it’s Apulit, which, according to our guide means castaway. Frankly, I wouldn’t mind being one if it means waking up to this view every day.

It’s actually a back-to-back weekend getaway for me. Fresh from our Liwliwa escapade the week before, this seemed to be the icing on top of the cake.

Part of the El Nido Resorts group, Apulit is just one of the other resorts in the area being maintained by the Ayala‘s – one of the Philippines‘ richest and most influential families. The others being Pangulasian, Lagen and Miniloc. It’s formerly known as Club Noah Isabelle, a little trivia I learned from Monique, the company’s environment representative while on a chit-chat with her on our boat ride to the town of Taytay on the way back.

The latest resort the Ayala’s are developing is Lio. It even has its own airport – an effort to make the resorts more accessible to the people by creating a vital corridor linking the properties. Our first breakfast in Palawan is in Lio, at Casa Kalaw.

With the development however, is the focus on sustainability. Don’t get me wrong, the very first time I was in El Nido was probably about 5 or 6 years back, in Pangulasian, and the resort is already on it doing the sustainability thing. However, because of the seeming apathy from governments and big businesses about the worsening climate crisis, this mantra has gotten louder and has become a more pressing issue now more than ever.

It only makes sense that stakeholders ensure a healthy and vibrant ecosystem, and that any development have the least or zero impact to the environment. With pristine, paradise-like environment as its main draw, one can say that the industry’s survival hinges on nature itself. It is, therefore, to the best interest of everyone – businesses, tourists, local communitiesto take care of the environment. It’s a huge challenge, for sure, but I admire the effort to really commit to the advocacy.

Climate change is a hot topic nowadays and yet, still, maybe not hot enough to make huge strides on a policy level. It is up to ordinary people and especially those who have money and influence to spearhead these movements. Everyone can do something in his or her own little way but especially if there is a concerted effort from all sectors can we only make a deep and lasting impact.

Hence, I applaud the effort being done to engage everyone in this. Part of our activity is to plant trees in certain areas of the mountain where we also hiked to the top of and where there’s a newly-built viewing deck.

I love the fact that this tree-planting activity is not just ‘planting for planting’s sake’ but that there is a lot of research that went into as well. It considers the types of plants or trees to be planted which are basically those that are endemic to the area. This activity would have been a defeated purpose if otherwise. In fact, I probably would have opted out had it been any different.

It was a quick breakfast in Lio as we had to prepare for the long drive to the dock in Taytay, our jump off point to Apulit.

We were learning a lot from our guide. Taytay is an old town, he says. It even has an old Spanish fort built near the docks, it being Queen Isabelle‘s favorite pit stop back in the day in her visits to this area en route to Puerto Princesa. The fort was built through forced labor (polo y servicio) by Filipinos.

We also passed by cliffs where, according to our guide, eggs from a certain specie of bird are harvested to make nido soup. Have not tasted one myself but I assume it’s good. Probably expensive because of its rarity and the difficulty of sourcing the main ingredient.

Upon arrival, we had some small snacks and refreshments. This, while waiting for the boat ride.

So, are you ready to see paradise? Details in the next article coming soon.

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Inspiration Meets Fun at Liwliwa Beach, Zambales

2nd of 2 parts

I maybe wrong but depending on who you talk to or which online reference you are checking, liwliwa in Ilocano could mean delight, inspiration or recreational fun. Ilocano refers to both the dialect and the people of this particular region where Zambales province is located.

Whatever the case, any of those adjectives mentioned at the outset would perfectly fit Liwliwa. It is all of that.

If you think yesterday’s spectacle of the sunset is bomb enough, think again. I, myself, did not expect this view. I mean, look at this.

A part of me is saying, ‘don’t spread the word just yet’, fearing this piece of paradise would not last long enough once people get wind. But part of me is also saying, ‘how could you not share such beauty?’ Urgh! I’m torn.

One has to be in awe and deep appreciation knowing this beauty in front of us is a product of a tragic event from decades ago. This part of the country was almost erased from the map by a powerful volcanic eruption of a mountain called Pinatubo who laid dormant for hundreds of years, the effects of which were felt worldwide and for years later.

Global temperature dropped and a more-than-the-usual clear glow of sunsets and sunrises were observed in different places. So powerful, in fact, it wiped out two of America’s largest bases this side of the Pacific (the Subic Naval Base in Zambales and Clark Air Base in Pampanga), prompting their eventual turnover to the Philippine government.

I wish for this place to have good management and care so as not to go the way of Boracay – the now poster child for anything that could go wrong to a perfect island by overcrowding and lack of strong, effective regulation.

It was almost lunch time so we went back to the resort to prepare for check-out, the Kapitan’s Liwa.

I wouldn’t let this article pass without having to mention one of our newfound friends – this cute labrador called Whiskey.

