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Island Getaway

Palaui Island | Your Untitled Piece of Theater

“Lord, thy will be done.” And I closed my eyes.
If it was my fate to die floating in the sea, so be it. There was no turning back and all I could do was to hold on tight to the base of the tiller and prayed. It was the scariest 1-hour of my life as our small boat sailing towards Palaui Island was battered by the ruthless waves of the Philippine Sea.

It was a smooth sail when we left the Port of San Vicente. But as soon as we entered westward towards the island, the torrent became unimaginably fierce and the howling northeasterly wind so foreboding. From where I was seated on the middle rib of the banca, I could see the incoming waves as high as a house. The bow would struggle to climb the huge swell until it reaches the top and plunges from mid-air into the hard brine. I dragged my soul for the next 45 minutes of endless pounding of waves against the hull. It seemed like a hostage drama where you are tied helpless on the staggering boat and the water mercilessly lashing your face from all sides. It was a blurry fight. I could feel the boatmen’s hard maneuver but they assured me that we were just fine and the wind was just a bit of a struggle. A bit of a struggle? Fine!
As soon as we ushered into Siwangag Cove, the sea that just thumped murky red with wretchedness turned into a placid sail. It seemed like paddling a boat in a still lake. Immediately after the boat anchored, I laid flat on the pebbled shore, thanked God and all the saints I called for standing a rough passage. Humbly, I admit to have underestimated the power of the northern winds and guilty of selfish wanderlust over safety. But truly, wonderful things await those who dare. Palaui Island is a speck of theater in the extreme northeast of Luzon!
Under the administration of the local government of Santa Ana in the province of Cagayan, Palaui Island lies off the headland of Barangay San Vicente. It is a protected national marine reserve exclusively marketed by Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (CEZA) through its community engagements with Palaui San Vicente Motor Banca Association. The island is much sought by hardcore travelers for 3 main reasons: the Cape Engaño Lighthouse, the bushlands and rolling landscape, and its unadulterated beach. Palaui’s elusive character and unsullied elements define any daydreamer’s paradise.
First lit in December 1892, the lighthouse of Cape Engaño serves as the easternmost light on the north coast of Luzon. It used to guide ships approaching from the Pacific Ocean traversing through Babuyan Channel and Philippine Sea. It stands at the summit of a 92-meter high hill edging the northern tip of Palaui Island.
Cape Engaño is the island’s highlight. Tourists trek nearly 4 hours to reach it from its southern tail. Some (like me) would dare to do the tossing sail straight to Cape Engaño via the west side waters and trek the southward trail to Punta Verde.
Siwangag Cove, the most popular beachline around the island, hems the promontory of Cape Engaño. The shore is laden with mixed white sand, sparkling pebbles and pieces of scattered coralline. The prominent hill on its head creates a fantastic backdrop for daydreaming while you let your cares drift away on its radiant water.
Its underworld is as rich as its sun-kissed spots and white washed beach lines. It is a sanctuary of undisturbed coral gardens that can be explored by shallow snorkeling. If you like to go deeper, recreational diving is also a favorite activity in the island. According to some divers I met in Sta. Ana, the deeps of Palaui is a universe of interesting marine species worth every feet of descent on high partial pressures.
A small community on the southern end inhabits the island. They thrive on fishing, pastoral farming and mixed-crop cultivation. Several NGOs have come to teach them sustainable non-extractive livelihood and stewardship of their pretty island. It is one of the successful community island tourism practices I have witnessed. 
Trekking Palaui’s eco-trail is like being trapped in a fantasyland, where every step seemed magical. Its woodlands are filled with exotic shrubs, varieties of rattan and wild flowers. Going deeper into its thick forest, the streaks of sunlight creeping through the foliage and very old vines create a dramatic play of light and shade. The island’s very high flora diversity has become a natural habitat of migratory birds. But among its awesome panoramas, the rolling landscapes take the most adoration. The windswept hikes on its sloping green meadows are refreshingly fantastic.  
