First Time in Palawan

A very rare opportunity happened this last weekend. Thanks to family coming from San Francisco, our party of nine once again reunited in Palawan for a weekend experience that would likely remain in our memories forever. It was three days of ups and downs, of uncertain weather, of adventures we didn’t know what to expect but ended enjoying it nevertheless.

Munting Paraiso

Day one. The three of us– wifey, Marcus, and I–arrived ahead of everyone in Puerto Princesa and were picked up by Munting Paraiso‘s shuttle for an early check in. We stayed in room number nine and sis and family would take eight. My mother, father, and elder sister stayed somewhere nearby, Paboreal, where we all converged for lunch before our first Palawan vacation activity.

Clockwise from lower right: Paboreal’ room is big; Beer is life; Meeting my mother again after 3 years; At the crocodile farm; Croc stuffed toy.
Clockwise from middle left: Baker’s Hill has stuff for kids; Other than its hopia, the place itself is an attraction; Dinner at Kahlui; Get reserved please; Mini gallery; Kahlui’s entrance.

Friday afternoon was spent on a subtle city tour. It was our first feel of the dizzying Puerto Princesa City’s streets. We passed by their baywalk, the crocodile and Mitra farms, Baker’s Hill, and a souvenir market. All these getting in and out of the van plus the unusually humid weather worked up our appetite for dinner. Our elder sister who previously visited  Puerto Princesa reserved accommodation for us in one of the city’s popular resto called KaLui but since the place sticks to its 6 PM opening so we waited for an hour in their garden. It felt like an eternity. Good thing that the long wait was worth it.

KaLui is a Filipino-themed restaurant. Its structure, wooden furnitures, menu, and yes, its observance of an old-fashioned practice of removing footwear upon stepping inside the place made us feel like visiting a home rather than a commercial establishment. Our low-seating arrangement complemented the native dining experience. KaLui has interesting artifacts and even has a mini art gallery, and a restroom so clean that walking in barefoot didn’t matter. Too bad I didn’t return to take a picture of the restroom as I got busy tasting everything that was served on our table. Its local brew was nice as well but I soon learned it was pricey than San Miguel.

The sky opened up early Saturday morning and it felt like nothing could be accomplished that day. We all left for the Underground River tour anyway in spite of heavy downpour but without wifey and Marcus. Good thing our tour guide kept the rainy drive interesting for everyone including our foreign guests as he speaks good English and provides insights about the place. We reached the port after about an hour and 30 minutes.

Weather improved when we reached the ferry port. Only challenge left was to have our 82-year old father get on the ferry and deal with some slight bumpy ferry trip to the Underground River. All efforts paid off when we started getting a glimpse of the rock formations along the coastline. The main attraction would be more striking.

Underground River day.
The tour is only a short segment of the Underground River. Special permits are required to enter the entire length of the cave.

While the briefing on our way gave us some idea on what to expect, our senses were overwhelmed the moment we entered the cave. The Underground River is a spectacle and it is hypnotic. I find it also a blessing that my automated voice module didn’t work because all I heard were natural noises. The rhythmic splash of the paddle, the echo of the boatman’s voice, the sounds of bats flying all over the cave, and the water dripping from the cracks above with some of it hitting our hard hats every now and then. Darkness during the entire trip cut only by the lights from our and other boatmen’s helmet added to the sense of mystery and awe. Then there’s that distinct stink of guano. All elements combined beat any movie visual and sound effects. No question that the Underground River is among the seven natural wonders of the world.

Surely deserves the spot.
Nice beach but seems like they don’t allow swimming here as this is only for ferry boats. 

Part of the tour package is a buffet lunch at Gusto Grill and Resto where the highlight would be the chance to try their exotic offer, the Tamilok. I learned that this local delicacy is a mollusk rather than a worm which explains why despite its intimidating length and texture it actually tastes like oyster. My father and I had one serving each and we could’ve taken more. Too bad our American guest didn’t dare touch it.

Our last dinner together at Munting Paraiso’s dining area.

Sunday started just like the day before. Peaking out of our room’s native Zebra blinds reveals that we’re in for another soaky day. It’s a make or break day especially for wifey and Marcus who got left behind yesterday. I don’t want them to remember their Palawan vacation as just staying in the room and swimming in the pool so we braved the rains. Marcus was excited to do some driving adventure on our last day.

MAX Palawan adventure.

