Travelogue of The Intervoices Chorale tour in Puerto Princesa, Palawan
by Dana Conopio
Six months ago, majority of the members with the help of their director, Mr. Bryan Caluya, finally decided it was time to bring their music to the brethren in Palawan and immediately bought tickets to Puerto Princesa. Since then, the mere mention of the trip made us smile with glee.
The start of 2014 proved to be a busy year for the group with appointments and invitations coming from different churches, universities and groups. Before we knew it, it was time to focus on the preparations for the tour in Palawan.
It was not a walk in the park. Some members were not able to get their plane tickets; some were stuck in work and school commitments. A week before the trip, the director realized he needed to adjust the repertoire for 13 members, originally 20 plus members, including him.
On May 21, the members waited patiently to board the plane. This was not a carefree, relaxing time because some of us were too excited and forgot to pack many important things, like their uniform and cell phones. Leaving all our worries behind, we sat back, excitedly imagined the surprises that await in Palawan.
It was only a matter of minutes when the group brought their bags inside the new guest house of the Palawan Adventist Mission and when we got on the vans waiting outside to drive us around Puerto Princesa City. I was one of the members who came for the first time and I just couldn’t stop marveling at the fresh scent of the air, the lush green surroundings and the smell of the countryside. First stop was at the Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center where the group enjoyed joking around and watching, from a distance, the friendly crocodiles, and other animals endemic in Palawan. Next stop was at the Mitra’s House/Ranch owned by the 16th Speaker of the Philippine House of Representatives, Ramon Mitra, Jr. The group enjoyed looking over the sky view of the city and taking pictures because chorale groupies are a must. Lastly, Baker’s Hill was perfect for couple photos, groupies and selfies. Every corner was picturesque. The members left the place while balancing both hands carrying ‘pasalubong’ of their famous hopia and other delicacies.
The second day was even more exciting. We left very early to start the beach activities at Honda Bay. We were surprised by a free breakfast buffet at the Zulueta’s residence. After thanking the family for the hearty meal, we got on the van and to our surprise (again), the family thoughtfully packed a lunch meal for all placed in baskets and coolers.
The island hopping tour started with Pambato Reef a.k.a., mini-Tubbataha, which is a snorkeling site in the middle of Honda bay. We received a short briefing and instructions on how to safely enjoy snorkeling in the site and the group obediently did just as we were told. Even those who did not know how to swim enjoyed the experience because everyone was required to wear a life vest to protect the marine life down under that spans from 10m-40m. The boat man turned into a tour guide and was brave enough to dive for the things the group dropped while swimming.
After looking at some of the beautiful islands, the group stopped at Isla Pandan for lunch and more snorkeling and swimming. After basking in the sun for more than an hour, we could not delay our hunger anymore, and enjoyed the lunch prepared by the Zulueta family. The group would agree, it was one of the most delicious meals we’ve had. Some took naps, but the younger ones who could not contain their energy and excitement went back to the ocean for more swimming time, ignoring the striking heat of the sun at 1:00 in the afternoon.
The group almost did not want to leave the island, but there was one more island to go to. Cowrie Island is for a more relaxed experience of the Honda Bay tour. Tourists can swim in the clear shallow waters or enjoy a game of volleyball with other tourists, just as what some of the members, mostly the men, did. The group was somehow divided into two groups, one group swam to a floating kubo, and the other remained at the shallow waters. The other group started singing some songs and later said that there was one French guy hanging out in the kubo and they wanted to sing for him. The other group started singing too, and proved it required effort and was a good training to sing while immersed in the water, Regine Velasquez style. Worn out and sun burned, the group headed for their temporary home, their faces lit up with smiles.
Friday, third day, at 6:00AM sharp, the group started their 2-hour travel to Sabang beach, for the much awaited Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park tour, popularly known as the Underground River. Pronounced as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature in 2012 and an UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is one of the places the group looked forward to. On the short trail going to the opening of the cave, some members experienced surprising moments with the native monkeys, some even attempted to play with them, but in the end, the group thought it was best to avoid them and get as far as possible. Sadly, the boats could only take 10 people at a time, so the group was divided into two. The guide suggested making the “hmmm” sound because saying “wow” and other words might be unpleasant for the tourists due to the overwhelming number of insect bats living inside the cave that randomly poops everywhere. After hearing jokes and other impressive info from the animated tour guides, the 1st 10 members who went ahead (including me) had a grand time because the tour guide allowed us to sing on the way out. We chose to sing Lester Delgado’s Alleluia and ended the tour with the last note, receiving applause from the guide. The ride home was speedy and safe thanks to our driver and tour guide, Kuya Tawing who made the 2-hour drive going back to the guest house, a whopping, 1 hour and 15 minutes, buying us time to do the groceries and rest to prepare for the concert at the Palawan Central Church later that evening.
With barely an hour to spare for final rehearsal and dressing up, the group hurriedly prepared for the vesper concert. Since everyone was not familiar with the venue, we had to do the sound check a couple times before we got the go signal from our director to fix ourselves and get ready to go up on stage. We were welcomed and introduced by Pastor Ramil Rey (Palawan Central Church Pastor) and while some members recognized old friends and relatives. Our director was also tasked to deliver a short message but had to re-call his whole message because his Ipad shut down on him. The challenges kept coming. And because there were not enough members to sing all the parts of the songs, Kuya Bryan was also supposed to sing with the choir and fill in the missing voices, but due to the Ipad incident, he decided to go down and conduct without the pieces. This time, the inspiration to sing was stronger than before, helping the group sing, not only to bless the congregation but be blessed by their own songs too.
Sabbath morning, the group went to the Palawan Adventist Hospital Church to sing at the end of the Sabbath School program and Hour of Worship service. It was an air-conditioned church and some of the members got worried about singing in such a venue. After the hearty lunch, the group was given a lot of time to relax and take rest before heading to our next appointment, serenading the patients at the hospital. We were lead by Alfred Cas (Hospital chaplain) throughout the visitation. We were privileged to sing for Mr. Solomon Maagad who used to be the vice mayor of the Municipality of San Vicente. He is an Adventist and was close to the family of one of our trainees, Eugene Cayaban. He is also a music lover and expressed that he was blessed with the songs we shared. He also purchased a number of our cds and invited us to come to his place next time we come to Palawan. We sang at one of the nurses’ stations but lost count of the number of rooms nor patients we were able to meet. The last patient we visited was Lj Malabad, who used to sing with some of our members in PPH.
The concert that night was filled with gratitude, thanksgiving and gladness. The choir was nervous but exhilarated as well. With some of the members feeling sick, some already lost some voice, and the 4-day trip already taking its toll on us, we were somehow exhausted. But seeing the number of people who came to attend our concert, and seeing some of the watchers of the patients who came after our hospital visit and even Lj who still had an IV attached to her arm, you could say the group was more than inspired to sing. According to our director, we sang a total of 15 songs. After the concert, we were again invited by the Dawn’s family for dinner at their home.
Even if we tried, we could not count the number of blessings and surprises we got from our trip to Palawan. More than anything else, we are all just thankful for the opportunity to come see the beautiful island of Palawan, together. Above all, the chance of singing together and bringing the message of God wherever we are is a blessing that we are all grateful for. The people in Palawan told us that once you step foot in Palawan; you will find yourself coming back again, and again. True enough, some of us could not stop talking about planning to come again, soon.