Just after sunrise, I found myself in an outrigger riding 10-foot waves in the Pacific Ocean wishing I hadn’t eaten a full breakfast that morning. In front of the boat I could hear my cameraman Ricky, making noises like he was on a roller coaster ride while audaciously filming the experience. We were on assignment to go to the Island of Palaui, located at the northeast tip of the Philippines and other locations in Cagayan Valley. Palaui is one of the locations for the 2 recent seasons of the reality show ‘Survivor.’ While doing research, I found out that Palaui made it to the number 10 spot out of 100 in CNN’s best beaches in the world, even besting our Boracay and Palawan.
As they say, a thing of beauty is hard to find. Before the boat ride, I took an hour plane ride from Manila to Tuguegarao, and then another 3 hours of land travel to Sta. Ana in a van with a driver who had a habit of abruptly stepping on the brakes. The boat ride (which cost 1,800 pesos) was about 45 minutes away from the beach of Sta. Ana. After about 10 minutes of enormous ocean swells, I realized I just had to go with the motion and enjoy the ride. This was not difficult to do as I was distracted by multiple shades of blue from the ocean and the lush green scenery as we were approaching the island. From where we were, Palaui reminded me of the fictitious island in the movie Jurassic Park. I felt like I was entering fantasy realm.
We arrived at the Northern point of the island called Cape Engaño. Landing on a coral sand beach, there was another outrigger parked there but no other tourists in sight. On the beach we were met by our guide Zen who is a local from the island and he led us into a dense forest and through very harsh terrain. In the middle of all that he mentioned not to worry about snakes, as Snake Island is nearby (no, really; its called Snake Island, and it is really full of snakes, hence the name), but after a few minutes we were in awe to walk out into a perfectly seemingly manicured grassland. I thought to myself the trek would have been a breeze without the strong resistance of the wind (pun intended). I needed to hold on to something so I would not be blown away. We visited on a February but the guide tells us Palaui has gentler winds and is more ideal during the summer months (March to May). Zen told us that it takes about 3-4 hours to trek the island from one side to the other. He also told us that on the other side of the island is a small fishing village. There were no hotels or resort on Palaui, but there was a camp site, while other visitors opt for homestay in the fishing village. Zen also explained there are many activities to do in the Island. Bird watching is one of them as it is home to over 90 species of birds. He recommended snorkelling. The waters surrounding Palaui are national marine reserves and are home to undisturbed corals.
Unfortunately we didn’t have the luxury of time so we just decided to climb to the summit of Cape Engaño, which is home to the ruins of the historic Spanish lighthouse which was built in 1888. It took us an hour to ascend to the lighthouse which normally only takes 30 minutes as we were filming and stopping to enjoy the scenery. The cold wind blowing on our faces made the climb more enjoyable. From the top, we had a bird’s eye view of the island’s rugged landscape and rough sea, which was breathtaking.
I read that Palaui is all about raw beauty… A beauty that will remain as long as it is untouched. I hope this island will remain as it is, frozen in time, for others to see.