Monday, October 3, 2011

Trike_Tour: Puerto Princesa

My first visit to the Last Frontier.

Last year, we celebrated my mom's birthday with the Mouse family in Hk Disneyland. It was a blast. This year we had it local by visiting the Last Frontier for her post birthday celebration. Too bad, Papa wasn't able join us as he was complainin about getting tired easily. He's 59. So, there were just the three of us - me, mama (who just turned 64 last Sept 19) and my beloved partner, J.

We travelled separately. Mama boarded Cebu Pacific Air from Cebu to Puerto Princesa, via Manila. While J and I travelled via Airphil Express, who we expected to arrive PP an hour before Mama does.

However, due to some major airport delays, it turned out we will be arriving Puerto Princesa almost the same time around 10 in the morning.

We were picked up by the free shuttle service of Ysabelle Mansion where we will be staying for the next three nights.

Why Ysabelle Mansion? Well, they're one of the few cheap and decent bed and breakfasts in town. Never heard or read any negative feedbacks about them. One of the most recommended guesthouses in different travel forums. Other options I had for budget accomodation were the House of Big Brother, where you can cook your own food, the very cozy and laid back atmosphere of Puerto Pension, and the Tripadvisor topnotcher Raq Pensionme. If I am travelling with friends, I'd rather book at Lola Itang's or Aniceto Pension House, perhaps the cheapest guesthouses available.

However, I'm  travelling with my mother dear, so I chose something more comfortable yet inexpensive.

We're supposed have our lunch in Bilao't Palayok. But after meeting Journeying James at the airport, we ended up eating in Balinsasayaw. He recommended it, so I  took heed to his word and went to Balinsasayaw.

We met Kuya Jomar, our trike driver. I asked him how much would he charge us for a half day city tour. He said 500, plus 100 for Iwahig Farm (believe me, this is far!) That's quite a deal. The last two trike drivers I asked were charging us 700-800php.

NOTE: If you're travelling in a small group (3persons) and not-so-tight budget, you can do the half day city tour by tricycle. You can also hire a van (for big groups) 1500php. 

I asked Kuya Jomar to pick us up at Ysabelle Mansion. After paying our bills, we head back to our guesthouse, and rested for a while... then it rained.

Just about 1pm, the rain stopped and we started our half-day city tour.


We first went to Iwahig Pirson and Penal Farm. The farthest among all possible tourist spots. While on our way, I can't help but notice how ironic can a prison be a tourist spot?

Upon entering the gates of the Iwahig Prison, my question has been answered.

From the gates, we still had to travel the rough roads for more than fifteen minutes. But I didn't mind as my eyes were enjoying the wide, greeny farm land. Mama said, it was once called a penal colony. But it doesn't look like one. As its new name iplies, it's now a well-maintained farm.

Kuya Jomar said the inmates were the one's tilling the farm inside Iwahig as part of the daily routines. I wonder, were their some escape attempts in the open grounds? They could have all the chances as they can roam around the area, freely and unguarded. 

Iwahig Penal Farm is one of the seven operational units of Bureau of Corrections, and I think, this one's the most famous.

We reached the main grounds of Iwahig and went straight to the Recreation Hall, I think the only place open to public. There, we were greeted by happy individuals, selling well-handmade products.

They also have dancing inmates, not as grand as the one in Cebu, but good enough to entertain visitors.

Mama bought keychain, 12pcs per 100. J bought his new nunchacks for 250. Prices for other crafts were a bit hefty, buy some of it anyway, think it as your give away to these long-prisoned souls. This also serves as their contribution to the critical finances inside  the farm, as the government cannot accomodate all their needs.  

Still curious about their sweet freedom inside the farm, I asked them, kuya, di nyo man lang po ba inisip tumakas dito?

They laughed in chorus!

Inmate 1: Mam, tinuruan nyo pa kami (laughs)
Inmate 2: Bakit pa kami tatakas, e masarap ang buhay namin dito (everyone agreed in unison)
Inmate 3: San naman kami pupunta mam, mamatay rin kami kapag tatakas kami dito
Inmate 4: Walang nakakatakas dito mam. Nasa gitna ng dagat ang Iwahig (I didn't know, maybe like the US Military Prison, Alcatraz)
Inmate 5: kung tatakas kami dito mam, san kami pupunta, kung sa dagat, kakainin ka ng buwaya... sa bundok, papatayin ka ng lamok (Malaria)
Fact: Reyster Langit, son of broadcaster Rey Langit died of malaria after doin research and coverage in one of the liblib barrios in Palawan)

No wonder, they're forced to accept the sad reality that they have to stay and live in the four hallowed corners of Iwahig for the rest of  their lives, unless pardoned.

