Oh Palawan…how do I describe thee?
I am cautious to utter- “the best bike destination ever!” as this is the usual thing I say after a bike tour. But there is something in this ride that is still lingering in my thoughts- just like the odor of beer on your breath after waking up the day after a revelry. I guess it’s the reason why amongst all the ride I did, this is the one where I have written my notes immediately after the tour- trying to recall that feeling and define what it is that makes it special.
Palawan is described by a lot of adjectives. It was voted as the “Most Beautiful Island in the World” by several international publications. It is considered the Philippines center of Bio-diversity and owns some of the most beautiful beaches of the world. But despite the accolades, it is considered under developed and accordingly gets the moniker- “the Philippines’ Last frontier.” All those descriptions definitely excited us in our planning, but the under developed part as well as some reported security issues on the southern part also gave some apprehensions. It’s the fifth largest island, but compared to the other bigger islands that we rode- it is the largest in terms of the coastal roads that traces its outline- approximately a whopping 2000+ kilometers to cover a “loop” compared to the usual 500+ kilometers for bigger islands such as Panay, Negros and Mindoro. A 1000 kilometer one-way ride would entail about 10 days to do but we only decided to plan for a 5-day ride, so instead of doing a loop, we decided to just do one ride down and then one ride up since the starting point will be at the middle- the center- Puerto Princesa City.
DAY 1- At Puerto Princesa
We (Me, Dindo and Jon) arrived at Puerto Princesa on November 16, a Wednesday
which we also considered a free day to explore Puerto Princesa. There were no taxis in city, or maybe except two to three units, so UV Express vans are the staple transportation and good thing they don’t charge that much compared to the swindlers in Manila. We had a van from airport to hotel for 300 Php only for the three of us including our bikes. But instead of exploring Puerto Princesa on our free first day, we ended up drinking our way over our first day (what’s with old people?). We did a late lunch and some drinks at Ugong Rock Grill (Ride 0 – Drinks 1). Then we checked in to our hotel- Go Hotel (at 800 Php per night via Agoda) which is a convenient place to stay as it is beside a mall for provisions and ATMs and it is accessible to both the roads for our southern and northern trip; though its farther away from the center of the city which is Rizal Street. We had another rounds at Kinabuch-which according to our motorcycle enthusiast Dindo was owned by a biker named Butch. Lea, the only woman and the fourth member of our team arrived later in the evening and we had our dinner and another rounds of drinks at Gerry’s Grill (Ride 0 – Drinks 3). By the way- Lea did a Philippine Tour and she had already ridden Palawan so she is also sort of our guide. We anxiously slept that night looking forward to our big day tomorrow. Our Day 1 ride- Day 2 for the trip.
DAY 2- Ride from Puerto Princesa to Narra
We had our breakfast at the hotel and then took off for Narra. Since we will be back at Puerto Princesa on the third day, we just left some of our stuff and our bike bags at Go Hotel. Go Hotel charges 50 Php a day to secure your stuff (free if you want to just leave it under the stairs). Since there are only a few towns in Palawan, the land areas of each towns are huge that the kilometer markers were more of a gruesome reminder than a guide. Immediately after leaving the center, the markers say its 68 kilometers to the next town- Aborlan. The views though were amazing especially upon entering the Acacia forest a few kilometers from PP. There was also a mangrove reserve for the bearded pig whatever animal that is. We have also chanced upon Iwahig Penal Colony which was surprisingly extensive in term of lot area. The route from PP to Narra is considered rolling hills but on the heavy side (bigger hills). Puerto to Narra is only 98 kilometers. We could have pushed for the next town of Sofronio Espanola but there are no decent accommodations at that place. Also
Google Maps showed a distance of 150+ kilometers to Sofronio but we were surprised how inaccurate that was. We had our lunch at Aborlan, 68 kms from Puerto- we had the rotisserie chicken in one of the stores to err on the safe side (how would you go wrong with a roasted chicken?). Then due to the heat of the afternoon, we decided to go to the municipal grounds park for a quick siesta for about an hour. We then continued with our ride for another 40 kilometers to Narra. The entire road from Puerto to Narra were well paved except for some sections under repair. Narra has a Jollibee store- most probably the remotest one in the country. We found a hidden gem in Narra- Maydavian Resort but note that its 4 kilometers way off the main road and on rough roads but the extra mileage is worth the trip. It is owned by a former Manila resident married to a foreigner. Since this is remote, you need to buy provisions at the town center, if you need to, before proceeding to the resort (about 10 kilometers from the town center). We spent the afternoon relaxing at the resort, with good food and drinks (Ride 1- Drinks 4).
