Palawan’s Honda Bay
The very first time I went to Puerto Princesa was several decades ago when I was still the Director of Sales of an international chain hotel, which managed a hotel there owned by the Rafols Family. I remember the family’s matriarch taking very good care of me, showing me around the different attractions of the place, serving me the delicacies of the island, in other words, giving me the royal treatment.
She even had me delivered on their private yacht to the family’s own island, about half an hour away from the city. It was uninhabited and I had the island all to myself for the entire day. Kidnappings by rebel groups were unheard of then, so it was complete tranquility for me, the whole day, which ended with a perfect tropical golden tan on me!
Not too long ago, I visited Puerto Princesa again with a group of friends. They were all eager to visit the now world-famous Underground River, named as one of the Seven Wonders of Nature. I wasn’t really too keen on it as I am averse to the smell of bat droppings which I experienced several years ago while exploring some caves in Thailand. So I didn’t join the group and went to explore the province’s other attractions on my own.
A local guide told me about the beautiful sights one sees on a boat ride around Honda Bay, and he was quite compelling in his description of the natural attractions so, in a matter of minutes, I was on my way.
Honda Bay is on the eastern shore of Palawan, approximately 30 minutes away from Puerto Princesa port on a four-cylinder motorized outrigger. Bountiful fish makes the bay a source of sustenance by the locals, and those into leisure diving or snorkeling will also enjoy the rich supply of corals and other marine life in the area.
At first, I thought the bay was named after that famous Japanese car manufacturing company. It was only when I talked to the islanders when I learned that the bay takes its name from “unda,” a word in the local dialect, which means “deep.” The islanders say that foreigners visiting the area kept on pronouncing it as “onda,” eventually giving rise to its present-day name “honda,” which a foreigner’s tongue finds easier to pronounce.
Anyone who goes to Honda Bay is bound to go island-hopping because that’s what everybody else does. Of course, I allowed myself to “go with the flow.” First island I “hopped” on to was Luli Island, the only island in the area that sinks and rises with the tide, thus the name, culled from the first two letters of the Tagalog words---lulubog, lilitaw.
The island’s “come on” are the cottages propped up along its shores. I sought refuge in one, and took a breather, to shade myself from the scorching noonday sun, and had my bountiful meal of local delicacies; while my feet were in the water. It was a very refreshing experience, although I had to look down every now and then to make sure there were no stray jellyfish with their poisonous tentacles.
After a short break, I proceeded to Cowrie Island. My guide told me that it is named such because it is shaped like a cowrie, a shell, which we, Cebuanos, call sigay. But, going around the small island, I could not relate it at all to the shape of a sigay. I presume the island must have been named such because, originally, it had an abundance of cowries in it, but these probably were eventually collected by the locals. I didn’t see a single one as I walked around the island, which, incidentally, has now been converted into a resort. It offers nice accommodations, food and beverage outlets and some massage gazebos right on the beach.
There was also Snake Island, which my guide assured me that its name referred only to the island’s shape and not because of an abundance of “hissing inhabitants.” Since his explanation about Cowrie Island’s name “fouled out,” I didn’t want to take chances on this one, so I decided to skip it. Too bad, because I later found out from other well-travelled friends that Snake Island is actually the most beautiful of them all, and is just a long S-shaped sandbar that connects to mainland Palawan. It is the most popular with tourists, among the islands in Honda Bay. Me and my apprehensions!
My last stop was Starfish Island, named for its abundant supply of this marine creature. The moment my outrigger docked, I could see immediately the beach dotted with starfish, which you’ll also see plenty of in the crystal clear waters around it. Visitors are allowed to touch them and play with them but are prohibited from bringing them home. The island also has a sandbar and several relaxing picnic places under the shade of trees facing the sea.
I had the chance to go swimming in its waters and wanted to stop when it the weather changed, resulting in a heavy downpour. But I noticed that the seawater became so warm that it felt like I was in a heated pool. I continued to swim in the pouring rain, together with many others who probably enjoyed the water’s temperature the same way I did. It was a unique experience for me.
I spent the longest time in this island and, in fact, made it my last stop before heading back to the city. My guide told me that there were many other places to visit in the bay but I already had my fill of the sand, sea, and sky for the day, and felt it was time to turn in, back into the comforts of my hotel room, and end the day with a nice, relaxing massage.
Palawan was recently named by Travel and Leisure’s World’s Best Awards as The Most Beautiful Island In The World. Having gone to some of the islands in Honda Bay, I can see why. That visit gave the Bay pride of place in my travel experience.
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