Down below is a 1000 or so word article that i submitted for a local travel magazine. This trip was about 4 months ago, a nerve wracking, utterly difficult and ultimately funny trip that had a lot of misadventures that fortunately won’t be subject for anyone else’s viewing pleasure. The publishing world had me do a vanilla version censoring out my quips and unrelated quirks that made my trip exciting.

Also i’m still saving money for an expensive surgery….. Data recovery surgery that is. My CompactFlash card got corrupted with all my unbacked up pictures of Western Mindanao, Family Dinners, Food shots and whatever else is crammed in there. Hence, i only have a few pictures that i sent to my editor months last February.

So in the meantime here’s the unedited article that was in Juan Philippines’ Feb issue:

 Zamboanga City, As told by a solo female traveler.

The first thing my tricycle driver asked me, minutes after I landed is “Do you have an escort?” Mind you, he wasn’t talking about a guide, or looking for an opportunity to get hired as my service to tour the city. He was talking about a policeman hired for my protection and if that wasn’t startling enough, my backpacker-type accommodation had an unfortunate bombing tragedy months before i arrived. These are the things one most often hears about the Western Mindanao, those isolated incidents marred its reputation to tourists for the last decade or so. But the opportunity to conquer Zamboanga’s many beautiful sights is enough to make me book my flight and that nagging little voice in my head that says i might not get to use my return flight just makes my solo trip sweeter.

I know for a fact though, that Zamboanga will never be the place that will lead to my untimely demise. The place is just too beautiful to be that gruesome, I was operating on the adage that lightning probably won’t strike the same place twice and that being inconspicuous is the best way to avoid being targeted by anyone. Two fail-safe tips that were enough to keep me safe all throughout my journey and it worked.

Paseo del Mar is the shutter-bug’s dream setting, it is a long stretch of restaurants by the bay, little would one expect Zamboanga which has a reputation for being a predominantly Muslim city to have a nightlife but they do. And across it the Plaza del Mar is where there are more restaurants, cafes and souvenir shops making it the perfect place to hang-out during my first day. I stayed there until night-time and saw for myself how the locals also enjoyed a good beer, majority of the patrons are college kids from the numerous schools located within the city such as the Western Mindanao State University, Universidad de Zamboanga and the Ateneo de Zamboanga. And yes, their party scene is alive with the young, the restless and the good-looking.

Next morning after I failed to catch my flight to Tawi-tawi and unfortunately incurred additional expenses, I went instead to the Pasonangca Park less than an hour away from the city proper. It was where I saw the mountains, their huge battle relic sculptures and an aerial view of Zamboanga

My first stop was the Maria Clara butterfly garden where I was offered a habal-habal ride by one of the curators, I excitedly agreed so off we went to the Boy Scouts of Mindanao camping grounds, then to the natural spring pools and passing through the zigzag road between high trees that drapes your view on the way to the holy cross mountain where the Catholics make their pilgrimage during the holy week. From the top peak where the Calvary marker is located I enjoyed a magnificent view of the Zamboanga peninsula and the Sulu Sea.

I got back to the aviary and mini zoo beside the butterfly garden just in time to catch a Jeep to take me back to the pueblo where I can have a nice lunch before starting my day tour at Basilan, I took a fast craft to Isabela City for 140pesos with the trip not lasting for more than an hour. Isabela is known for the Malamawi Beach, the Rubber Plantations and the Jollibee store beside the city hall, a sign of development and growth in the area.

With the last boat departing from Isabela at 5pm and foregoing a Jollibee dinner I arrived during nightfall in Zamboanga famished, so for my huge appetite I ordered a combo serving of the famous Curacha crab with a sampling of other seafood complemented with their signature drink, the green Camias juice. There’s only one place I’ll recommend you to get it from and that is in the original Alavar’s Restaurant in Don Alfaro St. where the staff is decked out in the traditional Yakan costume. And after a satisfying and savoury dinner I went again to Paseo del Mar for the perfect dessert, their Knicker Bocker or should be called the best halo-halo in the Philippines is so creamy and filled to the brim with fresh fruits at 60 pesos, they really should just put it on their city flag since that dessert is so iconic anyway.

That entire culinary workout had me sleepy so I had an early bedtime. The next day at the crack of dawn, I went to the DOT office where they were nice enough to let me leave my bags with reminders of caution regarding my next plans for the day. Unfortunately I don’t own the face the fame nor the fortune to justify the use of their police escorts and I told them there’s no need for such trifle things because I mastered Karate beck in elementary.

Hailed a cab and said the 2 words “Rio Hondo”. My driver slowed down and drove with astonishing caution and looked at me folndly as I got off his ride. He shouldn’t worry though, because I was meeting with Sir Gamar Hassan or Kuya Gams as he is fondly called in the Rio Hondo community, he was the former Barangay captain turned business owner and advocate. He organizes educational and cultural tours that allows us to break the taboos between us Catholics and our Muslim brothers, I walked with him and his protégé Chris, and traversed the stilt houses that make up their community along the way he told me stories about the different tribes that reside in the area their few quirks, most of them are comedic ones especially the story of the Badjao woman nursing what turns out to be a goat.

Our tour was peppered with the current affairs, the realities of being a Sea Gypsy and how we can help them by just visiting, we are free to eradicate stereotypes and to let it be known how truly safe the place is. Imagine being judged without basis, unable to provide for your family because you can’t find a job. Where would you turn? But when people accept you regardless of your religion or your address and you are free to give yourself and your family a good life, not only will this benefit the community but the whole country as well.

Was the talking to Kuya Gams worth it? Yes, although I already knew I was safe in Mindanao and I’ve never had any prejudice about the Muslim people it was imperative to hear his first hand perspective. Walking the stilts on Rio Hondo I realized that if I can inspire even just a couple of people to visit Rio Hondo then my airfare, my time spent and the courage it took to go here will be worth it. So now that I’ve successfully broken the stereotype of Western Mindanao, i wonder how difficult it would be to score Iraq RT promo fares.


Did you read it?

If yes then i feel bad for you. Some of the things that aren’t there are:

* Playing Hide and Seek with a huge cockroach in the same bombed hostel. (The cockroach was  the seeker.)

* A night’s stay in a nice hotel got downgraded to a breakfast instead.

* Meeting loads of nice and helpful strangers. Hitchhiking. Getting told cool-ass stories.

* A misdemeanor account in a grand Mosque. Getting reprimanded by an Elder. Being loaned a purple Patadjong and witnessing a prayer ritual. Getting the evil eye during the said ritual. Talking to a Muslim woman and knowing why i got the evil eye.

* Missing a plane due to a Migraine. Almost doing a movie classic by buying a chance passenger ticket but the exorbitant cost prevented it– but it led to an awesome, awesome story.

Mindanao is awesome and my current word count over a thousand right now can’t even begin to describe my elation. It wasn’t my first solo trip but it’s certainly one of the most memorable ones i’ll ever have. This post is brought to you by Gala Pinoy Redux. Thank you for reading. :P