One of the highlights of my trip to Palawan last year was the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park (PPSRNP), a finalist in the New7Wonders of Nature campaign. Tourists to Puerto Princesa almost always make the pilgrimage to the park, it seems — almost half the folks on our flight from Cebu must have been there on our visit. And rightly so, as the place is indeed a natural wonder; I was struck by its pristine beauty. It is commendable that the City Government of Puerto Princesa, while making some concessions for visitors’ convenience such as a trail across the jungle, has taken great care to preserve the park in as natural a state as possible.
My aunt N., however, had a different impression:
Aunt N.: Nindut, pero mas lingaw tingali kung naay lights ang cave. Ug music. Ug mga tawo nga ga-costume ug ungo.
Me: …er Te, you’re missing the point. It’s supposed to be a wonder of nature, to be admired in its own right. If you want those chechebureche, go to Enchanted Kingdom. Besides, who in their right mind would do that to a natural attraction?
As it turned out, I spoke too soon. In fact, there is a (un)natural attraction with lights, music, the whole shebang (no people dressed as monsters, though): Ruby Falls, “America’s highest underground waterfall”:
Aunt N. wasn’t with us on this trip, but if she had been, she would have been greatly amused. Me, I was…bemused. To enter Ruby Falls Cave, we had to enter through…the gift shop, natch. Then we had to descend, straight down for 260 feet, through…a frickin’ elevator. Upon stepping out of the elevator onto…the paved cave floor, we were immediately greeted by…the official photographer, ready to take our souvenir photo with her SLR on a tripod. Several feet into the cave, which is well-lighted with artificial light, our tour group had to gather in a cavern to watch…a video presentation of Ruby Falls on a large, flatscreen TV, its sound amplified by speakers placed around the cavern.
The travesty didn’t end there. Armed with our newfound knowledge of Ruby Falls, we made our trek towards it, passing interesting rock formations complete with…signs along the way.
Are these really necessary? Isn’t that what the tour guide is for? It was a complete 180 from our Palawan adventure, where each unmotorized bangka was equipped with only one emergency light (two if you count the boatman’s backup one).
Light was minimized in order to disturb as little as possible the natural inhabitants of the cave (mostly bats and a few birds). Following the instructions of the boatman, who also serves as the guide, one of the two folks at the bow is charged with pointing the light (on our boat, it was me).
On the other hand, at the (anti)climax of our Ruby Falls journey, the entrance to the waterfall cavern was dwarfed by giant speakers, which blasted out appropriately dramatic music as our group passed. As the music crescendoed, the lights went on, and voilà:
American Decadence™ at its finest. They made everything so easy, I didn’t feel like I conquered an underground cave and waterfall at all. あまり達成感がなかった。It wasn’t a complete letdown, however: I was pleasantly surprised to see, when we climbed to the top of the castle before we left, that the whole thing is powered mainly by solar panels (big yay for this consolation of environmental sustainability). This, not the waterfall, was the highlight of the day:
Back in Palawan, a memorable part of our boat ride was when the guide directed me to turn off the emergency light. It was completely, absolutely pitch-black. Try as we might to adjust our vision, we couldn’t see a thing at all. I loved it. Now that’s what I call being in a cave.