Showing posts with label Zamboanga Peninsula. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Zamboanga Peninsula. Show all posts

Monday, November 10, 2008

Zamboanga: Zamboanga City's colorful heritage

One thing I get to enjoy attending all these out-of-town conferences is that I get to explore the place after. So before flying back to Manila, we made sure to visit (revisit in some cases) the different cultural attractions of Zamboanga City. The cultural fabric of Asia's Latin City is evindently intact and one call definitely feel Zambaonga's spirit of place as we went around the city.

After visiting a Gabaldon school building restored by the City Government of Zamboanga, we visited the Western Mindanao State University where an outstanding example of a building designed by Juan Arellano stands. It is arguably one of the best Arellano buildings in the country. And it's silently stands in the heart of Zamboanga City!

As Archt. Toti Villalon mentions in his column, "More outstanding than anything I saw in Zamboanga is the main building of Western Mindanao State University. An undiscovered gem of American colonial architecture from the early 20th century, it is a wonderful example of Beaux Arts favored by the American colonial government, which was adapted to tropical conditions with large window openings, high ceilings with floor-through interior ventilation and excellent architectural craftsmanship in its moldings, doors and wrought-iron grillwork."

We also dropped by the local hospital which was of the hospital pavilion layout that was popular during the American colonial period, the PGH design that became the standard for American hospitals in tropical areas.

From there, we proceeded to Plaza Pershing. We requested Mayor Lobregat to keep the grass and avoid placing pavers since the park is a fine example of public parks during the American colonial period.

From there we walked to Zamboanga City Hall. Our guide, at the request of the mayor, treated us to his rendition of Rizal's El Ultimo Adios right in front of the Rizal Monument.

After a tour of city hall, our group proceeded to Fort Pilar, which is a national cultural treasure, before proceeding to the Barter Market to do some shopping.

The Barter Market is a great place to get textiles both local and imported. It's a good place to buy batik and Arafat scarves (if you bargain well, you can get one for PHP75 or even lower). In fact, you'll see a good number of Malaysian and Indonesian products such as instant noodles, candies and other items.

Our last stop for the morning was the Yakan Weaving Village where one could purchase fine examples of Yakan woven products. Also available there are banig from Sulu and other woven items from the nearby Muslim provinces. If you're lucky, you can watch the women weave cloth.

For lunch, we proceeded to a Malaysian mamak in Zamboanga! It was among my favorite eating places the last time I was in Zamboanga and I made sure we stopped at Tini's before going home. As always, I ordered roti telur and murtabak. But I think the curry sauce in Malaysia is still best.

In the afternoon, we visited the Gabaldon school in the Mercedes District and the Taluksangay Mosque. The school is intact but the mosque is not. In just two years, the historical fabric of the mosque had been destroyed by unguided renovations. There was a really nice view of the mosque from the river. But that image is now gone with the roof they placed to cover the entire grounds of the mosque. Sad to say, the mosque had a marker of the NHI. I wonder how it got renovated.

Part 1: Another Zamboanga City adventure
Part 2: Seafood in Zamboanga City at Alavar's Restaurant

Related posts
Hola Zamboanga!

Sta. Cruz Island and its pink sand

Off the beaten track in Basilan

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Zamboanga: Seafood in Zamboanga City at Alavar's Restaurant

I'm not a seafood person but I know for a fact that Zamboanga City takes pride in its seafood restaurants. I've always heard about Alavar's Restaurant and it was great that Mayor Celso Lobregat decided to host dinner for us there.

They served us so much! One of their best sellers would be the curacha with Alavar's sauce (curacha con salsa Alavar's). Curacha is a species of crab abundant in Zamboanga waters.

I particularly enjoyed the grilled imbao with garlic and butter and the seafood paella. But since I am not a seafood person, I was content with the crispy pata and found myself stuffed to the brim.

Alavar's Restaurant
Don Alfaro Street, Tetuan, Zamboanga City

Part 1: Another Zamboanga City adventure
Part 3: Zamboanga City's colorful heritage

Related posts
Hola Zamboanga!

