Showing posts with label Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Sulu: Visiting Jolo, Bud Datu in Indanan and Quezon Beach in Patikul

Sulu is indeed an island paradise. It's so unfortunate that the security situation there won't allow tourist arrivals for the meantime. But my curiosity pushed me to visit the island and see what was there. You can get to Jolo, Sulu from Zamboanga City since ferries leave Zamboanga Port every evening and arrive in Jolo at about four in the morning.

I spent Php620 for a cabin room bed (a cabin room accommodates four people). The regular aircon beds are Php470 which are all in one hallway. The cabin rooms have doors which you could lock. There are also flights to Jolo available from Zamboanga. Read Day-trip to Jolo for Part 1 of this trip.

After my quick nap, we proceeded to explore Jolo and the neighboring towns of Patikul and Indanan. We first dropped by the Sulu Provincial Capitol in Jolo. I noticed the centuries-old trees that lined the avenue that led to the Sulu Capitol. How I wish many of our old cities were able to preserve their trees.

You could also see the vernacular architecture hidden under the urban chaos of Jolo. If only the politicians there had the political will to clean up the city and preserve its character, Jolo would have been an even more fascinating town.

It's the gold domes that stand out in the Sulu Provincial Capitol. Beside the Sulu Capitol is the National Museum Sulu Branch which houses historical and cultural artifacts and exhibits on Sulu including the Sultanate of Sulu, as well as the Tausug and Badjao among others.

Outside the main building are statues of local heroes Panglima Unaid and Abduhalim Imao, as well as a century-old Bajau houseboat called a lepa.

I also got to taste the local Sulu variety of durian which was really good. And the prices shocked me. A basket of lansones (which looked like almost 8 kilos) was just Php70 or less than Php10 a kilo! The durian was just Php30 a piece or roughly Php15 a kilo. A bundle of mangosteen was just Php20 and my host told me that when in season, you could buy mangosteen for as low as Php5 a kilo!

We then visited the Central Mosque in Jolo. Unfortunately, I could only take a photo from the outside. There were a lot of people exiting the mosque since Friday prayers had just finished.

Lunch and the early afternoon was spent indoors since it started raining really hard. I walked to the nearby Jolo Cathedral when the rain stopped. In front of it was a Rizal Monument.

Later in the afternoon, we motored to the town of Indanan to visit Bud Datu where the grave of Raja Baginda, the first Muslim ruler of Sulu, is located. You'll have to enter a military camp to reach it. And since it's in a military camp, it's relatively well-maintained. But I'm sure the Raja Baginda Shrine can be improved to highlight the prominence of this Sulu pioneer in our nation's history. In fact, I'm surprised the National Historical Commission hasn't placed a marker there yet.

You can also see a nice panoramic view of Jolo from Bud Datu. But unfortunately, as we were walking from the Rajah Baginda Shrine to our vehicle, the sun disappeared again and it started to rain. So we ditched the view.

We had to wait the rain out again before proceeding to our last stop, said to be one of the best beaches in the Philippines with a wide expanse of white sand that could rival that of Boracay. It was about twelve kilometers from Jolo in the town of Patikul. Quezon Beach was highly-recommended with a caveat though: that I may need a security escort to visit.

My hosts didn't mention any of that so we proceeded to Quezon Beach. We passed by several military camps and check points along the road that went deeper into Patikul. I noticed the houses, very fine examples of vernacular architecture. They rarely used hollow blocks in Patikul. And I felt I entered a time warp as we drove through since these could have been the architecture of Maynilad when the Spaniards arrived there almost five centuries ago. Most of the wooden houses were elevated on stilts with covered porches on two sides. An elevated walkway connected the main house to another structure behind the house which served as a kitchen and cleaning area.

We finally reached Barangay Igasan and parked by the beach. There wasn't too much sun. But I could see that the beach was stunning even with the overcast skies. The beach was wide and the water was baby blue. I was told that further down the road, the sand was even finer, powder fine in fact to rival the best beaches of the country. But I had to save it for another day. I did not want to push my luck any further since it was starting to get dark. The sun and sand would have been an impeccable combination. But I guess I'll have to wait for another trip, hopefully when the situation is a bit better.

What I liked about the beach was that the houses were all made of native materials. So it really gave you that tropical feel. At least for now, it will stay that way. But I wonder how they would manage development there if the situation gets better.

Back in Jolo, we had dinner and I got to try more local meat dishes like pastir and pyesak. Relatives of my host, curious as to where I went, asked which places I visited. When I told them we came from Quezon Beach, I got startled reactions. One even asked my host if they really brought me there and said I was brave to even visit. It was only then that I found out that the area was where many of the kidnappings this year occurred.

