Experiencing paradise in Palawan

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated June 21, 2015 – 12:00am

I had two extraordinary experiences in Palawan. One was as a tourist. The other was a mystical one.

Read on.

I went to Palawan with a few bloggers last week on the invitation of AirAsia Philippines and the Tourism office of Puerto Princesa to cover the Baragatan festival, a celebration with a trade fair that includes booths from every municipality in Palawan, a float parade and a beauty contest.

After checking into our hotel and lunch at the iconic Ka Lui cafe, we went directly to the Capitol. Out in the streets, it seemed like the entire city was involved till early evening. It was fun to watch and join but the heat left me exhausted.

We were up early the next morning to drive to Sabang which is on the other side of the island facing the West Philippine Sea where activities awaited us.

After a 90-minute drive, we reached the port where we were to take a motorized boat to the famous Underground River some 20 minutes away. We were excited.

We hopped on a boat that took us to the shore where after a short walk, we boarded a tour boat that brought us inside the cave. I was absolutely enthralled at the site of this majestic geological phenomenon that rightly deserves to be on the list of New 7 Wonders of Nature. It was a magical 40-minute exploration of fantastic rock formations and stalactites as we were paddled slowly inside the cavern while listening to our eager, learned and funny guide.

After the cave tour, we took another boat to a zip line where we registered as visitors prior to a 10-minute uphill walk. Soon after we got there, we were all strapped in for the 800-meter zip line ride that took a minute and a half, more or less. My wife Lydia and I decided to go together. It was fabulous and fun — a great thrill amidst amazing scenery.

We then took a short jeep ride to the Daluyon Mountain and Beach Resort where we stayed. It is a wonderful resort nestled between two mountains on its side and back, a beautiful white sand beach and a smooth sea floor.

We were impressed by the sumptuous food that came in big servings and the charm of the entire hotel. It merits mention that the Daluyon Resort has twice been given special awards among hotels in ASEAN for its zero carbon footprint operations. It runs on solar energy and generator and goes the extra mile in being environment friendly.

At lunch, heavy rain started to fall. We had to cancel a mangrove boat tour and decided to retire to our rooms for a nap. An hour after, when the rain stopped, I decided to go to the beach for a swim.

Then it happened.

In the midst of the awesome scenery which consisted of the great expanse of the ocean, the beach, the mountains and clouds, I felt a sudden change in my sensory perception which become completely intense and altered.

I felt everything come alive and pulsating with my heartbeat. I looked around and I was totally involved, immersed in everything. The world was alive and new and communicating with me. It was speaking to me intimately. I was fully aware and attentive to everything.

It seemed as if the entire universe had come together, at least during that moment. A thought came to me and it was this: while there are gazillions of atoms and molecules all over the universe that give shape, color and texture to everything, how is it that this particular configuration of mountain, sea, clouds, water, sand have been thrown together here where I am into a perfect unity?

God is here, I told myself. I began to speak out loud expressing great awe, surprise and wonder, and not too long after, I felt I was in ecstasy, inside a full-blown epiphany. I was sure I was in the presence of God. Everything I saw and felt confirmed it. I felt humbled yet special.

Was this kensho, or satori, which is the awakening of oneself that we talk about in Zen? Was this enlightenment or the so-called Oneness? I did not know what to call it and it did not matter.

In the presence of God, all I could do was express repeatedly a heartfelt “Thank You.” How awesome and great it was as I felt God permeate my entire being. There was nothing in that space and time but God. Paradoxically, there was not even a “me,” even though I was part of it. God was everything and everywhere.

I felt an affirmation of life, of eternity, art, love, oneness, compassion, creativity and everything that sustains my spirit. I felt my own essence and that of the universe and it went deep into my being. It seemed that everything I was seeing was magnified a thousand times. I was inside everything, and everything was I.

I got out of the water in a state of bliss. Soon after, my wife joined me and a few other people showed up at the beach. We went back to the water and swam some more.

The next day, we toured the Heritage Museum and the War Museum — two small but interesting exhibits. The first featured a historical and geographical view of the island. The other was a collection of World War II memorabilia of Vice Admiral Higinio Mendoza, a war veteran who has devoted his life to keeping alive stories of Filipino valor and heroism.

We ended the visit with delicious and elaborate snacks at La Terrasse, a must-visit resto in Puerto Princesa.

Palawan felt like paradise to me for two reasons. It still has a lot of nature’s beauty packed into it. The air is clean. There is hardly any garbage floating on the ocean. One can still see giant lizards darting around in the bushes. It is a great place to escape city stress.

The second reason is what seemed to be a mystical experience for me. We are all born in Eden, but in the course of being alive, we all eventually get thrown out. What I went through that afternoon on that deserted beach gave me a glimpse of what Eden must have been like before we were doomed to live outside its gates.

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