There are 2 recommended trails inside the island. The Siwangag trail is the shortest and easiest, passing through crop fields and bushlands. Leonardo’s trail is the hardest, traversing through hills, forest, mangrove and coral beach line. Springs of water are also abundant inside the island such as Baratubut Falls and several other smaller waterfalls and brooks. Most of the treks begin in Punta Verde, a short boat ride from the port and ends in Siwangag Cove where Cape Engaño waits.
The 19th century lighthouse perched on a rolling hill, the cobalt sea and pebbled shingles, the gentle grasses on the meadows dancing in the winnowing wind, the crisp scent of the ocean and you in your insatiable wanderlust create this beautiful theater called Palaui Island.
(From Manila)
Sta. Ana Direct (15-16 hours)
  • Only Florida Bus Line travels straight to Sta. Ana, Cagayan. Their terminal is located in Sampaloc, Manila. Contact +63 2 743 3809 for bookings and reservations.
  • Take the tricycle from the terminal in centro Sta. Ana to the Port of San Vicente (about 5 kilometers away). 
Via Tuguegarao (11-12 hours)
  • Buses regularly ply the Manila-Tuguegaro route. Check Victory Liner (Kamias Terminal, Quezon City) at +63 2 920 7396. 
  • Take the V-hire or mini-buses to Sta. Ana (add 3-4 hours).
  • Hire a tricycle from the terminal in centro Sta. Ana to the Port of San Vicente. 
From Manila (via Air)
IMPORTANT REMINDERS (Caution: Lengthy but helpful)
  • Rules must be at all times obeyed whenever traveling to Palaui. Always make your intentions clear so they can direct you to the right trail.
  • No one must get to the island without passing through the Tourism Office in San Vicente Port. This is required. They will arrange the logistics for you.
  • In reality, you can access the island via non-registered boats from the beach resorts around but this doesn’t have clearance from the Philippine Coast Guard. Therefore, you take the biggest risk.
  • Coast Guard clearance is necessary. They determine whether it is safe for voyage or not.
  • Boat rentals may range from P1,800-P3,500 depending on your chosen route and the capacity of the boat.
  • Always require a guide to join you in the trek. These are locals with indigenous knowledge of the place. Guide Fee is minimum of P300.
  • Camping overnight in the island is allowed but requires necessary permits and overnight staying guides.
  • Note that there is no electricity and running water in the island.
  • Globe provides the strongest available mobile phone signal (voice & sms only). However, this varies where you are inside the island as it only picks up spillover signal from the nearest mainland.
  • Bring food and lots of water, as there is nowhere else to buy.
  • Be prepared to walk. Get muddied and wet. It is recommended to use trekking sandals/shoes, not rubber shoes or flip-flops.
  • The usual route is Punta Verde to Siwangag Cove (passing through forest and wetland trails). You may choose to walk 4 hours to Siwangag and trek back for another 4 hours back to Punta Verde (using a different trail).
  • Alternatively, you may choose to sail direct to Siwangag Cove and trek down south to Punta Verde going back home. You may arrange with your boatman to meet you in Punta Verde. This require additional fee.
  • Perfect time to come is between March-early June. Avoid the northeasterly wind season (amihan) and southwesterly wind (habagat) season. I came at the height of amihan and I was regretful. If you come in uncertain weather conditions, always take the Punta Verde route since it’s just a short sailing time and the wind in that direction is not as strong as taking the Westside sail.
  • Side trips to other islands are available for extra boat fee.
  • If you are not sleeping in the island, you may choose to stay in the centro of Sta. Ana. Hotels/resorts would range between P1,500-P5,000. If you are backpacking (just like what I did), stay at RCB Pension, +639279767302. It’s actually a decent transient place for traveling agents, truckers and merchandisers. It’s simple and no-nonsense ambience.
  • Jaja is the only good place to eat in centro Sta. Ana. I tried to scour around and it’s the most decent, legit restaurant that is within tolerable budget. It’s within poblacion and very near RCB.
  • As of this publishing date (Feb 2014), there is an announcement that starting April 1, 2014 walk-ins are not anymore allowed in the island. Make sure you validate it first with CEZA and make your bookings in advance.
CEZA Visitor Center, Sta. Ana, Cagayan
+63 9175937139 (Grace); +63 9261140782 (Rose)

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