TAWI-TAWI:the backdoor of the Philippines

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WHY VISIT TAWI-TAWI?

  • It is the southernmost part of the Philippines; part of the ARMM.
  • The oldest mosque in the Philippines is found here.
  • Interesting stilt houses stand in the sea.
  • The longest sandbar in the Philippines is Panampangan Island via Celebes Sea.

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Sanga-Sanga Airport in Bongao is the gateway to Tawi-Tawi. The safest way to get to Bongao, the capital of Tawi-Tawi is via Cebu Pacific from Zamboanga City. Upon arrival, register at the Tourism office for safety reasons. It is best to have a local contact and arranged accommodation beforehand. Bongao city center is just a few minutes away, tricycles are everywhere.

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A. SIMUNUL ISLAND:  The distance of islands are quite far so when they say island hopping, it won’t be the typical boats we have in Luzon and Visayas. We took a private speed boat to Simunul Island and assisted by armed men. Notice that most household carry guns. We were advised to go home before sunset as they ususally shoot suspicious strangers from the sea.

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so this is how it feels like to hug a 400-year-old-pillar!

Karim ul-Makhdum was an Islamic preacher/trader from Johor now known as Malaysia. He brought Islam in the year 1380 CE in this island. Just nearby is his fenced tomb believed to be the size of a giant man. Simunul is known as the “Dubai of the Philippines” due to the thousands of pilgrims from neighboring countries and Mindanao visiting the mosque. He established the Sheik Karimal Makdum Mosque making it the cradle of Islam. This is now acknowledged as the oldest mosque in the Philippines located in Barangay Tubig Indangan, Simunul, Tawi-Tawi. The original mosque was burned so the pillars were reconstructed.  The four pillars from the 17th century are regarded as sacred and historic islamic artifacts said to be 400 years old. No wonder it has been declared as a National Historical Landmark and National Treasure.

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B. PANAMPANGAN ISLAND: Despite Tawi-tawi’s fearsome reputation, the most beautiful islands and longest sandbars are found here. Transportation outside Bongao is limited and off shore is dangerous so military escorts are provided. Panampangan is officially the Philippines’ longest sandbar. You can reach it in less than an hour via speed boat. This island is just barely shaded so better bring your essentials. The sand is powdery fine and white. It is one of the best I have been to, considering my habitual island hopping. This 3-km-long sandbar is also called Basibuli Shoal along  Celebes Sea. It is best to bring packed lunch as it is a secluded area and no potable water source.

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OTHER THINGS TO DO:

  • Check out the gigantic wooden ships being made by the locals. They are customized for Malaysian buyers that costs millions of pesos and atleast a year to accomplish by hand.
  • Look for some locals harvesting seaweed or drying them. Learn their ways of life.
  • Walk on stilt houses and check out the place where they found the controversial giant alligator.
  • Trek Bud Bongao/ Mount Bongao: The locals call it the Sacred mountain of Tawi-Tawi a pilgrim site for Christians and Muslims. It is the highest point for viewing Celebes Sea. It has 6 peaks of limestones and along the trail are Philippine macaques so this is not for the faint hearted.  Avoid bringing too much food and captivating gadgets that could hype their interest.
  • Go to Tawi-Tawi Provincial Capitol.
  • Check out the wet market for the most peculiar and giant seafood at a very low price. Have it cooked on your homestay.
  • The Philippine Turtle Islands: This is still on my bucketlist because it is a huge nesting ground of green turtles and a protected area by the government.
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Everything here is huge!

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made to order vessel

REMEMBER:

  1. Register at the Tourism office and do not go on your own off coast. Always ask for assistance.
  2. Most people are equipped with guns so avoid playing with them. Behave properly and respect their culture.
  3. It is best to stay indoors before sunset.
  4. Travel as a group. Do not wear revealing clothes as it is a conservative muslim territory.
  5. You may be surprise to witness improper waste disposals in the mainland especially in the stilt houses. Hold it and avoid arguements.

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“Like all great travellers, I have seen more than I remember and remember more than I have seen.”

-Benjamin Disraeli

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NEGROS OCCIDENTAL: Silay City Heritage Houses

REASONS TO VISIT SILAY CITY?