Being part of the owners’ family, he is a mainstay at the resort. He does a good job entertaining guests 😊👍💯🐶

Isn’t he the sweetest thing? Aaawww…

After check-out we transferred to Riverside again for lunch. I couldn’t be more excited, actually. We are having a boodle fight! 😀

There’s nothing more fulfilling and satisfying to me than using my own bare hands for eating, especially if served with Filipino food. Oh, delicious. We had ginataang sitaw at kalabasa, pinaupong manok and lumpiang shanghai.

So, are you drooling yet? 😀

It’s amusing to see our Dutch friends try their hands on… well, literally hands on the food (no pun intended) 😁👍

Afterwards, we were toured around the premises.

The owners planted coconuts and other types of plants which provide different kinds of practical uses – as source of food, shade, even aesthetics. This tree stump, for example, as simple as it looks, add interesting character to the place especially with mushrooms growing around its trunk.

You can paddleboard your way to the beach via the river

I love how this place is so in touch with nature. There is never a more pressing time for us to go sustainable given the climate crisis we are facing. It is my fervent hope that places like this remain for future generations to enjoy.

My 7,107 | Sabang, Palawan – 1st of 2 Parts

Day 2 – Sabang and environs

First order of business: visit Sabang’s rainforest and one of the World’s Newest Natural Wonders – Puerto Princesa Underground River, formerly known as the St. Paul Subterranean River.

From the resort, we walked to the nearest port and took a boat ride going to the island where the underground river is located.

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Going there we passed by some of the interesting geologic rock formations unique to this region – limestone cliffs. They look amazing. It’s like being transported to a different world.

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Before going to the river, you first need to go through a lush jungle where you will meet some of the amazing wildlife like monkeys and monitor lizards. It is advisable not to bring food or show transparent plastic bags with colorful items inside as the monkeys might think they are food. And I’m not sure if it’s true, but we were also advised not to smile with teeth showing as the monkeys might get too comfortable and would get too close.

These monkeys are known for stealing food from tourists, and they can be insistent, we were told.

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I’m not a big fan of monitor lizards, or anything reptilian in nature for that matter, but just to give a little bit of a trivia, these monitor lizards are close relatives of Indonesia’s komodo dragons, only smaller. Still, these creatures, just like any other, should be treated with respect. It is wise to keep a safe distance. These lizards have potent bacteria in their mouths that could prove lethal to humans if bitten.

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The Sabang rainforest is one of the last remaining holdouts of virgin rainforests in the country, and they are under constant threat from illegal loggers and greedy corporations.

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It is a sad state for our rainforests. In fact, I believe statistics show that the Philippines is the only country in SE Asia who has now lost more than 80 to 90% (?) of its rainforests. Such disappointing figures. I wish people and the government would do more to reverse the trend before it’s too late.

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Now we arrive at the UR (Underground River).

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Our guides assisted us to our boats and took some pictures before we headed off inside. I was assigned to be the “light bearer” as I have to put the spot on some of the stone structures (upon instruction from the guide himself) while he describes the form or image of the stones we are seeing. Better prepare yourself with big imagination when you come here.

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Unfortunately, I was not able to take pictures because it was dark inside. Photos would only come out as blobs and patches and blurred images. A word of caution though, when gazing at the amazing structures, refrain from opening your mouth as these caves are also home to bats – lots and lots of bats. And you know what that means – lots and lots of “guano” (bat poop). So, you’ve been warned.

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Another exciting part of the itinerary is the Sabang zipline.

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This is a first for me so I couldn’t be more excited. We took a boat ride to go to the other island where the zipline is. We first registered at the foot of the hill known as the Central Park Station, which is also near the beach.

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From here, we trekked up hill following the trail leading up to the station where the zipline starts. The view from this spot is breathtaking.

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All the exhaustion from the trek faded away. It was more a fun ride than a scary ride for me. Taking all that scenery in could not have felt more satisfying. And this goes for the scenery at the other end of the line as well, as you can see below.

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My only regret is that I wasn’t able to take a video of me while going down the beach as I thought I turned the video on, but did not. Darn!

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The last leg of this itinerary before we headed back to the resort for lunch was the Sabang River Mangrove Boat Tour.

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This tour is more chill, more relaxed, more classroom setting. And we got mangrove lesson 101, complete with scientific names to boot, which, I, as expected, would have forgotten by now. Family Boceferra something, something…

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Notice how the roots get exposed during low tide.

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If you would notice closely, you will see a yellow-striped snake coiled on one of the branches

More importantly though, is that after this tour, we were able to understand how important the role these mangrove trees play in our ecosystem. Mangrove trees only appear in tropical countries along riverbeds that have the perfect ratio of fresh and saltwater. Too much saltwater can stunt the growth of these trees. But here in Sabang, they thrive and flourish and form extensive jungle networks. These riverbeds are full of nutrients and they act as fish nurseries and as natural barrier from predators. So when mangrove jungles thrive, fish populations thrive as well. Only in the Philippines do mangrove trees grow these tall.

