This is part 2 of this Palawan series, and now let me show you around Puerto Princesa (or simply, Puerto), the province’s capital and main gateway.
I usually try to avoid packaged tours whenever we travel, to try to get that more “authentic” feel by blending in with the crowd, but this time I made a little exception. It was the middle of June, the start of the wet and humid season in the Philippine calendar, and the thought of being sheltered in a cozy airconditioned van while going places was just too much to resist – and so we got ourselves a guided city tour.
The tour took us briefly through Puerto’s baywalk. Baywalks are nothing new in this country – almost every sizeable city with a coastline has one, but with varying degrees of “presentability”. Puerto’s version of the “baywalk” though is perhaps that cleanest one I’ve found (and Puerto itself is known as one of the cleanest cities in the country). We spent only a very short time there, and it was daytime so it was desolate (locals say the baywalk comes to life at night), but looking at the place gives a very good impression of the city.
Our next stop was the Plaza Cuartel. The place is now a small park that would otherwise look insignificant, except for its gruesome history. It was a military garrison that, during World War 2, was manned by a few American servicemen. As the Japanese occupied the Philippines during the height of the war, the servicemen were taken prisoner, and in an act of mind numbing brutality, they were burned by their captors…alive, right on this very place. The story of the place alone will make you want to avoid going anywhere near it at night, lest you hear and see things you don’t want to. But in broad daylight, it is but a quiet, serene piece of the city…a sad reminder of how man – the one being created in God’s image and likeness – can turn so enexplainably brutal.
The Our Lady of Immaculate Conception
Right across the Plaza Cuartel is Puerto’s cathedral. It seems both fitting, and ironic, that right across the place that seems to point to eternal damnation, is a place that preaches eternal salvation. This church looks a little bit “gothic”, and looks so unlike any of the other churches in this country – in fact it might fit better in a small town in Europe, had it not been bathed in white and baby blue (though to be fair, light blue is the color of Mary, the mother Jesus, whom church is dedicated to). Still, I thought it looked pretty, and worthy of a stop for a few snaps. And you’re unlikely to see any other church with a resemblance to it, in this country.
Our next stop was a place that specialized in weaving. For westerners, the weaving method might be a sight to behold, but for fellow Filipinos who have been around the country, it may not be anything new. What’s unique about what they do here though is that they weave using fibers made from grass (not the type that gets you high), and they’re more than willing to let visitors get a hand at weaving a few strands. They also have a well stocked souvenir shop (which is why the tour brings you here in the first place).
The Rancho Santa Monica
Next up, we were taken to a ridge that had a good view of Honda Bay, and of the mountains around Puerto. Right on this ridge sits Rancho Santa Monica, or what is more commonly known as Mitra’s farm. The vast property is owned by the family of the late statesman Ramon Mitra, hence the “nickname”. They have a viewing deck that is accessible to the public, and also some facilities for horseback riding, and a zipline. You can’t ride a horse or zip though, as part of the city tour, since they’ll only give you enough time for a few snaps. If you plan to take any of these rides, it’s better to go there on your own (hire a tricycle or a van).
A short ride away from Rancho Santa Monica is Baker’s Hill. Though primarily a bakery, Baker’s Hill is a cluster of food shops arranged in what I clould only describe as a “mini-park”, and it comes complete with outdoor tables for that “picnic” feel. Apart from the bake shop, they also have a stall that sells fruit shakes and a little kitchen that sells pizza and baguettes, plus a restaurant if you want proper, “sit down” dining. The tour guide let us wander around for over half an hour, enough time to sample some of their food. We had a couple of shakes, a baguette with toppings known in vietnamese as the “bahn mi”, and a few other goodies from the bakery, like their hopia. Everything that we ate there was more than worth it. The baguettes were like the freshest I’ve had – ever, and if you think hopia doesn’t get any better than Eng BeeTin or Polland, wait ’til you get here.
Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center
The last stop in the city tour was the PWRCC, or what locals simply call as the “crocodile farm”. A bit more of an educational rather than a sightseeing tour, the crocodile farm gives visitors a chance to see juvenile crocodiles up close, and those who are willing can even get to carry one – with a taped mouth of course (the crocodile, I mean). There are also some large, fully grown saltwater crocodiles kept in isolated pools, and visitors can walk right above them through an elevated walkway. There are also other animals found on the island that are kept in captivity here, like hornbills and eagles.
* We arranged the city tour through Gullivers.
* All photos taken last June 2013, using an Olympus EPM-2 with Zuiko 14-42mm IIR.