DAY 3 – Narra to Brooke’s Point
From Narra to Brookes Point is another 100 kilometers as if it was evenly split (Puerto to Narra to Brookes Point). Brookes Point was somewhat familiar as it is one of the places in Palawan mentioned by TV stations when they do the sign-off for the day. Further research showed that it was indeed the last town south before, but it was now split into 2 other towns- Sofronio Espanola and Bataraza- the now southernmost town (in mainland Palawan). The hills were a bit smaller on this portion except for some few big ones so the ride pace was faster. We arrived Brookes Point at around 2 PM. Prior to that, we did a stop at Abo-abo, the intersection for the southern “8” loop and then had our rotisserie chicken lunch (again) at Sofronio. Abo-abo is the intersection to Quezon- the less popular tourist destination but significant in terms of Philippine archaeology. This is where the Tabon cave is located where the oldest human remains in the country was found, thus dubbed as the Philippines cradle of civilization. I bet most people who have handled a 1000 Php bill noticed the burial jar (Manunggul Jar) at it’s back face- that artifact was found in Tabon. Majority of the view from this leg is that of
Mt. Mantalingajan- the highest mountain in Palawan island which is becoming a popular climbing destination. Just a few kilometers to Brookes Point we had another break, an ice cream break before entering town. I was not able to resist the Ice Cream ad in one of the stores due to the heat of the noon sun. Our original plan was to go down to Bataraza but due to uncertainties on accommodation and security- we opted to just finish the southern leg at Brookes Point. Brookes Point was where the world’s largest pearl was found- the Pear of Allah but which is now being contested by a new finding also in Palawan dubbed as the Pearl of Puerto. I guess Palawan literary gives the meaning of the Philippines being the Pearl of the Orient. We didn’t planned for a southern loop that would go back via the West Route- via Rizal Town as we have heard a couple of warnings that the west side was much
dangerous. But on our way back to Puerto, our van driver told us that, yeah- there were bikers that did that western part already. Maybe next time. Rizal is famed for a primitive tribe known as Taong Bato (Stone People- not stoned people). There were gossips around them- one popular is the cause of the death of the popular broadcaster, Reyster Langit who died of Malaria doing a feature in Rizal. Locals however attributes his death to his encounter with the Taong Bato. While I just found out that Bataraza were in fact closer to Malaysia than Tawi-tawi. Our van driver told us that during the olden days, lumbers were being shipped to Malaysia from Bataraza while the returning trucks bring back supplies coming from Malaysia. I also found an article about a promising beach destination in Bataraza- http://www.choosephilippines.com/go/islands-and-beaches/4431/onuk-island-palawan-finest-beach/ – something to consider to those travelling to Bataraza.
Back in Brooke’s Point, we had troubles with the original accommodation Dindo reserved as they offered it to someone else (maybe they didn’t believe a couple of guys in their bikes would really show up at Brookes Point or reservation is just a suggestion in the boondocks). So we scoured the town for alternate accommodations. We ended up in I think the best place in town- Maruyog’s Hotel (not the farm). Though Brookes Point was supposed to be the most developed town south of Puerto Princesa, there are very few establishments, no tourist spots in the town itself and no fast food (there was once a Chowking that closed down). We decided to ride a tricycle to a popular water falls- Sabsaban Falls but it was about 20 kilometers from town. Palawan’s tricycles are quite amusing- ceiling are too low that drivers hunches to fit in- not sure why they have to endure it and why don’t they adapt the
Manila tricycle designs. On our way to the falls, the tricycle me and Jon riding suddenly hit a dog and the dog was dragged for a few meters before it was shaken off. Not sure if the dog died but it was a shocking experience for us- so now a dog was killed in the making of this trip! And the falls was not really “the” falls for me- seems just a river
that went further down. We were told that Gina Lopez (the current DENR secretary) had some structures created there but was stopped by the local council. It was the second comment we had on Lopez- another one made by somebody in Narra on an alleged mining firm she is related to. Not sure if those are true or if it’s part of a black propaganda hearsay since Lopez is anti-mining- the bane of mining firms whichever is true. Back at Brookes Point, we went to the best restaurant in town to have our dinner- a port side seafood restaurant with videoke rooms- a place you may pass off for dinner if it were in Manila. The food was good though. We went back to Maruyog and had a night cap (there was a big party happening with the who’s who of Brooke’s Point- duh, where else will they go?) before we rested for the night (Ride 2- Drinks-6). By the way, the road from Narra to Brooke’s point was well paved and we were told that it is up to Bataraza. The western part is still under construction though.