 

We headed to MAX Palawan with anxiety if the rain would let up. With Marcus in mind, quitting was an option if rain continues to pour hard. Fortunately, luck was on our side and it was like heavens just readied our day’s playground. After few minutes spent putting on our safety gears and a quick orientation, we got ourselves strapped in the dune buggy. My sister partnered with my wife in the other car while my in-law and their son got on their respective ATVs.

The track was rocky, twisting, undulating, and muddy. And we enjoyed it. It was wet and wild and exhilarating. MAX Palawan’s dune buggy allowed me to drive with ‘controlled recklessness.’ Marcus enjoyed his role as navigator and never cared if mud and puddle water came splashing in. That’s my boy, willing to get dirty to save the day.  We definitely didn’t regret picking this forty-five minute adventure over snorkeling or scuba diving. MAX Palawan is on Facebook , check them out.

I wish they offered this. This a display at Blue Palawan Hotel where my in-law swiped his plastic bandit for our muddy adventure.

We beat the clock on our way back to the hotel. Barely clean after a quick pressure hosing just to remove the clumps of dirt, we settled in MAX Palawan’s van with most of us still wearing our clay-stained clothes. Thanks to the preparation wifey did in the morning, we were able to accomplish the fastest check out we’ve ever done. We transferred to a cheap hotel as we wait for our flight to Manila.

Our Palawan weekend was  short and sweet. We didn’t really get to see the other popular attractions but the fact the we spent the weekend with family in a place we’ve visited for the very first time makes the experience irreplaceable. I also like that we were able to prove the advisories wrong. Philippines is still generally peaceful and its people and places could still create an experience that we could be proud of especially to our foreign guests. There will be a next time, we will be back.

New Palawan Airport’s departure area. 

***

Munting Paraiso is good place for groups or individuals who prefer quiet accommodation as it has only less than 12 rooms and it is located 1-2 kilometers from the city proper.  The way the streets going to the hotel are setup also made it appear farther.

Their rooms’ interior and exterior designs are good and I think each of it has a veranda with a native hammock where one could lazily hang out while waiting for their next adventure.

Lighting though is dim so reading books could be a challenge at night. We had a hard time assembling Marcus’ new Lego as we had to use cellphone lights to follow the instructions.

I also learned later that my sis family’s room has a foul smell which my in-law said could be a backed up drain which prompted them to transfer to another hotel the day we parted ways. So it seems like it wasn’t me smelling guano when I entered our room’s restroom coming from the Underground River trip. My clogged nose that weekend was a blessing in disguise.

***

Is Palawan PWD-friendly?

Trips are always a challenge with someone in a wheelchair. So strangers who offer help are always appreciated. One offered to carry my son’s wheelchair so we can see the bigger crocs at the crocodile farm’s elevated walkway but since I can still carry him I politely declined it.

The tour guide also assured that they could accommodate Marcus and his wheelchair had we decided to bring him along. The wheelchair may be left somewhere at the finish area of the Underground River tour.

MAX Palawan was also PWD-friendly. They picked us up and the wheelchair fit just fine inside their van. The buggy’s four-point harness also ensured a safe ride for a 9-year old boy.

***

I received a call from an unknown number while taking a siesta in D’ Lucky Garden Inn. It was from the airport clinic in Cebu. The caller advised that my mother got sick coming from Palawan and while waiting for their transfer flight to Bacolod. Good thing the doctor soon allowed her to be transferred to Mactan Doctors Hospital with my father in a wheelchair tagging along. I felt helpless that we can’t be there for them at that moment. My elder sister who got another airline eventually arrived there and took charge. They all missed their flights but were out of the hospital the next day with the doctor allowing my mother to fly back to Bacolod. Whew. Definitely a weekend to remember.

***

Mood: 2/10 Honks! (We’re almost back in shape. Marcus and I were nursing a cough while in Palawan.)

Vacation season

Tis the season to be jolly. Not yet the right song but I’m singing it anyway. In less than an hour we fly somewhere within the country, some place we would be at for the very first time. In Marcus’ list, another hotel, another bathroom to discover.

From one hotel comes next and then another. It does look like when it rains it pours. A week after our premature Red Planet staycation, we found ourselves celebrating our wedding anniversary in another hotel in Alabang. We were in Somerset Alabang Manila and it was the best so far based on budget range we–specifically, my wife–have paid for.

