Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Beautiful Basilan: A Photoblog

White Beach, Malamawi Island, Basilan

Basilan. The province with a name that is synonymous to danger and conflict, is a place which I never thought I'll step foot on. It wasn't really on our itinerary, actually. My travel buddies and I were supposed to visit Panikian Island in Zamboanga but for some reason, we still pushed through with the idea of going here. I could never stress much that we are such spontaneous adventurers that's why it's always fun traveling together with them.

Be sure to catch the earliest ferry going to Basilan as the queue can get worse in the afternoon

Our day started early, we left at Chang-V around 6AM and headed to the Zamboanga Port to catch Weesam's earliest ferry schedule. The travel time between Zamboanga and Basilan is roughly just an hour so we had enough time to take a short nap because we woke up too early. I refused to sleep though, as I was seated by the window and just kept looking at the view like a curious kid. When I saw the rows of stilt houses along the bay, I knew we're already there. We arrived at Isabela around 8AM and headed towards their city hall to meet up with our contact from the tourism office.

Isabela City's pink city hall. I love the look of their city hall, it's pink all over, given that the mayor is a lady. :) Even the nearby buildings are colored in pink too.(Photo by @jepepips)

We were supposed to meet Mr. Gerald Tubil but he wasn't around that morning so he endorsed us to Ms. Yanyan, his staff and she, together with Sir Jayson (Ms. Yanyan's friend) were the ones who accommodated us during our stay in the city. We booked at FCI Hotel, just near the city plaza. Also, they helped us in arranging land and boat transfers for touring around the key places around Isabela City and Malamawi Island. For our first stop, we visited the city's radio station, where we learned that they were radio DJs for 97.5FM! 

That's @gladjaytor being interviewed at Sir Jayson's radio show.

I could really feel that "I'm in a war-zone" atmosphere while walking around the city, so I was very cautious. There are soldiers everywhere, just like in Zamboanga City, we even saw humvees and a huge ass tank-like vehicle parked beside the plaza. We gamely posed beside the static vehicle like some crazy tourists, not minding that there are soldiers staring at us from behind.

@ezzydangerous, @jepepips, @scherzelle, @traveladik, @nejo_08, @gladjaytor

Breakfast is served!

We then had our breakfast at the nearby building, where Ms. Yanyan said, was previously bombed during the last war between the rebels and the armed forces. That explains the soldier with an armed rifle guarding the building.

An armed soldier keeps watch over the building.

Then after eating our fill and buying groceries for our beach trip, we went straight ahead to the port going to Malamawi Island. Ms. Yanyan and Sir Jason, together with our armed escort accompanied us during our tour.

The stilt houses welcomed us to the Island.

When we got there, we rode a habal-habal ride which took just about 10 minutes going to the White Beach. 

The road going to White Beach in Malamawi Island.

When I got there, I was clearly in awe at the sight in front of me.

The beach was so, SO, beautiful! It was clearly the best beachfront I've seen that year! I think I've said "WOW" too many times and I nearly stared at it for a good 5 minutes before even going near the shore to enjoy the crystalline blue waters.

Team ZamBas at White Beach, Malamawi Island.

We found these kids playing at beach.

A father and son trying to catch fish.

The azure waters are truly inviting and the beach sand was so fine and white, no wonder that's where it got its name. The shore is quite big, not as big as Calaguas' beach front but big enough to race around going to the sea for a dip. It was super clean, no seaweeds, rocks or whatsoever. I could imagine how pretty it must be when it's lowtide, the sandbars beneath is just so beautiful.

This storm trooper was my personal bodyguard at Basilan.

He's always on guard. He likes to keep watch.

We only stayed for about an hour on the island before heading back to the city for our short city. I wish we could've stayed longer, but camping or staying overnight is prohibited at that time due to safety purposes.

When we got back to Isabela City, Ms. Yanyan offered us her brother's private van to tour around the area. We were taken to some key places like Cabunbata Falls, Isawad Resort, Tabiawan Falls, Basilan's Rubber Tree Plantation and Fuego-Fuego Island Resort.

Cabunbata Falls is very accessible, a quick five minute walk from the main road will lead you to the falls. The water isn't flowing that much, and I most likely it's because of the weather.

The lovely stream beneath Cabunbata Falls.

We also went to Isawad Pool Resort, which is a popular getaway with the locals. The huge spring water pool looked so refreshing, too bad I didn't bring any spare clothes with me, I would really want to take a dip

Hello Kitty!

