And a good Saturday afternoon to you from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City. It's the WEEKEND!!!!! We are officially in countdown mode, as Muffin Puffin's race is just 4 hours and 25 minutes away! I'm 2 hours past that, and then we've got Money and Dan back in the Sing later this evening. All in all, it's a big weekend!
But we'll come to all that later, as for now we need to get back to even and wrap up the Philippines. And so, without further ado, I present the adventure, the journey, the experience that was...the underground river.
Okay, so here's the deal. During all of Muffin's research on Palawan, the ONE THING that kept coming up time and time again was "the underground river." This place, located in Puerto Princessa National Park, is currently a "finalist for the 7 natural wonders of the world," and it is being marketed as though it's the greatest thing since sliced bread. Given all the buzz about it (and the fact that Not So Slim Shady was DESPERATE for us to book with him), we were expecting to be BLOWN AWAY by this experience. But as fate would have it, things weren't quite that simple.
Pick-up on time? Check. Nice drive across the spine of the island? Check. Random bathroom spot where I can throw darts outside? Check. Chatty tour guide? CHECK. HOLY SHIT THIS WOMAN WOULD NOT SHUT UP FOR ABOUT 45 MINUTES. Let me give you a sample (it's not even a dialogue - just a soliloquy):
Chatty Cathy Tour Guide (CCTG): "So this is Palawan, but the island isn't called Palawan. It's called PalAwan. The native tribe here was called Palawan. So it is pronounced incorrectly? Do you have questions? Why are you shy? My name is Sherpa. That is S-H-E-R-P-A. Any questions? Why do you not have questions? Sure you have a question? No? Okay, maybe it's early in the morning. So our drive takes 2 hours to the river. That's 2 hours. Does everyone understand 2 hours? Then you go to the river and go on river. So we go on river. Any questions? I cannot believe how shy you are! Remember, my name is Sherpa. S-H-E-R-P-A. So if you have any questions, you ask me. Do you want to know about PalAwan? Remember, it's PalAwan and not Palawan. If you say Palawan you are talking about the native tribe, not the island. The island is called PalAwan. We have a 2 hour drive across the island. Then we will visit the underground river..."
Just picture that in your grill for 45 minutes...and then think about how hard it is not to SHOOT YOURSELF IN THE FACE WITH AN ELEPHANT GUN TO END THE PAIN. But moving on...
So en route, Chatty Cathy (that's a "Pappasism" for all the LoanSolutions crew) tells us that, when we arrive at the jetty, we'll have "a bit of a wait" before we go to the river. However, we can fill that time with a rapelling/spelunking trip for $7 USD. This sounds good to us, but when we arrive at the jetty, Chatty Cathy says, "Okay, it's lunch time! You eat now!" When Sarah points out that we were supposed to have excursions for the next 1.5 hours and then eat prior to going to the river, Sherpa looks as though we've just said, "I would now like you to saw off your own elbow and turn it into jewelry." She responds: "No - must eat now." When pressed about the rapelling, she confirms that "we'll be able to do that no the way home." She then gives us 2 hours of "free time," which would convenient if we were anywhere other than THE ASS END OF THE UNIVERSE IN A DOWNPOUR.
All the same, I consume about 15 grown squid (so guuuuuuuuuuuuud....peppy cheekies) and even buy some $4 boardshorts before Jenny and I start walking along the beach. As we walk, we realize that this is a "resort" area and that folks are spending multiple weeks here. Honestly, I shudder at the thought. But anyhoo, we're on the walk when Sherpa comes running at us like a rabid banshee.
"The boat! The boat is here! We must hurry! To the jetty! To the jetty!" Seriously - this couldn't have been more dramatic if it were Paul Revere riding through New England. And the strangest part? The boat was 15 minutes early. Why is this interesting, you ask? BECAUSE NOTHING IS EVER, EVER EARLY IN ASIA.
