We arrived at the airport just a little past noon. It was hot, the worse kind of hot. It was like needles poking into each of my pores. The sun was at its highest and we were in Tuguegarao, the hottest city of the Philippines. I was surprised the airport didn’t have a conveyor belt. When we finally got hold of our luggage, we braved the heat again and rode a tricycle to the van terminal.
To reach our destination, we had to take a butt-numbing 3-hour van ride. On the side of the highway, rice and corn were laid to dry. Only then that I realized why the fields looked like pieces of green and brown cloth stitched together from the plane. Seen up close they formed an attractive field of bounty. On my left and right were rice and corn fields, and I now say that it was the tassels of the corn that made the plains appear brown from up in the sky.
Corn and rice were on the side of the roads until we reached our destination. They were at different stages of being dry. Some were only being spread, some were done drying and already swept to be piled up, and some were already being put into sacks. Some sacks of rice and corn were just left standing or lying on the side of the road.
The sun had started setting when we got out of the van in front of the resort we were going to stay in. The sunset by the beach was perfect with the orange rays spreading in the horizon and illuminating the clouds and the calm turquoise waters.
Early the next morning, it was the full moon we saw over the same calm turquoise waters. We paused to capture the scene then went on with our walk to the highway to hail a tricycle that would bring us to the jump-off point for island hopping.
Sta. Ana is at the north-eastern tip of the Philippines. KM 642, which is the last highway marker in the north of the country, is here. Just across its port is the island of Palaui where the Cape Engaño Lighthouse is located.
The outrigger boats were ready. The boatmen wore red sweatshirts that had the faces of political figures printed on their backs. It was only weeks away from election day.
Kuya Ronald and Efren were our tour guides for that day. Our first destination was the Cape Engaño Lighthouse. On the way up to the lighthouse we started throwing questions to Kuya Ronald, who tried his best to answer.
“So when is the Survivor team coming?” we asked.
“In May, but not all of us will be working for them,” he said.
Kuya Edwin, the owner of the boat that we contacted for the tour told us prior to the trip that Survivor, the famous reality game show, will be shooting a season on Palaui Island. The locals expressed their concern over the impact of this project to the environment and their lives. Kuya Edwin said even the mayor expressed disapproval and the residents were ready to rally. However, the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (CEZA) told them that they were the ones who would be working for the project, so they conceded.
“So what will happen then?” we asked.
“Cape Engaño and two more beaches will be off-limits so no visitors can go to these areas. They will be shooting from May to August so less visitors will be coming in for four months. The shoot was supposed to start in March but we asked them to postpone it since many visitors will be coming in for the Holy Week,” Kuya replied.
The locals’ island-hopping income will be affected during the four months that the show will be filming on the island. But this show will surely boost tourism once the season has aired. While the filming is being done the province will benefit in terms of employment and local business should rake in more revenue as well.
“When you’re not guiding tourists, what do you do?” I asked curiously.
“Fishing,” he replied.
Sta. Ana is a coastal town and is nicknamed the Game Fishing Mecca of the Philippines. So a lot of locals here are fishermen. The boatmen only guide tours when there are visitors, but on normal days they fish. Some even plant rice during the day when farmers need help and then go fishing at night.
On our way down to the beach from the lighthouse we crossed paths with two men who were from the Philippine Coastguard. They maintain the lighthouse. Unlike other Spanish lighthouses we have seen, Cape Engaño Lighthouse is clean and no rubbles were lying around everywhere.
We had more chitchats with Kuya Ronald but it was a bit hard getting a lot of information from him because he would sometimes just say yes and not add more information. He was nice but a bit shy. This is maybe because the tourism here isn’t as beefed-up yet as the other provinces in the Philippines and they have yet to undergo more training to become more confident and informative in guiding visitors. Tourism in Sta. Ana has just started booming in the recent years and I believe with the Survivor project their tourism will grow rapidly and more actions will be undertaken to improve the tourism service.
I wanted more information so we got in touch with Kuya Edwin, the owner of the boat.
“Do you always sell all of your catch?” I asked.
“We have a fixed buyer so there is no need to worry about selling. The same buyer helps us in emergency situations,” he answered.
“Which do you like doing better, fishing or guiding tourists?” I asked.
“Guiding tourists is just additional income for us. I find fishing more fun,” he replied.
Tourists may come and go but the sea will always be there for them. As of now though, they may need to learn to love guiding tourists. Sooner or later, more local and foreign travelers will be flocking to this part of the country.
According to Kuya Edwin, Survivor will be spending 2 months in Cape Engaño and two months in Puzo Robo Beach. Environmental destruction remains a concern. With more than 500 people needed to operate the production of the show more waste will be disposed and corals may be unintentionally destroy, like what happened in Australia when a contestant picked up corals for souvenirs. But Survivor has proven in many seasons that it operates sustainably and adhere to environmental laws. Whatever negative impacts this show may have on a place culturally and environmentally it is believed that they are outweighed by the economic benefits.
With airfares in the Philippines getting cheaper a lot more people are able to travel than ever before. Travelers here are also becoming more adventurous and are more willing to venture to far-flung places. Who doesn’t want to go where Survivor had been, right?
With Survivor exposing Palaui Island’s beauty to the world more development will come to the town of Sta. Ana. Whatever environmental impact will result from increasing tourism numbers the local government unit has to be ready to mitigate it.