After dinner, I was brought to the Jolo Port to catch the 8 p.m. ferry back to Zamboanga. It was the M.V. Kristel Jane 3 again and I got myself the same cabin room. I was back in Zamboanga City at 4 a.m. just in time for another satti breakfast. As soon as I was done, I rushed to the transport terminal in Guiwan to catch a bus to Pagadian.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Sulu: Day-trip to Jolo, Sulu

It was four in the morning. The M.V. Kristel Jane 3 had just docked in Jolo, Sulu. Boats from Zamboanga usually arrive in Sulu at this time. When I bought my ticket, I was advised to stay in my cabin until the sun came out. In fact, the lady at the counter said to me after handing over my ticket, "Good luck!" Such were her words of encouragement which of course had a twist of irony and sarcasm in them. Good luck indeed!

I kept my trip to Sulu under wraps, knowing that everyone would dissuade me, except hardcore travelers of course! But before daring to set foot on this beautiful yet precarious island, I made sure all bases were covered. For now, it's not a good idea to visit the island if you do not have a local to accompany you. As they say, "Don't try this at home folks" since visitors definitely stand out from the language difference alone.

Weeks before, I had been in contact with a fraternity brod. His father, Ismael "Pochong" Abubakar, Jr. was the first Speaker of the ARMM Regional Legislative Assembly. They had graciously assisted me when I visited Tawi-Tawi last year. And Ka Pochong had asked his cousins in Jolo, Sulu to take care of me while I was there. So I waited in the cabin for them to pick me up.

It was still dark when we walked out the boat. As we exited the port for our predawn breakfast, melodious chants blared from loudspeakers atop the minarets of mosques around town, piercing the morning silence as muezzins recited the adhan or Islamic call to prayer.

Jolo was once a charming town. It used to be a walled city during the Spanish colonial period. But there's nothing much left to remind us of its fortifications, save for a few bricks and watch towers hidden by the urban chaos that politicians left unregulated. My host lamented the destruction of the historic wall that formed an inherent part of Jolo's heritage. Add that Jolo was totally destroyed in 1974 as a result of heavy fighting between government forces and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

Breakfast was satti, a dish composed of small pieces of beef grilled on skewers and served submerged in a bowl of sweet and spicy sauce. Also in the bowl are pieces of puso, rice that is cooked inside a palm leaf pouch. In Malay, it's called ketupat. They also have grilled chicken as well.

Satti is actually a dish native to Jolo, Sulu. The ones in Zamboanga in fact originated from Jolo. Anyway, the hawker stalls were abuzz with activity so early in the morning since it was the fasting month of Ramadan.

After breakfast, we proceeded to the house of my host where I took a quick nap. I was in Sulu for about sixteen hours. But getting there and getting back is an additional sixteen hours. So it's not quite a day-trip. More on Sulu in my next post.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Lanao del Sur: Mindanao State University and the Maranao torogans in Marawi City

The Islamic City of Marawi is the capital of Lanao del Sur. Since it was close to Iligan City, we decided to drive to this city with really pleasant weather. It's actually 833 meters above sea level which explains the cool climate.

You know you're in Marawi City when you see all the congratulatory streamers. They congratulate their relatives and friends for even the smallest things such as promotions at work or passing the civil service exam, and the usual congratulatory streamers for board and bar exam passers. For well-off families, they'd have streamers and billboards all over the city which is almost overdoing it in my opinion.

One of the more popular places to visit in Marawi City is the Mindanao State University (MSU). If you only have a few hours in Marawi City, like in my case, this is the first place you should visit. We first dropped by the King Faisal Mosque which was donated by the King of Saudi Arabia to MSU. From there, we drove around campus. Unfortunately, it was a Sunday. So the Aga Khan Museum was closed.

A great place to view Lake Lanao and Marawi City is at the MSU Golf Course. There is also a hotel in MSU which use to be owned by the Ayalas I was told. It is now the Marawi Resort Hotel.

From MSU, we drove to two of Marawi City's last Maranao torogans. The city should preserve the few torogans that remain. And hopefully, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines starts including vernacular architecture in its list of Heritage Houses. At the moment, all the houses are bahay na bato. But it would be nice to see Ivatan stone houses, Ifugao huts and, of course, these Maranao torogans declared as Heritage Houses soon.

If you do plan to visit Marawi City, make sure you have friends there or are accompanied by locals when you make your way around.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Tawi-Tawi: Overnight in Bongao

Tawi-Tawi is the southernmost province of the Philippines. Although the impression is that it is unsafe, that is far from the truth since Tawi-Tawi is a relatively peaceful place. I was told that it has wonderful white sand beaches and rich cultural communities. So I decided to check it out even just for two days.

I was in Zamboanga City to attend a conference so I decided to fly over and found myself on a SEAIR flight to Bongao. The flight took a little over an hour and I was in Bongao in no time. As soon as I arrived, I went to my brod's place to get some rest first. I hadn't had any sleep the night before so I decided to start exploring after lunch.

