The Pleasures of the Princess of Ports

Puerto Princesa, the capital of Palawan province, is the only major urban sprawl in Palawan, with 200,000 residents and an area that makes it to the biggest city in the Philippines. Puerto Princesa is also clean, green and gun-free, thanks to Edward Hagedorn who has made environmental protection his political platform, the first for any constituency in the Philippines.

            Integral to the concept is cleanliness. Residents and visitors alike are for fined spitting and littering.

            Puerto Princesa remains an unspoiled, off-the-beaten path tourism destination, making it such a huge bargain. Consider its beaches. At Sabang, you can rent an air-conditioned hut for just P400, a steal considering the scenery and the exotic food, flora and fauna.

            The visitor to Puerto Princesa will not run out of things to do and see.

            The best attraction is the Underground River in the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park. At 8 kms. long, the attraction is said to be the world’s longest navigable underground river.

            The UNESCO has declared it a World Heritage Site. Located on the west coast of Palawan, about 81 kms from the city center, the UR features cathedral-like caverns and domes, with stalactites and stalagmites formation that resemble (depending on how imaginative you are) religious images (like the Madonna and Holy Trinity). There are plenty of bats and droppings.

            Two-thirds of the park is covered by tropical rainforest, from the shoreline to the highest peak of St. Paul mountain. The Palawan pheasant peacock and Philippines cockatoo are found in the park.

            While the concrete road is under construction, be prepared for a rough ride half of the way. But the partially bone-jarring ride is worth it. Aside from the rise, you can reach the UR on foot, thru a “monkey trail” cutting across the mountain, from the Sabang highway right below to the river.

            At sleepy Sabang, have lunch at the nearby Taraw Beach Resort. The food is excellent but the service can be slow. Or you can try other resorts that are just now sprouting.

            Puerto Princesa also has a zoo and botanical park, hot spring at Santa Lourdes, the Salakot Falls Forest Mountain Resort, the Salvacion Viewdeck that gives a panoramic view of the Honda Bay, the private Talaudyong Beach Resort, the Canigaran Sandbar, and the 100-ha.Government Center and Nature Park.

            The Palawan Museum (Mon, Tues, Thurs & Fri 9am-noon & 2-5pm), in Mendoza Park on Rizal Street, gives a good overview of the history, art and culture of Palawan.

            At the Crocodile Farming Institute (Mon-Sat 10am-5pm) in Barangay Irawan, 12km from the city center, scientists conduct research into crocodile ecology, biology, nutrition and biochemistry, pathology and physiology.

            To get to the farm take a jeepney (P15) from the terminal in Malvar Street on the northern outskirts of the city.

            A farm of a rather different kind, a Butterfly Farm, owned and operated by Rowell Rodriguez, is at 27 Bunk House Rd., Santa Monica (tel. 048-433 5343), and is a haven for hundreds of indigenous species. You can see the stage-by-stage metamorphosis from a caterpillar to a butterfly. Jeepneys go here hourly from Malvar Street.

            Don’t miss the Iwahig Penal Colony, also known as the Prison Without Bars. Prisoners live here as if in a normal village, fishing and cultivating rice and root crops.

            Tourists are also welcome at the Iwahig souvenir shop which sells handicrafts made by the prisoners. Prison officials say the rate of recidivism by offenders at Iwahig  is significantly lower than among those incarcerated in the country’s traditional jails. Iwahig is 23km north of Puerto Princesa; jeepneys leave Valencia Street everyday at 9:30am.

Just ten minutes by tricycle from Puerto is Vietnamese Refugee Center. Try the food. It’s excellent and cheap.

            In the city, buy exquisite and delicate scarves and baring fabrics (reflecting the vibrancy and delicacy of nature’s colors) at the Runugan Weaving Center.

            Here is what a recent Visitor, Norma Lao, from Boston, wrote on the internet: “I was in Puerto Princesa, Palawan from Jan 16-21, 2006.”

“There are no white beaches, not even in Honda Bay or the Islands. But if you like the scene of a last frontier, a cowboy town in USA West, this is it. Some millennium comforts include: plenty of cheap hotels in town ($10, but make sure they have hot water); transportation is superb. Tricycles hog the road and are cheap ($0.15 per km per person). We constantly overpaid the boys who were so hardworking; our first did not want to leave us and insisted on being our tour guide for the day, which netted him P400. And if you go to Honda Bay on your own with a tricycle, make sure you ask the person to wait for you; food aplenty, there’s Shakeys, Chow King, Jollibee (like McDonalds) but you should forego all these and dine at this terrific restaurant “Bayansasayaw” in town, for $2 you get a meal of rice, vege and fresh tasting fish and mango shake. “

            “From the exterior it looks like an expensive restaurant; travel agents plenty in town for those snorkeling trips.”

            “Ladies, if you want pearls, this is the place. Tell the tricycle boy you want to go to the ‘market’ (5 mins walk from Chow King, actually); a good, flawless pearl should cost you $7 (negotiable).

            “Overall, according to Mayor Hagedorn, Puerto Princesa, Palawan is not ready for mass tourism, and they are also not in a hurry to get there too. The first item on the agenda is to repair and conserve ecotourism.

            “How to get there? From the airport, take a tricycle to town (5 mins away, actually), and ask to be dropped off at Chow King, and from there walk around or along the road to find accommodation. There are also leaflets of nice and cheap hotels at the airport. Enjoy.”

            At almost every hotel and corner, you will find boys and girls peddling pearls of all shapes, color and design. Try to haggle. Offer to buy at half the asking price. Whatever you buy, you will be happy with it. “

Edward Hagedorn was born on October 12, 1946 in Paranaque, Rizal. His parents were Mr. Alexander Hagedorn and the former Miss Gliceria Solon. He is married to Ma. Elena Marcelo, and blessed with two children Eva Christie and Elroy John. He studied in San Sebastian College-Recoletos and University of the East in Manila. He was elected mayor of Puerto Princesa City in 1992. And at the same time served as Representative of League of Cities of the Philippines, Region IV; Member of National Executive Board of Boy Scout of the Philippines; and Assemblyman of Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development. With the overwhelming support of the people of Puerto Princesa, he transformed the city as a major eco-tourism destination and model in environment protection. It became a Hall of Fame Awardee for being the cleanest and greenest component city in the Philippines. And has been generously given national and international awards and recognition for various innovative programs and projects – a proof of seriousness of purpose and magnitude of success. Right now, the City Government of Puerto Princesa is busy executing economic development programs…And the man leading its direction is Mayor Edward Solon Hagedorn.....