  • It is referred to as the “Paris of Negros” and “seat of arts, culture and ecotourism” due to the numerous preserved heritage houses, artists, cultural shows and its rich history. No wonder it was acknowledged by the Department of Tourism (DOT) as one of the top travel destinations in the Philippines.
  • 31 Ancestral Houses are declared by the National Historical Institute as cultural landmarks.
  • The world’s oldest Steam Locomotives(train) is at Hawaiian Philippines Co. a.k.a. “Iron Dinosaurs” are found and can be rented here (15,000/day).
  • Home of Kansilay Festival (A legend: the heroism of Princess Kansilay and her love story with Lawaan) and Adobo Festival (November 5: people showcase various versions of Adobo).

HOW TO GET THERE?

Silay City is more than 25 minutes away from Bacolod City and vice versa, hence the traffic. Exploring Silay is best done via pedicab or trike. Ancestral houses can be reached by foot if you are a walker like me.

If you are heading to Bacolod City: I personally prefer to take a taxi though it may cost more (200-250Php) due to the distance. However, you may take a shuttle van service (150Php) from Silay International Airport with drop off points at nearby hotels within the city, Robinson’s, SM or Bus terminals. From Bacolod City, Robinson’s is a major pick up point going to Silay.

MUST VISIT ANCESTRAL HOUSES:

Silay is like a Museum City with a laid back ambiance and Spanish feel. It is like Marinduque and Ilocos wherein you can see well-preserved ancestral houses mostly turned into a museum or cafe.

A. BALAY NEGRENSE or Victor Fernandez Gaston Ancestral House: It is the first museum in Negros Occidental. The house was owned by Victor Gaston, son of Frenchman Yves Leopold Germain Gaston. Before sugarcane became a staple crop, he discovered Negros’ fertile land and was the first to bring an iron mill for sugarcane production and produce quality sugar. He was regarded as the “Father of the Sugar Industry.”

This literal “house of stone” (bahay na bato) housed his 12 children and was later on donated to the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) repaired and opened for public viewing. This Neo-Renaissance architecture was built in 1897.  Entrance fee is 60/adults, 40/students or seniors and 20 /children. Open between 9:00-5:30 PM and closed on Mondays at Barangay III, Cinco De Noviembre Street.

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B. BERNARDINO JALANDONI HOUSE/MUSEUM: This is called the “Pink House” probably because of the notable color. Don Bernardino Jalandoni and Doña Ysabel Lopez Ledesma were the original owners but now in the care of Silay Heritage Foundation, Inc. It is walking distance from the Church of San Diego de Alcala. Nowadays, this 1908 house is a common venue for cultural and artistic events. It is located at Brgy II, Rizal Street open between Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

C. SOLEDAD AND MARIA MONTELIBANO LACSON ANCESTRAL HOUSE: This landmark is owned by the family of Montelibano Lacson sisters: Soledad and Maria. According to history, it was where General Lacson and revolutionary leaders constantly secretly meet and where they first raised the Philippine flag. It is just at the corner of Rizal Street stop light.

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D. MARIA LEDESMA GOLEZ HERITAGE HOUSE: The house was restored in 1992 and is being used by Silay Branch of Republic Commercial Banking Corporation in 1992. Today it serves as a bank and shops building.

There is a popular backpacker’s inn across the road and an old cafe on the ground floor. It would be a perfect homestay if you are planning a day at Silay then head to Bacolod.

E. HOFILEÑA ANCESTRAL HOUSE: This beautiful home was built in 1934 by Hofileña for his 12 children and former Miss Silay wife. These days, it serves as a museum exhibiting the work of popular Philippine artists, antiques and private collection of Ramon H. Hofileña. The world’s smallest dolls are found in their collection too.

F. BALAI VERDE or Angel Araneta Ledesma Ancestral House: This 1933 “Green House” is an American clapboard-Colonial plantation architectural combination. It was later on sold to the local government. Currently it serves as the Office of Culture, Arts and Tourism of the City of Silay. It is located along Plaridel Street near The City Hall and San Diego Pro-Cathedral.

G. EL IDEAL BAKERY or Cesar Lacson Locsin Heritage House: This is the oldest 2-storey-home or “bahay na bato” in Silay. The ground floor is concrete while the upper floor is classic wood with metal grills and glass windows. Silay’s original bakery was established in 1920’s located at 118 Rizal Street. They serve home-made pastries and Filipino-Spanish viands. Their guapple pie is a must!

Foodtrip at Silay

Left Corner: Cubana, porkchop, empanada and cassava at El Ideal bakery and Restaurant. Right Corner: ison, atay, corazon, pakpak and sizzling gambas with egg at Silay Food Park

H. GENEROSO GAMBOA ANCESTRAL TWIN HOUSE: A very interesting twin house wherein the other is painted while the one next to it retained its original wood finish.

