Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Palawan's secret: Tabon Cave

Tita Flor and Roca 
Over Sunday lunch on July 8, my sister Roca who will soon be migrating abroad, declared that she wants to explore the Philippines before she goes. Top on her list was Palawan.  I told her that I've been to St. Paul's Underground River several times before and would love to join if Tabon Cave is included in her itinerary. So lo and behold, the very next day, she made plans and that following weekend, we were off to Puerto Princesa - my aunt (Tita Flor), Roca and niece flew a day earlier to visit the Underground River.

I have never been to Tabon Cave and learned about it in history class in grade school. The site is where the skull of the earliest man in the Philippines was discovered in May 1962 by an american anthropologist Dr. Robert Fox.  The fossils date back between 22,000 and 20,000 B.C. Actually, the site is a cave complex in a 138-hectare island in Lipuun Point in Quezon municipality about 145 kilometers southwest of Puerto Princesa.

It is not easy to get to Tabon. My sister found only one travel agent that services the site. And it is a whole-day trip, a three-hour ride from Puerto Princesa to Quezon and mind you, some portions are quite bumpy. Then, another  30-min ride by banca (outrigger boat).

The ride is quite scenic going through vast rice fields  including that of the Iwahig Penal Colony or prison without walls. It was built by the Americans in 1904 to serve as a source of food supply for prisoners and now, it is known as a source for finely made handcrafted bags and souvenirs.

At the National Museum in Quezon
The first stop in Quezon was the National Museum. Here we registered, toured the museum featuring some of the excavated artefacts and watched the required educational video about the island.  Since it was past noon, we decided to abort the planned picnic on the island and eat in the museum.

After lunch, it was a short drive to the pier to get on the banca. Note: wear trekking sandals! We had to walk through rocks in the pier and upon reaching the island,  we had to carefully tread our way through urchin-laden water to shore.

Entrance to the cave
According to our guide, the Tabon Cave complex has 218 caves, only 22 have been explored and only seven are accessible to the public. Unfortunately, 'accessible' doesn't mean you can enter the caves. We were allowed up to the mouth of each cave. If you want to enter the caves, you must ask permission from the National Museum before going.

The place is not a popular tourist destination at all. We were the only ones on the island. The last tourists who came, logged in two weeks before us. So you can imagine how pristine the place is. It was so quiet that we could hear the birds chirping, the wind rustling the leaves and hear our heart beat from climbing steep steps and that's a total of 1,054 steps! Our guide said that often times, he would spot snakes, wild boars and even bear cats.

White sand beach of Tabon Cave
The tour is a good trek - an hour or two depending on your stamina. The path will cut through rainforest. If your knees are weak, I would suggest to climb the steps slowly - - or go for a swim, walk the white sand beach or tan.

For those who wish to visit Tabon Cave, you can do it yourself - hire a van, bring packed lunch and drinks and text Jay of the National Museum in Quezon at (0948) 159-0955 to inform him of your date of arrival and number of tourists. This is much cheaper than the P4,500 per person we were charged by the Tour operator. The cost though included everything - the van and driver, a licensed tour guide,  entrance fees, packed lunch and drinks.

Tabon Cave

Some of the caves as seen from the shore
Low tide
Site where Dr. Fox found the skull

No comments: