Dont Tell my Mother I Spent a Summer Day in Basilan

When my mom asked me where I was going, I told her I was heading to Davao.
Yes, I lied. I dont want her to worry about me. Come on, I don't think I (or anybody) can convince her why I wanted to reach Basilan. Any reason can never be good enough specially with the over-hyped news of kidnapping, massacre, and terrorism all over the province. Basilan easily became one of the most dangerous provinces in the Philippines, a place where a lot of people would not dare go.

As for me, every place has its good and bad side. The simplest idea of seeing the soft side and charm of Basilan already convinced me to go. Surely there is.

For the record, I wouldn't dare go if I didn't know someone who's willing to show me around Basilan.
Good thing I met Dom. And the rest is history.

Our Manila-Zamboanga round trip tickets only cost us P1996- which was already good for the two of us. The 1-hour flight to Zamboanga City was nice and smooth.

Southern Eskapo | Zamboanga -Basilan - Tawi-Tawi

Since we arrived in Zambooanga City beyond schedule, we had our breakfast in one of the fastfood restaurants in town. That's where Dom taught me my first precaution lesson - never seat beside the glass windows. If the place would be bombed, then we'll have less impact of the explosion. Second lesson, be where the people are but dont stay long with the crowd. The usual targets are the crowded areas. Great lessons eh? ^_^

Moving on, it was a nice walk towards the port area. I had a first glimpse of Plaza Pershing, Lantaka Hotel, Paseo del Mar, City Hall, and etc. Btw, I didn't bother to look like a local, surely they'll know right away that Im a tourist. Locals speak Chavacano- a hardcore dialect. It feels like I was in China, I couldn't understand them and I bet only a few of them understand me either.

We bought tickets bound to Isabela for P150 each. It would be an hour of ferry ride to reach Basilan. And at that moment, I was just waiting for Dom's instructions whether I could use my camera or not. Anyway, it didn't matter much as this travel would be beyond pictures and souvenirs. It would really be plain experience.

we walked thru the gate, may shuttle naman pala. toinks!

The ferry ride was comfortable. I still didn't have any doubts as we're approaching the island. Dom shared a lot of wikipedia-level information but I cant absorb them all. What I remembered is that there's a place that serves as a military base camp on weekdays, but becomes a family resort on weekends. A 360-degrees transformation!

hello Basilan!

We arrived in Isabela and honestly it looked like a normal town. Thank goodness there weren't any sign of the slightest commotion to worry about. Dom's brother picked us up and drove us home. It was a short 15-ride from the port. I met his other brother who's celebrating his birthday that day (okay, special mention to Mervin for reminding me to send my regards to kuya Ludwig).

Hormigos' residence, instant home of the bloggers who visit Basilan. ^_^
thank you for the warm welcome

After a quick rest, Dom together with his pamangkin (brother ni Faith), showed me around town. I was really uncomfortable to use my camera. But I wasn't shy to bring an umbrella as we stroll. Toinks.

Me: ano ba yung capitol?
Dom: equivalent ng city hall, pero buong probinsya ang covered
Me: ah ok, sensha na wala kasi nyan samin.

Across the capitol is the town plaza. It looked more maintained that the ones we have here in Manila.

town plaza

I knew taking photographs of these school girls might bring me trouble so I immediately stopped. Im not a spy, Im just a tourist. Dom and his sister-in-law talked about an ice cream vendor who was mistakenly accused as a spy. The Abu Sayyaf beheaded the vendor. Third lesson from Dom: it's important to change our location from time to time.

i meant no harm and im not a spy. im just a turista.

Just across the plaza stands a glorified church. It's nice to know there are at least 20% Christian residents in Basilan.

Sta. Isabel Cathedral

Since 80% of the residents in Basilan are Muslims, this church has always been the most favorite target for a terrorist attack. Having been bombed a lot of times, military soldiers are right outside the church entrance.

Two soldiers in uniform approached me and asked what I was doing. Dom talked to them and explained that I came from Manila and I was just a tourist. I fully understand the security, mejo scary lang yung heavy duty firearms. Hehe

Nonetheless, it's such a great pleasure to see and touch this Last Supper mosaic which came all the way from Italy.

the Last Supper mosaic - upclose

We also strolled inside the market area, it's pretty much the same as we have here in Manila. What's really noticeable was the vendors were never pushy at all. Maybe they're not really used to see tourists around.