Our Somerset Hotel’s accommodation was a studio-type room and it was roomy and it could have been home away from home had we stayed longer like what we did in A Venue Makati. It took some long years before that hotel in Makati would find its match in terms of room amenities. 

Took us time to figure it out but we had our clothes washed and dried with that machine in the corner.

The Somerset hotel room has everything set for a week-long stay. There’s microwave, two-door fridge, spacious closet, couch, circular table, utensils, flat-sceen HD TV, and (drum rolls please), a modern washing machine. I can’t recall we’ve ever been in a room with its own laundry machine. Bathroom has the usual stuffs like bathtub and the basic but luxurious fixtures. Don’t panic, room has internet.

A table for dinner and Uno games.
We arrived with this on the table. It’s wine and it’s for free.

Parking was also worth mentioning. Somerset Alabang Manila must be one of those with well-lit basement parking space I’ve ever seen. Make sure to ask for your parking assignment though as there are double parking spaces and you don’t want to be paged or called while your doing your own laundry in your room. 

Marcus loves visiting gyms.

Then there’s the nice gym located close to the pool area. Somerset’s workout haven has the latest equipment for cardio and strength training. It would have been more challenging had there been more free breakfast buffet choices.

Seafoods would have made us smile more.

This hotel is definitely a must try. Can’t wait to see what awaits in Palawan.

***

Mood: 3/10 Honks! (Sun’s out so it must be a good sign.)

Refreshing Birthday at Hotel H2O

Summer vacation plans can be overwhelming. There’s that part when one wants to get that well-deserved pampering in a hotel and there’s that urge to get out of the urban jungle to be one with nature. Both though, however contrasting, have one general benefit to everyone–an experience that soothes the senses. Then ask anyone and more likely than not there would be that common element they have in mind that is synonymous to relaxation. Water. 

Cruise ship docked close to Manila Ocean Park.

Thank heavens, we need not split friends or family members into groups anymore just to satisfy everyone’s wish and there’s no need to burn gas just to drive farther out of town either. Located within Metro Manila is a haven called Hotel H20 which provides the best of both worlds. Whether you’re in for an overnight staycation (when did this word come into life by the way?) in a comfy hotel or if you’re looking for opportunities to interact with wildlife, this hotel has it.

The Oceanarium tunnel.

Its name derived right out of our science subject, H20 stands for water–remember? Situated along the scenic Manila Bay area, and in close proximity to the historic Luneta Park, Hotel H2O  offers its guests a variety of refreshing options. All it takes is some good online deal hunting skills which thankfully my wife possesses–whether naturally or out of necessity.

A fan of Metrodeal, wifey was able to find a good package once again just in time for a birthday celebration. Our kid, Marcus, turned nine yesterday and this time he wished for nothing but to see fish. His regular visit to the hospital’s saltwater aquarium during his therapy sessions must’ve been a factor . So imagine his surprise when we entered Hotel H2O’s room and for him to see one whole wall where different colorful fishes swim back and forth 24/7. This beats any Ultra HDTV entertainment, yes?

Great for kids and working moms. Even Spongebob approves.

Our accommodation package includes access to Manila Ocean Park’s attractions that complete our son’s birthday wish like touching the once intimidating stingray in the Close Encounter with Sharks and Stingrays area. In the Oceanarium, we were surrounded by giant aquariums that made us all feel like Finding Nemo characters. It was a bonus that Marcus got to see the scuba divers feeding the fishes. 

Like being one with the ocean.

But Manila Ocean Park is more than just about water creatures. There’s Birds of Prey area where Eagles fly almost freely. Anyone who likes to see rare collection of toys would definitely want to see Yexel’s Toy Museum–the Iron Man set is must see. Then there’s the variety of jellyfishes that seem hypnotic as they move gracefully in their own aquariums. Our package does not include the Creepy Crawlies but the extra pay was worth it.

Yexel’s collections.
Colorful Creepy Crawlies animals.

This is Marcus’ fourth visit to Manila Ocean Park though our first time to stay in H2O Hotel. He discovered that we skipped the bubbly pool in the Liquid pool area so being a fan of pools he would want to be back soon. Hopefully by then improvements would have been made.
***

Waves have crest and trough. That’s ups and downs. In summary, here’s our Hotel H2O  experience.

