Geared toward rediscovering the beauty of Luzon's northeasternmost province, the 2nd Palaui Island Aquathlon Challenge was recently held at Cape Engaño in Palaui Island, Sta. Ana, Cagayan.

First held in 2005, the event aims to drum up awareness on Cagayan's varied tourist attractions and establish the province as a major sports and adventure destination. Likewise, it endeavors to gain support for the restoration of the Cape Engaño Lighthouse, one of the Philippines' most important historical landmarks whose construction was completed in 1892.

Tourism Secretary Ace Durano said the DOT is presently encouraging the holding of various sport activities in key tourist destinations to boost sports tourism in the country.

"Outdoor sport events contribute a great deal in generating tourists in places that abound with interesting sights. Not only are the participants eager to experience the thrill offered by the competition, they are also raring to explore these parts of the world and enjoy the scenery to the fullest," Durano pointed out.

“These activities also promote environmental conservation as participants are taught to take nothing from and leave nothing on the site of the competition," he added.

Aquathlon is one of the world's fast-growing sports today. It usually consists of a run followed by a swim, followed by a run. The goal is to complete the race in the shortest time possible. The race distance for the Palaui Island Aquathlon Challenge covered a 2 km trail/mountain run, 1 km ocean swim, and 3 km trail/ mountain run.

A total of 45 athletes, aged 13-50, joined in the competition. Fifteen-year old Jerome Reluya won the overall male category, completing the race in 47 minutes and 46 seconds, while 31-year old national athlete Ani de Leon was the top overall female with a total of 49 minutes and 49 seconds.

Complementing the aquathlon event was the Cagayan North Ecotour conducted by the provincial government to provide the participants and media guests with a glimpse of the province's rich cultural heritage and very much intact natural attractions.

According to Governor Edgar Ramones Lara, the province's diverse land and seascapes offer a wide-range of land and water activities, from mountain trekking and cave exploration to kayaking, river rafting, snorkeling, and game fishing expeditions. He noted, however, that while they are promoting Cagayan as a major tourist destination, they are also ensuring the preservation of its natural and man-made attractions, such as the Cape Engaño Lighthouse and centuries-old churches.

Cagayan North, as the province is called to distinguish it from the Cagayan Valley Region, of which it is a part, and from the province of Cagayan de Oro in Mindanao, is home to over 200 caves found mostly in the municipality of Peñablanca, thus earning the title "Cave Capital of the Philippines." The seven-chambered Callao Cave, which features massive limestone and other rock formations, is one of the most renowned caves in the country.

Bounded by the Babuyan Channel on the north and the Pacific Ocean on the east, Cagayan boasts of golden and grayish fine sand beaches found along its coastal towns and the islands within its jurisdiction, such as the islands of Palaui, Fuga, Camiguin, and Calayan. Because of its location, the province is also blessed with an abundance of marine life. Its northeasternmost municipality, Sta. Ana, is in fact known as the Philippines' Sailfish Capital and the site of the annual International Game Fishing Competition.

The province is traversed as well by many rivers, including the Pinacanauan, Chico, and Cagayan Rivers, the last being the longest and widest river in the country. It is in the municipality of Aparri where the Rio Grande de Cagayan meets with the China Sea.

In addition to its long list of natural wealth, Cagayan North is likewise host to quite a number of centuries-old structures. Seventeen Spanish-era churches may actually be found in the province. Among these are the St. Peter's Cathedral, the seat of the Archdiocese of Tuguegarao and the biggest Spanish-built church in the region whose construction was completed in 1767; the San Jacinto Ermita Church, also in Tuguegarao, which was built in 1604 and used as headquarters by American soldiers during the Filipino-American War in 1899; and the 90 meters long and 30 meters wide St. Philomene Church in Alcala, considered as the widest brick church in the province that dates back to 1881.

Two other centuries-old objects of religious importance are also found here. The miraculous 400-year old image of the Our Lady of Piat, brought from Macao to the Philippines in 1604 by Dominican Friars and enshrined in the Piat's basilica minore, has made the province the pilgrimage center of the north. On the other hand, the Santa Maria Bell, said to be the oldest bell in the Far East, is found in the municipality of Camalaniugan's San Jacinto de Polonia Parish Church. Forged in 1595, it was brought to Manila in 1937 as part of the attractions during the 33rd International Eucharistic Congress.

Last but not the least is the Cape Engaño Lighthouse in Palaui Island, the only operational lighthouse in the northeastern coast, whose 11-meter high octagonal-shaped tower was completed in 1892 after the loss of 78 lives. The island on which it sits, the site of this year's Cagayan North aquathlon competition, has been declared as Military Reserve on May 22, 1967 and as Marine Reserve under the category of Protected Landscape and Seascape on August 16, 1994 due to its rich marine resources and uncontaminated environs. The island is 30 minutes away from the mainland by boat and is very ideal for ecotourism activities.

The 2nd Palaui Island Aquathlon Challenge was made possible by the Provincial Government of Cagayan, the Municipal Government of Sta. Ana, the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority, various private sector groups, and the Department of Tourism.