Posted in Breaks and Jaunts, Philippines

Exploring the City in the Forest

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Just us girls. Left to right: Joan, Jalene, Ms. MC, Jana, Ms. Mich and Keeshia

Back in September 2015, Palawan was my first out-of-town destination for work that required a plane ride from Manila. Naturally, I was very excited to be able to see one of the most famous places in the Philippines with almost our entire cluster.  I think we were about nine or ten because we were going to audit around three to four of our offices there. I was part of Ms. MC’s team with Ms. Mich and Jana.

My teammates and I stayed in Empire Suites in Puerto Princesa which was conveniently located very near our auditee. It was very easy also to get a tricycle ride from the hotel to go anywhere within the city such as the airport. Our rooms were cozy although, being located along the highway, we could hear some noise from the vehicles passing by. There was also a rooster that crowed very early in the morning that my roommate, Jana, made it a point to wake up before it crows. It was as if there was a competition between them on who gets to wake up earlier. At least the rooster helped make sure we were never late for work.

What I loved about the city was the number of family owned restaurants that served very delicious food. I do not remember eating at the usual fast-food joints for the duration of our stay. However, I noted that these local restaurants opened only for a few hours in the morning and then will close for a few hours before opening again in the evening.

11215141_162087417463773_7879096516399614541_nThe first restaurant we tried was Kalui Restaurant where I had my first try of buko shake (I normally do not drink coconut water or eat young coconut because it makes my tummy ache). I liked it and fortunately, my tummy was fine since I was throwing up that morning.

I do not know the logic behind usog or balis, but I suddenly felt ill after being greeted and tapped on the shoulder by someone early that day. It was like something cold suddenly shot up my spine and sucked out all the energy out of me.

The sea foods we were served did not taste very “malansa” (is there even an exact English equivalent for this word?), which I absolutely hate in food. They were fresh and tasty so our tummies were happy.

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From Left to right: (upper) Me, Jana, (lower) Ms. Mich and Ms. MC.

The restaurant itself was already a sight to see with its native and colorful design and decorations. It had several Instagram-worthy spots where you can take lots of pictures before and after eating. Do mind, however, that they make you take off your shoes before going in. If you are not comfortable walking barefoot, you might want to make sure to have socks with you like I did.

IMG_0028On our second fieldwork day (technically our third day), we tried the halo-halo at Nokinocs Savory House. They also offered delectable lunch and merienda but we were really after the halo-halo after all the people in the branch we were auditing recommended that we tried it.

Indeed, the halo-halo was very refreshing! I can compare it to the minimalist halo-halo of Razon’s of Guagua because it did not have so much going on like in the usual colorful halo-halo. Although, I liked Nokinoc’s better. The ice was finely shaved but I think they froze the milk and shaved it instead. Regardless, this is a treat that everyone will surely love especially during the summer season.

The following day, we tried the food at Balinsasayaw Chicken Grill and Restaurant. I kind of regret not being more adventurous with my food choice for this place because I read that it served really good food. I think I ordered something very usual but I cannot remember and I was not able to take any picture before diving to eat. I must have been really hungry that time.

IMG_0289On day 5, my mom arrived in Palawan. My officemates were going to El Nido the following day (Saturday) and my mom knew I was not going to just stay in the hotel. I was going to be exploring on my own. Being the younger of two daughters, she was somehow very protective over me. So, to give her peace of mind, my sister booked her a ticket to Palawan so she could have a mini vacation with me. I treated her to Kinabuch’s Grill and Bar.

I am pretty sure we did not order any exotic food but I heard this place served tamilok (shipworm) and crocodile dishes. I was not about to upset my stomach with unfamiliar food since I had a vomiting episode only recently.

It was a good thing I did not join the El Nido trip because the van was just enough for all my office mates and some family members of one of them. At that time, I did not yet enjoy adventures that involved bodies of water so I was not too keen on joining. But I had to find activities for my mom and I to do so I booked us a city tour that the hotel offered.

Before our city tour that was going to start after lunch, I first found places to visit to during the day. Our first stop was supposed to be the Palawan Museum but it was still closed. So, we went to Divine Sweets while waiting for the museum to open.

Gosh! The place was super cute! I have a thing for coffee shops and cafes that look as if they came out of a fairy tale. Divine Sweets had adorable cakes and pastries that went well with the ambience they were going for.

