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Puerto princesa subterranean river and national park

by sue and john eyre

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In the Philippine Provence of Palawan, about 50 miles North of the Provence’s capital city of Puerto Princesa, there is a beautiful subterranean river and cave system that visitors can explore.  Deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999, the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River and its associated caves has also been named one of the New 7 Wonders of the World

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Puerto princesa

The 50-mile drive from the city of Puerto Princesa, which is the capital of Palawan Province, takes about 1 ½ hours through winding roads, rice paddies, and hills similar to those found in Vietnam or Thailand.  You will see a mixture of ox carts, bicycles, and colorful local buses which are filled inside and out with passengers, produce, and animals.  Local farmers use the ‘highway’ along the way to spread out and dry their rice crop.  This trip culminates at the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River and National Park where visitors can explore beautiful cave formations via small boats

Palawa province, philippines

When you arrive in the small village near the caves, you will need to disembark your transportation and board an outrigger-type boat for another 20-minute adventure to a beach a little closer to your final destination.  A short walk from the beach will get you to a dock where you board another even smaller vessel to ride through the subterranean wonderland.

After donning life jackets and hard hats, your tour guide tells the group about what you are about to see.  The most important piece of information should not be ignored.  If you look up—keep your mouth closed.  As in most caves, this one is inhabited by thousands of bats.  The entrance to this cave system is already visible from the dock. After a short paddle across the lagoon, you enter this incredible under-ground-river-cave-system.  At this point all that is needed is to sit back, enjoy and click that camera--oh yes, and keep your mouth closed.

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A bat clinging to one of the formations in the cave.  The bands at the edge of the picture are highly complex and almost look like banded agate

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A close up of a bat clinging to one of the formations in the cave

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A bird in flight passes one of the formations.  When blown up, it appears to be an owl

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A group of tourists pass by one of the many formations in the Puerto Princesa underground river system

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The ceilings of the caves with unusual formations

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More of the features of the caves

[Editor's Note:]  The Puerto Princesa Caves were formed in part due to Karst landscaping of the area.  Much of the rock is limestone which is susceptible to weathering, which is often strong in tropical areas such as the Philippines.  Rain water picks up carbon dioxide in the air where it is readily soluble.  In the ground, this can convert to a weak carbonic acid solution which dissolves the limestone at a slow but steady rate.  Karstification can give many typical features underground or on the surface of an area. In Puerto Princesa these features are large and mostly underground as large caves-- a system thought to be 15 miles long with an underground river approximately 7 miles long underground - the Cabayugan River.  This river winds underground before exiting directly into the West Philippine Sea.  This makes it subjected to tidal influence which also plays a part in the cave formation development and really makes it unique in the world.  Typically, beautiful cave formations (speleothems such as stalactites and stalagmites) result due to the eventual precipitation of calcium carbonate as the water discharges some of its carbon dioxide.  In this region, the formations and their chemistry are more complex than usual due to its "open" system and tidal influences

                                                                 -Shannon Graewin

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