As our ferry left the port of Zamboanga at half past six in the morning, the excitement with me grew stronger. Perhaps a little scared, but I was more curious of the experience I would encounter. I was about to reach a place only few travelers consider to venture – only for the brave, as others may think; but just for the truly adventurous, as for me.
Some thirty kilometers offshore of Mindanao situated is the island province of Basilan. A part of the country’s Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), it is actually a breathtaking place but only tainted by media with coverage of violence and terrorism. With its beautiful memories with me, I definitely recommend visiting this place for its natural and cultural treasures. I went home completely safe and devoid of any harm people may think of.
Its main component city, the former capital Isabela City, welcomed me with a view of a community built from stilt houses located beside the island. It was diverse from what Manila exhibits that makes it more interesting for me. As I arrive at the city port, I went directly to another terminal to take a short boat trip to my first destination, Malamawi Island. Only costing PhP 5 for a few minutes’ ride, I sat inside with a group of locals and Zamboangueño tourists. At the other side of the port, waiting are plethora of motorcycle (habal-habal) drivers looking for passengers to take. I asked one to take me to the White Beach, and he became my tour guide for half of the day.
Kuya Billy is amazingly friendly to recognize almost all of the people that we passed by during the long ride from the port to the White Beach. He is a product of a Catholic-and-Muslim couple. Just like in Zamboanga, these people of different religions coexist in the same place. When we arrived at the White Beach, we first hiked the path to the terrace overlooking the beach itself and the other nearby places as well.
At our descent, I went straight to the waters and was captivated with the beautiful view of the dock. The rain showered for a while but went away shortly.
After the swim, I went back to town finding the bus departing for the adjacent City of Lamitan where I would meet my tour guide, Ms. Jarma. She is a staff from the LGU Tourism Office who I contacted prior to my trip to Mindanao. It is most recommended to get in touch with the local government to ensure the safety of the tourists on their trip, and also to find ease in navigating the area. She, along with a habal-habal driver, picked me up at the bus terminal to bring me to the LGU hostel to check in at first.
Our primary destination was Bulingan Falls. Hidden in a forest, this charming waterfalls boasts its natural rock formations where raging waters cascade. Lots of locals frequent this wonder and there exist nipa huts, free for use of anyone. After this second swim, we made a detour for a while to send calesas to the port for an ARMM exhibition at Cotabato City.
Our next activity was discovering the local Yakan culture, where I had a glance of their weaving livelihood and had the taste of the sweet delicacies. Ja (or Lokot Lokot), is a triangular crispy food made of rice flour, while Panyam (or Panyalam) is a chewy one. Both are delectable snacks.
While finishing to eat, we took a ride and stopped at one of the numerous rubber plantations found in the province. Not to mention that rubber is the main product of Basilan. To make the product like we used to see, these trees are wounded and its sap are collected to be processed as rubber.
To end the day, we went to the Mayor’s resort in Calugusan Beach. Used to be exclusive, it was opened to the public recently. It has huts for rent and also has fishponds where freshwater fishes and crabs are raised. Based on Ms. Jarma, their Mayor usually arranges a courtesy call with the tourists visiting Lamitan City to personally thank them for having the courage to discover their place, sometimes even offering a free night stay at the resort being mentioned. At the time of my visit, I wasn’t able to meet her as she was in vacation for her birthday.
The final moments of the day was so great that I was mesmerized with the vista of the sun following its way down the horizon. I think it was one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen. It exhibited a perfect combination of the reddish color of the rays scattered in the sky and the calming sound of the waves in the ocean.
We went back to town to have a supper at a local eatery, but we ended up dining at my tour guide’s home as we came back late. After a while, I was sent back to my hostel room to finally take a rest. I was going back to Zamboanga the following day through the same route I took.
Overall, this trip was a great experience. As a traveler, I enjoy discovering new places, and I was glad that I had the chance to visit Basilan. For another time, I would like to emphasize that this place is not exactly what common people think of. It is a hidden gem in the South, a jewel yet to be explored. I encourage everyone to come see and experience the pristine natural wonders it possesses.
I want to send special thanks to LGU Tourism Office of Lamitan for appointing Ms. Jarma as my tour guide. She was very professional as a tour guide and hospitable as a local. I would like to join the Lami-Lamihan Festival at my next visit!