DAY 4 – Trip Back to Puerto Princesa
We hired a Van for 4K Php to Puerto and we have arranged for some side trips since our entire Day 4 was free. We passed by another water falls- Estrella Falls which was better than Sabsaban. It reminds me of Taytay (Majayjay) Falls. We had our lunch at Jollibee Narra. While driving the 200 kilometers to Puerto, we were just amazed on the distance we have covered from the two previous days. Then suddenly, the van hit a dog- the second time so it’s now “2 dogs were killed in making this trip!” How I wonder how many dogs are killed in Palawan each day due to the speed of the vans, the light traffic and the number of dogs out on the street. These two dog-hits made us cringe every time we encounter a dogs on the street for the rest of our stay in Palawan. We then passed through the Palawan Wildlife Rescue an Conservation Center formerly called Crocodile Farm. The tour guide was quite knowledgeable as she was able to answer all questions we have thrown at her regarding crocodiles (influenced by watching lots of National Geographic programs). One surprising fact though- the crocodile products like the meat being sold in Palawan came from Antipolo and Teresa Rizal, a neighboring town from my home as the facility only
breeds for later release to the wild. I wonder if the local residents appreciate those releases! How I fantasied releasing crocodiles in Laguna de Bay to bring the lake back to its Spanish era as described by Jose Rizal in his novel Noli Me Tangere. We went back to check in to our Go Hotel- got our stuff there for the next leg of the ride north and stored back our used clothes. We finished the day with some food and drinks at Max’s Robinson’s where Jon brought a lighter backpack as the one he brought was heavy (am a bit guilty as I gave him the go signal to buy the Osprey pack thinking only of the brand and pictures he sent without really seeing the actual pack). He got a local Lagalag pack. We were warned by the clerk at the local store that the northern roads are more challenging since there will be mountain passes. Back at Go Hotel, Jon and I had our massage to relieve some pains if ever that would help even a little. (Ride 2, Drinks 7).
Day 5 – Puerto Princesa to Roxas.
The Northern part of Palawan is also a Loop but we didn’t intend to ride back to Puerto Princesa. However, we were initially ambitious to target El Nido or even Taytay in just one day. Later on, we will find out that its best to do the Puerto to El Nido, not even in 2 but 3 days. We woke up early and had our breakfast at a 24 hour Jollibee store as the hotel restaurant opens a little later. Since the Go Hotel has a partner hotel in El Nido, I was able to convince them to bring some stuff (laptop) at El Nido in their shuttle for free- though I gave them a hundred pesos as gratuity. I also found that morning that I left my water bottle at Maruyog’s Brookes Point! Since it’s a special water bottle (Fabric), I called them up and they told me they will have it sent to Go Hotel but it will arrive only by Wednesday so I improvised my hydration using bottled water.
It’s amazing that stuffs are moving around for free (Laptop to to El Nido and Water Bottle to Puerto)- so this is indeed still a province where people are still nice and accommodating. We started our ride after checking-in our stuff again at Go Hotel since we will go back to Puerto on our last day before going back to
Manila. It was a tense day due to the alleged climbs. A few kilometers after PP, we started to ascend but not really that steep. It rained that morning but eventually stopped later on and then it became hot and humid.
Our progress was pleasing though, as we were already at 70 kilometers when we had a major break. Puerto to Roxas (by this time, we were already realistic and convinced that day 1 will be up to Roxas only) was at 130 kilometers. By 80 kilometers, suddenly I broke my pedals. So the plastic Crank Brothers Candy was not reliable- one should have a metal version for touring. We did some brain storming and tried contacting some options until we just decided that Dindo and Lea will just push forward to look for options.
I was then informed that a tricycle will fetch me to bring me to a machine shop for possibility of fixing the pedals. They were not able to fix them though so I decided to hire the tricycle to take me to Roxas for another 50 kilometers. Wow 50 kilometers on a tricycle!? Worst it was an open cab and it started to rain again so I was fully drenched. I reached Roxas and started going around town to look for a clipless pedals but as expected there was no such thing available there so I ended up buying
a cheap platform pedal used for the local ”K-mart” bikes. I was able to fix the bike for the final ride the next day. I waited for the team and an hour later they all arrived at Roxas. We searched for accommodations and again there was only 1 place- SR Hotel. Roxas seems to be more backward than Narra and it was interesting since this is a major hub for tourist going to El-Nido. This was the Midpoint as Roxas to El Nido is another 130 kilometers. We had some beers at SR and then we just asked the hotel to buy us- surprise- surprise- rotisserie chicken for dinner! (addicting?) I went to the store again to buy cheap shoes since I will be in platform pedals the next day. I ended up buying cheap fake Nike shoes (again there were no decent shoes in town so people here need to travel 130 kilometers for a decent pair of shoes). Later in the evening me and Dindo went to the town center to have some more drinks and there was only one 24 hour food store in town (called 8 to 8- most probably for the lucky number 8 to Chinese- but still means 24 hours).
By 8 PM the town was already like a ghost town so we headed back to the hotel. Inside our room, there were two beds, 1 big and 1 smaller. Jon took the bigger bed as he had more mileage that day. (Ride 3 – Drinks 9).