But there still some prisoners who tries to escape the area, they're bein placed at a maximum security cells. Others who belong to the group are those who killed their fellow inmates.

There are also minimum, medium and low security sections inside the colony. All them wears color-coded shirts, not just the well-known orange ones. And they have different tasks in everyday, depending on their group. Like the living out inmates whose in-charge with the souvenir shop.

We stayed in Iwahig for more 30 minutes, but I didn't see any shadow of an officer with a shotgun in his arms, like what you used to see in other prisons. This is really a unique colony, no major barriers or cells to keep their prisoners. Inmates are only required to gather altogether in the quadrangle three times a day for the daily, mandatory head count.

Hundreds and thousand of prisoners in an almost forgotten island of Palawan.

You can't imagine how these people were able to cope up with their everyday lives inside the farm. I forgot to ask them, when was the last time they saw their families, or the last time their families paid them a visit, as most of them were serving in prison for more than 15 years, and Iwahig Penal Farm is not Quiapo or Divisoria that you can just visit in one day, with a hundred or two in  your pockets.

They just tend to joke around about their wives na sumakabilang bahay na. What else can they do? That's how hard life can be at times, and they're paying their mistakes ten-folds!

Mama gets up close with an inmate

I asked an inmate if there's a celebrity inside Iwahig, atleast someone famous - he remarkably answered: mam, yung mga sikat na kriminal, di na yun umaabot dito, kasi may mga pera sila eh, kahit pa life sentence ang hatol nila. (may point si kuya!)

Entrance fee: 40php

They wish to have Lolong under their custody, that could add up to their list of attractions. But for now, what they have is a skeleton and the skin, of onced the longest salt water crocodile captured in the country, 17 feet long.

According to guide, the croc died after five months of being captive, out of stress. Yes, crocs gets stressed out too. So they fear that Lolong might experience the same thing. No wonder, PETA urged to let Lolong get back to his normal life, as he might get stressed being hostage and die.  echoserong crocs!

Facts: Crocs are nocturnal by nature, like bats, they tend to be asleep in the morning, and wide awake at night.
            Crocs open their mouth to cool off their heated bodies.
            Skins of young crocs ages 3-5 years old are best to make handbags, belts and other products.

What's the difference between alligator and crocs?

Crocodile farm isn't just about crocs. They also have Palawan horrnbill, sea eagle, ostriches, other migrant birds... and an endemic animal to Palawan like bear cats which I enjoyed most.

No fee for the photo-ops with the bear cat, but you can donate some amount. But if you want to have a souvenir photo with with the crocs, you can do so, for 40 pesos. 

When in Crocodile farm, don't forget to check their souvenir items, especially their t-shirts. Someone told me they're cheap and nice. Also, you can try their crocodile sisig.

Entrance fee: 20 pax

They used to be free. But just effective September 2011, they started to charged 20 pesos per person. So what can you do here? Basically nothing. Just photo-ops. You can skip this one.


This is not your ordinary bakery. They serve the most tasteful and delicious hopia in town.

Aside from bein a bakery on a hill, they also have a mini park inside, where you can enjoy, for free. You can also sit in our of their benches while takin you afternoon snacks. Or simple enjoy the scenery. A very colorful and youthful place.


The best place to buy your pasalubongs. Delicacies, pearls, bags, handmade crafts and shirts. But I was a bit disappointed, simply because I can't find a nice souvenir shirt. My 'must-buy' in every travel. There were cheap shirts ranges from 80-150, depending on sizes, colors and quality. I hate white shirts, because I can't take care of them. Besides, designs and prints weren't impressive. Sorry for bein so picky about it, but I have some souvenir shirts (Sagada, Bohol, CWC etc) that costs 150-170 pesos with awesome quality. I saw some stores that sells beautiful shirts but it costs 220-250 pesos, not my budget for a souvernirs shirt.

Tired and desperate, I didn't bother buy one until our last night in Puerto Princesa. I bought the black shirt for 130 pesos,while J bought me the orange Prison shirt souvenir, for 200.

We're supposed to eat our merienda in Heavenly Desserts after our pasalubong hopping in tiange. I thought the just offer cakes and pastries. But after knowing they also serve heavy meals, we decided to take our early dinner.

After one sumptious and fulfilling dinner, we headed back to our guesthouse, and call it a day.

Note: tricycle drivers are everywhere in PP, if they're the one's offering you the ride, it might cost you 40 pesos per ride (coz it's a special ride daw). But if you'll be the one who will make 'para' the trike, that will cost you eight pesos per person.

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