Sta. Cruz Island and its pink sand

Off the beaten track in Basilan

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Zamboanga: Another Zamboanga City adventure

I was in Zamboanga City again to attend the 3rd Philippine Towns & Cities Conference organized by the Heritage Conservation Society. I had actually arrived two days before but decided to make a side trip to Bongao, Tawi-Tawi since SEAIR conveniently flies there (the fast craft would take several hours). The conference was at the Garden Orchid Hotel which was quite close to the airport. Tired from the trip, I decided to rest the whole afternoon.

The program began in the evening with a Welcome Reception hosted by the City Government of Zamboanga. Indeed, it was a fitting welcome to Asia's Latin City. A choir serenaded us with songs in Spanish and the local Chavacano reminding us that Zamboanga City is a living manifestation of Spanish cultural influences in the Philippines.

After the reception, our gracious host, Mayor Celso Lobregat, took us the the Fort Pilar Shrine since he said it was nice there in the evening. The Fort Pilar Shrine is an open-air church on one side of the fort. There were still a good number of devotees there lighting candles by one of the walls of the fort.

Mayor Lobregat was very generous and he bought us several candles from the vendors. After going around the shrine, we chanced upon a vendor selling the local crispy wafers and he bought everything and gave one to anyone and everyone he saw there, our group included.

We made one last stop in Climaco corner Lim Avenue since Mayor Lobregat wanted to show us an unusual phenomenon that happens in the area in the evening. Perched on the electric wires covering several blocks were thousands of birds nearly equidistant from each other. He said it happens every night. They arrive at a certain time when the sun sets and leave at the same time during the sunrise.

I was the first to wake up the next morning since I wanted to get myself a serving of Zamboanga City's morning dish, satti! Similar to the traditional Malay satay, satti is native to the Moro people of Mindanao. In Zamboanga, these are small pieces of beef roasted in a skewer. The sticks of satti are served submerged in a bowl of sweet and spicy sauce with puso or ta'mu also in a bowl of the same sauce. Puso is basically the Malay ketupat, rice that is cooked inside a palm leaf pouch.

Anyway, after that hearty breakfast, I had to rush back to the hotel to get ready for the conference since I was the master of ceremonies today.

Part 2: Seafood in Zamboanga City at Alavar's Restaurant
Part 3: Zamboanga City's colorful heritage

Related posts
Hola Zamboanga!

Sta. Cruz Island and its pink sand

Off the beaten track in Basilan

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Zamboanga: Santa Cruz Island and its pink sand

And now, for the final installment of my recent trip is my visit to the Great and Little Santa Cruz Island Protected Landscapes and Seascapes. I had booked my trip with the DOT regional office. I could have opted to go on my own but that would mean paying for the entire boat. So I kept my fingers crossed hoping that a group would leave Sunday, and that they would allow me to tag along. Good thing there was a group of local teachers and students who booked a trip while I was in the office.

So I was up early to make sure I made the 7 a.m. call time. There was still no sign of the group at 7:15 a.m. so that got me worried. Until finally someone had approached me asking if I was the one who was going to tag along. It turned out, the group had two designated meeting places. And the bigger group which was at the pier was gone before the organizer had arrived. To make things worse, there were just three of us at Lantaka Hotel, myself, the organizer and a student.

After waiting for sometime, we decided to check again at the pier. We would later find out when we got to the island that the group which met at the pier, after seeing the rough waves which were a result of the tail end of "Inday," had backed out! Anyway, after some haggling with the boat owner, we were able to bring down the cost thanks to our appeal to pity.

So the three of us made the trip to Santa Cruz despite the rough seas. And I was tense for the most part as our boat made the slow trip to the island, rocked by strong waves. I was actually praying for sunshine. We got there in one piece. And for some twist of fate, the sun did come out a few minutes after we arrived on Great Santa Cruz Island.

The two islands which are a few meters away from each other, and the waters that surround it form the Great and Little Santa Cruz Island Protected Landscapes and Seascapes. Both islands often play host to environmental activities with students from local universities such as Ateneo de Zamboanga organizing tree-planting activities and coastal clean-ups. There are just about forty families which live on the island, all from the Samal tribe which was allowed to stay in the protected area.