I. JOSE LEDESMA ANCESTRAL HOME: This 1917 house has a beautiful entrance of two. The flights of stairs connects in the middle of the veranda.

J. DR. JOSE CORTEZA LOCSIN ANCESTRAL HOUSE: He graduated at University of Sto Tomas with a degree in Medicine at 21 years old and also became the President of the Philippine Medical Association in 1938. He was elected in various government positions and is considered the “Father of the Filipino First” policy. His Art-Deco architectural house has 3 prominent elongated arcs in each floor facing the entrance.

Other additions are: LEANDRO DELA RAMA LOCSIN ANCESTRAL HOMEHOUSE OF RENE AND JESSICA VELEZ DIMACALI and you may visit SAN DIEGO DE ALCALA PRO-CATHEDRAL, a Romanesque design by architect Lucio Bernasconi.

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“A mind that is streched by A NEW EXPERIENCE can never go back to its old dimensions.”

-Oliver Wendell Holmes

 

 

CAMIGUIN: Mantigue island

CAMIGUIN: MANTIGUE ISLAND

*It is the island “Born of Fire” with 7 volcanoes and part of “The Pacific Ring of Fire”.

*It is the second smallest province in the Philippines by population and land area.

*It is the home of sweetest lanzones and Lanzones Festival every 3rd week of October.

*Mt. Hibok-hibok, an active volcano is a protected landscape that has been declared as ASEAN Heritage Park.

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Behind me are Camiguin’s two highest: Mt. Timpoong and Mt. Mambajao as seen from the other side of the island on a sunrise.

From Laguindingan Airport/ Cagayan de Oro, ride a van to Agora market (200 Php). Take a bus or van (150-200Php) to Balingoan Port for around two hours. The Ferry port is just walking distance from Balingoan Terminal. We preferred to sleep at the nearest vintage homestay right at the terminal to catch the next day’s first trip. Trips are between 4:00 AM to 6:00 PM so it is possible to enjoy a sweet escape of daytrip itinerary for the busy people.

A. Balingoan Port to Benoni Port (5:45 AM to 6:00 PM): Heading to Camiguin

B. Benoni Port to Balingoan Port (4:00 AM to 6:00 PM): Return to mainland

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Get on board for (150Php); the Balingoan Ferry to Benoni, Camiguin travel time is more or less 2 hours. Ride a multi-cab to where you are headed. Standard tour is 250Php depending on your itinerary. Their cute multi-cab has a seating capacity of 12 persons.

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MANTIGUE ISLAND: On the other side of the province is a marine declared sanctuary with white sand beach and full-grown-mangroves located 2-3 km off-coast Camiguin. Mantigue Island is just a 20-minute-boat ride from the mainland. Some people refer to it as Magsaysay island. The island is perfect for snorkeling and scuba diving. It is best to bring packed food to enjoy the island fully. However, caretakers offer freshly caught fish at a reasonable price.

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IMG_9598Hibok-hibok Volcano and Mt. Vulcan in the background as seen from the adjacent island.

Other places to visit are: Gui-ob Old Church Ruins, Sunken Cemetery, Clam Sanctuary, White Island, Mt. Hibok Hibok Ardent Hot Spring, Sto. Nino Cold Spring and Katibawasan Falls.

Must take home pasalubongs: VjANDEP Pastel ((pronounced with silent “j”) this box of bread stuffed with creamy, sweet yema is perfect with coffee. Don’t forget to try the unique locally produced Lanzones Wine.

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“The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea!”

-Isak Dinesen

 

ZAMBOANGA CITY

WHY VISIT ZAMBOANGA CITY?

*It is known as Asia’s Latin City.

*Zamboanga is the 3rd largest City by land area and 3rd oldest City in the Philippines.

*It is widely acknowledged as the Sardines Capital and Chavacano Capital as well.

*The biggest and most modern seaport of the Philippines is in Zamboanga.

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WHERE TO GO?

A. MERLOQUET FALLS: From Zamboanga City Integrated Bus Terminal, take the bus bound to Pagadian, Dipolog or Ipil. Travel time is roughly 2 hours or may take longer depending on the traffic. Get off at Vitali Bus Stop and ride a habal-habal. We hired it roundtrip to lessen the hassle. Prepare for a downhill trek on the stairs for 10-15 minutes before reaching the hidden beauty of Merloquet Falls. It is best to visit on weekdays to avoid the crowd. Don’t forget to bring snacks especially drinking water because stores  are not availble yet.

