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Underground River

For our last stop on Palawan Island we decided to visit the world famous Underground River of Puerto Princesa. The River, which had been a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was recently named one of the new 7 Natural Wonders of the World. A wonderful Wonder indeed. Getting to the river is an adventure unto itself. We left from the city of Puerto Princesa, drove a good two hours through the mountain range that bisects the two coastal sides of Palawan. Upon arrival at the port of Sabang we boarded a ferry for a quick fifteen minute ride in high seas to the entrance of the river. At the entrace to the cave and underground river you board a paddle boat (we would call it a canoe in the States) for the actual tour into the cave. Though the river within the cave is over 8km long, only the first 4km are navigable. The tour only takes visitors into the first 2km since the preservation of the cave and river and its inhabitants are of the utmost importance to the people of the area. Because of preservation of the cave, no lighting was installed. This is in stark contrast to some popular cave sites in the States that I have visited - Mammoth Caves in Kentucky has lost a lot of its "cave-ness" due to everything the national park system has done on the inside of the cave over the years. The only light inside the riverway comes from the headlamp the guide carries and the occasional camera flash. Visitors are asked to stay as silent as possible so as not to disturb the sensitive hearing of the cave dwellers - primarily the multitude of bat species that call the cave home. Since there is this silence requirement, everyone is given a listening device with a myriad of language selections to help them identify important features of the cave and river. Because of the intense child-on-Christmas-morning excitement I had for this adventure, I made sure Sarah and I procured a seat at the fron of the paddle boat. If you do visit the underground river this is the best spot for the tour of the cave. You don't have to reposition yourself every minute or so to get a good look at the interesting formations and features of the cave. As you enter the cave swallows and bats buzz by your head. The audio guide advises you to keep your mouth closed as you look up at the ceiling. Cold drops falling from the ceiling are considered holy water from the mountain, warm drops falling from the ceiling are "holy shit" from the bats above. As more and more bats appeared I couldn't resist whispering to Sarah in my most menacing voice, "I'm Batman." She requested I stop being a "Joker" and pay attention to the guide. Our river guide/boatman was very entertaining and informative. He pointed out every feature mentioned on the audio device and even whistled the theme song from the movie "Titanic" when we passed a natural rock formation known as the titanic. Though the entire excursion from beginning to end was flooded with tourists it was worth every minute and the somewhat high cost of a guided tour from a tour agency. Helpful hint: find out what time the tour company brings their guests to the Underground River. Early morning and later in the afternoon are less crowded. We went first thing in the morning and beat the massive crowds that arrived between 11am and 1pm. The experience was simply amazing and, much like another natural wonder we just visted (the Grand Canyon), our photos cannot capture the magnitude and beauty of this cave.

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