What makes the sand on the island unique is its distinct pink color which is a result of tiny pink coral fragments mixed with the white sand. For a close up of the sand, click here. And just like in Malamawi White Beach, I had the beach all to myself! We learned from the locals there that even before Puerto Galera and Boracay, Santa Cruz was a popular destination among tourists. But after the spate of abductions and kidnappings many years back, its popularity waned.

Anyway, after a brief dip in the blue water, I decided to walk around the island. It would take two hours to walk around from end to end. So I just hiked a few meters to check out the other side. As you can see from an aerial photo which I took from the plane, the center of the island was mostly mangrove swamps and a lagoon.

We went back to downtown Zamboanga at about 12 noon and this time, the water was calmer. But I had a worse headache than the day before. Again, I decided to eat at Tini's where I ordered murtabak daging (beef prata) and roti kosong (flour pancake). Then I walked back to the pension house to freshen up and take a quick nap. I made sure not to sleep too long since I wanted to visit as much as I could during my last 24 hours in Zamboanga City.

Next on my itinerary was a trip to Mt. Pulong Bato in Barangay Abong Abong from where visitors are rewarded with a breathtaking view of Zamboanga City and the outlying islands. From downtown, I took a jeep to Abong Abong via Pasonanca which was just PHP10. Make sure you mention to the driver that you want to visit the stations of the cross so that he could drop you off at the foot of the mountain. I was dropped off at a place called canyon or Freedom Park which had some military relics, large guns in particular hence the moniker canyon, and a tomb for an unknown soldier.

I thus ended up walking an extra 1.5 kilometers to the foot of the mountain, not including the 750 meter steep climb to the vantage point. On the way up were bas relief murals of the fourteen stations of the cross. That was really exhausting! But the view from on top was worth the climb. Since the road is well paved, you can drive a vehicle up as well.

It was about 3:30 p.m. and I had to rush down and back to downtown since I had one more destination on my itinerary, the oldest mosque in Zamboanga in Barangay Taluksangay. People had warned me that it was going to be far but that did not hinder me. So as soon as I got back to downtown, I immediately boarded a jeep to the Muslim community of Taluksangay near the Mercedes District. It was about 17 kilometers away and the fare was PHP20.

I arrived there at 5 p.m. just before the sun went down. I was happy to see a marker of the National Historical Institute which emphasized the significance of the site to our nation's history.

As I mentioned earlier, this was the first mosque in the Zamboanga Peninsula. Built by Hadji Abdullah Maas Nuno in 1885, it was the first center of Islam which was recognized by the international Islamic community.

Anyway, going back to downtown Zamboanga City was going to be a problem since the jeepney driver had mentioned me that there were no more trips back. So from Taluksangay, I took a pedicab to the next barangay which was Talabaan where motorcycles-for-hire were waiting to take me back to the highway. The trip was PHP30 and I agreed since I would be able to stopover at the Gabaldon buildings in the Mercedes Central School. I was surprised to see many of the buildings intact. Aside from the main building, the original home economics and industrial arts buildings were still standing.

From the highway, I took a jeep back to downtown. The good thing about the public transport system in Zamboanga City is that all jeepneys travel to the downtown area so you can easily find you way around. I got off at St. Joseph's Church to hear Mass. The church was air-conditioned which was a welcome feeling after a humid and tiring day.

After Mass, my plan was to check out those satti outlets again. It was just 7 p.m. and I was surprised to see all of them closed! So I asked a tricycle driver to take me to the nearest sattihan. The driver mentioned to me that those were the only ones he knew. And that the reason they closed early was because they were open as early as 4 a.m. So that's why! It turns out satti was a breakfast dish in Zamboanga.

Anyway, I went back to Tini's for dinner since this was the last chance I could eat roti in a long time. And I made sure I went to bed early since my plan was to savor the elusive satti before I left on the 9:55 a.m. flight. I was up at 6 a.m. and finally, I was able to treat myself to satti! As I mentioned in a previous post, these were three small pieces of roasted beef on a barbeque stick dipped in a bowl of sweet and spicy sauce served with rice floating in another plate of the same sauce. Each was PHP3.50 and the rice was something like PHP8 per serving (if you remember the rice I had in Larsian which I mentioned in my Cebu entry, it was the same one).

