Riding the Roof of the Palawan bus to the Underground River

Palawan’s Underground River: One Really, Really Big Cave



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The last stop in Palawan for Preston’s visit was the UNESCO World Heritage site of Sabang and the Underground River. After an eight hour ride on the “dust bus”, we lucked out and caught the last jeepney for the day in to Sabang. We woke up early the next morning to hike the “jungle trail” and arrive at the Underground River where we learned how to tell which rocks looked like Bart Simpson. Kind of like a geological Rorschach test.

  • Sabang & Underground River, Palawan  - February 2005

    Sabang & Underground River, Palawan - February 2005
    After catching the small plane in to El Nido, Preston and I took the 8 to 14 hour "dust bus" to Puerto Princesa, though we hopped off in Sabang to check out the Underground River there.

  • Sabang & Underground River, Palawan  - February 2005

    Sabang & Underground River, Palawan - February 2005
    It may be hard to spot the accumulated dust in this photo, but it's there. My hair felt like steel wool from the grittiness.

  • Sabang & Underground River, Palawan  - February 2005

    Sabang & Underground River, Palawan - February 2005
    On the narrow streets of Taytay, this jeepney barely squeezed by the oversized dust bus.

  • Sabang & Underground River, Palawan  - February 2005

    Sabang & Underground River, Palawan - February 2005
    After about eight hours on the bus, we hopped off at the town of Salvacion and luckily caught the last jeepney to Sabang and the Underground River for the day. The only down side was that the inside of the jeep was full so we had to ride on the roof again. It wasn't dusty though and the views on the hour long ride to Sabang were spectacular.

  • Sabang & Underground River, Palawan  - February 2005

    Sabang & Underground River, Palawan - February 2005
    The closer we got to Sabang, the more dramatic limestone outcrops (like this one pictured here) we could see from the jeepney.

  • Sabang & Underground River, Palawan  - February 2005

    Sabang & Underground River, Palawan - February 2005
    We also spotted this roadside chariot improvised with a caribou and two bamboo sticks.

  • Sabang & Underground River, Palawan  - February 2005

    Sabang & Underground River, Palawan - February 2005
    We went with Lonely Planet's top pick for accommodations, and although the place was overpriced and not very nice, they did have this nice rocky beach in front. (click here for a close up view of the this photo).

  • Sabang & Underground River, Palawan  - February 2005

    Sabang & Underground River, Palawan - February 2005
    Evidently the tide comes at least up to this rock.

  • Sabang & Underground River, Palawan  - February 2005

    Sabang & Underground River, Palawan - February 2005
    This little saltwater stream was flowing with the outgoing tide.

  • Sabang & Underground River, Palawan  - February 2005

    Sabang & Underground River, Palawan - February 2005
    The pattern made by the small dunes in the early morning sun caught my eye.

  • Sabang & Underground River, Palawan  - February 2005

    Sabang & Underground River, Palawan - February 2005
    After breakfast Preston and I hiked via the jungle trail to the Underground River. On the trail we spotted this tree with roots that stretch from the branches above and attached themselves to the ground.

  • Sabang & Underground River, Palawan  - February 2005

    Sabang & Underground River, Palawan - February 2005
    Just as we were preparing to motor out of El Nido, this pack of tricycles appeared.

  • Sabang & Underground River, Palawan  - February 2005

    Sabang & Underground River, Palawan - February 2005
    The jungle hike was pretty hot, but luckily was only about three or four miles to reach the Underground River.

  • Sabang & Underground River, Palawan  - February 2005

    Sabang & Underground River, Palawan - February 2005
    At the entrance to the trail was this sign, I need to ask which Peace Corps volunteer was involved with this project.

  • Sabang & Underground River, Palawan  - February 2005

    Sabang & Underground River, Palawan - February 2005
    These ants formed tightly regimented lines just like the ones on the jungle hike Steve, Alex and I took in the Taman Negara rainforest in Malaysia.

  • Sabang & Underground River, Palawan  - February 2005

    Sabang & Underground River, Palawan - February 2005
    This is the first UNESCO World Heritage site that I've been to that required a hard hat.

  • Sabang & Underground River, Palawan  - February 2005

    Sabang & Underground River, Palawan - February 2005
    Rules, rules, rules.

  • Sabang & Underground River, Palawan  - February 2005

    Sabang & Underground River, Palawan - February 2005
    Our guide paddled the bangka boat into the opening of the cave, and then began to chatter away incessantly about his observations of what the rock formations looked like to him.

  • Sabang & Underground River, Palawan  - February 2005

    Sabang & Underground River, Palawan - February 2005
    The rock formations were indeed awesome, but I wish the guide would have let us enjoy the surroundings in quiet. Instead, we were treated to visual puns such as "Yes, here we have a celebrity rock--yes, it is Sharon Stone!!!" Hardy-har-har!

