The Raw Beauty of Palaui Island
The real beauty of a place lies not in the land, nor the waters that surround it, but in the hearts of people who calls it home
Text and photos by neil alvin nicerio
For those looking for a place of “raw beauty”, there is an island at the north eastern tip of Cagayan that ts that description.
Palaui Island is located just off the coast of the town of Santa Ana in Cagayan. The island measures 10-km long and 5-km wide while around it is about 120 acres of coral reefs. The island was declared as a National Marine Reserve in August 28, 1994.
Palaui Island was rst cast into the spotlight when it was used as the lming location for Survivor: Blood vs. Water and Survivor: Cagayan in 2013. However, few people know that an important battle during World War II happened several miles off the island.
The Battle of Cape Engaño was named after the cape in the island. It was part of the larger Battle of Leyte Gulf which gave way to the liberation of the Philippines from the Japanese. During the battle, the Americans sunk four Japanese aircraft carriers and damaged several other ships.
History lesson aside and going back to the Survivor TV series, I decided that I have to see and experience the beauty of the island for myself after watching a marathon of the show. When I mentioned this to my co-teachers they wanted to get a piece of the adventure themselves, too.
The trip to the island from Manila takes about 12 to 14 hours depending on how many stops the bus driver decides to have. Upon reaching the town of Santa Ana, you have to transfer to a type of tricycle that the locals call a center-car. It will bring you to San Vicente Port which is also part of the town. From the port, boats could be rented to bring you to Palaui Island.
For our trip, I contacted and arranged a tour with Kuya Nanding, a local boatman, to show us around the island and other nearby destinations. I learned about him from various bloggers who were very satis ed with his services.
Regarding the tour, there is a different rate for different locations in the island. However, visitors could avail of packages that would allow them to visit all the areas in the island including other nearby locations.
On most trips, the rst destination is the picturesque Engaño Cove within the area of Cape Engaño on the north western side of Palaui Island. It boasts a white sand beach and pristine crystal clear waters. The area is a perfect place to swim, snorkel, sunbathe, and do other beachside activities.
On the other hand, if you want an activity that does not require you to get wet, try hiking up the hill that the locals call Mt. Kabo. To get there, visitors should walk northwards from the cove and then through an underbrush until they reach a clearing at the foot of the hill. From there, they have to follow the 229-step concrete stairway that would bring them to the top of the hill.
Once they reach the top, visitors would see the ruins of the Cape Engaño Lighthouse. Locals claim that the lighthouse is still operational. However, the other structures around it are all weathered remnants of their past glory and seemed of no use.
Tourists are allowed to explore the lighthouse vicinity and even go up the tower. The view from the top, not including the ruined lighthouse, is a perfect representation of magni cence and beauty.
Looking at the northern side of the hill, tourists would see the nearby Dos Hermanos Islands being battered by the rough seas. While on the southern side, tourists would see the beautiful verdant scenery of the island, including the cove where the boats are docked. If they are lucky enough, they would see cows grazing on the green elds below.
Tourists could arrange for an overnight camping at the lighthouse vicinity. They could also opt to venture inland to see the three tiered Baratubut Falls near Punta Verde. Punta Verde is the only village in the island. It is also an ideal place to camp and interact with the locals of Palaui Island.
For us, however, we decided to go around the island by boat. While doing so, I got the chance to interview our boatman about life on the island. I found out that the families living on Punta Verde were the last to be allowed to live there. The government banned any additional settler on the island after it was declared a marine reserve in 1994. Those who were already living on the island before the ban were allowed to stay.
It was disappointing to hear it at rst, but Kuya Nanding further explained that those families currently living on the island are the ones in-charge of cleaning and protecting the island. Aside from that, they also work as shermen and guides. The women and young ones sell crafts made from shells such as key chains, necklaces, bracelets, and other ornaments.
“Life is not always perfect in paradise” added Kuya Nanding. According to him poverty is the number one problem in their community. Despite this, he assured us that it is still very safe to go around at night.
Just as the discussion was turning into a depressing one, I tried to lift up the spirits of everyone by asking if there were supernatural beings living on the island. To this he responded “Maybe!” and a big laugh. Now that scared me!
There are also other places that might interest adventure-seekers in the province. One of these is Anguib Beach, located on the northern tip of the town of Santa Ana. It could be reached by boat and by land.
Another place worth visiting is Crocodile Island, which true to its name looks like an albino crocodile from afar.
That night, Kuya Nanding invited us for dinner with his family. He prepared a small feast for us which, according to him were a “meal of gratitude”. It was during that moment that I realized that the real beauty of Palaui Island lies not in the land, nor the waters that surround it, but in the hearts of people like Kuya Nanding and the others who calls it home.