The Fearless Journey to Basilan : Malamawi Travel Guide
Long overshadowed by siege and stories of terrorism, Basilan has now started to outrun barriers from what seemed a collision between fear and prolific tense brought by the media. Even the most hardened travelers have to admit a certain amount of fear while traveling this isolated area of Mindanao. Well, unbeknownst to many, Basilan is never that overly haunting place. This can be justified by ubiquitous presence of Philippine Army who has been fortifying security in all barangays. Ruled by Gov. Hadjiman, Basilan is now deemed as peaceful place where splendid sceneries allure many thrill-seeking souls.
But then just like any other story, before I came to that realization, I have gone to Gehenna of uncertainties. A backdrop of dubiety and distrustfulness. Allow me to tell you as I look back last August trip.
Zamboanga, 05:30 AM
It was an invigorating Friday morning.The sun spilled yellow light over the city facing the ardous waves of the south. The aroma of leaves and saps wafted softly from the peaceful frosty night, projecting a scene only morning birds knew. Roused from a heavy slumber, I rushed to the kitchen and catched breakfast with my friends. As I drew my nose to the coffee, the scorching aroma of earthiness and spice genty exuberated my senses back to awareness. It had been three days already since the last time I indulge to this sensation. From a distance, I heard my friend's aunt saying " Tiene Quidaw na Basilan, Alerto ara" (Take safety precautions at Basilan, there is a heightened alert). My mind immidiately stumbled upon an erratic thought of Basilan's bad reputation. The bombing incident I read a few days back is what probably the old woman was refering to. From the back of my mind, I started to corrupt my head with troubles and fear.
I tried to portray a calm attitude but my unenthusiastic grin reflects a dilemma of perplexity. The mere fact of expediting a perilous adventure is breaking my composure. My friends started to survey my subtle uncertainty and asked me if im alright. But of course I told them everything is good. Set amidst number of brave souls, I somehow felt back the encouragement as they started to talk about adventures and the pleasant itinerary we have actually planned 3 months ago.
THE FEARLESS JOURNEY
It was already six in the morning when we arrived at Zamboanga Wharf. It was populated by cargo ships, ro-ro and sea jets. From a distance, I heard loud honking of horns from bustling traders transporting goods. Though there is quite an erratic barrier in communication, people seemed to be genuine and friendly when you connect. For those unacquainted persons like us, the pier can be a puzzle with no direction. We were like bees searching for the nest. There is no delectable ticket booth, every ship has different departure time, and connecting to people prominently requires knowledge of Chavacano or Tausug. However, Tagalog is way better than speaking English if you dont know the language.
07:15 AM, Caught in the caucus of busy people, we found ourselves seating snugly over the soft fabric of Sea jet. We took Weesam Express bound for Basilan because of its speedy engine. Sitting in the middle of uncertainties, I started to free my timid eyes. Behind us was a group of women dressed in bouyant bright colors, eyes screwed from the narrow opening of their head dresses, all wearing positive grin as they talked to each other. At both sides, I subtlety heard sounds of starting engine, backdropping a white noise of bustling chitchats. One of my friend gave me a beam of confidence as if he's telling me that everything is going to be okay.
I stared out the window and watched the ship as it was slowly departing from the port. I tried to breath deeply, but no matter how I convince my self, my heart still fainted. The fact of setting our foot on the cradle of past violence and tremor is extremely compromising. But while I can’t seem to outrun the creep of this travel anxiety, I remained committed to our goal, and this, I’ve found, is the best tonic.
REACHING ISABELA PORT
The sky was a new painting from moment to moment. After forty five minutes of battling the waves, we arrived at Isabela Seaport. Every passerby is a person, capable of laughter and joy. Yet somehow everyone were occupied, eyes cast down as if they had been beamed into paradise but didn't have the time to notice. Man clothed with camouflage uniforms smiled and greeted us. As they carefully inspect every vehicle, my eyes wont stop staring at their riffles. The presence of "Martial Law" was well felt in this port. As we walked toward the street, we surveyed a series of stalls selling wild array of fishes, fruits and vegetables. Various spices lay in dusty sacks, rich and unfamiliar scents cut through the smell of engines, so heavy that we could taste them in our mouth. The streets we saw reflects a similar scene just like any other cities: concrete roads, well-built infrastructures and beaucoup number of establishments and hostels.
THE PEACEFUL SPIRIT OF ISABELA CITY
The sun was already a friendly ball of yellow the moment we walked the streets. From a distant, there's a logo of familiar crescent moon standing tremendously. I could tell how it reminds me of inseparable scenery from Quiapo. And since we just had a light breakfast, we felt the need to drop by Isabela market to grab some food. Along the way, still with timid eyes, the place I saw was a peaceful town. However, people may be dressed with different clothing but the hospitality and the perpetual generosity still reflected especially when we tried to connect with them.