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Soon enough, the museum opened. Unfortunately, there was no tour guide to discuss about all there was to see inside. I also tend to get bored in museums. For that reason, we did not stay there very long.

IMG_0430I brought my mom next to the Palawan Butterfly Ecological Garden and Tribal Village. It was half an hour away from our hotel but the travel was well worth it. In the garden were so many colorful butterflies and flowers of different kinds for them to get nectar from!

IMG_0428The last time I went to a butterfly house was in grade school and I terribly missed it because I loved how I got to coax these gentle creatures to hop on my finger and hold them up for a few seconds.

The ecological garden was also home to other animals like very fat worms, fishes, turtles, the Palawan bear cat and the Palawan Peacock Peasant. I did not see the peacock so much because it kept on hiding away from our view. The bear cat was sleeping all the time and the turtles seldom moved. Still, it was nice to see that these animals were being protected and well taken care of.

From the garden, there was a door leading to the tribal village of the Palaw’an people. It was like a door to a whole new world because it was my first time to see tribesmen who still dressed in their native outfits. To be honest, I wondered whether they just wore those clothes for the occasion or if they did still live the way their ancestors lived so many years ago.

One of the men played the kudyapi, a two-stringed lute which was the only stringed instrument played by the Palaw’an people. I was amazed by how beautiful it can play music with just two strings and wondered how the instrument was imagined and eventually devised in the olden times. It was also very nice to see it in person since I have only read about these instruments in my music classes in grade school.IMG_0459

They also showed us one of their hunting methods—using a blowgun called sumpit. The blowgun made use of poisoned darts that were so deadly, the tiniest wound can already kill their prey in about five minutes from being hit. Given the length of the sumpit, it’s awesome how they can hit with precision. They must have been very careful too in the past when they used this to make sure that none of their fellow tribesmen could be hit by the darts by mistake.

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At the end of their presentation, they showed us their friend snake that they say they have already tamed and trained to not attack the guests. I only ever had a photo with a yellow python on my shoulders when I was fifteen because I was assured that the fangs were taken out already.

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They allowed the visitors to take a picture with the snake but my mom gave me a very stern look to not even think about touching it. It’s okay though because I was not sure the snake was a fangless one and I did not want to be mistaken as a snack at any point in time.

After touring parts of the city on our own, it was soon time to take a tour of the city supervised by a tour guide. As much as I wanted to enjoy the ride going to our first destination, I have to admit that I got annoyed because our tour guide had nothing much to say except “this hotel here is one of the big hotels here” for every hotel we would pass by. I would have loved a discussion about the history of Palawan or something else more educational.

Our first stop in Barangay Irawan was the Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center that housed the Palawan Crocodile Farm and Nature Park. Here, we found the skeleton and skin of the crocodile, Rio, that was 17.5 feet long. He was just a few inches short of Lolong that was 20 feet and 3 inches long. Like Lolong, however, Rio died because of the stress brought about by his captivity.

img_0481.jpgWe were brought to several cages of young and adult crocodiles. I think the facilities were built sturdy enough to not cause anybody to fall into the cages of these ferocious animals. Crocodiles were not much fun to watch though, unless they were being fed, because they usually just stay still with jaws wide open. I learned that opening its jaw was a crocodile’s way of cooling itself because it does not have sweat glands.

At the end of the facility tour, you will be allowed to take a picture with a baby crocodile. It turns out that it is easy to shut a crocodile’s jaw because the muscles required to open their mouths are not very strong. So, when I saw that the baby crocodile’s mouth was firmly (though not abusively) shut, I took the chance to take a photo holding it. My mom was displeased, of course, ha-ha. She had no choice but to take my picture.img_0494.jpg

The next stop on our list was the Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm that was established way back during the American occupation. It turns out that during the Spanish regime, Puerto Princesa became a place where exiled offenders were brought to. When the Americans took over the country, the facility was set up where these offenders will be housed.

The penal farm was unlike the usual prisons I have seen in movies or read about in books. I saw a few men serving their sentences freely walking around the fields. They were probably checking on their crops. No wonder it is called the Prison Without Walls. Vocational activities were available to the prisoners to choose from so they can earn. A lot of them were actually very creative and skilled in making crafts.

All the way out of the prison farm, I badly wanted the tour to be over with already. The driver and the tour guide began a heated conversation about the families of Presidents Marcos and Aquino. The driver was siding with the Aquinos while the tour guide was exclaiming her adoration for Ferdinand Marcos and saying he was the best president the Philippines ever had.

