Visiting Palawan is something I always wanted to do. The island is considered the green jewel of the country and I and my camera crew went there to film at the Puerta Princesa Subterranean River National Park. The longest navigable underground river in the world is located here.
Our journey started in Sabang, around two hours north from the regional capital Puerta Princesa. A palm boat took us on a 20 minute boat ride across the ocean to the river where we then got on board a paddle boat. It’s like diving into another world!
I have to admit I was a little nervous as we were aiming to go deep into the cave to film for which we had to get special permission. Imagine above you is up to 1000 metres of stone – almost on top of your head!
But once we entered the cave I was instantly taken by the fascinating landscape. Thousands of bats hanging above our heads, sleeping. Swiftlets would suddenly swirl above our heads illuminated by the lights of the camera crew. Amazingly these birds can find their way in the dark using sonic sounds like whales to guide them to their nests.
The work was very challenging because the paddle boat was small. And we had all the equipment with us. So imagine a big camera, the cameraman, me, a scientist, assistant and two boatmen in one paddle boat. It was pitch black in the cave only the lights of the boatman to illuminate the walls around you. The highest point in the cave is 64 metres. Many stalagmites and stalactites form interesting shapes. Locals have given them names such as “Holy Family”, “Melting Candle” and “Virgin Mary”.
One of the highlights for me was the chance to visit the recently discovered fossil of a sea cow! Only recently scientists found the skeleton in the wall, which is believed to be over 20 million years old! We had to have special permission and we felt privileged to be there.
There can be a mystic atmosphere with water dripping down from the roof. Once we get out of the boat we were surrounded by the wonderful jungle, monkeys jumped around us and lizards darted here and there through the forest.
Another highlight was a visit to the mangroves. We were guided by Aida who’s nickname is “Lady Mangrove” because of her tireless commitment to save the mangroves. We took a paddle boat moving gently through the mangroves, what a magical moment!
The forest is a breeding ground for many animals. In the dense foliage of the mangrove trees you can be seen some scary animals, among them the mangrove snake. This the gold-ringed cat snake hunts during the night and sleeps during the day.
It can get really aggressive. Fishermen are afraid to fish during the night because of her. Lady Mangrove explained everything with so much passion, she even sung a self composed Mangrove song. It was very touching. When I asked her about her wishes for the future she had tears in her eyes. At the end of this intensive and fascinating tour we planted a little mangrove tree ourselves.