All the same, we hustle to the jetty, where we learn that a) the "boat" isn't our boat - it's another tour group, b) we are such a big group that we will require THREE boats, and c) none of those boats are anywhere in the bay. When we ask Sherpa why she is a 100% TOTAL moron, she just smiles. I told I had Dingbat's phone number and that they would be PERFECT for each other as long as they promised not to breed.
So finally, 35 minutes later, our "boat" arrives, and we make the journey to the Underground River. Only there's another hitch - this isn't actually the boat that we'll take to the river. It's just the boat that takes us to the entrance to the cave, where ANOTHER BOAT is required. So we land, take our 15 minutes to sign up, and then walk the 13 steps to the dock for the river, only to discover that it's A ONE HOUR WAIT ON THE MOSQUITO INFESTED DOCK whilst we wait for our boat to take us into the cave. Granted, I did take this opportunity to learn Suduku (or whoever the hell you spell it), which I discovered IS IMPOSSIBLE AND THAT I SUCK AT IT. Seriously - I'll stick to history - at least there the only numbers I have to deal with are dates. Seriously - it's a lot like Excel - without the X-factor working his magic and keeping me employed I'd still by trying to make some formula for UK payroll work.
So finally we get on our boat, and we begin our 45 minute tour in the cave. And by "45 minute tour," I mean 27 minutes that involve the following:
1. A fellow tourist holding a flashlight POWERED BY A CAR BATTERY trying to swing the light toward whatever the paddler tells us.
2. A paddler yelling "LEFT, RIGHT! MORE LEFT! MORE RIGHT!" at the poor tourist with the battery.
3. Lots of birds and bats flying over you constantly, all the while waiting for guano to COVER YOUR HEAD.
4. The smell of bat shit - WOW.
And so, 27 minutes later, we're now an hour past when we were supposed to be BACK AT THE HOTEL and have yet to get back to the jetty. Sherpa tells us that it's too late to rapell (SHOCKING), and Sarah doesn't let her off easily. It was painful to watch - but at least Sherpa never quite smiling.
We made up some time on the way home, driving like BATS OUT OF HELL on the side of a cliff before arriving back at the hotel and catching the evening shuttle for a second dinner at Kennebush. We then came back to the Microtel and passed out, somewhat disappointed with the experience but still glad that we'd crossed it off.
Honestly, the river really was neat, and I think that, with a little more effort, it could be very impressive. That being said, if I have to choose between THAT and the Great Barrier Reef, well...sorry PalAwan - you're S-O-L...
On Tuesday we had an early flight back to Manila, where we had 6 hours to burn before our flight back to Sing Sing. And so we did what anyone who wants to relive their childhood would do - GO TO THE SM MALL OF ASIA, BABY!!!!! Seriously, we were kids in a candy store at this place. We started with a nice lunch (spending the rest of our cash save what was required for the BLOODY DEPARTURE AND AIRPORT USAGE TAX - $25 USD A PERSON - SERENITY NOW!!!!!) before doing the one thing that EVERYONE must do whilst in Manila - BOWLING, BABY!!!!!!!
Seriously - we had a BLAST - we rocked 2 games at this place, scoring 10 pin on the screen and 9 pin on paper. It was absolutely HILARIOUS, and the place was pretty much the nicest bowling alley I've ever been to (I mean, if a place is willing to play the entire Katy Perry "Teenage Dream" album, it's gotta be 10 out of 10, right? "I wanna see you peacock...").
We then played a couple of rounds of pool and had some Dippin' Dots (the Brits were NOT) big fans, but it was so guuuuuuuuuuuuuuuud) before wandering down to the Boardwalk for an AMAZING sunset. And then, with our bellies full, our eyes burning, and our pockets empty, we hopped a cab and rolled to the airport, where we caught our flight (delayed by 1 hour, for the record), arriving back in the Sing at 2:00 AM. Let's just say work the next morning was AWESOME.
Okay, that's the trip in review and all the news that's fit to print. Well, except that I must say FAREWELL, FIZZY!!!! I expect you to continue being a staunch supporter of this blog! All the best in your next great adventure.
Chat tomorrow! Wish us luck tonight!