There are a lot of places to stay in Bongao but one of the better lodges is Beachside Inn where I decided to have lunch. Accomodations start at PHP900 for air-conditioned rooms. There's nothing much to see in Bongao and you could easily cover it in a day.

A friend took me around to the different areas of interest including some beaches, the Tawi-Tawi Provincial Capitol which is on top of a hill, offering a great panoramic view of Bongao and beyond, and the market area where you'll see a lot of seaweed being dried up (seaweed is a major product of Tawi-Tawi).

I wish I had an extra day so that I could have taken a ferry boat to Simunul, the neighboring island, which hosts the oldest mosque in the country, the Sheik Karimal Makdum Mosque, and some of the best beaches of Tawi-Tawi. You'll have to stay overnight at least though so you'll need some friends there if you want to visit the place. But you haven't been to Tawi-Tawi if you haven't visited Simunul!

Sitangkai, called the Venice of the Orient, is another option but that would take a longer ferry ride. And I heard the waves are rough. So be ready for a real adventure!

The next day, I had to catch my SEAIR flight back to Zamboanga City. On the way to Bongao Airport in Sanga-Sanga are great views of Bud Bongao. If you're into climbing mountains, trekking up Bud Bongao is a great option. Just don't forget to bring bananas for the monkeys.

At the airport, I had some local food at the nearby carinderia which included pastil, a fried empanada filled with bihon noodles, and sindol, which is the local ginataan (warm coconut milk dessert). It was really cheap! Anyway, the stay was too short to experience Tawi-Tawi. So I'm definitely going back to explore some more!

Beachside Inn & Restaurant
(068) 2681446

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Cotabato & South Cotabato: Soccsksargen road trip

Today, we traveled from Midsayap, Cotabato to Polomolok, South Cotabato by road. Our stops included the Pikit, Cotabato; Isulan and Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat; and Lake Sebu, South Cotabato. Don't Pikit and Tacurong sound familiar? Let's just say we kept our fingers crossed.

In Pikit, we stopped over at the municipal hall which was built on top of a hill. A few meters behind the municipal hall are the ruins of the old Fort Pikit built during the Spanish colonial period. We got to meet the mayor who was meeting with his security. They were kind enough to tell us how to get to the old fort which was inside a military camp.

Our next stop was the Sultan Kudarat capitol building in Isulan. Since it was a Saturday, it was empty. In front of the capitol was a statue of Sultan Dipatuan Kudarat after whom the province is named. I really hate it when government officials try to perpetuate their names on the edifices the build. I found it tasteless that under the embossed words "Provincial Capitol of Sultan Kudarat," they had to add "constructed under the administration of governor blah blah blah and congressman blah blah blah" also embossed. The elegance of our government buildings are diminished by the unnecessary self-promotion.

Anyway, we got ourselves a snack in Tacurong City (yes, they have a Jollibee there). But we didn't eat much since we were saving space for our really late lunch in Lake Sebu.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Maguindanao: Around Cotabato City

I had been looking forward to this weekend for months. I went to Mindanao with brods Ryan and Allen, and our friend Ching. The tickets were booked way back April (yes, it's the P1 fare promo). We took a flight to Cotabato City (the airport is in Datu Odin Sinsuat, Shariff Kabunsuan) where the van of Ching's cousin picked us up.

We visited Small World in the same town. Aside from the zoo, everything else was closed since the park is fully-open only on Sundays. The Lourdes Grotto is also there but since the priests who own the place make it such a hassle to visit (you have to get a permit and leave your driver's license and all), we decided to move to our next stop, the Tamontaka Church, a national historical landmark.

I had expected to see an old church. But it was totally new. The older church was destroyed by a fire several years back. It was declared a national historical landmark just in 2004, long after the new and current church was built which thus came as a surprise to me since I know that the NHI requires a certain percentage of authenticity before declaring structures.

Anyway, we passed by the new Cotabato City Hall before proceeding to Mang Gorio for a late lunch. We ordered barbeque chicken and buko halo-halo. We also dropped by the Kuta Wato Caves but that was a big disappointment. It was so dirty, and you had informal settlers residing above the caves. I could just imagine where all their human waste goes. The city government should take out that tourism sign outside because it is no longer an attraction. It's such a pity since the natural pool inside the cave would have made it such an enchanting place.

From there, we proceeded to the old city hall and town plaza. Our plan was to drop by the tourism office but it turns out, government offices close early on Fridays in this part of the country. Friday, is a day of prayer for Muslims and I was told it had been practice here that after services, employees don't go back to the office anymore. Oh well!

The local government should encourage the rehabilitation of the early post-war commercial buildings in the town proper. These structures give the city a lot of character.

