Friday, August 28, 2009

Around Puerto Princesa City - Palawan Chronicles Part 5

Butterfly Garden was a disappointment the first time I visited it a few years back. The butterflies were few and there wasn’t much variety in the species seen. I thought it was probably the season, but this time around, it was the same. Of course there’s not much to complain with an entrance of just PhP25 ($0.51) per adult, but still, as part of an itinerary, this garden is a disappointment. If your itinerary is tight, give it a miss, although if Barangay Santa Monica is part of your trip (Mitra Ranch, Baker’s Hill), then you have the option to drop by Butterfly Garden which is nearby! We will feature Butterfly Garden in a separate post.

National hero Jose P. Rizal stands before the Immaculate Concepcion Cathedral

We trodded back to the centro (city center) to check out the local sites. Outside the Underground River and Honda Bay, the city center doesn’t have much to offer besides its restaurants, laidback demeanor and warm hospitality, but if you are naturally curious and travel-inspired, a visit into any of the following sites will open up avenues of historical and cultural significance. Forget your “malls”. Puerto Princesa has a single “mall” – if you can call it that – New City Commercial Center, otherwise called NCCC, which is more of a big department store than a “mall”. However, there is brewing excitement with the eminent construction of SM Mall in Barangay San Manuel. We have seen the lot that’s presently home to coconut trees and hedges.

Palawan Museum


Palawan is home to several indigenous people and ethno-linguistic tribes. These are the Tagbanua, Palawano, Tau’t Bato and the Batak tribes. Palawan Museum is the repository of relics and artifacts of that otherwise forgotten era. Many of these artifacts have been unearthed from the Tabon Caves, including a skullcap of the remains of a caveman carbon dated back to the early Paleolithic Era about 22,000 years ago. The museum is located along the city’s main commercial street - Rizal Avenue, facing Mendoza Park. Entrance fees are as follows: adults – PhP20 ($0.40), college students – PhP10 ($0.20), high school – PhP5 ($0.10), other children – PhP2. The building is a 2-story complex that’s open Mondays to Saturdays, 9AM to 12PM, 1:30 to 5PM.

I am not certain, but the second floor may be the Ethnographic Museum which showcases the customs and way of life of the Bataks and the Tagbanuas. At the front door, there is a row of tables where you can purchase your tickets, and sign at a guest logbook. Unlike other museums elsewhere, cameras are allowed. This museum reminded me of the heavily ignored government museum in Mandalay (Myanmar) where I found myself the sole visitor (although the logbook showed 3 other tourists who visited earlier). Dusty showcases, faded photographs, discolored labels, cobwebs surrounding lamp posts. An interesting place nevertheless. We will post a separate piece on Palawan Museum.

Someone forgot to dust it for 5 years. LOL

Palawan's hero Dr. Higinio Mendoza, Sr. : honor to die

Facing Palawan Museum is the comely Mendoza Park, named after Palawan’s war hero, Dr. Higinio A. Mendoza, Sr. – a descendant of the popular Mendoza clan who currently runs Casa Linda. Mendoza’s resistance against the Japanese army led to his execution on January 24, 1944 at the age of 46. As his execution was announced, he told his son, “Not a lot of people is given the honor to die for his country.” The park has several tree-of-light that shine bright at night. It also has a children’s playground, and a few benches. It directly faces Rizal Avenue and, to the other end, the museum. The Mendoza Park Multi-Purpose Building stands at one end. There was an on-going forum sponsored by Napocor (National Power Corporation) during our visit.

A tree that lights up the night like Christmas at Mendoza Park.

Mendoza Park Multi-Purpose Building

Talakayan (discussion forum) at the Multi-Purpose Building concerning NPC's power rate adjustments.

The Baywalk - just like sea horses...


This newly developed sprawl is a welcome addition to the city’s few attractions. Facing the Palawan Bay, the park grounds boast of several modern light designs. There are waiting sheds shaped like seahorses - and very few amenities just yet. Grass is still being grown – and a colorful Fish Art adorns the central view deck that's facing the seas. The place comes alive at night as lovers roam and sit by the bayside benches. No entrance fees here, and there are a lot of walkways where cycling can be enjoyed. Tricycles are easily available in the vicinity. We shall feature this baywalk at a separate post.

Fish Art at the Baywalk

Prisoner windows at Plaza Cuartel's old garrison


A few blocks from the baywalk is a restored garrison developed into another park. This takes us back to its grim history. In the evening of December 14, 1944, the Kimpie-tai unit of the Japanese Imperial Army set the prisoner tunnels on fire burning alive 143 American prisoners of war (POWs). Eleven soldiers – Rufus Smith, Ernest John Cablos, Edwin Petry, Eugene Nelson, Elmo Deal, Tommy Daniels, Don T. Schlot, Fern Joseph Barta, Glen Weddal McDole, WM J. Balchus, Alberto D. Pacheco – devised a heart-stopping escape that would have them swim the night seas all the way to Iwahig for freedom. Burnt remains of the fallen POWs were taken to St. Louis Missouri at the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery where a mass burial took place in 1952! I was looking for these tunnels which were supposed to be found beneath the park portals, but I couldn’t find anything more than a less-than-spectacular park lined by huge trees and benches. Free admission.

Plaza Cuartel entrance

Memorial Marker for the 143 soldier who were burned alive by the Japanese soldiers.

11 soldiers managed to escape the atrocities by swimming the night seas to Iwahig.

Immaculate Conception Cathedral - one of the 89 cathedrals in the Philippines.

Right across Plaza Cuartel is one of the 89 cathedrals in the Philippines - the majestic blue edifice of the Immaculate Concepcion Cathedral. I have sung here for a dear friend’s wedding a few years ago, but I wasn’t able to appreciate the gothic exteriors back then (it happened in the evening). This time around, as I was walking into the Cathedral from the Plaza, the façade took my breath away. I entered the church in awe of the blue sheen lighting the interiors. It felt like walking inside a piece of what would rightfully be God’s home. Anyone who visits Puerto Princesa shouldn’t miss this cathedral! It’s one of the holy places where God seems to be hovering around, listening to your wishes.

This is where God lives.

ST. MATTHEW’S EPISCOPAL CHURCH - This small church is located along Rizal Avenue near the Provincial Capitol and Rover’s Place.

Palawan Provincial Capitol along Rizal Avenue


It is hard to miss the province’s seat of governance. The building is circular, with a blue dome at the center. Philippine flags are hoisted above and around the beige walls. The lot was donated by the former mayor of Puerto Princesa, Don Pedro M. Vicente, Sr. As respect to the former mayor, the park grounds just outside the circular capitol was dedicated to and named as Don Pedro M. Vicente Memorial Park which has a huge circular pond with a non-working fountain, some plam trees and santan plants. At dusk, people are seen relaxing in the several benches around the park. Since it is withing the Capitol grounds, there are guards manning the gated entrances facing the streets. No entrance fees here.

Don Pedro M. Vicente Memorial Park

Holy Trinity College just beside the Immaculate Concepcion Cathedral. At the other side is the Baywalk.

The cross facing Holy Trinity College

NCCC, the city's only big-department store. This is where day-outers for Dos Palmas Resort will wait for the service bus that will take them to the port.

Next: Butterfly Garden and the City Baywalk

This is the Eye in the Sky.

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