Cuyo to Palawan:
If the first night was not bumpy enough as we plied through the coastal waters getting to Iloilo, the choppy, unfriendly waters from Cuyo to Palawan certainly were.
Apparently, Palawan used to be its own district in the Philippines. And it claimed Cuyo as its capital city.
All told, Cuyo envelopes 45 islets but only has a total area of about 50 square miles. Cuyo, itself, takes up about half that area. And Palawan, the longest of the islands, holds more square mileage than all the islets and Cuyo combined.
At Palawan’s southernmost tip, is the pirate-infested Sulu Sea. This is where you hear about all those terrible stories about how the Islamic radicals who fund their terrorist campaign by boarding tourist boats, stealing from and killing the inhabitants and then tying the resisters to the anchor and send them overboard. It’s not pleasant what people do in the name of religion.
Boasting a culture all its own, the Palawan area of the Philippines is home to more than 350 years of recent heritage as the region’s unique center for traditional festivals. The park, I am assuming, must have been its hub. Because, as the encampment was constructed of four, squared-off bastions which were 10 meters high and 2 meters thick, it was even used as a fort to stave off attacks from the Moros in the late 17th century.
Interestingly, Tabon Man was also discovered here, too (well, in the Palawan region — not sure exactly where). In 1962, an American researcher by the name of Dr. Robert B. Fox, found what was thought to be the earliest human remains, dating back to more than 40,000 years ago from the Carbon-14 dating system which was available then. In 2007, however, Callao Man, found elsewhere in the Philippines, was uranium-series tested to have been around about 67,000 years ago — almost twice the age of Tabon Man.
By the way, he was named Tabon Man because he was found in Tabon Cave, a dwelling which was in use all the way from the upper Pleistocene period to about 10,000 years ago (about 30,000 years in all). That’s a long time to be in one cave. I guess they had things pretty well the way they wanted them. Plus, moving all your things without a u-Haul can be pretty cumbersome.
Sometimes I wonder how, that long ago, people made it to these parts of the world. What kind of boats or floating constructions would have given them the ability to cross vast expanses of very intimidating waters — and without navigation tools, maps or even the promise of actually finding land. They’re almost always found in singles, too. So what’s confusing to me is that these lone migrants just sort of make their way around to uninhabited areas and die there, alone without heir. Were they outcasts? Were they failed explorers? Were they lost? Or did they simply roam about like wandering animals in search of less competition for food?
The things I ponder while in transit in the far reaches of the world…
Heavily influenced by the Malaysian settlements in the 16th century, Cuyo has celebrations which include a Malay folk dance called “Pondo-Pondo” even today.
Later, in the year 1622, a Spanish Count San Augustin formed the first mission of Christinan Colonization and gave the island its current name.
Interesting fact: People who live in Cuyo are called “Cuyonos,” rather than Filipinos. And this dates back to the Augustin baptisms when they were indoctrinated into the new way of life. I think this is funny, however, because that would be like someone coming to my house from the other side of the world, telling me that they know better than me the spiritual traditions that have been passed down through more than 40,000 years and then telling me that if I believe them, I can be renamed and allowed to continue living there. Well, maybe that’s not very funny after all.
But regardless how morbid the humor, it only lasted another 15 years. They were invaded by religious zealots — this time in the form of Muslim pirates who burned their newly built churches, killed their proud religious heads and stole everything they could get their hands on. This included of course, everything from heirlooms to the island’s women.
And aside from a few punctuated periods of extreme scandal the Republic of the Philippines, the history of the 12th most populous country in the world, has remained pretty much the same since then. The Islamo-Christian tug-of-war over the Muslim-pirated seas in Mindanao, the height of radicalism in the Visayas and the staunchly Catholic resistance in the north has been surpassed in profundity only by extreme political corruption, bloody revolutionary sieges and World War II.
And I was smack in the middle of all of it as the Milagrosa Shipping vessel pulled into the main port of Palawan, Puerto Princessa.
Along the trip, I met a really cool guy named Michael Rammassammy. He’s the guy holding the camera while filming the “Balut” consumption on the documentary. Camera-Dan was out cold from being seasick for three contiguous days anchors-aweigh.
Michael was from New Caledonia. Don’t worry, I have never heard of it either. In fact, that was the running joke. He told me that when he traveled and people asked him where he was from, he’d tell them and then wait for their response which, he said, normally came in the form of a confused look.
At any rate, I knew that because I was so late coming in, I might not get over to the other side of the island in time to see the underground river — one of the “can’t miss” goals of my trip. And since the last bus had already left by the time we got to the bus station, we’d be hard pressed to get the earliest bus the next day, go to see the subterranian river, hop on another bus and make it back to this side of the island in order to make our flight back to Manila and then back home the next day.
So all together, we rented a private van that would get us there in less than two hours. I don’t recommend this unless you have a pretty unlimited budget. It was quite expensive. But it was air conditioned, comfortable and we could stop wherever we wanted along the way.
And speaking of that, we stopped at this really cool place where the farmers had come together and started their own tour company of the areas around their land. And, I have to say, if they do this thing right, they won’t have to be farmers for much longer. They have what I consider to be the best rock climbing, spelunking and zip-line location in all of the Philippines.
