As the dawn unfolds the fusion of pinkish and orange sky at the horizon of Palaui Island greeted the windows of my soul. Ed is still sound asleep, looking pretty peaceful and naive. I went out of the tent to check on Angel. I was worried to see him sleeping on the sand last night, but must have gotten tired of the insects feasting on his legs, so he squeezed himself in between Darwin and Jerome. I felt relieved.
Palaui Island in Cagayan Valley is an isolated enclave frozen in time. To my right lies a lush green mountain and perched on top is the perfectly crafted Cape Engaño lighthouse robustly peeking at me as if seducing me to face him at daybreak. His elusiveness make him mysteriously handsome. For a moment I was tempted, if it weren’t for the question of how many lives, sweats and bloods it took to erect him that baffled me, I would’ve submitted myself to his invite. It’s been said that 78 people have died to build him. I turned my back at him, scared of being naïvely charmed. He must be very lovely but he is vulnerable. Not yet. Not now.
While half of the world is still asleep, I took my clothes off and slipped on my swim swear. Like I’m on a balkan holidays, surrounded by verdant massif and a wide expanse of crystal clear waters, it was the perfect time to return to her womb without the sun hurting my skin. I swam to her bottom like a carefree child. I feel at peace when I’m under the water, like all my worries and confusions are washed away momentarily. I long for some solitary walk, I wanna commune with nature. The long dramatic stretch of the half-moon-shaped coast ends with rock escape. I found a perfect spot for some meditation- a dead tree washed ashore. I sat down and wept.
“As soon as we reach the peak, I wanna shout at the top of my lungs! I wanna let go of all my emotions,” I remember telling Angel. If there’s something that draws me to the lighthouse its his willingness to stand there alone guiding lost ships and perhaps even lost souls…like me. Enduring the bipolar and harsh weather, he remains reserved. I remember our first attempt to conquer Cape Engaño lighthouse …venturing where no one has ever gone before, pushing our body to the limits on the harshest natural environment. We failed, but we vowed to return.
There is something about him, complex yet sublime, like our lives are inextricably intertwined. He can connect to the very core of my existence, without him knowing. Perhaps because we are in the same situation. He has gotten used to living in the drastic weather and the darkest of days. When he was introduced to the world, he found himself living a life he never dreamed he has to live, but he was brave enough to exist and help lost souls despite being lost himself. I wish I could lie beside him for a few more days, or maybe even weeks just doing nothing. Maybe, just maybe.
I must have spent much time in solitude by the shores of the beach that the sun is already climbing to the middle of the sky. And finally, one by one, the sleepy heads have awaken! They must be restless because after 20 hours of travel, we arrived at the beach at dusk. Ed has a good calculation of duration of the trip; 14hours by bus to Tuguegarao City, Cagayan, 3 hours van to Sta. Ana, Cagayan, 20 minute boat to San Vicente port, plus 4 hour hike to the campsite in Palaui Island. By the time we reached the peak, darkness has already fallen.
After a quick swim, we decided to start the trek to the lighthouse – the highlight of our trip. En route to the hills leading to the lighthouse, the white sand shores transformed into a coast filled with pebbles and rocks. There’s a cemented stairs halfway of the hill which made the trek a lot easier. And each step we take higher, we all can’t help but pause and look back. The bird’s-eye view offers a much-needed respite from the chaotic life back in the city. The view is simply sublime!
Excited, I took a few more steps to reach the peak. My 1st up close sight of him was ineffable. My heart beating in triumph! He was robustly standing there, so serene yet so powerful. His stone tower is octagonal and cylindrical in shape. Why it took me so long to finally find him remains a mystery. But I am happy to finally be standing there next to him.
Cape Engaño lighthouse on Palaui Island is located in Sta. Ana Cagayan Province, Philippines, on its northeastern side lies the Pacific Ocean and to his northwestern side is the South China sea. It was built out of volcanic rocks during the Spanish Colonial epoch in September 1888 but was only completed 4 years after, sometime in December 1892. It is reputed as the northeastern most Spanish lighthouse in the Philippines and its structural plan was actually based on the lighthouses of Cape Bojeador ( Burgos,Ilocos Norte), Faro de Punta Capones (San Antonio, Zambales), and Faro de la Isla Cabra (Lubang, Occidental Mindoro).
But discovering what’s inside of him, breaks my heart. It hurts me to see him abandoned and in a state of deterioration like that. His roof is gone, the walls are heavily worn, the beams are hanging and the windows and doors are dilapidated. I hope they restore this significant masterpiece of our history. The lighthouse is both majestic and important, and restoring him is essential. Lest not forget the lives that were lost while constructing him and those ships and lost souls that will be guided and saved if the lighthouse is working.
What makes the lighthouse distinct from any other lonely sentinels that I’ve been to is, its ability to offer a diverse view of nature. Like you’re being conveyed into a completely peculiar place. The south side offers a beach akin to the panoramic view of the beaches in Zambales, while the north side where Angel and I attempted to climb on our 1st attempt to explore Palaui has a landscape similar to Batanes and the bird’s-eye view to the east where Dos Hermanas lies in the vast open sea somewhat takes me to another island somewhere in Calaguas or Ilocos Norte.
If I am to draw a symbol for myself… I would sketch a picture of a lighthouse. A lighthouse is an epitome of boldness and solitude, like an unsung hero, guiding lost ships and souls. And as the night falls, it flashes on, and as soon as the sun emerges, it shuts off. It works as both a symbol of stability (as a beacon) and of change (as its lights go on and off with the turning of the day). But has anyone asked him what he needs? Often, the condition of the lighthouse is neglected because we assume he was built strong enough to withstand drastic weather and misfortunes. A lighthouse needs attention, care and maintenance to survive. His life like ours is precious yet fragile. This lonely sentinel has survived several years in solitude, his life was defined by his experiences , so we assume he is brave enough to resist everything…until we see him slowly crumble and perish.
Refer here for Palaui Travel Guide.