Friday, November 28, 2014

Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park

Our recent trip to Puerto Princesa also allowed us to go to the Underground River again. This was  my third time at this natural wonder that's been recognised as one of the 7 Wonders of Nature. Regardless of the "formal" recognition, it is definitely a wonder of nature and one that is really worth the time and effort to see or experience. Only a short part of the subterranean river is available for the regular tours. Our guide explained that you will need another permit to explore more parts of the river, and an even stricter permit, equipment and guides with higher qualifications to get to the least visited parts of the river. The latter areas are of interest to scientists including geologists and even archeologists and palaeontologists as fossils and cave paintings are supposed to have been found deeper into the mountains. Now that will be something for the more adventurous to try out! While I am curious about the other secrets of the underground river, I am quite satisfied with the experience of the regular tour.

Sign at the jump-off point - Sabang Wharf
Outriggers and their boatmen waiting for their turn to ferry visitors to the Underground River site 
Rock formation as we turn towards the the beaches of the national park where visitors will have to leave their boats to walk towards the river and to board a smaller boat (banca) to tour the river.
Once passengers are off-loaded, boats are maneuvered towards a mooring area. This is to keep the beaches clear for other boats to off-load their passengers.
Boats and their crew waiting for their passengers to return for the trip back to Sabang when we arrived at the national park.
Visitors arrive at the beaches with a backdrop of the impressive rock formations at the national park. 
Pristine waters and excellent weather made for a pleasant tour.
Another sign, this time recognising the national park as a conservation area under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.
Building housing comfort rooms at the park.
The staging area for tours of the river is a short trek from the beaches.
Visitors don safety vests and helmets for the tour. The helmets are pretty useful agains water and other droppings from above as you tour the caves.
A boatful of people enters the underground river as our boat follows.
Writings on the rocks by American troops who re-discovered the underground river and first explored it. I say "re-discovered" because Palawenos already knew about the river and regarded it as a mystical site. There are the only kinds of "graffiti" or vandalisms you will see aside from markers for explorers and scientists inside the caves. Fortunately, tourists have not left their own marks in the subterranean river.
The view of the staging area as we emerge from the underground river.
The river actually empties into the sea but that part of the park is basically off-limits to most visitors - part of the conservation efforts for the area.
We found that the number vessels (and visitors) have ballooned as we made our way back to our boat.
Another look at the boats that have accumulated since we arrived in the area shows just how many visitors come to see the underground river. There is supposed to be a limit in the number of visitors here (one reason why you need to get a permit in advance) but it seems like the local tourism office has allowed more than the limit and that this is happening on a regular basis. I just hope they are able to protect and maintain the national park.
As we set off to return to Sabang, I got a good shot of the rock formation that I have associated with a chess piece - the rook or tower.


Thursday, November 27, 2014

"Unsung heroes" for sustainable transport in the Philippines

A "Bayanihan sa Daan" is being held today at Malacanan. It is supposed to be a recognition of sorts for organisations, local governments and individuals who have contributed or advocated for people-friendly (i.e., pedestrians and bicyclists) roads and cities in the Philippines. I am glad to see some cities that we have assisted or advised being recognised as well as organisations that we have collaborated with who are present at the event. Unlike them, we were not invited to the event nor have we been recognised by the current administration for our efforts in promoting sustainable transport. Perhaps it is because it is a given in our center's mandate and the recognition is really for those who went out of their way to initiate, promote or implement programs and projects for people-friendly transport.

There are names I could mention in our organization who have done a lot for sustainable transport in general, whose works in more than a decade have helped increase awareness on environmentally sustainable transport (EST) among national agencies and local governments and have spawned. They have conducted so many workshops, seminars and consultations with agencies like the DOTC, DPWH, DENR and MMDA, and LGUs including all Metro Manila cities and municipalities, Cebu City, Davao City, Cagayan de Oro City, Baguio City, Iloilo City and others. These were done at a time when these entities had little knowledge of sustainable transport and international agencies were uncertain about whether they should engage and who they should engage for EST and related initiatives. 

I defer from naming these responsible and progressive-minded people as I know they would prefer to remain rather anonymous but working effectively to realize sustainable transport in the Philippines. I do know they are selfless and tireless in their advocacies for sustainable transport unlike others who seem to be on-board because of the bandwagon or because it is fashionable to do so. There are those, too, who seem to be in it for the past many years but are actually only hangers-on and interested more in the funding and not in coming up with sustainable transport systems. I hope that these sustainable transport initiatives can themselves be sustained. It's one thing to be loud about your advocacies and appear as a hardcore proponent but actually ningas cogon and in it for the attention, and another to be a silent worker whose works actually formed the foundation for current initiatives and continue to work behind the scenes to effect EST in the Philippine setting.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Amici at the UP Technohub

A good thing about UP Diliman these days is that the office is quite near to many eating places. These include the restaurants along Maginhawa Street in nearby UP Village and the two Ayala developments on UP - Technohub and Town Center. Among my favorites and particularly at Technohub is Amici. I think that unlike, the other Italian-themed restaurant nearby, it is the real deal in terms of taste or quality. Admittedly, items in the menu are more expensive compared to those in the other restaurants in the area but I assure the reader that its still value for money and that they would definitely be satisfied with their meals.

Amici was originally established and operated by Don Bosco in Makati. It was supposed to be one of the best kept secrets in that part of the urban jungle until it finally was out and franchised. It now has many branches in various malls. It was a welcome addition to the restaurants now located at the Technohub and is my preference whenever we ate there.

