Thursday, February 19, 2015

Dangerously Beautiful Province of Basilan

Needless to say, every time we hear Basilan we always associate it with kidnapping, massacre and terrorism. In short, a very dangerous place.  Any reason can never be good enough when you say, you are traveling to Basilan, a place where a lot of people would not dare go.

As for me, every place has it’s good and bad side. I hear the news about the bad side of Basilan, now it’s time for me to discover the good side of it. The simplest idea of seeing the soft side and charm of Basilan already convinced me to go. For the record, I wouldn't dare go if I didn't know someone who's willing to show me around Basilan. Good thing a travel mate knows someone, a local from the place. All set for the day.

The Province of Basilan (Lalawigan ng Basilan in Filipino/Tagalog; Provincia de Basilan in Spanish/Chavacano) is an island province of the Philippines within the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Basilan is the largest and northernmost of the major islands of the Sulu Archipelago and is located just off the southern coast of Zamboanga Peninsula. Its capital, Isabela City, is administered as part of the Zamboanga Peninsula Region.

Basilan is home to three main ethnic groups, the indigenous Yakans, and the later-arriving Tausugs and Chavacanos. The Yakans and Tausugs are predominantly Muslim, while the Chavacanos are mainly Christian. 20% Christians and 80% Muslim in the area.

After breakfast, we walked towards the port area. We bought tickets bound to Isabela for P150 each. It would be an hour of ferry ride to reach Basilan.  We arrived early in the port for the trip so we have to wait for the boat to arrived. A tinged of fear caught me when I saw military men disembarking the boat. Che, this is it!


At that moment I am in doubt if 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. The ferry ride was comfortable.


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. A local guide, picked us up and led us to the boat that will take us to the Malamawi Island, where we can spend an hour or so on the white beach.  According to our local guide, there are two kinds of boat that can take us to the next island, the one with a stabilizing outriggers while the other one is a plane motorized boat. The latter was preferable because it is faster than as compared to the outrigger ones, not in speed though. These boats can take you to the island even if it’s not fully loaded.

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Before we hop on to the boat, we bought some stuff for lunch. Although we heard that Curacha is famous in Zamboanga, we actually bought and tasted one here in Basilan.

Curacha also known as spanner crab or red frog crab is a local Chavacano name given to a sea crab species. It is uniquely found in the deep-waters of Jolo and nearby provinces. It is a hybrid crustacean, with crossbreed characteristics of a large sea crab and a big spiny lobster. It is a large crab with a red color, which stays the same in color even when cooked. The crab is usually steamed or boiled so its flavor is preserved. Unlike most crabs whose majority of meat can be found in their claws, the mother-load of the Curacha's meat is found in its body. (Wiki)


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. Very rare that I catch the news on TV that's why I don't really have any idea that an ambush can happen here in Basilan. Sometimes the less you know, the less paranoid you become.

The road to the white beach is a regular provincial sight. Along the road our driver mentioned that half of the land was owned by the Governor of Basilan. Eh di wow!!! We passed by unmaintained Mango Plantation, unpaved road, high trees, fresh air, and a good number of houses. And yep, nothing unexpected happened. We reached White Beach safe and sound.



Ironic scene as it may seem, a serene beach in a terror town! I think this made the beach more beautiful and exotic.



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.

The water is clear, and best of all, it felt like we own the place for the day. We caught some locals making a bamboo raft and one of my travel buddies join them going to the floating raft 10 meters away from the shore.


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 our photo Ops here in this white beach.IMG_0753

One of my travel buddies who joined the locals for swimming told him that there is a great spot on top of the hill where you can witness a 360 view of the landscape of Malamawi island. I guess it pays when you blend with the locals, the view up here is truly breath taking.  Well, the governor has a rest house on top of the hill.




After basking our skin to the scorching heat of the sun and feasting our eyes with the great sceneries, it’s time to say goodbye to this beautiful island. Around 2 in the afternoon were back to Isabela mainland where an all seafood lunch will be served including Curacha :)



Burp! Thank you Lord for a great lunch. We had a short chit chat with our host and I found out that Ate (wife of the host’s brother, i forgot to ask her name) is an Ilongga, originally from Hinoba-an – small world!

We hailed a tricycle to tour us around the area, and it so happen that our Driver knows the province well enough so we had a very informative ride. First destination was Menzi (rubber plantation). I was expecting to see a rubber factory but we were taken to a semi forest like “Rubber Tree” plantation. It looks like the manmade forest I've seen in Bohol and one in Siquiior when you go to Salagdoong.




It’s very rare to see a waterfalls beside the road. We parked at the side, just near the bridge, walked few meters and reached Cabunbata Falls.



Off we go to our last and final destination, the City Center. We wanted to see a mosque so our drivers took us to the State University where one of the biggest mosque can be found. From the looks of it, the mosque is newly built. We just took pictures with permission from the locals and off we go.



I had to drop by Jollibee as part of my trip but was not able to purchase any meal, the queue is too long. We need to catch our boat back to Zamboanga City.


The Provincial Capitol of Basilan


As we’re finally saying goodbye to Basilan, our driver told us that the road we passed by from the state university poses dangers at night. He said, even himself does not pass by that place as people will just shoot anyone not familiar to them. (Scary)

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. What’s life is you wont take risk, after all life is an adventure.


This is surely one memorable escapade that I've experienced in my life. Thank you to the warm hospitality of our hosts. I will forever brag that I've met a good family in Basilan.

Now i realized, Basilan is not just a terror town but an awesome place with great and welcoming locals.


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


Visited Province Rank: # 55
Date: February 19, 2015

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