Next, we went to see Basilan's Rubber Tree Plantation, which is the province's main agricultural industry. I've seen rubber trees before but I'm still fascinated seeing them upclose. I'm still left wondering how that white goo becomes rubber in the process LOL.

For our next stop, we went to Tabiawan Falls which is just a short distance from the rubber tree plantation.

The stream leading to the falls.

I was not able to take pictures of the trail going down to the falls itself, but it was very steep! We were not informed that we need to do a little 'trekking' and I'm so not used doing it with slippers on (I have poor grip on my toes so I tend to slip easily haha) so I walked barefoot going down and back up.

Tabiawan Falls is smaller than Cabunbata Falls, but it has a wide catch basin which you can swim and dive in to. Anyone can also reach the top of the falls by taking a short offbeat path from the trail.

One thing I noticed at Tabiawan Falls though, is it's dirty surroundings. There's trash everywhere. No one seems to maintain the place, so locals just go over her and have a swim or a picnic and just leave their trash there. I just hope the local municipality takes action over this as Tabiawan Falls is a really a good place to relax and get in touch with nature.

I like taking pictures of random dogs while on a trip. :3

Then we went to Fuego Fuego Resort to catch the sunset! It doesn't look more like a resort to me, I don't see any place where you can swim decently because there's mangroves and trash everywhere too. But the wooden deck is awesome for sunset viewing.

Mangrove trees at Fuego-Fuego Resort.

A lovely sunset awaited us.

Traveling is best spent with friends. :)

After the tour, we headed for dinner at this place called Miss Inasal where, what else, serves Chicken Inasal and anything grilled. Then, Ms. Yanyan and Sir Jason took us back to the radio station to let us join their radio show! We were all had our own 10 minutes of fame at Basilan's radio show by relating our own experiences after touring the island. It was so much fun to hear ourselves on the radio, I wish I recorded my own voice while being interviewed by DJs. :D

This is 97.5 FM DXNO's textbox, where fans of the radio show text their DJs for greetings, song requests etc. LOL I saw my name there hahaha.

Our last stop was the pretty city plaza, decorated with christmas lights and all. Despite what the city has went through, you could feel the Christmas spirit around. 

Team ZamBas with Ms. Yanyan and Sir Jayson of  97.5 DXNO FM Radyo Komunidad De Isabela City, Basilan.

When we headed back to our hotel, we bought pizzas and beer to cap off the day, I probably had the best laughs of my life during that last night of our trip. I got the craziest travel buddies ever.

My bodyguard deserves a slice of pizza.

They said it was such a dangerous idea to even visit Basilan at these times but I could honestly tell them that though I felt uneasy walking around the city with armed soldiers roaming around, I still feel somewhat secure. I don't want to ruin my trip with a momentarily feel of fear within me by just keeping those negative thoughts in mind. It's all about perspective, actually, and if we all have an open mind when we explore a new place, we can truly have the best adventures of our lives.

Basilan is a beautiful place, beyond fear and doubts of many. Traveling has thought me to accept the state of the place I'll be going in, no matter what it went through, because each place is still worth exploring. :)
Here's my sample itinerary that you can use if you wish to explore Basilan soon:

6AM - Wake up/Leave Chang V/Go to Zamboanga Port, ride the earliest ferry to Isabela City
7AM - Depart Zamboanga City
8AM - Arrival in Isabela City
8:15AM - Ride tricycle to City Hall, meet up with tourism officers
8:30AM - Checkin at FCI Hotel/Breakfast
9AM - rest
10AM - Buy groceries for beach trip
10:30AM - Ride a small boat going to Malamawi Island
10:45AM - ETA Malamawi Island/ride a habal-habal ride
11:00AM - Arrival White Beach/swim/ enjoy the beach
1:00PM - Leave White Beach
1:30PM - Arrival at Isabela City Basilan
2:00PM - Cabunbata Falls tour
2:30PM - Isawad Pool Resort tour
3:00PM - Visit Rubber Tree Plantation
3:30PM - Tabiawan Falls
4:00PM - Fuego Fuego Resort, sunset watching
5:00PM - Leave early (too dangerous to stay on the road at night)
6:00PM - Back at Isabela City/dinner
7:00PM - Visit radio station with Ms. Ayen and Sir Jayson
8:00PM - Visit the City plaza/photo ops
8:30PM - Arrive at FCI Hotel/ socials

Mr. Gerald Louise Tubil - Isabela City Tourism