Saturday, March 5, 2016

Saturday, March 05, 2016
Palaui Island
Cape Engaño Lighthouse

Palaui disarmed me of my preconceived notions about remote islands. I never got soaked in azure waters of a beach and later on found myself windswept on top of a hill in one place until I visited the town of Sta. Ana. In between, I got to marvel at the secluded beauty of a waterfalls. They may not be next to each other at the island, but it's a certainty that they're all within a distance of a short hike. There's no other means of land commute anyway because the island is considered a Marine National Reserve which explains the lack of a bridge that connects it to the rest of the town. The brouhaha over expensive boat rentals and steep tour packages is just the result of efforts to protect it from abuse as envisaged by the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (CEZA).

After lingering at the mainland for a couple of days via a relaxing stay at Country Inn By The Sea, I took a 30-minute boat ride with two friends of mine from San Vicente Port to reach Palaui Island. I've endured a 3-hour van ride from Tuguegarao City and a 12-hour bus ride from Manila days before, so there was no turning back for me. After a necessary stopover for tourist registration, I got myself a guide.

What are the attractions to enjoy on the island?

Punta Verde
Shell craft by island locals
The secluded Baratubot Falls

"It's so off-the-grid that its community doesn't have the standard source of electricity."

Aside from mingling with its friendly residents who spend time fishing, cultivating honey and weaving pandan and shell crafts, I discovered that it offers tourists more than the usual beach getaway. Its distinction lies in the multiple ways one can enjoy the varied scenery as the landscape can be a grassland in one spot and a thick tropical forest in another. Having hiked myself to its famous Cape Engaño Lighthouse, I managed to witness its raw beauty on foot sans the annoying wafting of a videoke machine that's typical in some rural areas. It's so off-the-grid that its community doesn't have the standard source of electricity. They're currently relying on solar panel technology though.

Check out the places I visited at the island and consider them as part of your future visit:

The PEPA-run Nature Village
Punta Verde
The community scene at Punta Verde: pathways, wild raspberry, and shell craft
Locals of Palaui Island

Punta Verde and Nature Village

The jump-off point to any of Palaui Island's trails is at Punta Verde although there are tour packages from the mainland that let tourists get dropped off at a cove next to the site where the lighthouse of Cape Engaño is, eliminating the need for a 3-hour hike. If you're visiting the place for the first time, it's better to see this part of the island first as it's where the community of Agta natives live. Lingering here for day tours can offer insights into their simple way of life.

Unlike in Boracay and other tourist-thronged islands, there are no resorts at the shoreline of Palaui. For those who want to spend the night, the island has Nature Village, a CEZA-appointed lodging that's being run inland by the residents themselves under the Palaui Environmental Protectors Association (PEPA). It has cottages, a camping ground for pitching tents, and it's just a stroll away from the beach. Before its nifty cottages were even erected for use by the hit reality TV show, Survivor, the property already existed. After the cast and crew wrapped up shooting, the cottages used were donated for tourism purposes.

The mangrove crossing

For some time, a few cheapskate travelers opted to do homestays which left the cooperative lacking in guest arrivals to the dismay of the community. There were tourists alright, but they were always being booked at one person's house only. It was determined by PEPA officials that referrals would wind up at the hands of boatmen but get sidetracked along the way once a cheaper lodging at someone's house was offered, rendering the cooperative useless. The sad reality is that maintaining the raw beauty of the place has always been a community effort, but a few referring travelers are in cahoots -- whether intended or not -- with one or two residents for the income of just a few. As a result of this connivance, PEPA is encouraging tourists to patronize Nature Village and its amenities for the welfare of the locals who are in charge of maintaining this piece of paradise.

"...maintaining the raw beauty of the place has always been a community effort..."

Lagunzad Trail: massive trees, grazing grounds, and a mangrove crossing
The three-tiered Baratubot Falls
At Batarubot Falls
Palaui Island mangrove

Lagunzad Trail and Baratubot Falls

A verdant greenery, the island recently named a couple of its trails after two Filipino botanists -- the late Dr. Daniel Lagunzad and Dr. Leonardo Co -- who both spent time doing field work in the area. Both Lagunzad and Leonardo Trails commence at Punta Verde past the mangrove crossing and lead to the lighthouse. Intrepid hikers usually choose the latter for being more challenging. During my visit, I opted for the less painstaking experience of the Lagunzad Trail which offered me views of numerous narra trees.

To the prodding of my tour guide, I also agreed to make a side trip to the island's source of water, the Baratubot Falls, since the detour to it was accessible along the same trail. I determined the terrain to be drastically sloping in many parts which required stamina and a fitting footwear. Thankfully, I was wearing Columbia. Located in the highly vegetated part of the island, the three-tiered waterfalls looked serene and secluded with a lot of boulders to step and rest on. In retrospect, the additional adventure cost me and my co-hikers two more hours before we continued back to the trail.