I then went back to the pension house to take a quick nap. After checking out, I took a tricycle to the airport for PHP30. I was quite early for the flight but it was better to be there early than to be left behind. Good thing there was a massage service there so I got myself relaxed before boarding.

One thing I liked about the experience at the airport was that everyone on the runway, from the ground crew to the security guards waved at the plane as it left the tarmac. It was a very heartwarming experience for passengers looking out the windows.

I took a lot of photos on the plane as well. Here are two of them. The first is the Ortigas area with the Pasig River and the old Rizal Provincial Capitol in the green open space along the river close to the center of the photo. The bridge you see is the C5 Bridge.

The second photo is Makati with the Fort Bonifacio Global City and American Cemetery in the foreground. I guess that's it for now. Until the next trip.

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.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Zamboanga: Hola Zamboanga!

Those are the words which greet passengers as they arrive at the Zamboanga International Airport. A visit to Zamboanga City is like visiting our nation's past where our Spanish colonizers seem to have left the strongest imprint of their 300-year rule. Chabacano, the creole language spoken in the area, is said to contain 60 percent Spanish and 40 percent nativo words.

Anyway, I hardly remembered the flight I took from Manila at 4:55 a.m. since I was fast asleep, tired from the work this week. I was so sleepy in fact that I wanted to go straight to bed. But I decided to take photos first of the City Hall of Zamboanga for the 2007 HCS calendar while there were no vehicles parked in front.

So from the airport, I took a jeep to Canellar Street which was a few meters away from city hall. Most of the old historic core of Zamboanga City was relatively intact. It's one of the few cities I've visited which had maintained its character. Beside the city hall were several colonial structures and newer structures which followed the colonial theme. Yes, the Jolibee store in front of Rizal Park was a new building which chose to adapt its facade to the buildings beside it. I would have been all praises for it if not for the exageration of tarpaulin streamers on its windows and facade.

A few meters away was another open space called Plaza Pershing (that's what Metro cities lack, green open spaces). I was surprised to see the original lamposts intact but in a bad state of deterioration. Sad to say the buildings around it do not complement such a charming plaza.

From city hall, I took a walk towards Fort Pilar, a national cultural treasure. Along the way were more old structures along a royal palm tree-lined street. And you could see the great adaptive re-use such as the Bank of the Philippine Islands branch office in a restored old house. I commend BPI because even the signage is subtle and does not distract the viewer from the intricate woodwork of the house's facade. If only the city government pushes this a little further.

After some photos at the fort, I decided to walk back and try to look for a place to stay. I was quite tired and sleepy so I did my usual backpackers routine which was walk until I find an affordable place to stay in. I found a pension house very close to Plaza Pershing and got an air-conditioned room for PHP440 a night.

It was quite unlike me but I didn't do much today, went to bed for the most part. In the afternoon, I went back to Fort Pilar since it was still closed earlier. I also dropped by the DOT regional office beside Lantaka Hotel to ask some questions and book myself a trip to Santa Cruz Island which I will describe in detail in the next entries.

Then is was time for a snack. Lo and behold, my favorite Indian food was sold in Zamboanga in a restaurant called Tini's Malaysian-Bruneian Restaurant just a few meters from city hall. So I ordered a murtabak ayam (chicken murtabak) and iced Milo.

After another nap, it was time for dinner and to sample a Zamboanga dish called satti which is sold along Pilar Street. I was surprised though when I woke up that it was raining really hard. So it was flooded when I got to Pilar Street. None of the satti outlets were open but I found a canteen which served it but it wasn't as good as the freshly grilled ones. Satti may have gotten its name from a similar Malay dish called satay. But satti is smaller is serving size, three tiny pieces of roasted beef on a barbeque stick. It is served to you in a bowl of sweet and spicy sauce with rice chunks also swimming in a pool of the same sauce. Anyway, I'll show you photos of it in a later entry.
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