Crest

  • P5000 was worth the package.
  • Bed and linen are clean and comfy.
  • Toilet fixtures are mostly functional
 
  • Most hotel staff are friendly and helpful.
  • For picky kids, the option to grab their favorite fastfood few walks outside the hotel is a big plus. I was out late night for a burger steak meal.
  • The attractions are PWD-friendly.
We always appreciate seeing something that Marcus could relate to.

    Trough

    • Bidet please.
    • Shower area doesn’t have enough recessed floor and the glass door has gaps so it water leaks out of the enclosure.
    By design, the door is shared by the shower and toilet area. Take note also of the clear glass walls.
    • PWDs would have some access challenge.

    • Don’t expect too much from the Liquid dining buffet. 
    • The penguin area needs some love.

    ***

    Mood: 2/10 Honks! (Pool time.)

    Sky’s the limit

    To jump out of an airplane and eat at McDonald’s were two of the things I mentioned when I was asked by my brother in-law what I plan to do once we are in the US. I never thought the former was possible as I just want wifey and Marcus to experience their first US trip–everything else would be a plus. Then budget was an issue and the more we got closer to the trip the more I learned that weather could be a factor. But as fate would have it, the skydive happened. On a fine Elk Grove day, my brother in-law jumped strapped to our own instructors.

    Tandem freefall from 13,000 feet.

     

    The freefall was thrilling, the view was spectacular.

    This is the second time I have jumped out of the plane and maybe this wouldn’t be the last. Fingers crossed.

    ***

    In pictures

    My sis and I after my first jump so may years ago.

     

    Back to the arms of with my ever supportive wife. (Take note of the shadow.)

     

    Grounded and happy to drive back home.

     

    Anxious beneficiaries at the jump center in Lodi taken while I and my in-law fill up our respective waivers.

     

    Late afternoon stroll at the park after the jump.

    ***

    Mood: 2/10 Honks! (Inside an RV somewhere in San Francisco early in the morning.)

     

     

    Achievement unlocked: Snow

    To be in the snow seems like to be just a dream for people like us. It’s like we can see it only be in the movies, in the games. I have never imagined that soon we’d frolic in it. Yesterday it happened.

    Red wheelchair in the snow.

    Marcus is someone who can go sleep in an air-conditioned room just wearing sando and pajama so we had a hard time getting him to wear extra layer of clothing since we arrived in the US. He would complain at every opportunity justifying he could take the cold. However snow changed his mind in an instant.

    Bally the Snowman.

    To build a snowman had been his main plan when he learned we’d be at Kirkwood. So immediately after lunch we made one for him though it didn’t look like typical–one with the carrot nose and button eyes. He named it Bally.

    Using apple and grapes. This is the best snowman size and look we can do.

    Marcus had fun nevertheless. He experienced his first snowfight and saw the elements he used to only see in his Call of Duty map–the condensation when he exhales, the bright red plastic fence, the massive white snow. He loves the snow so much that he would’ve wanted to stay longer.

    He can’t move his legs so I got a good excuse to make a snow angel for him.

    ***

    Marcus with his uncle.

    Wifey and I had our first ski lesson and it was one I didn’t expect her to enjoy.  She was so anxious about it that I had a good laugh when I discovered she was watching YouTube ski videos during the wee hours of the morning before our trip. The tutorial seems to have paid off as she did better than expected. Had she hydrated enough she could have reached the Graduation slope with me.

    There was bitterness in the experience though. Along with our ski class were kids learning how to snowboard. I couldn’t help but admire how cute they were in their complete gears.

    “How old are you guys?” I asked some of them when I got close to the group after I exited the conveyor.

    “I’m 5…I’m 8,” came the replies. For some moment I almost teared up. Marcus could have been one of them.

    ***

    Mood: 4/10 Honks! (Old dog, new trick.)

     

    Our Santas’ House

    We must have been so nice that this year our Santa Clauses decided that we personally pick our gifts from where it come from.

    No reindeers here but fat cats and nosey dogs.
    The table has been cleared and beers and gifts take over.

    While this isn’t my first time to set foot in the US, this is the first time to be with Marcus and wifey and with our Santa Clauses. Needless to say, this is one unusual Christmas for the three of us and we couldn’t thank God enough for this opportunity and for surrounding us with people who support us: people who paid for this trip and even people back home who wished us well.

    Merry Christmas everyone!!!

    ***

    Mood: 2/10 Honks!!!! (Our Garmin watches are waiting to be tested.)