Ugong Rock Adventures, Community Based Eco Tourism Project, Philippines.

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Then she popped the question.

“Do you want to?”

Can she see I’m only wearing thongs?

Most of my companions weren’t wearing much more.

Sure, it should be fun. Sometimes when it’s unexpected it’s even more enjoyable.

So a small group of us set off to explore the cave which gave the name to Ugong Rock Adventures, a Community Based Eco Tourism project in Palawan, Philippines.

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We didn’t know we’d be caving, or finishing the mini adventure with a zip line. Hence the thongs.

I had barely enough pesos to cover the cave trip and zip line. Oh well, no fruit juice for me after the underground river tour.

We didn’t actually know we’d be making this detour at all. The tour bus had pulled up here on the way to the famous underground river.

“Should we get out?” we asked each other. We couldn’t see any water. The guide said had something, but everything is a bit vague in Palawan. No one’s in a hurry, everyone’s laid back, friendly, hospitable. The Pinoy way.

I thought maybe she’d stopped off to pick up lunch from her aunty, as I’d seen so many drivers or guides do on similar trips throughout the world. But no, it wasn’t a lunch stop.

After alighting from the bus, we were invited into a small hut and shown a video explaining the purpose and establishment of the eco tourism project, which aims to provide a role, a job and an income to the community so that they will be more empowered to protect the natural wonder which sits on their doorstep.

It was after this that one of the elderly women proposed.

The possibility of a caving trip.

She didn’t seem perturbed by my thongs and after handing me a helmet and set of gloves she led us to the entrance to the cave.

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The cave trip was surprisingly adventurous, despite being achievable in thongs, which I ended up taking off; no one seemed to mind. We squeezed through rocks and scrambled up ropes and ladders, between explanations and insights from our guide whose level of English belied her age and surpassed that of many tourism service providers I’ve encountered throughout the world.

Maybe she was taught by the nuns, like my Mum.

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We stopped at the top to enjoy the view before we were strapped into a harness and launched off the platform on a very enjoyable zip line ride. The zip line was longer than I expected and I didn’t even lose my thongs.

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I had a chat to the local lads at the end of the zip line and sensed clearly that this project provided them with the  opportunity to spend their days doing something meaningful and constructive and gave them a role within the community.

Soon, another local ferried me back to the start point on the back of a motorbike, while trying to avoid running over the local kids on their way home from school.

We enjoyed our little detour and the underground river, and, thanks to a friendly Aussie, I still managed to savour a refreshing mango juice.

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