Thankfully, the next place we visited was a very jolly place. Baker’s Hill, aside from the truly delicious baked goodies it sells, has a beautiful landscape that makes you think it is a theme park.

What I was really after in Baker’s Hill though was the hopia I have heard rave reviews about. I made it a point to buy a few boxes for Mom to bring back to Manila the following day and for my officemates to enjoy as well. They sold these at very affordable prices too! Despite being a tourist spot, Baker’s Hill did not take advantage of the crowd it draws by selling their goods at a very high price.

IMG_0535Next, we went to Mitra’s Ranch. It was owned by the late Senator Ramon Mitra. The wide hill has a viewing deck that offers a view of Puerto Princesa. Here, you could breathe in fresh air and take a few moments to just relax. IMG_0529They say you can get a view of the sunset here too and I bet that would be beautiful. For me, I chose to try riding a horse for the first time.

As a kid, I have always dreamed of going horseback riding like the royalties I have read about and watched in movies. I thought it was going to be easy because I simply needed to saddle the horse and then ride away. I did not know that I will have to use most of my leg and back muscles to keep my balance because every movement of the horse had me feeling like I was going to fall!

The second to the last stop was at the Binuatan Creations where you can still witness traditional weaving in action. There is a shop near the entrance of the center where you can buy products the weavers made.

The workers in the center were very friendly and would not shoo you away when you try to watch what they are doing.

The intricate designs in the woven products have always amazed me because I could not figure out how they are done. Despite having watched the weavers in action, I still cannot imagine how they could bring to life the designs in their minds. I wonder how much time they spent practicing perfecting their craft.

IMG_0551Our last stop was the Plaza Cuartel. Once a garrison of the Americans and the Filipinos until the Japanese invasion, this became a prison where around a hundred and fifty American prisoners of war. This prison eventually became a living hell when the Japanese burned the prisoners in one of the tunnels in December 14, 1944. Only eleven of them survived.

When the tour was over, Mom and I headed to Ka-Inato to have our dinner. The restaurant served Filipino dishes at affordable prices.  We did not order anything fancy because we just wanted to eat and then go back to the hotel right away to sleep since we were tired from the whole day of activities. I am glad Mom was with me though. It was our first time to bond out-of-town.

The following day, Sunday, I did not know anymore where else to go that did not require a tour package. So, I just researched another restaurant where Mom and I could have breakfast. Through Google, I managed to find the Gypsy’s Lair Art Café.

I love anything vintage, eccentric and paranormal. And when I got to see the café, I immediately fell in love! From the painted walls to the decor, the place was practically screaming Gypsy! Oh! It was my happy place in Palawan (and I even got my teammates to eat there on another day).

While eating (I loved their Pad Thai!), something happened to catch my attention. The place offered palm reading every Friday, Saturday and Sunday! I immediately inquired about it and was told to visit again in the evening since that was when the palm reading is held.IMG_0367

Mom went back to Manila that afternoon so she was not able to accompany me to the palm reading session. Just when I thought the session was already the highlight of my day, I found out that the palm reader was my uncle’s (mom’s brother) wife’s double first cousin! He was surprised too at how small the world is (or at least the Philippines).

For the record, he did not tell me my future, nor did he tell me where and when I’ll meet “the one.” But, he did tell me to see him again after five years because he will read the hand he did not read that night. Something about one hand being your destiny and the other hand being the story of how you followed or went against it.

What we talked about is mine to keep. But, he did get A LOT of things right about me and my personality. Mind you, he has never met me and my aunt-in-law has never discussed me with him prior to this meeting. And while I do not rely on horoscopes and tarot cards when I make life decisions, I have to admit that these things have always been something I was curious about. Try it out for fun.

The last restaurant we got to eat in before we headed back to Manila the following day was the White Fence Café. It was one of the highly recommended places for us to visit and it truly did not disappoint. Aside from the very delicious food (although a bit pricey), the place was also Instagram-worthy with its cute decors and country theme.

At the back, they had a playground for children. It’s good for kids who get bored while the elders eat and chat away.

For our remaining days in Palawan, we strived to complete the audit as best as we could. During our breaks, I enjoyed listening to my office mates’ stories about their El Nido and Underground River trips. At that time, I did not feel like I was missing a lot and I did enjoy my little adventures too while they were away. I think I’ll just go back to experience Palawan again in a different way. El Nido? Coron? Both?

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