They have set some of this up, too. So I was able to see it all in its infancy. And it doesn’t look like it has any signs of slowing. It’s great, really. Lots of ideas running around this place. Hiking into really cool limestone rock formations is always a blast. And since they already have a few
The caving and zipline tour website is HERE. And the permalink is here [http://www.dutchpickle.com/philippines/palawan/ugong-rock-caving-palawan.html]. The websites are not that exciting, but remember, they are run by farmers and their families. So be kind! And besides that, there are some pretty good photos that show the fun people have spelunking and climbing.
I strongly recommend going there to support this very eco-friendly accent to your Philippines trip. I was even tempted to stop and hike for a while, but then I remembered I was running out of time and had a tight schedule to keep. But the driver let us get out and check out the grounds. Perhaps I will go and take the zip tour next time.
Anyway, back on the road, we finally got to the other side of the island. And when you go there from Puerto Princessa, the southern route brings you up through this cliffside vista that’s just breathtaking. You can see other islands. And along the road there are little souvenir shops attached to eateries and nooks to stop and see different things. More importantly, most of them have a trail out back that will lead you all the way to some break in the foliage where you can get a great view of the islets off the coast of this long, thin island.
The thing about this slow pace of life, including not having electricity until 6pm everyday, is that no one’s really in a rush or to provide you services on the fly. And normally I wouldn’t mind that mentality. When I go to an island getaway, I do so fort he very purpose of slowing down and taking it all in. But today was not a take-it-in type of day.
I needed to be on the west coast by 3pm so that I could have the best shot at making one of the last boats leaving for the subterranean river for the day. But I would run into a few hassles before then.
I also had to secure a hotel room, drop off my things and get a ticket for the boat and the tour. But in all this, I also realized that I hadn’t eaten anything all day. And this went for Dani and Michael as well.
The problem that I started to run into was that my driver suddenly decided two things without the forethought of discussing the matter with his passengers. First, he decided that he was not going to drive us to the hotel and then back to the boat dock. This was not acceptable, seeing as I was paying him quite a lot of money to get us to where we needed to be. And secondly, he decided that the price of the ticket to bring us to the other side of the island would cost us even more than we’d agreed upon. Again, unacceptable.
The video of the scandal unfolding is available to those receiving the ebook. And trust me, it’s an interesting show. It documents just how fervently one must argue for ensuring that would-be third world scammers know their place.
But after that was settled, I found myself at the dock having bought a ticket, checked in with luggage secured, and on my way to the nearest restaurant. We ate quickly and made it back to the boats just in time for our trip to be afoot.
The ride was pleasant. A little choppy. But pleasant. There was a storm making its way off the mountaintops on the horizon that threatened to put a damper on our trip. But it was stayed long enough to go to the tour and back. And I must say, it was a really encredible time.
Once you get to the dropping point you walk through this completely jungled area where the monkeys have become completely accustomed to people and roam about without too much concern for what you’re doing.
Then there are the monitor lizards. These land dragons are pretty amazing. And in their own way, they have been desensitized to humans as well.
At the launch, you meet your guide who, in our case, is a cheeky, entertaining fellow. And what he might have lacked in ability to talk with technical knowledge of the formations along the inside of the river, he made up for in jokes about the appearance of eroded structures like “Sharon Stone” and “Chris Rock.”
There’s also a resident boa constrictor living in the cave that seems to love a certain perch. How he got there, I am not sure. But he’s definitely chosen that cave as his home — frequent visitors or not.
The outtakes from the documentary capture these interesting occurrences. This, too, is available through the ebook.
When we arrived back at the dock, there seemed little sense in rushing around anymore. We’d seen what we came there to see. And so the rest of the evening was ours to lounge around, soak up what little sun poked through the overcasted clouds.
We chose to walk along the beach, which is a wonderfully peaceful hike, back to the hotel from the boats. The rooms that I rented were little more than bamboo huts with very little privacy from the neighbors beyond the next wall. But the staff is accommodating and friendly. And they have no problem with people lounging with a beer on their driftwood furniture along the headwall of the shore.
I found a great spot that I knew I wanted to take pictures from later that evening around sunset and Michael joined me as I set up for the shot. The surf is powerful and the jagged rocks are not to be trifled with. But from a photographic point of view, it’s definitely worth taking the risk to get out there and shoot at the golden hours of the day.
The shot that I was hoping to get is at the top of this blog entry and is for sale in high resolution. Through this blog, I am pricing it at $24.99 plus $7 shipping from here in Asia. The dimensions are about 24 x 14 inches and can be processed as large as 48 x 32 inches from here in Taiwan. And once I am in the states, I can do other varying sizes. Larger copies will be priced per order, but just inquire and I will see what I can do.
After returning from the rocky coast, I toasted my new friends from the hotel grounds and went to bed. Tomorrow would be my last day in the Philippines.
For everyone reading my latest ebook, Postcards from the Pavement: Southeast Asia, look for the password at the end of this entry to see the hidden footage from Cebu, Cuyo and Palawan.