First of all, allow me to repeat here the wonderful blessings we got on this trip. Consider these:
We were still able to see the Mantanani Scops Owl and Grey Imperial Pigeon on the very day that Pandan Island was declared off-limits to birders. There was allegedly an unethical act committed by a foreign bird guide that prompted the owner of the island to declare the owl habitat to be off limits to birders.
Spotted Wood Owls had been seen in at least two different sites in the city of Puerto Princesa recently. However, access to both places became quite problematic at the time we got there. Thanks to Rommel, the local guide, a third, more accessible site was discovered and we were able to get photos of this huge night bird.
We got bonuses (species we didn't expect to see) in the form of a trio of Great Slaty Woodpeckers and a family of Fiery Minivets.
Now for the logistics:
On our first, third and fourth nights, we stayed at the Cecilia's Comfort Inn. It had the usual amenities - airconditioning, hot-and-cold showers, TV and free breakfast. The cost was P2,200 per night for three people. The room was a bit small for three and the water pressure on our first night was low. On the plus side, the staff was very helpful. Our minor complaints were taken cared of immediately. Also inasmuch as we usually leave the hotel at 5 in the morning they prepared a packed breakfast for all three of us (we can smell the cooking as early as 3:30 am) on each and every day of our stay there. Also included in the price was the airport transfer (to and from) the hotel. They also allowed us to stay well beyond the check out time of 11 am (our flight doesn't leave until 5 in the afternoon).
At Sabang we stayed at the Daluyon Beach and Mountain Resort. This was the same place we stayed in last year (they even gave us the same room we had then). A bit more on the expensive side compared to the other hotels in the area, but well worth it. Rooms are huge with the usual amenities and then some. Breakfast is also included in the P4424 a night rate (for two people - our friend, Irene, stayed with her aunt at the Sheridan Hotel). The staff was kind enough to pack our breakfast for our early morning boat trip to the Puerto Princesa Underground River.
Our transportation was handled by Rommel M. Cruz, the local bird guide. Our van to Sabang cost P3500 and then P1000 for the return trip to Puerto Princesa City. Jojo, our driver for all four days, was also a birder and bird photographer and was very helpful in finding birds for us. He was also very punctual.
For our trips to Iwahig and Irawan Ecopark the cost of the van was P2300 per day.
The boat fee going to Pandan Island was P1200 round trip. Getting to the Honda Bay pier (for the boat ride to Pandan Island) from Puerto Princesa cost us P200 for the tricycle ride and P150 for the return trip.
The boat fee to the Underground River was P1500. The 5:30 am trip was also arranged by Rommel since the usual trips to the underground river start at 8 am.
Permits to Puerto Princesa Underground River at P200 per person and to Pandan Island at P150 per person were all arranged by Rommel. He was also responsible for getting us inside the Iwahig Penal Colony.
Badjao Seafront Restaurant never disappoints in terms of food quality and service. A big bonus was that we saw and photographed the Copper-throated Sunbird and Stork-billed Kingfisher by the parking lot in front of the restaurant.
Kinabuch Bar & Grill, purportedly Puerto Princesa's best restaurant was a huge disappointment. The place is basically divided into two: open air and covered dining area. The place was almost full when we arrived on the evening of the 17th. As we were walking towards the covered dining area where we saw some empty tables, a hostess approached us and declared "Bawal diyan!" (That place is off limits!). Then she followed that up with, "go find a place in the open air section". We were about to do that when she met the group behind us and sweetly asked, "How many are you in the group?" When they answered "four", the hostess escorted them to the covered dining area. Cynthia was about to question her actions but I told my wife that we should just leave this place. We never felt so discriminated upon and this was the very first time we experienced this considering that we have been to many restaurants both here in the Philippines and abroad. I just hope that you will not get this kind of treatment should you decide to go to this place.
Ugong Rock Grill & Seafood Bar was where we headed to after that humiliating experience at Kinabuch. The ambiance was quite similar but the reception we got here was the exact opposite of that of the next door restaurant. The food was good and the service was great. You pick the food you like - different kinds of seafood and barbecued meat and they will grill them for you. Prices are very reasonable.
Flavors and Spices near the Crocodile Farm is a small, homey place. Food is incredibly delicious and cheap! This was where Cynthia and I first tasted crocodile meat. It was not bad at all. As the saying goes, it tastes just like chicken.
Rene's Saigon Restaurant near our hotel is a relatively new eatery. Although it is supposed to be a Vietnamese restaurant, we felt that the fares were not authentic enough. Servings were rather small but then again they're quite cheap.
And in conclusion we can't thank Rommel enough for arranging our transportation and permits, for showing us where the Spotted Wood Owls were and for guiding us to Iwahig and Irawan on our last day. It had been a fruitful trip for us, seeing more than 60 species of birds, 16 of which were lifers.