The Fish Frighteners; Kudat to Puerto Princessa, more coral blasting and into the Philippines. November 28 to January 08 (2012).

When boats arrive at Puerto Princessa on Palawan in the Philippines, the local fisherman have their own ways to use them to catch fish. The procedure is to lay a net around one end of the at-anchor boat, say 50 metres across in an arc, then move around the boat at the other end in your boat and frighten the fish into the net. The best way to do this is take a long pole with a large ‘drain or bath  plunger’, (the same piece of high tech equipment the Daleks in Doctor Who used to carry about) and use said hi-tech equipment to make loud banging noises while striking the water.  It does seem to be very effective although the fish they catch are quite small and probably easily frightened.  However and all the same, size presumably doesn’t matter that much when something to eat is better than not much else.

Puerto Princessa is half way up the eastern side of the island of Palawan, one of the most southern islands in the Philippines. This is the preferred island to travel along while headed north from Malaysia. The island is long and skinny so you can go up either the east or western side of Palawan and give Mindanao a very wide berth. In Mindanao (SE about 280 miles) abduction and ransom is still very much a growth industry and while some of those unfortunate enough to run across the modern incarnation of the Moro Pirates may have friends affluent enough to bail them out of trouble, it’s extremely doubtful these yachties could raise the funds to get themselves out of such shite.

The passage up from Kudat involved 220 miles travelling in either very light conditions or motor-sailing, close hauled into the north-east monsoon; with of course the occasional squall and the usual thunder, lightning and torrential rain. Off ‘Brookes Point’ the rain was so heavy we were obliged to run something of a race track a mile offshore while waiting for visibility to get better than 100 metres. We stopped at Banggi down in Malaysia, Balabac town (on Balabac Island of course), skirted east around Bugsuk Island to spend a night under Iglesia Point near Rio Tuba, Brookes Point on November 01, a night off the mangroves at Rassa Island and a longish hop direct into Puerto Princessa just in time for the Sunday Buffet at the ‘Abanico Yacht Club’. After all of the doomsayers on weather and conditions the trip up was straightforward if to windward and hot! So hot that on one day of sweltering along the fishermen in their little boats hiding under a towel a couple of miles offshore looked so parched we decided they were in need of a beer. These guys sit in the blazing sun, no shade, a few miles offshore, in the smallest of boats jigging for a few fish; the beers appeared to go down well. Around Bugsuc Island we marvelled at the inshore fishermen engaged in far more high tech fishing pursuits happily blowing what’s left of the reef here to pieces. You could actually watch the columns of water leaping into the air after they tossed their home made hand grenades away from their boat and into the water. They didn’t appear to be particularly perturbed by our presence and enforcement would appear to exist only as a fantasy. It shouldn’t however be to hard to catch them, apparently you can pick the explosives fishermen by counting the number of fingers. We did manage to catch one fish (a tuna) ourselves coming up but also managed to lose our last good lure on something very big; probably a really large model of those smelly Barracuda.

The Abanico Yacht Club at Puerto is run by (Big Nose) John and Cissy and is such a chilled and laid back place to spend time that in Amanda’s words, it seems to be something of a ‘black hole’ for passing yachties; many of whom takes months or years to leave. Sissy is the driving force here with John acting as social organiser in the open lounge each day; good place to visit and hard to leave, would you like another glass of wine? John also has some moorings out in the harbour so this was a good place to leave the boat and head back to Australia for Christmas and New Year. Of course the best laid plans and all almost came to grief as two days before flying out the cyclone season gave it’s last hoorah. There we all were, two in the morning, extra anchors ready, sails off and everything conceivable lashed down while waiting the passage of tropical cyclone ‘Washi’ which in the end was supposed to pass directly over Puerto. An eventful night with all the boaty types waiting, waiting, waiting, but by the time it passed 60 miles or so north the winds up there were only about 40-50. The storm did however manage to kill around 1000 people in Mindanao with flash flooding along rivers washed through the shanty areas where so many of the poor people live.