Mabolbol Shore
A view of the distant Dos Hermanas Islets
The scenery at Mabolbol Shore
Snacking at Mabolbol Shore

Mabolbol Shore and A Glimpse of Dos Hermanas Islets

My favorite part of the Lagunzad Trail was tackling the expansive shoreline of the island that locals call Mabolbol. Its indirect meaning in Tagalog might have conjured funny images in our heads during the hike, but it came at the right time when we were already half-way to the lighthouse site and feeling quite famished. It was at the continuation of the trail that wends from the shore where we rested for a few minutes and snacked on buko rolls that we purchased at a sari-sari store in Punta Verde.

From our resting spot, we continued the hike to pass a grazing ground and proceeded to trek the steep and highly forested ascent to reach the grassland of Cape Engaño. I was just glad that I had a restful break before I tackled this challenging part of the trail which made me stretch a lot of muscles and muster enough will power to not slow down. The last thing I wanted was to extend a typical 3-hour hike and miss sunset going back to the mainland.

After a few steep ascents and descents, we finally passed a cliff-side clearing where we had the chance to have an initial view of the Dos Hermanas Islets which distinctively appeared to be a couple of islets apart but it oddly looked like a single islet from another perspective (from behind the lighthouse later).

A view of Cape Engaño Cove from the lighthouse
At the Cape Engaño grassland with my tour guide (far left) and friends from mainland Sta. Ana
A view of the Cape Engaño grassland near the lighthouse
Cape Engaño Cove

Cape Engaño Cove and Grassland

We made a few more steps along the trail to finally reach a more expansive clearing -- the grassland of Cape Engaño. Although the lighthouse was already visible from that low point in the terrain, it still looked faint. It was evident that we would have to trek for a few more minutes before reaching it.

As expected, the higher I got to the hillside, the slower I became. Not because I was already exhausted, but because I was ecstatic to make frequent stops and take a gander at numerous vantage views of the grassland from up there. It was during the ascent when I truly appreciated the hike because the last part was truly rewarding, view-wise. At one vantage point, the pleasant and sandy beach of the distant Cape Engaño Cove was every bit a stark contrast to the powerful waves of the opposite shoreline. We were not yet at the lighthouse but I was already feeling overwhelmed with gratitude for God's creation. Suddenly, up there, I realised that the windswept beauty of Sta. Ana was worth the exhausting road trip from Metro Manila to Cagayan!

The scenery behind the the lighthouse
Cape Engaño Lighthouse
Dos Hermanas Islets
The view from the lighthouse

Cape Engaño Lighthouse

The first relic that greeted me on my way to the lighthouse was the old sundial that accentuated the entrance of what looked like ruins. In the middle, the 47 ft.-high structure was standing like a lone citadel in a bare courtyard that used to be the complex's housing pavilion.

Fortunately, I had the chance to scale its decrepit spiral staircase and check out the views outside from its narrow windows unlike in other old lighthouses that I visited in the Philippines. I sensed that the complex, already more than a century old, seemed to be well-built because there were less wind gusts within the confines of its foundations compared to being right outside of it. To think that the whole place was already in ruins and it felt quite pleasant up there was fantastic! It's no wonder that the National Museum declared it as an "important cultural property" in 2010.

"In the middle, the 47 ft.-high structure was standing like a lone citadel in a bare courtyard..."

(left) The lighthouse complex; (right) Remains of the old sundial
The last view to behold at the trail
Cape Engaño Lighthouse
The scenery behind the complex was quite different though. It was the last part of the trail -- a windswept cliff that overlooks the beguiling beauty of the uninhabited Dos Hermanas Islets. I got to view them from another perspective earlier, but they looked bigger and more mesmerizing from this point.

A historic hilltop lighthouse, azure waters, sandy beach, interesting hike trails, a secluded waterfalls, grasslands and islet views. All these make Sta. Ana's Palaui Island a piece of paradise that deserves a visit at least twice. I know this to be true as I will see her again soon.

Where To Stay: Nature Village
Mobile: 0935-336-6328 and 0935-122-8553

Boat Rental Contact: Ariel of Palaui Island
Mobile: 0935-122-8545

Recommended Layover Lodging: Country Inn By The Sea

Check out other Cagayan-related attractions:

Duba Cave of Baggao
Laglagto River and Rock Formation of Baggao
Country Inn Hotel and Restaurant in Baggao
Country Inn By The Sea of Sta. Ana

More Photos Below:


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