Monday, December 2, 2013

Hello, Palawan! (Day 1, Part 2) - Exploring Puerto Princesa City

DAY 1 - Exploring the City

We got into a guided City tour on the afternoon of our arrival. As we were the last group picked up by the tour van, the route first took us to the Baywalk behind Puerto Pension, then immediately up past the seaport gate on the way to the historic City Plaza Cuartel across of which is the Immaculate Concepcion Cathedral.

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Quick shot of the Baywalk from the city tour van.
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City Tour Stop #1: Plaza Cuartel entrance

Plaza Cuartel was a garrison during WW II and is now significant for its tunnel, the opening of which remains preserved and viewable but enclosed to avoid accidental falls. It is in this tunnel where about 150 American POWs were meted out their deaths by their Japanese captors, either burned alive inside it on December 14, 1944, or shot at (or impaled by bayonets); some, according to the entrance marker, were able to escape by swimming across to Iwahig).

Historical notes refer to this incident as the Palawan Massacre and mention that 11 men survived including Don Schloat whose sculpture of a man writhed in pain stands atop a marker that sits in the middle of this enclosed public park, on what was the main underground bunker occupied by the WWII POWs.

What our tour guide failed to mention was that Schloat was ill and imprisoned in Bilibid in Luzon from this Palawan POW camp when the massacre happened; that his sculpture was a tribute to his fallen colleagues who were forced to labor constructing the airstrip by hand—the same airstrip of today's Puerto Princesa International Airport on which we and all other planes are received by this provincial capital—and that the Palawan Massacre was just as important to the story of this historic city as any other place which fell victim to the pointlessness of war.

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WW II vet Don T. Schloat's tribute to an almost forgotten chapter.

The Cuartel has since been restored; now called a plaza (a square), it serves as a de facto park to the local schoolchildren and the city's youth because it is connected to a school. The tunnel opening remains there as witness to the Palawan Massacre and the barbarism of war, reinforced by the most poignant monument to that era, Schloat’s work endowed to Puerto Princesa in 2009.

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Short and informative but the marker is in Filipino.
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Enclosed tunnel entrance seen from the ground.
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Cecile, our guide, explaining the markers in Plaza Cuartel. 
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Don T. Schloat's sculpture bestowed to Puerto Princes in 2009.
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Young dancers and an afternoon run-through.
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Our accredited tour van across Plaza Cuartel on Taft St. outside the Immaculate Concepcion Cathedral grounds.

From here, the tour brought us southward to 2 adjacent clusters of souvenir shops along the main highway en route the Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center in Barangay Irawan where the Crocodile Farm is.

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Hats for sale from shop window at Mercado de San Miguel.
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Fancy menu board typography (Mercado de San Miguel, 2013) . 
At the souvenir shop, stops last about 10-15 minutes each, enough time to look around and haggle for goods. There’s a convenience store at the newer Mercado de San Miguel, our first stop, as there are cafés and specialty restaurants. The second stop at the LRC 908 Market Mall is where one can find dried fish, wood craft and more souvenir items like ornately carved wood products (similar to Tagbanwa woodwork) that cost Php 50 each and higher.

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Mini croc key holders, fan-shaped purses (LRC 908 Market Mall, 2013).
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Rattan fruit as curtain material (LRC 908 Market Mall, 2013).
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Group photo of woodwork (LRC 908 Market Mall, 2013).
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Mask wall decor and oar handle (LRC 908 Market Mall, 2013).
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Happy to be visited: Even masks seem to just smile for the camera (LRC 908 Market Mall, 2013).

We proceeded from LRC 908 Market Mall to the Crocodile Farm about 11 kms. away. Tour fees already include entrance to the Crocodile Farm. The Crocodile Farm compound is a no-smoking zone. There’s a canteen in the compound that sells refreshments and processed or frozen crocodile meat.

When we got there, about 20 other tour vans already took up the parking spaces, an indication of how many tourists were on the same road trip as we were that afternoon. I skipped the tour inside the facilities and stayed with a group of tour guides that included ours.

We had an interesting exchange of stories, the tour guides and I on that Saturday afternoon by the cabana fronting the facility canteen. Interestingly, I learned that one guide is a registered nurse and another a high school teacher. That Saturday, the teacher gave a tour because the operators had a full schedule owing to a planeload of Malaysian tourists who took MASWings' inaugural flight direct from Kota Kinabalu to Puerto Princesa.

That Malaysian visit was no ordinary trip because it turns out that Malaysia's Tourism Assistant Minister, members of the media and BIMP-EAGA officials were among them. No wonder, then, that local authorities had the police visible in most of the stops we got to that coincided with the Malaysians.'

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To the Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center.
The roadside signage still bears the old name "Crocodile Farm and Nature Park."
From there, we went to the late Senator Ramon Mitra, Jr.’s ranch which overlooks Honda Bay for a breather. We were told by our guide that Sen. Mitra’s ranch house welcomed tourists inside; that being closed to visitors now, one can instead take a short horseback ride or scan the bay view below.

On our way back to the City proper just a few kilometers off the Mitra Ranch is Baker’s Hill.

Here, we stopped to take photos or shop for pastries from its bakery. Some of the tourists looked out primarily for its specialty, the hopia (it was gone from the shelves when I got to there.)

The hopia is the story behind Baker’s Hill’s success and upon which the well-groomed property was built—an eclectic, if not kitschy mix of mini-Disneyland, Hollywood and Enchanted Kingdom (minus the rides) rolled in one. There are food stalls in the property, clean restrooms and maintains its own souvenir shop right next to the bakery.

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Definite seals of approval.
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Frenzied shopping
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Futura-lovin' psychedelia: Shirts at Baker's Hill. The whole place itself is a bit trippy.
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Neon faux: Pretty sure the real flowers of Baker's Hill are probably used to flashy company.
We ended the city tour way past 5 p.m. that skipped a visit to the weaving place which would have been in the vicinity of (or towards) the Crocodile Farm. Determined to see the weaving industry for ourselves, we planned our own trip there for Day 2.

There are a few other sites in the city to visit for next time: the Palawan Museum, the former Vietnamese community, a visit to the Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm to see early 1900s buildings among others, and to get to know the Casa Nieves network of Palawan-based artists.

Link references on this post:
▸ Bill Duncan: Document of an Atrocity, 1997-2000
▸ Bruce Lieberman: Veteran won't let massacre be forgotten | The San Diego Union Tribune, 2009


  1. Hi, this is a nice story about Palawan. I had been there some years ago. And I love the beaches, it reminds me of my visit there and Puerto Princesa city. What are there new places to see?


  2. Hello, Machel LR,

    It was my first trip to the province of Palawan and had only gone to Puerto Princesa City so "new" places to see depends, really, when/what year you were there.

    We went to Sabang on Day 3 (which I have yet to post about) and the beach there, as I suppose the majority of beaches in Palawan are, is gorgeous and welcoming.

    I believe a trip back to Palawan will be worth it and I invite you to come again when you can.

    Thanks for the comment.


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