Tuesday, October 23, 2012

DIY tour of puerto princesa

So what else is there to do in Puerto Princesa?

The welcome sign at the city's main thoroughfare, Rizal Avenue.

Well, most people go island hopping at Honda Bay. I'm sure it's very nice, but since I live on an island, I wasn't too excited about doing that.

What really interests me is urban development, and what especially feeds my fire is unusual architecture.

Behold the Palawan Provincial Capitol!

Easily the most impressive government building I've ever seen in the Philippines.

It's just too bad that Filipinos in general don't seem to fully appreciate the history and aesthetics of our man-made structures. We tend to take them for granted, but I'm hoping that attitude will change soon... before it's too late.

A fantastic work of art in the lobby. Who made it?

The capitol building is topped by a dome. The "eye" allows natural light to flood the lobby.

Dear Governor Baham Mitra, I suggest you put a commemorative plaque in front of this wonderful building which was named after your father. Who designed it? When was it built? Oh, and you might want to remove that lighted sign in the lobby. The one with your face on it? Doesn't look good in photos.

A friendly government employee named Anton invited us up to the roof deck.

I absolutely loved the magnificent staircase.

A city ordinance prohibits buildings more than four storeys high.

Behind the capitol building is the newish Palawan Heritage Center. It's quite grand and pretty well-constructed compared to many government edifices around the country, but the all-too-common Washington, D.C.-esque architecture is boring and passionless. Sayang.

Just can't seem to get away from the American influence.

Nevertheless, the Palawan Heritage Center is worth a visit. It highlights the different ethnic groups that make up the melting pot that is Palawan province. Actually, besides the indigenous tribes who've populated Palawan forever (the Tabon Man fossils are reportedly over 22,000 years old), the modern residents of Palawan come from all over the Philippines and everybody gets along, as if they had never heard of regional stereotypes or religious differences. Highly atypical and awe-inspiring.

A replica of the Manunggul Burial Jar, circa 890 to 710 B.C. 

A very nice lady at the tourism office inside the capitol building told us about the Palawan Special Battalion World War II Memorial Museum, a.k.a. War Museum. It's actually a private museum set up by Buddy Mendoza, the son of Palawan's most famous war hero. I wanted to meet him, but he was having his afternoon siesta when we visited.

Dr. Higinio Mendoza Sr., executed by the Japanese on 24 January 1944.

The place is overflowing with wartime memorabilia. Boys of all ages will definitely enjoy the military jeep parked out front and the guns and knives and whatnot, but I was most intrigued by the different types of currency that were used during the war.

Did you know that guerillas actually received salaries? They were paid with scrips.

The official currency of the American-backed Philippine Commonwealth.

Mickey Mouse money! My grandparents told me about this.

Puerto Princesa, as I said before, is huge. After visiting the Underground River and Honda Bay, an extra day (or two) is worth your while. Any travel agency's official half-day city tour will not cover everything there is to see within the city limits. Go to the tourism office at the provincial capitol and talk to the staff there who are bursting to share all sorts of useful information. For example, I didn't know that there are three museums in the city-- we visited two-- and that the nearest beach is only six kilometers away. Go to the market. Take a walk at Baywalk in the evening and eat some barbeque. Watch a 3D movie at Robinson's for only 200 pesos (US$4.80). Go ballroom dancing.

Puerto Princesa is peaceful, clean and orderly. Food is fresh, tasty and reasonably-priced, and the locals are friendly, helpful and just so danged simpatico. It's what the Philippines should be, and still could be. I love it.

By the way, on 10 October 2012, we joined a firefly watching tour. I didn't take any pictures because it was dark and I didn't feel like fiddling with my camera. The tour cost 1,200 pesos (US$29) per person and included a delicious dinner spread. Magpalawantours posted a very nice and informative article about it here.

1 comment: