With about a week and a half left to go in the Philippines, Teresa and I were seeking something remote and exotic. That’s not to say that anywhere else we’d visited in the Philippines didn’t boast these, and many more, attractive characteristics. The Cordillera Administrative Region, the Ifugao Mountain Province, the Camotes Islands, Cebu, and Bohol each featured their own unique appeal and I would go back to each and every one of them in a second. But we’d heard Palawan was sparsely populated and far off to the west, almost touching Borneo, a place very close to our hearts. We’d also heard there were varied travel options for visitors of all kinds and the opportunity to find some remote beaches unlike any we’d ever seen. Our information wasn’t lacking in that regard.
The flight from Cebu City over the sparkling blue Sulu Sea took around an hour and had us landing at Puerto Princesa International Airport. The capital of the island province, Puerto Princesa is relatively small with numerous accommodation options within a five to ten minute tricycle ride from the little airport. After flagging down a driver, we looked at a couple of places we had in mind before settling on a motel-like guesthouse setup. Like many other places in the Philippines at that time, it seemed to be low season as very few guests were staying there.
The lady at the front desk was able to connect us with a motorcycle dealer, this time with an actual pamphlet listing the different options and the prices. This was as organized and visual as I’d ever seen it in Southeast Asia. Most of the time, someone gives someone else a call and a random motorbike shows up at your doorstep. Sometimes there is only one rear-view mirror, sometimes none; sometimes the space under the seat can hold two backpacks, other times it can barely hold a single item of clothing. The only choice you ever got was gear or automatic. To have these additional options was beneficial, but we still just wound up going with the cheapest option available. For the length of driving we wound up doing, this was a poor choice and one that I would greatly regret the next day.
While we were waiting for the bike to show up, we needed to register for the activity we planned to do the following day. We were going to drive two hours to Sabang and visit the famed Underground/Subterranean River. This UNESCO World Heritage site is visited by almost everyone who comes to Palawan as a tourist.
Beforehand, you have to go to the Puerto Princesa City Coliseum and pay for a permit. It cost us around $10 each, nothing outrageous. Another tricycle took us to the Coliseum and back to our guesthouse where the motorbike was waiting.
It was your standard automatic scooter. It gets you where you need to go and you have to be a little more gentle with it; the thin, precarious wheels can’t handle a great deal of pressure and the friction of sharp turns is terrible on the spokes and the wheel rim. Long distances aren’t the greatest idea either…
That evening, we set out to explore the town of around 225,000. There were two intersecting streets that seemed to be the busiest: Rizal Ave and Puerto Princesa South Road. The airport is on Rizal, and the route out of the city and into the lush green surroundings is via PPS Road. We went north up PPS Road to a little Indian restaurant we’d passed on the way to the Coliseum. I’m always skeptical of the authenticity of foreign food restaurants, but this place nailed it. It’s called Lale Restaurant and the cuisine here is incredible. The flavours are on point and there are numerous vegetarian options as well. Everything is cooked fresh. We asked our waitress about the restaurant, pointing out how much we enjoyed everything. She told us the chef is a Filipino lady with some real skill in the culinary arts. It was never busy, but the three times we wound up going there were always people inside. An Australian couple had arrived as we left, thinking about going in for the vegetarian food but unsure as to how good it was. After talking to us, they weren’t hesitating to go inside.
It doesn’t take long for the traffic to thin out in the evening in Puerto Princesa. PPS Road remains fairly busy, but Rizal and all of the inner streets are much more deserted and made for some relaxing driving. It didn’t take us long to explore a large chunk of the city. In our down time, if we weren’t sipping on an espresso in a café while reading, we were cruising around town. Everywhere we went people were friendly towards us. The streets were always bustling during the day and early evening hours.
The next morning was an early one that would see us leaving the city after a 6 AM breakfast. The forecast looked incredible: it was warming up, our surroundings were changing from dusty shacks and shopping centres to trees, high hills, and peaceful looking rice paddies. The beauty of it all was amplified by knowing we’d be progressing towards a new destination, one with natural offerings and a distant mystique that had our imaginations running wild the closer we got. This feeling wouldn’t last, though. Not today, not this time around. We were about to face a day-crippling setback. In the middle of rural Palawan, there are very limited options when it comes to fixing a blown out motorbike tire.