A Visit to Paradise
By Walter Ang
September 19, 2001
Philippine Daily Inquirer
This is your intrepid 2bU! correspondent traversing the lush island paradise of Palawan. We have come to conquer the city of Puerto Princessa via an Air Philippines flight from Manila. To rest up for the adventure ahead, we spent the night at the tony Spanish villa- inspired Asturias Hotel. We all had a short nightcap at the lobby's Scenario Bar before turning in for the night.
After devouring a hearty breakfast, we dropped by the butterfly farm first. They showed a video of the butterfly's life cycle that we all thought was hilarious. We felt like a bunch of kindergarteners with this video voice over telling us not to do this and not to touch that and all sorts of other precautions.
I grew up in fume-filled Metro Manila, so butterflies were, and still are, a rarity. It was interesting to see all these colorful flying insects hovering about. There were plates laid out with gumamelas and sliced bananas to attract the little creatures but all you had to do was look up and they were all over the garden. You just had to look a little harder for the ones that were camouflaged like leaves.
The highlight of the morning was when our guide showed us two butterflies that were, well, in flagrante delicto. The garden boasts of its Yellow Breadwings, the second largest butterfly in the country, but it also has a few other creatures that call it home. If you loved the movie "A Bug's Life," then this place will give you a chance to see those computer generated bugs for real. They've got big, juicy millipedes, a walking stick and some fantastic Malay scorpions, among other creepy crawlies.
Moving on, we ventured to the Palawan Wildlife Refuge and Rescue Center, more popularly known as The Crocodile Farm. The skeleton of the largest crocodile ever captured in the country greeted us as we entered the center. All 17 feet and 6 inches of its hide was stretched across the wall like an ominous welcome sign.
When we got to the holding area for the adult crocs, it felt like we were in Jurassic Park ? there were metal walkways and everything. There were so many crocs that were just lying there and not moving at all. Our guides Glenn Rebong and Rene Baylon explained that these reptiles stay very still because of their opportunistic nature. They're all waiting for the first piece of food to come along. That's when the action gets going.
Of course, our guides were quick to dispel the myth that crocs are manhunters. They only attack when they're hungry or protecting their young. They can't even tell the difference between humans and the rest of the animals they usually munch on!
We also had a peek at the infirmary where injured crocs and those born with congenital defects (like missing tails) were kept. 2bU!'s favorite was a croc who had a calcium deficiency and, as a result, had no teeth. Although it is still fed regularly, it looked so forlorn. And who wouldn't be melancholy if the rest of your kind can go through 3,000 teeth in a lifetime and you had none!
At the nursery, baby crocs were placed in tubs all lined up in the warehouse. We got a chance to hold one, but to make it safe, its snout was held together with rubber bands. The tiny little thing wriggled as I held it by its neck and tail and it gave out the cutest little croak when we took pictures.
The croc's underside was smooth and it reminded me of Zoology class with all those frogs we had to poke, prod and dissect. Baby crocs are a lot less slimy and messy than frogs, I assure you. But, just like frogs, they do move a lot. Unlike the adults, these were hyper little devils and would snap and scatter every so often.
Their sudden movements would elicit screams from the correspondents as we jumped with fright. The Center is currently being funded by the DENR, but proposals have been made to let the local Palawan government have a bigger hand in running the center to attract more tourists.
I wish we had enough time to explore the underground river, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It would also have been fun to visit the Vietnamese refugee camp and taste their cuisine, which a friend has done and bragged about. But then, it gives me a great excuse to visit Puerto Princessa again.
2bU! readers can get the best deals on trips to Palawan by getting in touch with the Network of Independent Travel Agents. Call 522-2434 and they'll refer a travel agent nearest you.