More often than not, when I say I’m going to Mindanao region of the Philippines, the initial reaction I get is “What the hell are you going to do there?!” which will then have a bunch of follow up questions regarding safety issues. Yeah, Mindanao is
never not seen as a safe place (big thanks to a bunch of exaggerated news). It’s just sad that it kinda annoys me sometimes when people dare say negative stuff about a place yet are actually the ones who have not even set foot in that particular area. I enjoy proving them wrong.
Late 2013, I booked a Manila-Zamboanga afternoon flight on a randomly selected date of 21-25th February 2014 and this time, I got my brother Miguel to go with me so he can experience Zamboanga (It’s been 11 years; he was just 2 when he last visited Zambo).
Early morning of February 21, Miguel and I were playfully betting on who gets to use my military camouflage backpack: me or him. Then a thought came, considering the recent three-week Zamboanga crisis that was a standoff between the Philippine government and the Nur Misuari-led faction of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) last September 2013, will I be allowed to enter/leave the airport in peace with a military camo bag on my back? I have doubts, okay. My instinct says no so I texted my dad to ask my dumb question (gusto ko lang talaga ipilit yung bag, sorry. Haha). My dad of course said no. Turns out, the city is on a red alert status due to a kidnapping incident earlier that day.
Due to flight delays, we arrived around 8:30 in the evening. Oh how I love seeing the familiar Zambo airport again. There are policemen along the passageway for arriving guests and that gives me a safe feel, but might –and I hope not- scare the first-timers/tourists for thoughts of “
First thing you wanna do in Zamboanga is to start your day with a visit to the major landmark and miraculous shrine dedicated to the patroness of the city, Our Lady of the Pillar for prayer and offerings.
Plaza del Pilar
My personal objective for this trip (aside from spending time with our dad) is to visit the places I have failed to go the last time I was here. I went back to Fort Pilar for my second attempt to go inside the National Museum which was closed when I went before (See: https://jeyyd.wordpress.com/2012/10/17/ciudad-latina-de-asia-zamboanga-city/) and just my luck, it’s closed again!! </3 This time though, it was closed for renovation and not because of schedule change so I’m not that bitter about it as I was before. 😀
After a cup of mango shake and a 10 peso bag of nilagang mani and popcorn, I noticed these holes on walls along Plaza del Pilar while walking around. At first I thought it was just poorly kept and/or it is being readied for demolition. Turns out, these are GUN SHOTS from the war.
I’m so thankful my dad survived the crisis while his city was under siege.
Paseo del Mar
I went to Oficina de Turismo Local to inquire about Sta. Cruz Island. The lady who provided me with the information I need was very helpful and accommodating.. she even gave me free tickets to Zamboanga Dia (Zamboanga Day) events!! Anyway, since the tourism office is right outside Paseo del Mar’s gate, we decided to stay for a chill out dinner and to have my brother try this 65-peso-oh-so-uber-fantastic-delicious-creamy-yummy-oohlala dessert that contains fresh fruits with ice cream on top: Knicker Bocker. Miguel especially enjoyed the spectacular Musically Gyrating Dancing Fountain which plays every hour to a wide selection of songs ranging from a Beethoven classic to Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody to Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger to Lou Vega’s Mambo no.5… the list goes on! Name it, the fountain has it.