We also took pictures by the Rio Grande de Mindanao and its tributaries before driving to Midsayap, (North) Cotabato where we stayed for the night. I can't remember how long the drive was because I dozed off at times. The view of the Mindanao countryside was a refreshing sight. Anyway, More photos in Multiply.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Basilan: Off the beaten track in Basilan

Today, I visited Basilan. Just the mere mention of the name evokes fear among those unfamiliar with the place. Every time I told someone that I was on my way to Basilan, I received a shocked response. Who would want to visit Basilan anyway? But if not for the bad publicity brought by the Abu Sayaff many years back, Basilan would be a perfect ecotourism destination if developed properly.

I was planning to get up early today but that didn't work. I was still unusually tired. Anyway, instead of the early morning fast craft to Isabela City in Basilan, I was able to catch the 9:30 a.m. The fare for a first class ticket was PHP130. The ordinary seats at PHP100, although also air-conditioned, are usually jampacked. So the extra PHP30 was worth it. I arrived in Basilan about an hour later.

Greeting you as you entered the port were villages on stilts and the minarets of mosques at the center of these communities. From the port, I took a short walk up to the provincial capitol where I decided to take a tricycle to the passenger terminal to Lamitan. My first stop for the day was a waterfalls in the heart of a town made infamous by the sensational clashes between the military and the Abu Sayaff a while back. And here I was on my way there for a visit!

I took a commuter van to Lamitan which was about 27 kilometers away from Isabela. The trip costed PHP40. I was expecting to see bad roads after all that fighting years back but I was impressed since the roads to Lamitan were very well-paved, not a sign of the hostilities that ensued in the past.

As soon as I arrived in Lamitan, I asked around on how to could get to Bulingan Falls. I was pointed to a motorcycle-for-hire who agreed to take me there for PHP100. It was fair enough since the falls were quite far. I would figure it was a 10-kilometer trip from the town proper to the falls, which was bumpy most of the way and quite muddy at times. The trip took me deeper into Lamitan town which I'm sure used to be evacuated often before when hostilities between the Abu Sayaff and the military were ongoing.

You could still feel the turbulent past of the area since we passed by several military check points and camps along the way. One thing which surprised me was that the barangays going to the falls were predominantly Catholic since each had a little chapel. I didn't see a mosque either. It seems most of them could be found in the coastal areas.

Bulingan Falls was not tall at all. But what made it nice were the square shaped rocks from which the water cascaded down to the pool below. You could see that the falls was frequented by tourists since the mayor had the banks cemented and built several picnic huts on the side. They could have done a better job though.

It was then back down that dirt road to the town proper. Lamitan town has been turned into another of those nondescript Philippine communities. And the only distinguishing landmark in the center of town is the statue of its founder Datu Kalun.

From Lamitan, I took a commuter van back to Isabela City. It was about 1 p.m. and after lunch, I decided to take a walk back to the pier. My plan was to take the last ferry back at 5:30 p.m. but since the weather was unpredictable, it would drizzle then the sun would come out, I decided to take the 3:30 p.m. trip back to Zamboanga.

Since I had time to spare, I asked about Malamawi Beach. It turns out, Malamawi is the island just across the port. And the beach on one side of the island was known to locals as White Beach obviously because of the white sand. There are frequent commuter pump boats which take passengers across the strait for PHP5. So since I had a lot of time, I decided to check it out.

The trip across was just about 5 minutes. At the opposite end, motorcycles-for-hire were waiting to take you to any point on the island. I was charged PHP20 one-way which was not bad. Again, it was off the beaten track since once you left Barangay Carbon proper, there were no roads, just motorcycle trails.

It was quite a distance and the trip took you to the other side of the island, passing by small communities living in vast mangrove forests. Among the obstacles we had to avoid were the occasional cows grazing amongst the thick vegetation along the path.

We finally arrived at the beach. And I wished I had brought my swimming gear! When visiting Malamawi White Beach, it's best that you go with a group and take a pump boat straight to the place. If you're alone, you'll have to make arrangements with the motorcycle to come back for you at a later time.

There were a lot of run down beach huts and picnic tables all over the place; but just a small group of tourists enjoying the white sand. Sometimes you'd realize there are so many underrated beaches all over the country worth visiting, little pieces of paradise secretly tucked away for those diligent enough to search for them and enjoy the serenity they offer.

After a few photos, it was back to Barangay Carbon, and then back to the port of Isabela just across. Again, I purchased a first class ticket which was a passport to comfort since I did not have to join the rat race into the fast craft since only a few people buy the said tickets.

By the time we neared Zamboanga, I was already very dizzy. It was an ordeal walking back to the pension house. But I decided to take a quick snack at Tini's where I bought my favorite roti telor and roti kosong (flour pancakes accompanied with curry dip). When I got back to the pension house, the next thing I knew was I was asleep again. I made sure I got enough rest since I had to be up early to catch the boat to Santa Cruz Island the next day.
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