After two forced days of bed rest, I was determined not to miss any more time, and we booked a day trip to the nearby subterranean river. Another famous Philippine sight, the river runs through a cave complex not far from Puerto Princesa.
The area surrounding the river is worth a visit too – we came across a number of monitor lizards on a nearby trail whilst waiting for our permit time, and lots of cheeky monkeys swung on overhead branches and wandered onto the trail to say hello. Unfortunately, this was where we began to lose patience with our guide.
We were in a group with Filipino tourists, some of whom were afraid of the monkeys. Instead of encouraging them to wait at the start (it was called ‘monkey trail’ after all…), or telling them to walk calmly through, he decided to scare the monkeys away instead for them. Using a big branch for poking, making a huge amount of noise and jumping around. I was really cross, particularly as this was a protected area for animals, which he found highly hilarious. His tip flew swiftly out the window…
Soon our group was called, and we settled into our boat before floating off into the cave system. The underground river is a fantastic trip, with bright yet milky turquoise water contrasting with the marbled walls, fading to black as we entered the mouth of the cave. Inside, it opened up into huge caverns, high ceilinged and full of bats napping happily. Our boatman clearly loved his job, and every formation looked like something to him (well, mostly variations on Jesus to be more precise). We travelled about one and a half kilometres into the system – the maximum possible for the 45 minute slot allocated to each boat, and the peaceful drifting, with just a small light to highlight interesting features, was really enjoyable.
The following day we finally got to do some island hopping. Heading to Honda Bay, we took a boat to two of the main islands, soft sand melting into clear cool water. Although the reefs had been partially damaged, there were some amazing fish barely metres from the shore, and we spent hours happily snorkeling, surrounded by huge shoals of fish and trying (rather unsuccessfully…!) to snap some pictures.
The islands themselves were equally gorgeous, fringed with palm trees with whole sections being covered/uncovered by water as the tides changed. Our final stop of the day was a coral reef in the middle of the island group, and this was less damaged, with some beautiful coral colours, and many fantastic fish, urchins and starfish swimming all around us. Exhausted by the end by swimming through and against the current, we were happy to fall into bed when we returned, but it was a wonderful time.
We spent our final day in town, looking around the city museum, which we had entirely to ourselves, and finding ways to avoid the hot sun.
Although it hadn’t originally been on our itinerary, spending some time on Palawan was hugely enjoyable, and we could easily have had another week there, travelling around a little. Accommodation was the cheapest of all the places we visited in the Philippines, there was a wealth of restaurants and plenty of day trips.
But all too soon our time was up, and after killing a final day in Manila, we said goodbye to the Philippines.