When the city life is pressing down on us, it might help to take a short trip to places of natural wonder. It will not only break the boring and heavy routine, it may relax our senses and put us back into perspective. Thank God our country has so many and choosing which to visit may not be a problem. The Underground River in Palawan may be one of the best options we have.
Hidden in one of the coves of the island of Palawan is the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, an underground river that stretches under a huge solid rock mass. It is regarded as one of the new wonders of the modern world and inscribed as one of UNESCO’s world heritage sites in the Philippines. It is a protected area and visit is regulated by the local government. Permits are issued to tourists when they opt to visit. For normal tourists, only the first kilometer is covered. For other purposes such as research, special permits are obtained from the local government.
Choosing to enter the dark stretch of the underground river may present a plethora of experiences, and perhaps emotions. Here are five things you might want to consider when you enter the cave:
1. Imagine. The stalactites and stalagmites (do you know the difference?) are mere rocks for the unimaginative. They come to life, however, for the creatively sound mind. The boatman will trigger your minds by suggesting how rocks look like but it is totally up to you to go beyond that. Don’t shy away from blurting what you think the rock looks like.
2. Look for Life. Although it is pitch dark inside, life has managed to conquer the cave and adapted to the environment. Look for bats hanging upside down and for small birds in the crevices of the cave. Careful not to open your mouth when you look up to avoid bat poop from getting inside your system.
3. Learn. Although you are taking the trip to relax and free yourself from the toxic metropolis, consider this an opportunity to learn new things. You may be interested to learn how the bats communicate and look for food inside a lightless environment, or how the underground river came to be. Whatever it is, knowing a thing or two makes your trip two steps better.
4. Communicate. When you want to learn something, ask. When you wish to have a second glance at structures, request the one holding the flashlight to point to the direction you want. Being too quiet may be too eerie. Being too noisy, on the other hand, may not sit well with your fellow tourists and to the natural inhabitants of the cave. Communicate well.
5. Share. Share your experiences with your friends when you get back home, not to make them envious, but to encourage them to try it themselves, this time with a dose of your own prescription. Do not overdo it, however, because you might spoil the fun and adventure you want them to experience firsthand.
And yes, visiting the underground river, or any other destination, is best with friends and family. The first time I visited the place was in 2011 and it was my first solo trip. This time, I was with a bunch of funny and adventurous friends and it was so much fun!