After the town tour, it's time to visit some natural wonders. Initially, I planned to visit the White Beach in Malamawi and the Lamitan Falls. Dom discouraged me with the latter. Lamitan is a bit far from the city center and the falls is not that grand at all. He said I should pick the White Beach instead. Knowing Dom who has high standards on beaches, I immediately agreed. White Beach it is!

badjao kids drive the passenger boats

White Beach can be reached by crossing the island of Isabela towards Malamawi Island. Fare is just P5. After that, we still need to travel by land for about 30mins or less. Dom negotiated with some habal-habal drivers who can take us to the beach. We paid P100 for the round trip ride.

arte lang, ayoko talaga magbilad sa arawan ^_^

Very rare that I catch the news on tv that's why I dont really have any idea that an ambush can happen here in Basilan. Sometimes the less you know, the less paranoid you become.

Dom shared, once you're kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf- they will torture you to death. If you beg to live, they'll make a bargain and ask you to join them. The first test would be an order to kill your own brother.

..ok, that's not hameeyzing.

Anyway... the road to the beach is a regular provincial sight. Unpaved road, high trees, fresh air, and a good number of houses can be seen along the way. And yep, nothing unexpected happened. We reached White Beach safe and sound.

almost there

I was in awe when I had my first glimpse of the beach. I felt very privilege to see this pristine wonder with my own eyes.
..and I bet it would still take a long time before outsiders would begin to visit this unspoiled beach.

it's just very ironic to see a serene spot in a terror town. this adds more beauty to this beach.

the beauty and charm of Basilan

Now I understand why Dom is continuously searching for the best white beaches in the country. Look at this beach where he used to go on weekends. No wonder he has set high standards.

im particular with the sand, and I can say this is one of the finest.

the water is very clear as well

Aside from us, there were only 2 girls who were at the beach that time.
Nevertheless, a lifeguard is on duty for our safety.

more fun in the Philippines! ^_^

For an outsider and a first timer, I didn't feel any tension or anything. A beach is a happy place, even if this one's located in Basilan. We had fun doing almost-candid shots of ourselves. Haha

Basilan, baby!
im more conscious of the sun than those men with shotguns ^_^

What's life without taking chances? Boredom kills, you know.
This Basilan trip may look risky but I didn't want to over-analyze things. For me it's just a plain matter of luck. As far as I know, there's not a red-alert advisory when we visited Basilan so it's safe to go. No one could really tell what will happen so just hope for the best and have fun at the same time.

After all - no guts, no glory.
This is surely one memorable summer escapade that I've experienced in my life. Thank you Dominic and your family for the warm hospitality. I will forever brag that I've met a good Christian family in Basilan.

Better to see something once than to hear about it a thousand times. - Chinese proverb

up next: Tawi-Tawi

for a very well written post of Basilan, please check Dom's blog

Lessons on the Road | Zamboanga-Basilan-TawiTawi

Can't be thankful enough as our Zamboanga-Basilan-TawiTawi trip went well. All flights were on time. The weather was very cooperative. There are no red alert or safety advisory whatsoever. We encountered interesting and memorable people along the way. We were humbled and overwhelmed with this experience. All glory is HIS for keeping us safe.

Aside from the scenic and unspoiled views, Im always fascinated with the culture and religion of a place. A trip to the country's southernmost provinces didn't disappoint. It was an overwhelming experience. I began to understand and appreciate the similarities and differences on our cultural heritage and religious beliefs - beyond books and online information can explain.

Sharing some of our memorable experiences and lessons learned on this heart-pounding southern eskapo.


Worry not about security but be ready to swim with the military men in Sta.Cruz beach.
thank you Soler family for adopting us

Sta.Cruz is also called the Pink Beach because of these tiny red corals mixed in the white sand.

There's a nearby Muslim cemetery in the island, and you can tell whether the tomb belongs to a Yakan, a Tausug, or a Badjao.

Precious black corals are still for sale- legally!

A deep sea crab called curacha is a very expensive dish. It tastes like a regular crab though. Anyway, the word "curacha" in chavacano means roach. ipis!

