Date of Trip: February 2008
Hum, but don’t wake up the snake
The airport’s banal life behind me, I found my way to Puerto Princesa in Palawan (Philippines). Dreamy of pristine beaches and blue-green sea, I looked forward to squeeze my poor feet into the sun-baked sand for that soothing warmth on the sole. In Sabang beach near the famous Underground River, I got what I’d come for: the sun, sand, sea and a pair of good-old refreshed feet. But truth be told, it was a bit too much of a good thing. That’s when I decided to walk the monkey trail that leads to an old mangrove forest some hundred steps away.
Here, amidst old-growth mangrove trees and silent waters, I had a micro-experience of Puerto’s wild side. I was assured that the yellow and orange feathered kingfisher nestled still on a tree branch is as alive as the mangrove forest we were paddling through. This protected swamp, around 30 meter-wide water strip, hosts old-growth mangrove trees as tall as an eight story building. Birds of various feathers and sounds love it here. The old, dark trees’ wicked roots and branches crisscross each other like evil giants locked in arms and arched over the river, making this forest a Jurassic dead-ringer on a grey overcast. Try going onshore past the interlocking mossy roots and stand still, if you haven’t slip yet, facing up to the sharp lime cliffs that seem to shoot up to the sky. You can feel birds and snakes and who-knows-what lurk behind the shadows.
Our boat went deeper into the swamp forest. The peace and quiet gave me a natural high, a true break from the urban mess. A yellow-striped black snake with a finger’s width — it’s hard to remember all those names so prepare to describe the wildlife you saw to friends — was curled and sleeping on a branch directly above our passing boat. “It does not strike unless provoked,” the guide assured me, which of course was hardly assuring after I learned it packs in deadly venom.
Farther upstream, I saw something moved near the shore. It’s a monitor lizard. Honestly, I was a little nervous to see wild crocodiles. But I know my Animal Planet. Crocs love to sun bathe, and the mangroves lining the shore-ends and covering the sun make sure these dinosaurs won’t like it here. Big break for me … and the lizard.
The community protects the area, and they serve as guides, too. Like all mangroves, this one offers a natural habitat for fish breeding. No commercial fishing is allowed, although you can try line fishing to hook your lunch. Clams and oysters are also easy pick along the shore, granting you only take them as food. While at it, here’s one to go with the menu: tamiluk, a kind-of bark worm that is positively slimy and absolutely unappetizing. I tried this local delicacy and it tastes like oyster. They are pulled out from mangrove barks and served raw with calamansi. Tamiluks are a nice treat, but I’ll go for the oyster any day.
If you long for a nice peace and quiet, or want to reflect on whatever, or simply enjoy nature and its living side without having to scour a large area, try this Mangrove Paddle Tour in Sabang River, Puerto Princesa. Rent a river boat and paddle your way through the swamp, or hire a local to do the work while you hum a tune. Just don’t wake up the snake.