Sabang’s underground river and our final day in The Philippines

We’re not really that interested in caves, but the underground river in Sabang is a UNESCO world heritage site and the longest navigable underground river in the world. It cost £20 for a trip from Puerto Princesa. We could have done the trip much cheaper if we stayed in Sabang or made our own way there but it was unknown if we’d have to wait ages for a boat to share with people or if we’d manage to get a permit before all the tour groups did.

I was feeling like crap and could of done without the cramped 2 hour van ride. The van was over an hour late and I felt like I was going to throw up the whole way. We were asked if we wanted to join the rest of the group on a mangrove side trip as we’d be waiting around for the river trip anyway. Craig said no but I butted in and said maybe we should as I’d read it was nice….worst decision ever. It was a total waste of money and I fell asleep on the way back. We were paddled along a small river where a local lady pointed out some coiled up snakes high up in the trees and we saw a small lizard and lots of mangroves. That was it.

On the plus side the buffet lunch we had afterwards was enjoyable and made me feel a bit better. We were moved to the area where the motorised Bangka’s left from but had to wait ages for our turn.

We pulled up onto a remote looking beach backed by dense jungle and steep cliffs. A huge monitor lizard that could of been mistaken for a juvenile alligator crawled along the sand and into the shrubbery. There was more waiting around as groups came and went. We were given half a head set and led to the paddle boat area for yet more waiting and the other half of our audio guide. It was an absolute joke, why when every company gets the permits in advance and they know how many people there will be isn’t each group designated a time? It’s a total waste of a day for just a 45min activity.

We were put into life jackets and hard hats, both of which were orange and we looked like a group of construction workers. We had one guy paddling the boat and we headed for an opening in the rock face. He put his head torch on as we entered the cave and we drifted along with huge slabs of rocks pointing towards us from the ceiling. The guide turned his torch off and it was completely pitch black. Bats filled the ceiling above us and had horrible little faces like minuscule piglets. The audio guide was loudly explaining the cave and how it was formed, at the moment it said noise from humans is known to disturb the bats I looked up and my helmet noisily fell off my head and into the water. How embarrassing!!

As we entered a large opening in the cave the guide pointed out certain rock formations that looked like things. They started off really shit like a giant candle, but maybe my imagination opened up afterwards as the other formations certainly started looking like things. There was Mary, Joseph and co. like the proper Bethlehem scene but not so much in the rock itself but in the shadow created behind it. A ‘highway’ section of the underground river was full of food items, so we were pointed out a very realistic cocoa shell, banana bulb, bacon and fried chicken, at which point the guide pointed at the chicken with his giant hand shadow and then did a PacMan impression pretending to eat the chicken and I was so grumpy still but couldn’t help but giggle.

We only saw about 1.5km of the 8km navigable section of river. There were a few more boats around when we made our u-turn but it wasn’t as busy inside the cave as I expected. We were shown some small crabs that lived on the sides and even a small tarantula. The route back showed a really realistic Jesus in a rock and ‘Sharon Stone’ further along revealing her naked backside.

I wouldn’t say the river was anything special, it was nice but not wow. Maybe it’s because we’ve seen more impressive caves like an underground canyon in Slovenia and an ice cave in Austria. With the added mangrove trip the whole day cost us £30 each which is way out of our budget for something so un-satisfying. I felt robbed. We were out from 9am till 5pm and the boat ride was only 45 minutes. You do the math.

On the plus side as we waited to leave the beach and get back to Sabang I found a lovely dog to stroke. She was extremely affectionate and followed me along the beach as our boat pulled up. I gave her a stroke and said goodbye before wading through the sea and hopping on-board. As the boat pulled the anchor up she started walking through the water and then swimming. The boat was turning around and she was swimming like mad to reach us, it was bloody adorable I really wanted to take her home. Just to put the cherry ontop of a shit day the boatman, instead of waiting (I thought it was the theme of the day after all) for the dog to move slightly out the way he abruptly moved forward and hit the dog with the bamboo stabiliser. What a cruel fuck. Luckily she seemed OK and eventually realised she’d have to wait for another foster parent and swam back to shore.

After Puerto Princesa we flew back to Manila and had a relax day before our busy schedule for Japan. We also had to buy our Japan Rail Pass which cost us an arm and a leg. As we walked to the office a tricycle man rode past and shouted something at us, their really not touty in the Philippines so we couldn’t work out why he was shouting for business. Then it sounded like he said ‘open’ and I was getting all annoyed, ‘why can’t he leave us alone we’re happy walking!’ and then he said ‘OPEN’ again, so we looked down at our bags and then I realised my flies were undone and we looked behind to see him smile and give us the thumbs up before cycling away. What an observant chap! When we went to the office block to get our train pass I asked for the ARS Dreams office, spelling the a.r.s out as letters. He didn’t know what we were talking about so I wrote it down and he promptly corrected us, yup – Ars dreams, we cracked up and the receptionist tried to hide his cheeky grin.

Farewell beautiful Philippines, until next time…

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