The famous snack Knicker Bucker is basically a fruit salad with mango + watermelon + ice cream.

These badjao kids don't only have great diving skills, but they also have superior night vision! They can do deep diving for a precious coin- even without goggles. Hameezying!

All mosques are built facing the direction of Mecca. We hitchhiked and met a Hadji on our way back from Taluksangay.

The cross in Metropolitan Cathedral is exaggeratedly built to be huge to emphasize that Zamboanga is a Christian dominated city. 60% of the population here are Christians.


Since 80% of the residents in Basilan are Muslims, this church has always been the most favorite target for a terrorist attack. Having been bombed a lot of times, military soldiers are right outside the church entrance.

Nonetheless, it's such a great pleasure to see and touch this Last Supper mosaic which came all the way from Italy.

The White Beach in Malamawi Island is one of the finest beaches I've been to.
photo credit: Dong Ho

..not to mention this beach has a very unique lifeguard ^_^

Tawi-Tawi | a Trip to the Philippine's Southernmost Province

Almost everyone in the Philippine's southernmost province is a Muslim. We even glanced a Muslim wedding when we're strolling Bongao.

○ residents speak Tausug, but most of them can understand Tagalog as well.
○ placing your hand in your chest right after a handshake is their form of respect.

Alhakim became our driver, tour guide, and younger brother when we're in Tawi-Tawi. This young man's words of wisdom made our trip more fun and memorable.
Alhakim - 0947.336.4393
tell him you got the number "from kuya na malakas kumain at kay ate na takot sa monkeys." haha!

...on our first glance on top of Bud Bongao
Dong Ho and I: ha-meey-zing!
Alhakim: kuya, ate, ano yung "amazing"?
---> insert matinding mental block here
Us: nakakamangha!

Stilt houses are very common in Tawi-Tawi. It's cute to see they have gates as well.

Muslims dont like dogs, they are afraid of them. Maybe this explains why there are lots of goats instead. They are everywhere!

The monkeys in Bud Bongao are not fierce. They also dont attack people. Im afraid of monkeys, but Im okay with feeding these gentle monkeys. See, this one's got a cute baby!

Bud Bongao is the highest peak in Tawi-Tawi. Located at the peak is a sacred shrine where locals can pray, pay respect, and ask forgiveness.

Tying up knots on tree branches as you say your wishes silently is a practice made in Bongao mountain. A little warning though, those who dare remove these "knot wishes" will experience bad luck and curse.

○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○

Meet my Travel Buddy | Southern Mindanao edition

"This trip to the country's southernmost islands is one of the best experience. Despite being familiar with Basilan and Zamboanga our experience of visiting Taluksangay and Bongao still imposed the challenge of moving from one spot to another with the right precautions. But with all our efforts to interact with the locals, we were rewarded with unforgettable experience including hitchhiking with strangers, feeding the monkeys of bud bongao and having a Muslim brother." - Dom

is it safe to travel to basilan and tawi tawi?
"It is relatively safe. With a local guide and the goal of being one with the communities will optimize a trip to this part of the country. Some precautions are required specially on knowing the latest situation in the area before getting there. This is best done by coordinating with a local." - Dom

why I like traveling with Dom:
He's born, raised, and spent 17 years of his life in Basilan. Now you know why I never hesitated to pursue this trip, I know very well that Dom can manage. And of course, I only travel with adventurous, funny, and crazy people. We originally planned to be discreet, serious, and quiet while waiting for our flight to Tawi-Tawi. Ang hirap! Haha We ended up befriending and sharing laughter with a bunch of Muslims who were seated around us. That was more fun.

why I dont like traveling with Dom:
He speaks fluent Chavacano, Ilonggo, and Cebuano - and that makes me pity myself big time! I feel very unprivileged for only knowing Tagalog. Life is unfair. Toinks!

thank you for being a travel buddy, a tour guide, an interpreter, and photographer all at the same time. til next time, at sana pahiramin mo na ko ng headware mo. damot! ^_^

Surf, Trek, Swim | Baler

Last February 1, 2012 - I received a retrenchment letter. Half of the employees in my company signed the promising retrenchment package, including myself. So yes, I will be jobless effective March 31st. (for the record, hindi ako naghahanap ng trabaho sa ngayon..)