The island of Palawan is becoming apparently one of ‘the’ places to visit while at the moment not suffering from the excesses of tourism that abound in parts of Malaysia and most of Thailand. Top of the list of things to do here is visit the ‘Underground River’ on the islands west coast at Sabang. The river is in a large national park and was in 2011 declared one of the seven, natural wonders of the world. The only way to visit the river is to utilise the local (parks) boatmen who take you in their little ‘paddle-boats’ about two and half km upriver. The (underground) river system actually extends some tens of km underground with tributaries and smaller offshoots all over the place having carved an extensive network of tunnels through the limestone bed-rock.  We are back in Karst country here similar to Phang Nga Bay back in Thailand, except without the same scale of crass, over-development (at least not yet). The tunnel trip was interesting although the boatmans observations about the landscape were pretty much restricted to, ‘the rock to your left looks like an onion’, ‘this rock to your right looks like a mushroom’; many vegetables involved here. There were also the obligatory religious observations, ‘the face on this rock looks like Jesus’, ‘that rock looks like the Virgin Mary’, ‘this rock looks like the last supper’, of course they all looked just like rocks. Ollie did make the observation that one rock might look a bit like a Priest doing interesting things to an alter boy, this did draw a few strange looks from others in our boat party! There are also the vestiges of past visitors (described as vandals) who left their names or boat names painted on the walls of the tunnel. Interesting thing that some of the writing is barely legible, while some of the more notable graffiti (English and Japanese soldiers for example) all seems fresh and new and appears to be have been touched up with the same white paint; now who would have thought?

On January 08 we dragged ourselves away from Puerto headed north for El Nido, about 16 miles south from the top of Palawan on the west coast. On board now were new crew, Ollie and Sally from the UK and Jamie from Canada. Ollie is headed generally back toward home after 18 months of travel in India and Asia and after sailing in the Philippines is looking toward a train ride across China and Russia with a skiing sojourn thrown in on Lake Baikal!!!  Sally is fresh from Thailand and Malaysia after completing the 2011 Sail Indonesia rally, while Jamie is taking a couple of weeks of boaty travel before braving the travails of a five star holiday around Papua New Guinea. Jamie is also quite the creative type and artist so before he leaves we will finally get our special ‘Gadfly’ T-shirt design. The weather of course is still NE, sometimes ENE and we are departing amidst tales of doom about what the NE monsoon is going to do to us if we dare move north. Must go though before being swallowed up by the Abanico black hole.

Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park

PPUR (National Park) is located about 50 kilometres (30 mi) north of the city centre of  Puerto Princessa, Palawan, Philippines. The river also called Puerto Princesa Underground River. The national park is located in the Saint Paul Mountain Range on the northern coast of the island. It is bordered by St. Paul Bay to the north and the Babuyan River to the

east. The City Government of Puerto Princesa has managed the National Park since 1992. It is also known as St. Paul’s Subterranean River National Park, or St. Paul Underground River. The entrance to the Subterranean River is a short hike from the town of Sabang.


The park has a limestone karst mountain landscape with an 8.2 kilometer navigable underground river. A distinguishing feature of the river is that it winds through a cave before flowing directly into the West Philippine Sea. It includes major formations of stalactites and stalagmites, and several large chambers. The lower portion of the river is subject to tidal influences. Until the 2007 discovery of an underground river in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, the Puerto Princessa Subterranean River was reputed to be the world’s longest underground river.

The area also represents a habitat for biodiversity conservation. The site contains a full mountain-to-the-sea ecosystem and has some of the most important forests in Asia. It was inscribed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site on December 4, 1999.