  • Sabang & Underground River, Palawan  - February 2005

    Sabang & Underground River, Palawan - February 2005
    Even in the dimly lit interior of the underground river our guide, Chatty McChattin's, pointed out which rocks looked like dogs, chickens, and various religious relics to him. At the periphery of the light we could see literally thousands of bats flitting around and screeching in their eerie voices.

  • Sabang & Underground River, Palawan  - February 2005

    Sabang & Underground River, Palawan - February 2005
    It was possible to hear the droning memorized Underground River tour observations coming even from this passing boat. Hopefully they will improve the quality of the guide training for this site, it really takes away from the impact of the natural beauty.

  • Sabang & Underground River, Palawan  - February 2005

    Sabang & Underground River, Palawan - February 2005
    Finally the tour was over, and I had even seen a rock that supposedly resembled "The Bart Simpson."

  • Sabang & Underground River, Palawan  - February 2005

    Sabang & Underground River, Palawan - February 2005
    Out poured what looked like a student travel group who posed for a group photo before getting on the bus.

  • Sabang & Underground River, Palawan  - February 2005

    Sabang & Underground River, Palawan - February 2005
    This may have been the first tour that I've been on where I didn't learn anything about the place I was visiting.

  • Sabang & Underground River, Palawan  - February 2005

    Sabang & Underground River, Palawan - February 2005
    Waiting at the boat landing for the return trip to Sabang was a pack of scavenging monkeys. Don't pull out that bag of Skittles in front of this rapscallion!

  • Sabang & Underground River, Palawan  - February 2005

    Sabang & Underground River, Palawan - February 2005
    Joining the marauding monkeys were a few of these paleolithic looking monitor lizards. They are rare in the Philippines now because people like to eat them. I haven't eaten one yet, though if this fellow ate my bag of imported Cheetos I might find reason enough to roast him. Actually, they are endangered, so I definitely wouldn't eat one. They also don't look very good to eat in the first place.

  • Sabang & Underground River, Palawan  - February 2005

    Sabang & Underground River, Palawan - February 2005
    Unfortunately our jeepney that was scheduled to take us back to Puerto Princesa broke down and we had to hire this bus to take us in to town in time to catch our flight to Cebu the next morning.

  • Sabang & Underground River, Palawan  - February 2005

    Sabang & Underground River, Palawan - February 2005
    Luckily we decided to walk back from the Underground River and didn't pay the exorbitant boat fee so we had enough money to pay for the exorbitant bus fee. You see, there are not many ATM machines on Palawan, and between us Preston and I had about a little under $20 in cash which barely covered the trip in to Puerto.

  • Sabang & Underground River, Palawan  - February 2005

    Sabang & Underground River, Palawan - February 2005
    Puerto Princesa is a great town, and like most places, has its own unique tricycle design.

  • Sabang & Underground River, Palawan  - February 2005

    Sabang & Underground River, Palawan - February 2005
    For our last dinner in Palawan we tried out the highly recommended Kalui Restaurant. Preston liked it so much he even paid the whole tab for the meal. Thanks brah!

  • Sabang & Underground River, Palawan  - February 2005

    Sabang & Underground River, Palawan - February 2005
    Also highly recommended was Casa Linda Inn, where we stayed the night in Puerto. We even ran into the Belgian family who were our neighbors at our Dara Fernandez bungalow in El Nido. Small world.

  • Sabang & Underground River, Palawan  - February 2005

    Sabang & Underground River, Palawan - February 2005
    While the students were loading their luggage on to the dust bus, Kris and Kristen jogged by on their morning run.

  • Sabang & Underground River, Palawan  - February 2005

    Sabang & Underground River, Palawan - February 2005
    Since there is more room to stretch your legs on the upper deck, Preston and I rode on the roof of the bus for the first part of the trip out of El Nido. The main downside to this is that if you are behind another bus on the dirt road, the dust can be absolutely suffocating. In this photo though, the skies were clear, and the only worry was sunburn.

  • Sabang & Underground River, Palawan  - February 2005

    Sabang & Underground River, Palawan - February 2005
    The conductor of the bus chose to ride the roof like a surf board, we stayed at the back where there was a low bench to sit on.

  • Sabang & Underground River, Palawan  - February 2005

    Sabang & Underground River, Palawan - February 2005
    A few other people were on the roof with us, in this shot you can see the infamous cloud of dust billowing behind the bus as it sped along the dirt road.

  • Sabang & Underground River, Palawan  - February 2005

    Sabang & Underground River, Palawan - February 2005
    The open dirt road just waiting to be turned into a maelstrom of swirling dust by the speeding bus.

  • Sabang & Underground River, Palawan  - February 2005

    Sabang & Underground River, Palawan - February 2005
    Once we hit the main paved roads and before the bus started to really move fast, we climbed down from the roof and got a seat inside.