The Pulchritude of Puerto Princesa

Those “hitting two-birds with-one-stone” trips are the kind  that I usually look forward to, I found it more productive and obviously it is time and money saving and with trip arrangements in place, all I need is to extend one more day to accommodate flying restrictions after diving. Being the gateway in the last Frontier, Puerto Princesa is impossible to be unknown and more than that, the city evolve in tourism as it cradled one of the seven new wonders in the world!  And its being the greenest and perhaps cleanest city is not for nothing.

My dive plans at the start of the year was clueless as other priorities that needs my immediate attention were at hand, but the week-long official trip in the city was just perfect.  All previous visits in the city were too brief being just for stop-over to El Nido, Cuyo and Sulu Seas.

Puerto Depths

After haggling for a slot for a Friday dive, they took me in and informed the diveshop as a caution that I was alone.  Actually, the confirmation was last minute on Thursday, later I learned the water conditions was unfavorable. The big waves were uncontrollable and all water activities in the city were cancelled for safety reasons. So on that Friday morning, I took a trike though I knew the diveshop can be reached for a walk but I need to be early for the appointment.  It turned out the driver was not familiar with the streets, how come? – such a pity. I was much earlier from the rest including our DM and after almost an hour of waiting, we all piled up in the multicab heading for Pristine White Beach.  And again, we were a bunch, majority was foreign nationals!

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Although the sun was brightly shining, the waves were insurmountable.  At the back of my mind, I trusted the DMs judgment, and we all piled up on the speedboat after assigning our buddies. We sped off riding on the big waves, spraying us with salt water like rain!  Our first descent was in Crossing, the DM offered me to go down immediately thru the anchor line to avoid the surface turbulence, and wait until we go around down together.  Indeed, it was more calm down but alas, the viz was hazy.  It rang a bell in my mind, I must be careful not to get lost! Despite the blurred vision, I found active fish life.  A parade of breams swimming coyly at a distance, there were variety of trigger fish but no titans! 😛 And there was a turtle!  Our DM had to drag me to catch up but there was only blurry outline of the turtle swimming away.  I think if not for the murky viz, I could have sighted more of the marine life. We surfaced after 52 minutes, my deepest at 19m still with 100 bars air.

We sped off back to the beach for our surface interval, which is much better than stationed there with waves rocking our boat high and low. The Taiwanese couple begged off after the first dive.  We stayed on the shallows biding our time, the waters was perfectly calm.  With the sun shining and blue skies, it was a picturesque summer scene.

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As we prepared for our next descent in Maris Rock, I heard the friendly Canadian asking if it was safe with the big waves, and again I trusted the DMs judgment.  We sped off holding fast for safety, I knew the waves were getting higher!  The site has rock clumps scattered over white sands, the surface was still choppy so immediate descent was appropriate.  The viz wasn’t any better, it was still foggy but thankfully there was no current.  The fish life was much better, sighted giant puffer fish, clown fish, triggers, anthias and throng of juveniles over corals.  We went slow and perhaps I was more observant in the second descent, even with the haze we found cleaner shrimp, some nudis and a small frogfish!  We surface after 45 minutes, my deepest at 21 meter and with air still at 100 bars.  The choppy water was heart pounding in a way, but it was another learning to my advantage.  I believe the depths of Puerto Princesa has much in store even more in clear visibility.

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Around Puerto

There were much more to see around the city – Mitra Ranch, The Bakers Hill, the Crocodile Farm, the famous Underground River , the island beaches in Honda Bay. The last two requires more time and getting a quick hop of the first three visibly offered more improvements compared a decade ago.  Personally, I was more impressed what I saw in Iwahig Colony, it have transformed into an agricultural community with the detainees as workers and producers. The rice fields were maintained as well as the fresh water fishpond, other crops were also produced at the same time working with their handicrafts.  It is a big boost for all the detainees inside Iwahig, aptly the facility is now called Iwahig Penal Farm.

Unfortunately,  I failed to visit the public market , my office mates always aimed for pearls and dried fish getting cheaper deals!  Puerto has now a mall which is another improvement in terms of market & economic activity.  There are new cafes and restos down town, Angel and I used to have lunch in barefoot at Ka Lui for their delectable dishes and lounge at Atoy’s Café while waiting for our flight.  Well, indulge after a dive is the usual thing, and I went to White Fence for that French café ambience. To my delight –  the homey atmosphere, good food and reasonable price was a perfect combination. I think the café deserves another visit in the future!  🙂

Another Reminder

I thought there would be no hitting the grounds as I go through the transports heading home alone, the perennial flight delays almost created disaster in my connecting flight. I thought I wouldn’t make it, but I literally race for the gate as soon as I got my luggage from the carousel.  It was miracle, my final flight towards home was accordingly delayed and in less than five minutes after I step on the area still catching my breath, the gate opened for boarding!  And these are the kind of circumstances that prod travelers, which I correlate in diving as S R T A.  A dose of adrenaline was in the rise. 🙂  Just the same, it was another miracle!

Travel Notes

  1. I booked at Dive Puerto Princesa (www.divepurertoprincesa.com) for my dives
  2. Best month to dive is between March to August, January is still habagat and waves can be too rough
  3. There is lot of low-priced accommodations around the city, some have easy access to the airport

 

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