Sta. Cruz Island: pink beach
I’ve been bugging my dad for a trip to the famed pink beach of the Great Sta. Cruz Island but he always says no saying it’s red alert…might not be safe…etc etc but he lose to me when I went to the tourism office myself and asked for details on how to go there so haha (love you papa!:P). Sta. Cruz Island is situated within the Basilan Strait and therefore very near to Basilan Island. Being the father my dad is, he called up friends from the Marines so we’ll have escorts and they can catch up over a good cold bottle of beer. See, it’s a win-win. Again, love you pa! haha
Also called as Las Islas de Sta. Cruz – yes, in plural form hence the use of ‘Las’ since Sta. Cruz is actually made up of two islands called Isla Grande de Sta. Cruz Island and the Little Sta. Cruz Island. Both are considered protected seascape due to its vast coral reef population but unfortunately, illegal coral mining activities killed the nature’s gift to the greater island. Thankfully, efforts are being made to save its marine life. As for Little Island, it boasts a white sand beach and its colorful marine life is just perfect for snorkeling and scuba diving sesh. There’s also a Navy Installation in the island so you’ll be fine. These Navy officers patrol the waters surrounding the Great Sta. Cruz Island too so you’ll often see them while lazing around. (see their Naval Speed Boat on this pic:)
The fame of Sta. Cruz is mainly due to its “pink beach”. The island was originally a white sand beach but by years of erosion, these red and orange organ pipe coral were crushed, eventually blending in with the white sand thus making it look like color pink. Fun fact: Sta. Cruz Island is one of the 7 pink beaches in the world!
Potable water source is hard in the island so we brought our own drinking water. For our food, we made a trip to the market before hitting the island. Btw, when in Zamboanga, you have to try grilled Pugot. It’s a stone fish of descent. The skin is very hard but when you grill it and the skin starts to flake, that’s when you know it’s cooked. The meat of the fish is just so tasty and the fish liver is sweet. Just try it! Occasionally, there would be a local who will try to sell you some fresh catch black like-kuhol (?). They can cook and shell it for you. Dip it in vinegar then BAM!
No need for prior reservations f you want to visit the island, just head straight to the terminal going to Sta. Cruz Island located beside the parking area inside Paseo del Mar. All you need to do is register your name and contact details then pay for the fees. First come, first served basis. It is advisable that you go in early in the morning and leave the island no later than 4 in the afternoon. There are no overnight accommodations and camping isn’t allowed as well. Entrance and terminal fee is 25 pesos/pax + 1000 pesos for the boat good for 1-10 pax while cottage rental ranges from 100-500 pesos but they let us have it for free. (yay free!) The staff at the registration counter will ask an armed police officer to ride with you on the boat to assist and guide you during your trip so you’ll be safe and sound 😉
If you read my first Zamboanga post, you would know that I was originally on my way to Pasonanca when I decided to stay at a local cock derby (haha). So for this trip, I made sure we visit Pasonanca again.
My fate decided to take a turn. There’s a
new museum sitting pretty on Jardin Maria Clare Lobregat!! I might have missed the National Museum of Zamboanga two times but El Museo de Zamboanga is open and we have it all to ourselves! Aside from the museum (there’s a science museum in front), the park also boasts an aviary and a butterfly garden. There is also a big spring water “Natural Pool” if you go through the zigzag road behind the park.
The Pasonanca Tree House is one of the icons of Zamboanga City. People say that even Hollywood celebrities and politicians fly to Zamboanga just to experience the tree house (you can rent it overnight). Right (or should I say left) beside it is the Scout Limbaga Camp in honor of Sct. Limbaga who died from their jamboree trip.
It’s been 11 years since we last saw this place and I remember going through our childhood photo albums containing a bunch of pictures from the tree house and jamboree tent so here we have it:
Time really flies when you’re having fun and unfortunately, our short vacation is over. I always get the last flight leaving Zamboanga – around 7PM so for our last day, we made a quick trip to the wet market to buy fresh catch Pugot and Curacha (must buy!) crabs to take home to Manila. We also dropped by at Canelar Barter Trade to buy myself my favorite Apollo Wafer Sticks while my brother got a shirt and some pasalubong for his friends.
There will always be travel warnings that advise travelers to avoid the Zamboanga Peninsula. Yes, it’s not always safe in Mindanao—abductions… armed robberies… ambush… insurgencies. But then again, crime is everywhere and it may happen to anyone at any given time. To be on the safe side, don’t ever forget to have faith, be aware, trust your instincts, and respect the people around you. Don’t let the thought of “not safe” frighten and discourage you from living life. It’s ironic, I know.
The city was on red alert but so what coconut. We had fun and enjoyed every minute of it.