Interior of the restaurant includes stained glass dividers
A peak at the kitchen from our table
Interesting lighting
Asian chicken salad
Spaghetti al pomodoro
Quattro stagioni pizza


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Honda Bay island hopping - Cowrie Island

Cowrie Island was not on the itinerary of islands in my previous island hopping trips in Honda Bay. I recall that it was mentioned as a possible itinerary but it was undeveloped at the time (about 4 years ago). This time though, it was the last stop of our island hopping and we found the island already developed for visitors with its cabanas and eating areas able to accommodate the steady stream of tourists going on the Honda Bay packages.

Safety guidelines at the docking area
Our banca was among the first to arrive at the island; affording us time to practically enjoy the island before all the other tourists arrived.
Our early arrival at the island meant there were few people and lots of opportunities for good photos without crowds to ruin the scenery.
Cottages can be rented by groups while they wile away their time at the island, which is usually the last stop in island-hopping tours of Honda Bay.
I took this photo of our hut against the backdrop of pristine waters
Another attempt at a post card photo with my trusty BlackBerry Bold
Despite many people already at the island when I took these photos, there are still opportunities for shots where there's few or no people shown. At right in the photo is the eating area where all visitors converge for their meals (a lunch buffet is set-up in the area).
A jet ski for rent sits in the shade. There are also huts where you can have a soothing massage.
A fallen tree is alive and well, and provides a certain atmosphere.
Drift wood and trees with the main island of Palawan in the background.
Cowrie Island is a good example of a well-preserved and maintained tourist destination contributing to Palawan being regarded as a top island destination in the world. 
This was my 4th island hopping in Honda Bay and I will probably go on this trip every time I have the opportunity to do so whenever I am in Puerto Princesa. It is a good opportunity to enjoy the beaches in those island and the scenery is definitely for recharging your batteries. Palawan is definitely one if not my favourite destination and I am glad that there are opportunities to visit and enjoy the attractions of this island.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Honda Bay island hopping - Luli Island

Our guide told us the Luli stands for "lulubog, lilitaw" that translates roughly into "sinking and surfacing." This is a reference to the islands sandbars that are exposed for most of the day and especially during low tides and submerged during high tides.

The sign on the island is obviously popular with visitors for souvenir photos.
Long stretch of fine white sands at Luli Island
There's a warning sign on the beach stating "no swimming allowed" in an area where poisonous jellyfish and stonefish have been found. There is a line and net separating areas safe for swimming from areas where its risky to take a dip.
Another warning sign along the long sand bar at Luli Island reminding visitors about the hazards in the area.
Pristine waters and sands of Luli Island with the literal "footprints in the sand" in the photo

We spent a few minutes swimming, wading and walking at Luli Island. By the time we got there, there were already a lot of other visitors at the island and the swimming area was quite crowded. We decided to leave earlier to head for the last island in our itinerary - Cowrie Island.

Honda Bay island hopping - Starfish Island

Back in Palawan after almost 5 years, we made sure we had time to go on island hopping in Honda Bay. This was my fourth time but it was always an enjoyable activity to go to some of the islands of Puerto Princesa to swim and enjoy and the scenery/beaches. Our first stop this time was the so-called Starfish Island. Previously, the first stop was the so-called Snake Island, which had a long sandbar from which the name of the island was derived. However, according to our tour guide Snake Island is now owned by a (in)famous actor notorious for his behavior and antics on and off the screen. The actor was said to have been enamoured by the island's beauty and decided to buy it and make it his own private vacation spot. Boatfuls of tourists have since been barred from the island - definitely a loss to local tourism.

We were among the early birds that day so there were only a few boats and tourists when we arrived at Starfish Island.
Starfish Island also featured a long stretch of white sand beaches. The main activity at the island was basically swimming and snorkelling. There was an area where there were lots of fishes and you can enjoy swimming with them or feeding them (popular if you had kids with you). The swimming area was a few minutes walk from the shelters on the island.
The island was obviously well-kept. The surroundings were clean and the mangroves were thriving. 
I took this photo during the squall we experienced. The sudden heavy rains were perfect substitute to showering to wash off the salty sea water from our swim.
You can enjoy some snacks or a full meal on the island but since it was the first of three stops on our schedule, we decided against eating. Instead, we had coconut water fresh from the shell to quench our thirst after our swim. We had our drink as we waited out for the sudden rains to stop before we proceeded to the second island in our itinerary that morning.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Adobo 'to

We were looking for a new place to eat lunch at along Maginhawa Street one Monday. We wanted to try out another one of the many restaurants or eateries. Unfortunately, our initial choices like Jeepney was closed and parking was difficult near the others that caught our interest as we drove slowly along Maginhawa. And so one of my friends spotted what seemed to be a hole-in-the-wall type of eatery and we were able to park our vehicle along one of the side streets.

The menu is on a chalkboard behind the counter where staff take your orders.
Photos of adobo varieties and other items on the menu.
Classic chicken adobo
Classic pork adobo
"Adobo 'to" offers no frills food. We thought the quality of the adobo we ordered and ate were okay. They do not claim to serve something really special or different and prices (as shown in one of the photos) are definitely within most people's (including students) budgets so what you get is within expectations.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Brazo Take 2

I wrote about our having lunch at Brazo, also along Maginhawa Street at its junction with Malingap Street and across the Bayantel office. I mentioned that I found my food quite ordinary but that was probably because I ordered their pasta, which evidently was not their specialty. Back at Brazo for lunch, we decided to go for our waiter's suggestions as well as for what we thought were safe bets for our meals. One ordered from their all-day breakfast list - adobo flakes. Another ordered callos, which he ordered before and turned out good. And I decided to have their Iberian chicken, which articles I've read say is good and is their signature dish.

Adobo flakes
Iberian chicken - their signature dish
The adobo flakes turned out okay and the callos was good. I liked their Iberian chicken and will definitely have it again in the future. Of course, we will probably try the other items in the menu including their version of the corned beef sinigang, which happens to be a specialty of another more well known restaurant.