DAY 6 – Roxas to El Nido
We were uncertain on what to expect but we were more tense since we were already sore and we were anticipating the bigger climbs of the entire Palawan ride. We had our breakfast on the same 24-hour restaurant. Since I had extra shoes, I have decided to leave some stuff at SR since we will be passing the place anyways on our way back home. The other followed suite. Now my stuffs are scattered all around Palawan (laptop to El Nido, water bottle from Brookes Point to Puerto, bike case and stuff at Puerto Go Hotel, Shoes at SR and me biking to El Nido). As expected, hills were bigger. The dogs are also more active as we were chased a few times. We hit 3 big climbs and we were already wasted as we started walking sections on two of those climbs.
That was not a good sign. Jon was also hit by the humidity and heat so he decided to ride a tricycle a few kilometers to Taytay. The tricycle actually offered the ride for free but Jon gave him some money to the driver’s surprise. We actually crawled our way to Taytay which is 70 kilometers from Roxas. We have another 70 to El Nido. This was the feeling of bonked. Jon will also not able to finish the ride to El Nido so we all agreed to hire a van from Taytay to El Nido which is another 70 kilometers. And that
ended up our bike trip. On our way to El Nido the van offered for a side trip to a water falls- all declined which is a sure sign that we were all tired. We were able to check in at Mansion Buenavista Guesthouse owned by A Filipina at a Dutch couple who were very accommodating. I was able to retrieve my laptop so I was able to start my work. The Dutch speaks Tagalog and was a hands on owner so it was also amusing. We spend the day going around El Nido. We spent the sunset at Marimegmeg beach the haunting place of foreigners. Then we walked by El Nido town proper and had some drinks at a popular grill. By the end of the day- (Ride -4 Drinks – 12). Since the bed were also of different sizes, I had the privilege this time of getting even and getting the bigger bed as I had more mileage than Jon this time.
DAY 7 – El Nido to Puerto Princesa
We spent the day exploring El Nido. We went back to Marimegmeg to rest and relax. We decided to return to Puerto earlier so by 2 PM we already left El Nido. At Puerto Princesa, we looked for another place since our Go Hotel was already fully booked. We then got our stuff from Go and checked in to the new hotel when I found out that I forgot the water bottle again at Go Hotel so I asked a tricycle to get it from there to our new hotel. That water bottle was really a problem. We packed our bikes and then rested for the plane trip back to Manila the next day.
DAY 8 – Puerto Princesa to Manila
We went to the airport for our flight early the next day. While waiting for our plane we had some few more drinks so the tally was not yet over. After that- Ride 4 – Drinks 13. Then after 50 minutes on the air- we were back to reality.
Palawan is a great place to ride. It is a wonderful place to ride! It has been off our (and maybe most bikers) radar as it seems it is still un-developed (rough roads) with security issues. It also seems far though its just a 50 minute plane ride. But I was surprised that 99% of the roads are paved and even much better than the roads in Manila. The hills was not that difficult but challenging enough to make the ride interesting. You will not also think about security issues while there- not with the local hospitality. Though some places were under developed, there are still ample resources available and even some gems like resorts on remote locations. The sceneries are awesome and the wildlife encounter was amazing- imagine a hundred different birds, some snakes (road kill) and even a turtle crossing the road- how often do you ride your bike and encounter a turtle? Even the road kill was interesting as we encountered one Palawan porcupine (not the best encounter but still something different).
All the trees were kinds you will no longer easily see in Luzon or on the other islands. Imagine giant trees along the road! I was told that wait till you visit San Vicente. The ending of an El Nido is more than an icing on the cake. Its one of the best, if not the best place in the country! Its quite interesting that beautiful remote places in the Philippines has more foreign visitors than locals. Maybe because the older tourist- the traditional ones thinks of travel as a luxurious experience and non traditional sites without good infrastructure is a turn-off. But things are changing with the younger Filipino travelers. Luxury is already in their homes so they search for adventure!
There are other promising options if you have more time to ride Palawan. Quezon (Tabon Cave), Sabang (Under Ground River), Port Barton and San Vicente (The new upcoming beach resorts) are other places worth the visit. Progress is great but sometimes you want to see the simple life- some towns in Palawan were just like frozen in the 50s. [added Dec- CebuPacific Inflight Magazine features a Palawan ride done by Mt. Everest Sumiteer- Garduce- they did a more different route over 12 days]
But much more important than those are the people, the friendly and accommodating people. People who still calls a white man Joe even though they are not Americans- last time I heard it in my hometown was in the 70s. In fact, my most touching and unforgettable experience is on our way back to Puerto from El Nido. It was 4PM and it was time for children to go home from school. They were in groups walking on the streets having fun. Simple fun on simple things like going home. Things that we could no longer afford in Manila, in a lot of ways like the security of children walking their way home or of having fun without any gadgets. The Palawan bike ride is a sensory overload! Maybe I just missed my era when I was just a kid…