Imagine yourself taking a dip in a pool of clear water where mountains surround you and your playful splash echoes together with the music from swallow birds from the distance. As you stretch your vision to the left, you see the mouth of the river kisses the vastness of the ocean. The sun sets in the horizon and you also bathe in the warm colors of dawn, searching a way to unite with nature as you immerse your whole body once more in the warm water that flow from somewhere you don’t see but very much feel.
That’s what I imagined before getting inside the Subterranean River (Underground River) of Puerto Princesa in Palawan, Philippines. It could be done except that, in order to protect the place from the effects of tourism, you cannot swim in the waters anymore. It could be as magical except for the boats carrying tourists inside the cave and the noise from the queue of people waiting for their turn. Remove all that and yes, the place still exudes that sense of isolation in a paradise. It is in fact quite impressive the way the local government preserves this new wonder of nature and as a Filipino, I appreciate the effort of visitors to support this preservation so that those who will come after them can also enjoy its beauty.
The tour of the Underground River lasts for 45 minutes, shorter than the waiting but I have no complaints about that because it is definitely worth-waiting for.
The boatman paddled our boat through the mouth of the cave. As soon as we entered, the temperature slightly dropped and the sounds that bounce from cave wall to cave wall welcomed us. It was surreal, like entering a whole different world. The water was illuminated by a small lamp held by another tourist sitting in front of the boat. Though dark, the light easily passed through the depths of the water which proved how clean and clear it was.
Like modern and less-equipped Indiana Jones’, our eyes explored the magnificent details of the caves. Our boatman, and also our guide, pointed out the unique shapes of stalagmites and stalactites, mostly religious figures and fruits and vegetables, manifesting a slice of Philippine culture. He also showed the birds and bats while explaining their habitat and how to protect them. Other interesting features, such as old and recent writings, proved that this seemingly unexplored place has been visited years ago. He paddled for 8km and along the way we saw how complicated the internal structure of this underground river was. There were more channels and caves leading to the other side of the mountain. Another permit is needed to explore further which could take a boat ride of around 3 hours. But most parts of this reserve is off-limits to tourists. The underground river cave is 24km long.