Thursday, October 18, 2012

puerto princesa city tour, part 1

The last time I was in Puerto Princesa was probably a decade ago, and only for an hour or so. I had joined a week-long liveaboard diving trip to Tubbataha Reef and when it ended, it was a ten-minute van ride from the pier to the airport. And that was all I saw of Puerto Princesa.

This time, I stayed for three nights. The first thing I saw at the airport when I arrived on 8 October 2012 was this 'Wanted" poster.

Welcome to Puerto Princesa?

OK, seriously? Dear mamang pulis, do you really expect tourists to encounter these guys while island hopping at Honda Bay or visiting the Underground River? Four million pesos is a lot of money, though. Hmm...

After checking in at our little B&B, One Rover's Place on Rizal Avenue, we walked to Noki Nocs Savory House, just five minutes away, for lunch. The food was served hot and fast, tasted like home and was quite cheap.

Smiley happy people about to tuck in. A very good sign.

Nilagang baka, lumpiang ubod and rice, P130. 4/5

I thought about trying their famous halo-halo for dessert, but I really wasn't in the mood. Maybe next time.

We returned to One Rover's Place just before 130PM for our pre-booked city tour which cost P600 (US14.50) per person. It turned out that there were no other people joining us. On the one hand, we didn't get a tour guide (cost-cutting since there were only two of us), just a driver, but on the other hand, he was a very nice and competent driver, we had our very own air-conditioned van, and we could go wherever we wanted and stay as long as we wanted. Private tour, woohoo!

Later I found out that our half-day city tour itinerary should have included a visit to the Butterfly Farm and the Iwahig Penal Colony, but I had a very enjoyable afternoon nevertheless.

We drove past the newly-constructed public hangout Baywalk and the busy Puerto Princesa Port (a bit redundant since "puerto" means port), and stopped at Plaza Cuartel.

Er, burned? This was never mentioned in any of my history classes.

Let's see if I can translate this properly: "In this place which used to be a military installation during World War II, 150 (more or less) American prisoners of war were burned by the Japanese on 14 December 1944. A few managed to escape and swam to Iwahig. The remains of those who died were interred at the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis County, Missouri in 1952."

Plaza Cuartel is now a beautiful and serene little park, owned and operated by the local government. The guy in the black vest, a city employee, gave us a short history lesson.

Our driver Leo in white, and the park guy in black.

The American POWs were herded down into the tunnel where the Japanese burned them alive. Those who tried to climb out of the hole were bayoneted.

The original tunnel is a gruesome reminder of Plaza Cuartel's tragic history.

A handful of men managed to escape by swimming across the bay to Iwahig. In 2009, an American veteran, Don Schloat, came back to the Philippines to set up the monument at Plaza Cuartel. He helped transform the area into a park.

Don Schloat's name, fifth from the bottom, has been rubbed off. Find out more, here.

Don Schloat's sculpture depicting a man being burned.

Right next door is the all-blue Immaculate Conception Cathedral. A Spanish expedition celebrated the first mass in Puerto Princesa on this site in 1872, but the church building itself is fairly new.

A modern structure built in 1961.

"This is the house of God."

S'okay. Looks like any other 20th century church to me. 

Next, Leo took us to Palawan's Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center a.k.a. Crocodile Farm. While waiting for the guided tour to start, we had a quick snack.

Crocodile sisig, P160. 4/5

Crocodile meat tastes like very lean and dry chicken. Been there, done that.

The tour starts in the room where Rio's skeleton and skin are on permanent display. At 17.5 feet or over five meters long, Rio used to be largest saltwater crocodile ever caught before Lolong.

Rio was captured after he ate a fisherman... Well, half of a fisherman.

The Crocodile Farm is run by the Department of Natural Resources. The entrance fee is 40 pesos which Leo paid for. I was most impressed by the hatchling house.

Reminds me of that Disney cartoon with Donald Duck and the baby crocs. Or were they alligators?

The full-grown crocodiles are kept in a concrete enclosure. Some of them are pretty huge, almost as big as Rio.

Reminds me of James Bond in "Live And Let Die".

Besides crocodiles, there were birds and bearcats and assorted wildlife. But enough of that. We still had other places to visit.

Part 2 coming up.

Note: I booked our accommodations and all our tours with Island Paradise Tours & Convention. I was happy.

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