they say palawan is a philippine destination you just can’t miss.
well, we almost did. arriving at cebu’s mactan airport five minutes before boarding time (because ruth had to buy her jollibee palabok), it was a miracle the staff allowed us to check in even when the check in counter was already closed, sparing us about two minutes to grab a seat and breathe. those two minutes ruth maximized to her advantage to open her palabok but as her fate would have it, the moment she excitedly opened it, all passengers were asked to queue for boarding.
puerto princesa airport was a rather small airport located at the heart of palawan teeming with local and foreign tourists eager to experience the wonders that palawan has to offer. indeed, palawan’s beauty isn’t the type that disappoints.
the very first thing i noticed was how clean the city was. as a matter of fact, the government and its citizens take cleanliness very seriously. anyone can arrest you the moment they see you littering. that would be 200 pesos worth of garbage on your first offense. three offenses later and you’ll be spending a couple of months daydreaming about white islands and crystal clear beaches — in jail!
if you’re the kind of traveler who longs for the unconventional, then concrete cookie-cutter hotels are not for you. which is why i was so glad to have stumbled upon this unique gem of an accommodation online.
nestled in a quiet corner five minutes from the hustle and bustle of the city proper, banwa pension house welcomed us with its silent creativity — too silent that we thought there was nobody there. gingerly making our way into the little bamboo house with shiny wooden floors and countless art decors, it was amazing to see such wonderful display of native materials transformed into works of art.
what makes banwa pension house unique, aside from its all-native interiors, is their honesty policy. they have this little bar where you can grab anything from the fridge and just write down what you ordered on a piece of paper and they will charge it to you when you pay your bill. i guess you can say they’re not the paranoid type. but it’s a really refreshing practice, though.
i didn’t see other filipino tourists there. i think the place caters more to foreign travelers, having been recommended by the lonely planet and all.
displaying the same look and vibe of banwa’s ethnicity, ka lui is a restaurant which not only delights your gustatory senses but your visual senses as well. everywhere i looked, i saw something that made me go, “ooh.. that’s cute! that’s nice! that is so cool!” my neurons were sizzling from too much visual stimulation by the time lunch arrived.
we didn’t really order much ‘coz we didn’t have much but it was an enjoyable meal nonetheless. the “sea grapes,” as i like to call them because i don’t know what their scientific name is, were so big they were like a genetically mutated version of the ones i am accustomed to here in cebu. the fish was soft and warm and tender; the soup hot and tasty; and the mixed seafood just right! they even gave us a complimentary buko salad, which was so nice of them.
there are many things to do in puerto princesa. obviously, it was too late to do the underground river tour so we did the next best thing: a city tour. well, a mini-city tour because we really didn’t have that much time and some of the places i wanted to go to were quite far so we stuck to those that were within our reach, the first of which was the crocodile farm.
truth be told, the crocodile farm was something i didn’t want to do. crocodiles are crocodiles, big deal. the way i see it, it’s the same thing all over the world. and it wouldn’t even matter which part of the globe i’m standing at. i will never be a crocodile lover, unless they’re already handbags or something. haha.
greeting the visitors at the entrance was the skeleton and hide of the largest crocodile captured in palawan which reportedly ate a little girl. the preserved remains may not seem so scary anymore but you can just imagine how huge it was when it was still alive and, uh, meaty. i am now sorry i didn’t pay too much attention to the guide when she enumerated details of the crocodile’s vital statistics as i was never one who’d memorize but if i remember correctly, that crocodile did not live long after it was captured. less than a year in captivity and it decided to just stop breathing for a more dignified death. something to that effect.
behind the crocodile farm is a jungle-looking zoo complete with real-life trees and moss and ferns (and wooden bridges which i loved!) with several animals like…
okay, i’m not gonna lie. i didn’t really enjoy that part of the trip. the whole freaking time, all i could think about were mosquitoes and malaria. i was paranoid like that. so while my sister was busy taking photos of the animals that caught her fancy, i was busy nagging, “can we go now?” (i know, i can be a real pain. at least my fears are valid. haha.)
don’t be deceived. this binturong was heavy! i was scared to drop it but the experience itself was pretty cool. in exchange, they have this little drop box at the exit where you put your donation.
baker’s hill is another tourist destination in puerto princesa. here you can buy freshly-baked hopia and chocolate crinkles and other foodstuff, but i’m guessing the first two are what they are famous for. (between the two, i liked the crinkles better.)
there are a lot of things that you can do at baker’s hill because it’s practically a park with a kiddie playground and exercise machines and stuff. there are dozens of figures ranging from dinosaurs to pirates you can stand beside with for an impromptu photo shoot. but the one thing i really appreciated was the availability of sungka where you can just sit down on one of the chairs and play. oh, and they had peacocks too.
but the highlight of our puerto princesa experience was not on the things we saw. rather, it was the tamilok we ate. tamilok is a delicacy in palawan. it’s worm. woodworm. those that live on mangroves, according to our tricycle driver. he obviously likes it a lot or else he wouldn’t be smiling at the thought of it while explaining to us how it is prepared.
at kinabuchs restaurant, we were asked whether we want our tamilok classic or breaded. judging from the looks on our faces, the waitress offered to serve us the classic because as first-timers, it’s best if we had our baptism done the old-school way.
the classic consists of raw-looking worms. i’m not sure if they steamed it or what but they looked raw and slimy to me. well, at least they were dead and not crawling all over the plate. because of its length, you can twirl it around your fork (like my sister did) or you can just hold its entire length up above your head with a fork and slurp it as you go (like my cousin did). either way, it would still feel slippery down your throat, momentarily lodging on your pharynx before you flush it down with something more solid.
i, on the other hand, sliced the tamilok into tiny little pieces. i hate worms. i don’t like them alive or dead. but for the sake of trying something new, i hesitantly chewed and rapidly swallowed. i think i only had two bites of it.
oyster. it tasted like oyster. in case you’re wondering.