Amsterdam docked in Puerto Princesa on the morning of March 3. So, welcome to . . .
Founded by the Spanish in 1872, Puerto Princesa today has a population of about a quarter of a million people. It is the capital of Palawan province and the westernmost city in the Philippines.
It was a hot and humid day as we left the ship to walk into town. The streets near the port were not very picturesque but there were many nice flowers we saw throughout the day.
Our first stop was to visit the Immaculate Conception Cathedral. Built in 1961 on the spot where the first mass was celebrated a few days after Puerta Princesa was founded, it was undergoing restoration when we were there. A white building with blue windows and two towers that can be seen from the port, it is one of the more distinctive buildings in town. In front of the church is a statue of Jose Rizal, an important Philippine hero & martyr, a leader in the campaign for independence from Spain at the end of the 19th century who was executed at the age of 35 for treason.
We walked on to the Palawan Museum further into the downtown area. The streets were pretty mundane, but we saw a lot of what they call “tricycles.” These operate like taxis, but consist of a metal enclosure for two or three people attached to a motorcycle. A lot of them stopped as we walked to offer us a ride; apparently it is difficult to believe that folks of our age can walk places in this kind of weather. But we politely declined them all and continued walking. The flags hanging over the streets were apparently in preparation for a holiday parade the day after our visit to commemorate the founding of the city.
The Palawan Museum reviews the history, cultures & ecology of the area. People have been living in this area for well over 10,000 years and there are a number of ancient artifacts here. They have items recovered from sunken Spanish galleons, including porcelain originating in China. We also saw models of a number of indigenous fauna. Housed in a building that used to be the city hall, this is not a big museum but it is very nice. Air conditioning would be a helpful addition!
Next door to the museum is the very small public library. Unfortunately it was closed the day we were there so we could not see the inside. The museum and library both border Mendoza Park where a dancing group was rehearsing, presumably for the imminent holiday.
We walked through a Chinese neighborhood with a large shopping mall. Its streets were decorated with Chinese red lanterns instead of flags. Like some other cities we have seen in Southeast Asia, Puerto Princesa’s streets were lined with many electrical wires meeting in massively tangled junctions.
We walked back toward the cathedral. Right across the street is a park called Plaza Cuartel. This was a Japanese garrison during World War II. On December 14, 1944 they detected a large American task force that they feared was headed their way. They herded their 150 American POW’s into an air raid shelter tunnel in the Plaza and set it on fire, burning the Americans alive. Eleven of them escaped with the aid of Philippine guerillas. There is a small sculpture in the park commemorating the victims, along with several large placards that tell their story in words and pictures. Today this is a very nice park, apart from the memorial to its grizzly history, with many colorful flowers and a nice view of the bay.
From the Plaza we headed back to the ship. We passed a school and some houses with interesting decorations made of old bicycle tires. We passed Amsterdam’s Hotel Manager, Henk, riding alone on his bicycle built for two, and also another copy of a notice we saw posted all around town seeking workers for South Korea. Near the port was some laundry hung out to dry on a barbed wire fence: no need for clothespins to keep these clothes from blowing away in the wind. And there was a giant municipal Christmas tree on a walk along the bay.
As the ship prepared to leave that evening the locals wished us “Bon Voyage” with dance & music.
Across the bay we could see from Amsterdam’s Lido deck a fishing village complete with boats & houses on stilts. We saw several double-outrigger fishing boats nearer the ship as well, probably heading for home.
As we pulled away from the pier the sun began to go down & the bay was alight with gray clouds and slate blue sea. It was dramatic enough to warrant more than one picture.
So that was all for Puerto Princesa as the ship headed out to sea and we headed to dinner.