For our farewell trip, my dear officemates planned a trip to Baler! Ang yaman di ba, magiging jobless na nga, todo gastos pa din. Thank you to my boss who sponsored our transpo and food.
*picture heavy post
Day 1: Surf and Taste Baler
Genesis JoyBus is really a joy to everyone who wishes to go to Baler. This bus has comfy and reclining seats, with pillows/blanket,snacks, wifi on board, with restroom, and with a very jolly stewardess.

direct trip from Cubao to Baler (without stopovers)
Genesis JoyBus - P695 per way
reservation / contact number: 709.0545 / 709.0544

comfy seat with pillow, blanket, and refreshment for each passenger

We left Cubao at 12:30am and before daylight at 5:30am, we arrived in Sabang, Baler. We took a tricycle to our accommodation which is Amco Beach Resort. This is not a beachfront and luxury resort - but for the price of P2,150 for 7 persons - I can refer this place to anyone, specially on peak seasons when beachfront resorts are fully booked.

Amco Beach Resort
the only place where we found available rooms

triple room at Amco
P950 for this decent room with aircon + hot&cold shower

the boys' quarter
quadruple sharing room for P1,100

Good enough although the place is quite a walk from the surfing lessons area. We only paid P2,150 and the Amco staff let us check in as early as 5:30am.

After settling down and a quick breakfast, we headed to beach right away. Excited lang. ^_^

brand new day in Baler

surf lesson + board for P350/hr

I noticed the waves in Baler are more fierce than those in La Union. I got excited to see the swell, ang laki ng alon. Pero nakakatakot.

batang baler - doing some stunts

Rick and Arpee effortlessly learned to surf right away. May future kayo ha, eto gawin nyong trabaho after March 31.

batang baler Rick

batang baler 2 - Arpee

yabangers! ^_^

While some managed to stand up right away, I had a hard time doing it. Parang ang hirap, na-ooverwhlemd ako sa laki ng waves. There were times that the waves turned my board upside down. It almost hit my instructor's head. Anyway, after some time, I finally managed to ride the waves. Wee!

effortless surfing as my instructor pushed me against the waves

finally, a long ride!
kunyare ang galing ko dyan.. ^_^

sulit na sulit ang rashguard na to!

Here's how to surf, the newbie way:

gif maker online

thanks Arpee for these continuous shots

Baler waves are huge compared to those in La Union. It's better to learn to surf in Baler, not to mention the fact that it is cheaper. =)

surfing the big waves in Baler

After we had a great surfing time, it's time to eat. We had our early lunch at Bay Inn's. Prices are very reasonable and the dishes are good.

sizzling plate - P75
tokwa't baboy - P140
nachos with meat sauce - P80
sisig - P120

We surfed in the afternoon too. Adik lang. ^_^
Since Rodel, my surfing instructor, offered a tour around Baler, we made a deal with him for our next day activity.

Day 2: Trek and Swim
At 7:30am, we started our journey to Ditumabo Falls, also called the Mother Falls in San Luis, Baler.

Rodel - 0948.311.6033
P500 per tricycle

The ride took 40mins to the drop off point. We registered our names and off we go to the falls.
I never imagined this trail would be very refreshing. Sure there were slippery and steep spots, but it was a good adventure to reach the falls.

Let me show you the refreshing trail.

ang manager kong pogi ^_^
ponkan na ponkan ang peg

After the fun and easy adventure trail, we finally reached the majestic Dimutabo Falls. It was awesome.

ang ginaw!

Next stop: Balete Tree in Maria Aurora
Around 30 mins ride and we reached the largest Balete tree. Some also call this as the Millennium Tree.

hanging out in the Balete Tree

There are some more spots to see in Baler but we chose to go back to Amco. After a quick and cheap lunch at Cusina de Baler, we hurried back to our hotel and prepared our things for our return trip to Manila. It was a very fun weekend getaway with officemates. Hope this wont be the last. Cheers! Ü

baler expenses

chris: alam mo chyng pagkasama ka, napapamura kami.
rick: oo nga, napapamura - natuto kaming magsabi ng "pakshet ka, gago ka, punyeta ka.."
me: hahaha! toinks! ^_^

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