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There is another practical purpose for these mangrove forests. They act as natural barriers from storm surges. Our guide says if Tacloban had kept their mangrove forests intact, it would have helped mitigate the effects of typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda).

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A little bit of trivia: Mangrove trees/forests in the vernacular is called “bakawan”. What do you call a single mangrove tree, then? This is the question posed by our guide and we were all clueless as to the answer. We even thought he was joking, thinking it was some kind of play on words (baka-“one”, “two”,”three”, get it?). Well, the answer is “bakaw”. So, there. Now you know 😉

Second half of the day was free time. We started with lunch and then swam at the pool, swam at the beach, did some kayaking, others played volleyball, made sand castles, took pictures (lots of pictures) and then waited till dinner. It was buffet, buffet, buffet, every time. Oh man, it was the good life. To top it off and to really dig into the R&R mode, I treated myself to a spa. The hard pressure applied loosens stiff muscles, relieving stress. It was sensual. And I was knocked out.

To be continued…

My 7,107 | Puerto Princesa, Palawan

Palawan is picture-perfect.

Although it is not immune to the trappings of the modern world, its relative isolation helped it to somehow fend off excessive commercialization and environmental degradation. True, economic progress and conservation usually do not meet eye to eye, and surely the province has been a battle ground for many a war fought in this field. There are victors and losers, with tables probably turned every now and then. But as I have observed, Palaweños are generally the nature-lover bunch, for practical reasons. With travel and tourism as the province’s main draw, the people stand to benefit from caring for the environment and its natural wonders.

And so I came back to Palawan, the country’s last frontier, to enjoy and bask in its wonders and its beautiful, uncluttered beaches. The heat in the Metro is at an all-time high and there is no better time to go swimming. Destination: Sabang!

We took an AirAsia flight to Puerto Princesa, the capital. First stop on our itinerary is the crocodile farm. Upon entering the PWRCC (Philippine Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center) main lobby, we were greeted with a skeleton of a huge crocodile.

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Its skin was laid flat and hung on the wall. The guide says the skin of older crocodiles tend to be tougher and so are not ideal for creating wallets, bags, etc. That belongs to younger crocs who have softer skin. So this oldie’s skin might have to stay here for a little longer.

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There’s another one hanging on the other side painted with different colors of what seemed like tribal markings, maybe for aesthetic or art purposes.

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The guide also says this particular croc (the one whose skeleton is on display) and the biggest and longest one on record found in the Agusan marsh -“Lolong”, both died of the same reason – stress. This elicited lots of laughs because as humans, we only know too well how to feel stressed. And if these fearsome, magnificent creatures can only be downed by something as mundane as stress, then who are we humans to feel superior against it. We’ve all heard it said over and over: “Nakamamatay ang stress” (stress kills). Even the mighty crocodiles are no match to it.

Next we visited the hatchery where we see baby crocs, of course. The house smelled of croc pee.

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Then we moved on to where the full grown monsters are. When you scroll down farther below, you will see how this group of crocs form what seemed like crocodile pinwheel.

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After this, you get to have a chance to have photo op with or have your picture taken with a baby croc and get a souvenir picture. This leg of the tour gives you chance to relax and buy some refreshments like buko (coconut) juice and ice cream.

Next we went to Palawan’s Millionaire’s Row, where the Mitra estate/ranch (of the former House Speaker of the Philippine Congress) is located. This is also called the Sta. Monica Ranch. The property overlooks Honda Bay, another famous tourist destination. It’s an ideal spot for picnics.

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Just a few minutes’ drive away is Baker’s Hill where you find different breads and pastries like hopia, butterscotch, pianono, etc., and the famous local product – kasuy (cashew).

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Afterwards we went to another local market where you can buy more native produce like dried or sweet & spicy pusit, dilis, dried danggit and more nuts. Also you can buy local handicrafts and souvenir items. Everything is at a more affordable price here.

It was a fun yet exhausting first half of the itinerary. Before we proceeded to the resort where we will be staying, we first had lunch at KaLui. It’s a traditionally-themed restaurant with an artistic vibe, and has lots of organic and native artworks everywhere. We were even asked to remove our shoes and slippers as is commonly practiced in traditional Filipino homes.

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The food is also good. I particularly liked the fish fillet with mango tartare and the “lato” (seaweed). After having our tummies filled, it’s time for us to go to the resort. It was a long drive – about an hour and a half to 2 hours, depending on how fast the drive is. I think all of us dozed off because of exhaustion. We couldn’t have been more excited to reach the destination as we all feel like freshening up and retire to our rooms.

We had dinner at 6 – buffet dinner. Felt bloated afterwards. Swam at the pool. Had a few drinks. Wasted, at the end of the day 😛

To be continued…