The official name for the Palawan underground river on the west coast of the island of Palawan, is the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park. It is an 80km drive from Puerto Princesa and a short trip by Bangka to the mouth of the river. I
The river sits under the mountain range on the west coast and although much is still unexplored, including waterfalls within the mountain, there is 8.2 kms of river that you can explore with a ticket and a guide, kitted out in life jacket and safety hat in small boats containing 6 to 8 people.
The entrance from the river looks imposing, a great dark hole in the side of the mountain from what seems a relatively small river, but once inside the sheer scale is easily apparent. The darkness descends on you very fast and the journey is lit by flashlights. At some point the lights will go out and everyone go quiet and the weight of the darkness and the extraordinary silence descends on you. It is eerie, a darkness and quiet you can’t find in everyday life, and you realise the dangers and difficulties involved in exploring the river.
The journey along the river and back is marked with rock formations, walls made smooth by the effect of water over generations, bats in vast numbers and the formations made from their droppings, narrow passageways and huge domes rising as high as 300m above the river.
Voices echo in the darkness and the sound of cameras is magnified echoing against the walls and ceiling. In the distance you see a circle of light, incongruous in the darkness you have become accustomed to and it’s the exit, and you emerge into the bright sunlight and the sight of groups waiting their turn on the river, as if coming into another world.
The national park is a world heritage sight, with the area surrounding the river mouth having its very own micro ecology and innumerable varieties of plants animal life and recreations from hiking to a zip line running out over the sea.
The journey back where the road undulates through hills and small villages is a good time to reflect on that immensity and diversity of nature