The worst thing to happen when you travel is getting sick. The worst thing to happen on your birthday is getting sick. Put them together and it’s the perfect recipe for a disastrous day. However, team it with a trip to the Underground River, a UNESCO world heritage site and natural wonder, and maybe just maybe it can be salvaged.
I had spent the eve of my 23rd birthday hugging the toilet bowl and wishing the world would end. Our 6am wake-up call did little to deter this feeling of helplessness.
I had a brief respite from my downward spiral when I opened my cards from home and made the most of my ‘birthday in an envelope’. An ingenious idea from my mum, the envelope included a balloon, candle and party hats. It definitely brought a smile to my sweaty, sickly face.
I managed to crawl into the minibus which took us 2 hours from Puerto Princesca to Sabang, the gateway to the Underground River. Here we waited with crowds of Filipino tourists to board a Bangka boat which would drop us closer to the mouth of the river.
We waited a long time.
When we were finally shepherded onto the Bangka I was not in a good way. The luminous life-jackets did my vaguely green complexion no favours. I’m usually prone to seasickness as it is so the rumble of the bangka’s aging engine was not very helpful in my current state.
We waited a long time.
Finally we were herded onto a tiny boat (we were feeling pretty cattle-like by now) and began our journey underground. The Underground River is stunning. The rock formations are amazing and the cathedral-esque high ceilings and breathtaking. The cave is home to millions of tiny bats (remember to keep your mouth shut when you look up or it will get pooed in) which twitter and swoop just above your head.
The river has a calm serenity to it, when you’re gliding through on the boat it is as if you are the very first people to explore it and to appreciate its eerie silence.
Well, that’s what I imagined it to be like.
But we were in the Philippines and geological fact was much better replaced with comparing the rocks to what they best resembled.
We saw rocks which looked like rotting carrots, poo and the Virgin Mary. An eggplant there, batman here and a couple of lions chucked in for good measure. After 45 minutes we knew absolutely nothing about the cave but could point out a stone that looked like a tomato from miles away.
As soon as we were back on dry land we were swept away to get back on the Bangka. Ryan was let down that we hadn’t seen any of the monkeys or monitor lizards that called this area home and I was disappointed that we weren’t allowed out of our cattle pen to explore.
Finally back in Sabang it was time for lunch. The lunch was probably the best part of the day. Well, I’m guessing seeing as I couldn’t eat any of it. There was a massive buffet spread with plenty of exotic dishes and yummy curries. I ate three squares of potato and that was pushing it. Luckily, Ryan was able to scoff enough for both of us.
Then it was home-time and I crawled back onto the bus. The excursion had cost us 1,500php each plus an extra 40php p/p environmental charge on top.
That’s more than any of our island hopping tours.
The river is great but your whole day centres on those measly 45 minutes you spend underground. In a way the constant shepherding is okay as it means that the park is kept clean and orderly. The waiting around wasn’t due to a lack of organization, purely just down to the number of people who want to visit this wonder.
I suppose that it’s great so many people come out to see it and that they still manage to sustain a clean and healthy environment but sad that people can’t be trusted to explore by themselves.
My birthday evening consisted of a minor emotional breakdown followed by a gorgeous dinner at famed Kalui (which Ryan enjoyed immensely and I enjoyed watching him enjoy it). Little did I know that this bug would follow me to Oz but also allow me to lose the weight I’d piled on in the Philippines so every cloud eh?
Despite feeling so sorry for myself, I had to remind myself to put everything into perspective. I was on the other side of the world with one of my favorite people living out my dream. There was always going to be bumps along the way but I don’t have much to complain about in reality. It just means that I can have birthday 2.0 in Melbourne! Bring it on.