Budget in Php: (Bus 150, habal-habal 100 roundtrip, 10 parking, 5 entrance fee)

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B.YAKAN WEAVING VILLAGE: I keep on coming back to Yakan Village for the intricate designs and colorful weave. Some of my favorites are their table runners (350-1500 depending on the seater), fashionable body bags secured with zippers, cellphone pouch, purse, coasters and hairbands. Visit in the afternoon when they’re actively weaving and witness how they create the impressive geometrical designs. I strongly encourage you to patronize local products; they’re not just sturdy and cultural but patiently hand-woven by the locals.

From Zamboanga City, go to Valderosa Street at the public market and ride a jeep headed to Upper Calarian. It will take more or less 30 minutes. The Village is on the right side of the road.

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C. STA. CRUZ GRANDE ISLAND: (Little Sta. Cruz Island is restricted to the public due to military use). The bigger Island is called the Pink island of Zamboanga due to the presence of red organ-pipe corals (Tubipora Musica). Its pinkish coraline sand illuminates in broad daylight. There are usually some Vinta/s (traditional boats with colorful vertical sails) along the shore. This is the perfect place to find South Sea Pearl sellers of all kinds. It is a must-visit-island because The National Geographic recently recognized it as “one of the 21 best beaches in the world”.

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Register at the Department of Tourism Office of Zamboanga located inside the Lantaka Hotel By The Sea, Valderosa Street. You will be escorted by designated personnel or armed police officers. Camping and overnight are strictly not allowed for security reasons. You may bring packed meals or ask the care takers to cook freshly caught seafood if there are any available. In our case, we had a large bucket of crabs.

Budget in Php: (Roundtrip motorboat costs 1,000/group of 10 persons, 5/person terminal fee, 20/person entrance fee, 100 small cottage for sharing)

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D. CANELAR BARTER TRADE: This is the best place to buy souvenirs like sarong, malong, cloth bags, duster/bestida and local goodies. What I hoard the most every time I visit are assorted coffee. To be specific: macadamia and almond; noodles, chocolates and matcha sweets that come from neighboring countries in the south are my take home. It is just one trike away from the city center or walking distance to most backpacker’s inn.

Other places to visit are: The Pasonanca Park, Pasonanca National Park, Fort Pilar, Pettit Barracks, Plaza Pershing, Tagbilat Falls, Bayangan Island, Pandilusan Island.

FOOD TRIP:

1. Curacha at Alavar: Curacha is often referred to as the red frog crab or spanner crab. Curacha is sold per kilo like most seafood servings. Zamboanga visit is hyped by these must-eat-seafood (Curacha, ginataang shrimp & seafood platter) in special sauces. My favorite is Alavar’s sauce which base on my tastebuds consist of the dominance of coconut milk, chili, ginger and crab roe. Try their lychee shake; it complements every viand.

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2. Knickerbocker is a dessert similar to halo-halo only that this seems healthier considering the tropical fruits in it (ripe mangoes, banana, watermelon, melon or apples depending on the season). Gelatin and milk are part of the ingredients topped with strawberry ice cream; heavenly! Try their version at Paseo del Mar (Valderosa St. beside Fort Pilar) or Hacienda de Palmeras Hotel & Restaurant (Sta. Maria Rd.)

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3. Dennis Coffee Garden: This cafe and restaurant serves Kahawa Sug (Authentic Sulu coffee). It is a family heritage business that started in 1962. They specialize on Tausug cuisine and sells native pastries like: Pastil, Daral, Wadjit and Panggih-panggih. I tried their Chicken Pianggang (marinated in charcoaled spices), Chicken Satay (marinated in spicy peanut sauce) and Beef Kulma (curry paste) all served with Sambal (hot paste mixture of spicy condiments) usually found in Malaysia, Indonesia & Singapore. For the adventurous: try the special Tiula Itum, a Tausug soup dish made with charcoal. Their branches are at KCC Mall and San Jose Road, Balisawan-my preferred ambiance.

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4. Bay Tal Mal: According to the locals, “Bay Tal Mal” was derived from the Arabic word Bayt-ul Mal meaning “House of Wealth”. The atmosphere itself felt grand and rich yet the menu is affordable. It is the first Muslim restaurant in the region that is Halal Certified by HICCIP thus accredited by the Department Of Tourism. I had to try the Moro cuisine: the Patier Rice, Indo-Malay Beef Adobo, Shrimp-coconut cake and Chicken Kiyaliya. They’re at a very accessible location: Mayor Jaldon Street Canelar.

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“Today, power is gained by sharing knowledge,not hoarding it.”

-Dharmesh Shah