Guns and the beach at Sumagdang Beach Resort
Isabela City, the main capital of Basilan region, is a city on a rise, thriving amidst the adversities. Now we look at the place as a war torn region filled with strife. True there’s disorder here, but isn’t it the same with any other place? Basilan somehow got the pounded with so much media hype it’s reputation got hammered down. Sad truth. But given the chance even a glance the people of Basilan welcomes visitors and are happy if you were brave enough to go there despite its reputation. So in my 401th (or is it ‘st?’) post (wow, didn’t notice that I already got past 400 until I saw my log), let’s take a look at some of the scenes in and around Isabela City.
Welcome to Isabela, the Port
A 1- 1 1/2 hour boat ride from the city of Zamboanga, we reached this port of Isabela via its channel. Actually from the port in Zamboanga, there are also some other entry point to Basilan like heading straight to Lamitan. We headed to the main city first of course since we had to make our regular courtesy call to the authorities there especially the DOT (Department of Tourism) to gather some information about the place. Oh yeah! There’s a Jollibee branch there which is kinda nice to know that it has reached this part of the country, we didn’t eat there though (Why should we?). Does the presence of a Jollibee (or other fast food branch) tell how much a city is developed?
Ready to dive! Throw some coins into the water
At the port, we encountered a number of these beggar children on boats. You’ll hear them say something which I can’t really understand. But I’m quite sure they are asking for money. But if you try to throw some coins in the water, they’ll dive in to get it. What’s amazing is they actually get the coins! Boy, they are really good swimmers. At the port, we were met by two tricycle drivers who will serve as our drivers. They call themselves, Moi-Moi and Nonoy. We got them when our ultra sleek PR person Alexine met this Basilan Local in Zamboanga City and gave us some contacts there. We thought it would be safer if we somehow know someone from there.
The Channel view resort [SE K800i]
At the Tourism office in Isabela City, we were attended by Ms. KT, who seem to be the head or manager of the department and pointed us on places we could stay for the night. They gave us a couple of brochures, which they seem to have just printed there on an inkjet printer at that time. She suggested the nearby inland resorts Channel View Resort and Farmland Resort.
Our rooms at Farmland Resort
It wasn’t a long drive via our tryke uphill to Channel View Resort. Indeed it’s a nice resort, and offers a good view of Isabela Channel. The accommodations are good looking as well, but the price is a bit steep for us. 1000 pesos for a room good for only 4 people? We’re cheap stake budget travelers! There, we were also noticed and met by PNP Col. Sheppard who were there since his family swam on the nearby resort, Farmland. We got into a bit chit-chat and he was dumbstruck why of all the places we would go to for vacation, why go to Basilan, and without any invitation from a local there at that matter. Like I said before, he cleared that the Abu Sayaf threat is no longer there, but at that time during the elections where the winner hasn’t been announced yet, it was pretty dangerous to go around unguarded. Especially with new faces as ours. So he offered some of his men to accompany us the next day on our tour of some of the places.
Nice pool and garden at Farmland Resort
Shortly since most of us are already hungry, we hopped on the Col.’s pick-up along with some of his PNP men as we made a short drive to Farmland Resort. We bid goodbye to him and promised to drop by the station tomorrow to pick up our escorts. Farmland Resort is such a nice place. It does look like a farm sans the grazing cows and pigs and all. It has a very nice pool and what’s better, we got 2 rooms, each good for 4 for only 500 pesos. I has nice comfortable beds, air conditioned and a basic toilet and bath. The food there was also great from sea foods to meat (was too hungry to take photos). And what we enjoyed most was the pool since most of the establishments in the city closes by 6pm, don’t expect any night life here. At the farm we felt safe inside so we enjoyed the pool that night swimming, eating and some drinking. We’re not the only ones at the resort, some guest were at the huts singing their heart out at some good ol’ karaoke tunes while we have all the pool by ourselves.
Leaving the Farmland Resort group pic
The next day we headed of back into the city where we had our breakfast. There were some annoying young beggars there at the streets who irritatingly kept tapping your arms. Anyways, once we got our escorts, we bought some supplies to bring in our trip. Our food and of course, food for our escorts as well. Isabela city is pretty much like other provincial developing cities in our country. Would have wanted to do some street photography but I was hesitant to take pictures of the people here. Not to attract much attention as well.
Our boat to Malamawi Island and Isabela Channel [SE K800i]
After all our supplies were taken care of, we headed of to the port to bargain for some boats. There we found half naked Kaiser Adams scratching his scrotum while our girls were negotiating for our boat. I think we got a good price for that one. So we boarded and headed of to Isabela Channel.
Kaun Purna Mosque at the Isabela Channel
Passing by Isabela Channel you won’t miss this large imposing structure called the Kaun Purna Mosque. Along with it are more stilt houses from the Badjao’s, sail boats and more mangroves.
The group in Malamawi Beach with our PNP escorts (photo by M. Carlos)
Our first stop was Malamawi Island where we visited the white beach. I wasn’t able to post a picture of our PNP escorts before so here we are with our reliable guards.
This isn’t a Coral! It’s a kural!
Pardon the captions here but as we were heading back from Malamawi, we asked our boatman to take us to some spots where there are good Corals and fishes for snorkeling. Our manong goes “Cge me alam ako madami nyan! Madaming isda. Daanan natin mamya…. (I know where there are plenty of those. Plenty of fishes! We’ll pass by later”. So here we are excited and getting ready with our snorkeling gears, until we noticed we were heading towards some stilt houses. We go like “Sigurado ka merong mga isda dito?(Are you sure there are fishes here?)”, then manong pointed to some Kurals (Kulungan)! Nyek! Oo nga naman Kural! Hahaha. Si Manong nagpapatawa! Well anyways, we still checked out the Kurals but we didn’t snorkel of course. There were large Talakitoks there and some other fishes.
Sumagdang Beach and its coconut plantation
Not to dampen our zest to snorkel, we just asked them to take us to another beach called Sumagdang Beach, which is nearby city proper around 4 kilometers. It’s a nice picturesque beach but its not that clean. It seems that during weekend this place would be flocked by people. There are cottages there and some basic facilities. Fortunately for us, there weren’t any crowds at that time and even thought there are fees for entrance and the cottages, again there was no one manning the resort so we didn’t have to pay for anything.
Time to go back to Zamboanga
After Sumagdang Beach we headed back to the port so we could catch our 3:30 pm ferry ride back to Zamboanga City. Our stay in Basilan has been fun. There are a lot more places which we wish we could have gone to, but given the sensitivity of the situation at that time, we have to confine ourselves on certain areas. True we have to tag along some guards along the way, but it doesn’t mean you can’t have fun in the midst of impending danger.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.