Tuesday, April 14, 2009 Cruising Day 30 Puerto Princesa

 IMGP1479 We arrived last night in Puerto Princesa, Philippines 12 hours early to off load a medical emergency so now we’re up and ready for our tour early this morning.

Unfortunately there’s been a mix up with the coaches and our tour  party of 16 going to see the Highlights of Puerto Princesa has been relegated to an older bus (the backup bus that’s old but still works).  different place, same trafficWe’ve been told we don’t have to take the tour if we don’t want to but it’s available for those of us willing to give it a go.  Well off we go and it turned out to be a great day (and we were given a refund for the tour :-)).

First about Puerto Princesa, The Philippines.  Puerto Princesa lies at IMGP1490 the mid-section of the long strip of the Palawan Island Province and serves as the capital city.  Legend attributes the name “Puerto Princesa” to a princess like maiden who in the early days is said to have roamed around the place on certain nights of the year.  On the practical side people attribute the name to the geographical advantages of the place – naturally protected the whole year round and endowed with a depth that can accommodate any size of shipping.  It’s a royal heaven for vessels or a virtual princess of ports as indicated by Spanish Colonizers in the late 1800’s. 

Waves of migrants from other Philippine provinces and even other countries have turned Puerto Princesa into a melting pot of various cultures.  Among the original inhabitants are the Cuyunon who posses a rich legacy of folklore and traditions.  Indigenous groups include the Tagbanuas and the Bataks, each group bringing distinct culture and belief.

Honda Bay in the distancePuerto Princesa is famous for the longest navigable underground river and reputedly the most beautiful subterranean river in the world, many visit to experience the views for themselves.  Unfortunately for us we’re unable to visit due to time limits.  The beaches are awesome with strands of white sandy beaches that hug the coves and bays of Puerto Princesa’s coastline, providing a scenic contract to the green canopies and the emerald or blue waters that are quite famous in the region.  These pristine, powdery white sand beaches are found in almost all islands and islets in the city including the well-known Honda Bay.

IMGP5020 Our tour this morning started with a visit to the unique Iwahig Penal Colong, it’s a prison without walls. The prison was started by the Americans in 1904. The penal colony is unique in that the inmates are not jailed in cells but are encouraged to promote self-sufficiency.  Prisoners are clothed in either Blue, Yellow or Orange T-shirts (blue – medium; Yellow – low; Orange – maximum prisoners).

IMGP5042 We were treated to a wonderful show (singing and dancing) involving each level of prisoner and later visited their “post office” where mail can be sent and received.  Prisoners who have shown a great rehabilitation can or will be provided with an acre of land that he and his family can farm or cultivate.  A lot of the prisoners try to reach this level of rehabilitation.

IMGP4989 We then visited the Crocodile Farming Institute, a joint project with the Japanese government to preserve the endangered crocodile species.  This facility appears to be a home for all endangered or hurt animals in the area and it was just lovely to see the care the facilitators put into their recuperation.

IMGP1344 We then made a stop of the sprawling Mitra Ranch where we enjoyed coconut juice and rice cakes (yum!).  You may have noticed that food is a primary focus for us on this trip, the local flavours re amazing. The building is on top of a hill along millionaires row. The views from the ranch are just awesome – we were able to see Honda Bay and again the white sandy beaches of this wonderful country.

IMGP1468 Our last stop was to the Rurungan sa Tubod community for women.  Here the women weave indigenous fibres including pineapples for various types of industrial use (table maps; baskets; bags; jewellery).  Here Gert bought some spicy cashew nuts and a bottle of cashew Vinegar.

Most of the places we went had signs welcoming the MS Volendam. This city (with a huge land area, almost 1 acre per person) relies on tourism. And they do an excellent job of keeping their environment clean, there are strict fines for littering. More hotels are being built to handle the 300,000 visitors annually. Public works are also very visibly being built. Definitely a place worth visiting again.

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