This was a city tour like no other. There was none of the urban area suggested by the term. Touring Puerto Princesa, the capital city of Palawan, was more about roughing it, including but not limited to rock climbing, spelunking, beach bumming, heritage shopping, and exotic dining.
Balai encompasses both house and home in meaning. So does Balai Princesa. The homiest boutique B&B in Puerto Princesa offers more than a roof over our head and ambiance for our Gram. The warmth and comfort provided by its service make it a home.
BAM! That DC Comics-style thought bubble exploded in my head as we all bounced off our seats. The bumpiest landing ever was more a slam dunk than a touchdown. Perhaps it was that way for small planes with propellers. Or not. The landing gears slammed on the runway like dead weight; I expected the aircraft to break apart. But it was just my heart. I gathered my wits once the plane was taxiing toward the terminal in one piece. Welcome to Busuanga!
Calauit Island, Busuanga, Palawan, the Philippines
May 4, 2017
Bizarre on a Marcosian level. In a tiny island in the Philippines, African wildlife roamed freely. No wall contained them other than the sea. Giraffes, zebras, and several species of antelope had come to call Calauit Island in Palawan their new home. The safari park was one of the legacies of the Marcos dictatorship. The official story told of a conservation collaboration between Kenya and the Philippines circa mid-70s to establish a wildlife sanctuary away from war and drought. But of course, some quarters begged to differ, believing it was a front for the hunting hobby of Marcos’ son. In any case, decades after the strongman’s ouster, some of the species, now in their second or third generation, had survived the habitat displacement.
As above, so below. From the plane window, Busuanga Island gleamed like the bejeweled paradise that it truly was. The bluest sapphire wrapped its entirety; the greenest emerald adorned each cove and every inlet. Such was nature: spectacular at any perspective – bird’s eye view or sea level.
Ten percent of the Philippines lay on hard yet soluble bedrock. For millions of years, water, aided by tropical heat, had carved out a large swathe of Visayas and the entire length of Palawan into a karst landscape of sawtooth peaks, whitewashed cliffs, and rocky mountains undermined by a network of caves.
Youth, large, lusty, loving – youth full of grace, force, fascination.
Do you know that Old Age may come after you with equal grace, force, fascination?
Walt Whitman wrote the words that my mother lived by. Her dream of visiting the Grand Canyon came true the previous year, but she wasn’t done yet. She still had Puerto Princesa Underground River, one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature, to check off her bucket list. She had just turned 80, not an age for dilly-dallying. We flew to Palawan that summer with my eldest brother and nephew.
Our airport shuttle had traversed the narrow width of Palawan, yet we were still within Puerto Princesa, the Philippines’ second largest city in area. Right smack between the city’s eastern and western coastlines were picturesque limestone mountains, one of which was Cleopatra’s Needle. According to my brother who had previously worked in Palawan, the mountain was originally called Cleopatra’s Nipple – its summit did look like a pointy teat – but local people felt squeamish saying it. I never knew if that was just a joke; at least he got a chuckle out of my mother.
At the end of a two-hour drive through zigzagging highways over Cleopatra’s bosom, we were welcomed by the aquamarine vista of the West Philippine Sea to Daluyon Beach and Mountain Resort. The swoosh of foam-crested waves lazily lapping the shore summoned us to make a beeline for the beach.