Despite our delay, Loudine and I made it safely out of Cebu and on to the wonderful island of Palawan, first stop the Bamboo Nest. I found Jonathan and his awesome house on Couchsurfing and couldn't pass up the opportunity to stay with him, not only did he sound like an amazing guy but his house set-up was intriguing. He gave us great directions from the airport including two tricycles (both of whom tried to overcharge us, of course) and a short walk leading to the 'back gate of his property'. I'm sure, had it been light out when we arrived this all would have been a bit easier, but as Loudine and I wandered down a dark dirt road we weren't exactly sure what we had gotten ourselves into. Despite a few moment of doubt we arrived safely and were greeted by Jonathan and his warm, welcoming smile. Our room was in the second story of the [hand-made] bamboo nest, which was awesome, I felt like I was sleeping in a tree house. We later found out that the reason for the sketchy 'back-door' entrance is that Jonathan lives on the Navy compound and can't have random foreigners walking in and out the front gate, fair enough. After settling ourselves Jonathan invited us to join him for dinner in town at Imas vegetarian restaurant where we enjoyed great food and good conversation.
The next morning we were up early, you don't really have a choice when you share a neighborhood with numerous roosters, in order to get ready for our day at the Underground river. Jonathan took care of booking our tour for us so all we had to do was wait at his house for the van to pick us up, talk about great service. They arrived shortly after 9am and we were the last to pack into a full van of 10 people, time to get cozy for our 2 hour journey. I shared a bit of small talk with some of the passengers but overall the ride was pretty uneventful, I guess it was still early.
Upon arriving in Sabang we were ushered over to quickly eat our lunch before getting in the boats that would take us to the river. Our guide explained that due to rough waters they were closing the river around 12pm so we had to hurry if we wanted to make it out. Lunch was delicious although a bit rushed, but I would rather had swallowed my chicken whole than to sit around and miss out on going to the river. Once we boarded our boats we were told that we'd actually be the last boat out of the day, talk about good timing.
After the thirty minute boat ride you must get out and take a 10 minute walk through the jungle before arriving at the entrance to the Underground river. Here, there are smaller boats which will take you into the river itself, along with your mandatory hard hat and life jacket, did I mention orange is not my color? Hands down some of my favorite people in the Philippines were all of the boat men that we interacted with, and we couldn't have started with a better one. Visitors are allowed about halfway through the 8.2km river and along the way your boat guide provides you with plenty of information and even a few jokes. The river is filled with bats and sparrows and of course some impressive stalagmites and stalactites, formed from the presence of 11 different minerals. The river also houses one of the largest 'cave rooms' in the world, with a volume of approximately 2.5 million sq meters, yeah this place was pretty impressive.
The tour inside the river takes about 45 minutes but seems to go a lot faster as you stare at everything in awe, just make sure not to stare in awe upwards - unless you want a mouthful of bat poop. Due to strong winds and choppy waves we didn't have much time to hang out in the area so we made our way back to Sabang, stopped for a few pictures and then were ushered back into our van to return to Puerto Princesa.
Over 7,500 islands of pure bliss. I've been twice, both times arriving with a "what am I doing here" hesitation, but weeks later resisting my departure. Forget about being on time, or eating lots of vegetables, but welcome beautiful sunsets, gorgeous beaches, and welcoming, friendly locals.