“Di ka pa nakakapunta ng Tawi-Tawi pag di mo pa na-akyat ang Bud Bongao (You haven’t been to Tawi-Tawi if you haven’t climbed Bud Bongao)” said our Muslim guide Ben as we started our climb one morning in Bongao, Tawi-tawi. Bud Bongao dominates the whole landscape of the Tawi-tawi island. The Muslim people there considers the mountain as sacred and guards the well being of the island and the people that resides within. At least once, in every Muslim’s life living on the island, they would climb the mountain and pray at the peak.
Tourism is not really the main draw in Bongao, Tawi-tawi so there aren’t that many accommodations to choose from. There are however three notable hotels there which caters to businessmen, visitors and the occasional travelers in Tawi-Tawi. We were able to stay at some of them and we can say that don’t expect any 3-5 star types here. Most of the rooms are basic and spartan. (Updated December 2014) Almost 5 years since my first visit, there are already additional options for stay in Bongao. Some though have remained the same.
Tawi-Tawi is a hard place to reach and its jump-off point is Zamboanga City. The most common means of traveling to and fro Bongao, the capital of Tawi-tawi is by sea. Curently, there two options, the Aleson Shipping Lines Ferry and the Weesam Fastcraft. The former is slow but it’s how the locals do it and can be quite interesting and the latter is fast and comfortable.
The southern most tip of Mindanao holds a lot of mystery to me which may attribute my excitement about visiting the place first time around. But mention the word Tawi-tawi, Mindanao, the first impression I get from most people is “Di ba delikado dun?(Isn’t it dangerous to go there?).” With all the negative news Jolo, Sulu is getting, people are afraid to venture further that region. Honestly I also have some expectations when I went to Bongao, Tawi-tawi but gladly, I was proved wrong in my initial notions about Tawi-tawi.
The volcanic island of Jolo in Sulu has been a staple on recent news lately. More so on the rampant kidnappings happening on the region, particularly in Southern tip of Mindanao. Just recently, this early 2009 there were around 10 kidnappings reported, from missionaries, traders, volunteers and even a 9 year old boy who just came out of a computer shop was kidnapped. It is a sad fact but there are really places in the Philippines that are best avoided and one of those is this volcanic island of Sulu. Quite ironic when we landed on Zamboanga Airport, there was a WOW Sulu banner on the arrivals.
Coming from Mantigue Island, we headed back to the main island of Camiguin and stayed at the Islet Resort in San Roque, Mahinog near Benoni Port. We got a good price there for very basic accommodations, but the Kho family owners are very hospitable and has lots of stories to tell. We rested a bit and then decided to head to one of the off-beaten-track destination in Camiguin, the Tuasan Falls.
It was a few days before our Camiguin travel when I saw a Howie Severino feature on Mantigue Island on TV. The island has a controversial issue regarding long time island residences who refuses to leave the island since the local government and tourism wanted to convert the whole island into a protected area. Since we were in Camiguin, we decided to check this out on ourselves. Things fell easily on place as our habal-habal driver, Jun, is a neighbor to a relative of a residence on the island. We easily secured a boat and a place to stay there for the night.