The Park has a range of forest formations representing eight of the thirteen forest types found in tropical Asia, namely forest over ultramafic soils, forest over limestone soils, montane forest, freshwater swamp forest, lowland evergreen tropical rainforest, riverine forest, beach forest, and mangrove forest. Researchers have identified more than 800 plant species from 300 genera and 100 families. These include at least 295 trees dominated by the dipterocarp type of species. In the lowland forest, large trees such as the Dao (Dracontomelon dao), Ipil (Intsia bijuga), Dita (Alstonia scholaris), Amugis (Koordersiodendrum pinnatum), and Apitong (Dipterocarpus gracilis) are common. Beach forest species include Bitaog (Calophyllum inophyllum), Pongamia pinnata, and Erynthia orientalis. Other notable plant species include Almaciga (Agathis philippinensis), Kamagong (Diospyros pulganensis) Pandan (Pandanus sp.) Anibong, and Rattan (‘Calamus sp.)


Birds comprise the largest group of vertebrates found in the park. Of the 252 bird species known to occur in Palawan, a total of 165 species of birds were recorded in the park. This represents 67% of the total birds and all of the 15 endemic bird species of Palawan. Notable species seen in the park are the blue-naped parrot (Tanygnathus lucionensis), Tabon scrub fowl (Megapodius cumunigii), hill myna (Gracula religiosa), Palawan hornbill (Anthracoceros marchei), white breasted sea eagle (Halitutus leucogates ).

There are also some 30 mammal species that have been recorded (Madulid, 1998). Most often observed in the forest canopy and along the shoreline feeding during low tide is the long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis), the only primate found in the area. Other mammal species in the park are the bearded pig (Sus barbatus), bearcat (Arctictis binturong), Palawan stink badger (Mydaus marchei) and the Palawan porcupine (Hystrix pumilus)

19 species of reptiles have been identified, eight of which are endemic (Madulid, 1998). Common species in the area include large predators like the common reticulated python (Phython reticulatus), the monitor lizard (Varanus salvator) and the green crested lizard (Bronchocoela cristatella). Amphibian fauna include ten species. The Philippine woodland frog (Rana acanthi) is the most dominant and frequently encountered. One species, Barbourula busuangensis, endemic to Palawan was also observed in the area.

Notable are the nine species of bats, two species of swiftlets and whip spider (Stygophrynus sp.) found in the cave, and the sea cow (Dugong dugon) and the hawksbill sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) that feed in the coastal area of the park.

International notability

Puerto Princesa Underground River was entered as the Philippine entry – and topped the first round of voting – in the New7Wonders of Nature competition, and on July 28, 2011, after the second round of voting, it was declared 1 of 28 finalists. Mayor Edward S. Hagedorn extended his gratitude to all those who supported and voted for the PPUR.On November 11, 2011 it was provisionally chosen as one of the “New7Wonders of Nature”, together with the Amazonia, Halong Bay, Iguazu Falls, Jeju Island, Komodo Island, and Table Mountain.

The voting was criticized, especially the Philippine voting. Nothing in the New7Wonders voting procedure prohibited repetitive voting, making the results subject to government and tourism industry campaigns to vote often for local sites with the financial incentive of increased tourism. Philippine president Benigno Simeon Aquino III, in his speech during the official proclamation launch of the Puerto Princesa Underground River as one of the 28 finalists, urged the country’s 80 million cellphone subscribers to vote PPUR via text: “We send two billion text messages a day, all we need is one billion text votes for the Puerto Princesa Underground River so (we can accomplish) that in half a day,” the President said. “I urge everyone to vote to the maximum for the Puerto Princesa Underground River as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature” he reiterated.

Now who would have thought????


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One Response to “The Fish Frighteners; Kudat to Puerto Princessa, more coral blasting and into the Philippines. November 28 to January 08 (2012).”

  1. Zulhilmi Ghouse Says:

    Hi =)
    I was googling for a cheap ferry/boat ride from Kudat to Puerto Princessa, but found your blog instead. Anyway, it was nice reading about your travels. Cheers.

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