Set amidst controversy and scars from the past agony, Basilan seems to be the last resort for a traveler's destination list. Primarily stained by bombings and multiple terrorist attacks, the city of Isabela has never came across to the point where they lose hope. As a matter of fact, each Basilēnos has a perpetual affair to fight for unity and peace. Per the conversation we had with some of the vendors, they deemed the harsh comments as motivation for them to show what Basilan is all about. Precisely speaking, they are not in favor of all the negative news about their mother city. They want people to know them better, they want to forget the bombs, the explosions and the agony and start to know the true soul of Basilan.
With full honesty, I have to admit that just a backdrop of stories I heard from the news, my plans expectedly brimmed with anxiety. On the other hand, I found the courage to proceed when I was enlighted by increasing number of great news. As a testament, last May, I read that some of the notorious Abu Sayaf leaders such as Nhurhasaan Jamiri and his entire group surrendered to Barangay Sirongon, Mohammad Adjul. Imagine, a prominent terrorist who finally stop Gehenna is quite a big news.
Clearly, beyond the explosions, Basilan archipelago promises bewitching wonders coming from the untold stories of the locals. They do not need our judgement because just like us, they are also innocent people seeking eyes that can see true essence of humanity.
Under the gentle rays of sun, the sea is an unbroken calm, speckled by a million fragments of yellow light. We came back to port for another boat ride bound for Malamawi Seaport. Along our way, we were approached by a man. His face tells of a lean body beneath his wintry garb and his expression is serious but not unkind. He introduced himself as Abraham, a fisherman seating along the muddy flats full of barnacles. He offered us a boat ride bound for Malamawi Port for 70Php (whole boat). We accepted his offer as we find the fare reasonable.
As we set our foot to Malamawi Port, we were warmly greeted by habal habal drivers. Their positive energy was wafting through the warm, yet fresh breeze of the salty water. Habal habal ride cost us 20Php each. It took us 20 minutes of bumpy ride before getting to White beach Resort.
Nestled within the untouched water of Sulu sea, Basilan is blessed with abundance of bewitching beaches such as Tinuse, Palm beach and the one here at Malamawi. Primarily framed by tropical-draped limestones and powder-like sand, its perfect location cradles an enchanting paradise that have been isolated a few years back.
Unlike to any other off-the-beaten destination, Malamawi Beach resort was not crowded the moment we arrived. The beach is untouched and the waves were freely lacing the coast with elegance and pride. Despite of Basilan's bad history, the resort seems to be fully developed and ready to share wonders for all thrill-seeking souls.
Personally, I was very priveledged to witness this enchanting marriage between pristine blue water and immaculate bed of white grains. This beach is one of the best destination I have traveled so far!
With browning legs curled under, dusted with sand like flour on bread, I sitted close to the lapping waves. They felt warm and cool, like tea that's been forgotten and returned to. My fingers wiggled in the water, in these lips of the ocean as she sings.
In spite of the bombing and multiple terrorist attacks, Basilan is nevertheless a paradise. A paradise not only for Basilēnos, but a true pride of the country. Mainland has been corrupted by mere thoughts of danger in Basilan. Without hearing the untold stories of the locals, we tend to criticize. I mean, did we ever realize how painful it was for them to hear news of explosions, killings and other tormented events?
Well, just like the metamorphosis of an ugly caterpillar, we need to see the colors of their wings. Those colors are the untold stories they are zealing to voice out.
05:00 AM — Wake up time
06:00 AM — Departure to Zamboanga Wharf
From the city, you just need to ride a tricycle for around 30 to 40Php. Fare varies depending on your distance.
06:15 AM — ETA at Zamboanga Wharf / Check In.
Sea jets are much better to ride as it only takes 45 minutes up to 1 hour ship ride. However, the price range is higher compared to ordinary ships. As a traveler with high priority to time, we suggest you take either Weesam Express or Prince Khalil.
07:00 AM — ETD to Isabela Port
08:00 AM — ETA at Isabela Port / Shop food from market
08:20 AM — ETD to Malamawi Port.
You can catch the boat ride exactly at Isabela Port. The regular fare is 10Php. But if you need to save time, you can rent the whole boat for 70Php (One way). Travel time can takes up to 10 minutes.
08:30 AM — ETA to Malamawi Port / ETD to Malamawi White Beach Resort.
Upon arrival, you will be greeted by a number of habal habal drivers. They will offer you a ride bound for White beach for just 30 Php per pax. Travel time will take up around 15-20 minutes. They will aso ask your time of leaving so that they can catch you back to port safely.
09:00 AM — ETA to White Beach Resort
Entrance fee at 40 Php per pax. We did not get cottages as we found many picnic spaces under shade of trees.
09:00 AM-01:00 PM — Dive, Swim, Relax
01:00 PM — ETD back to Isabela Port
Since we need to catch the ride going back Zamboanga City, we went back early to Isabela Port. Cottages and accomodations are available if ever you wish to stay overnight. Habal rider who took you to the beach will also be the one to catch you back. Its better if you get their mobile numbers so that you can freely notify them of any certain changes of schedule you need to adjust.
Weesam Express: 340 Php per person (Round trip)
Boat Ride: 20 Php per pax (Round trip)
Habal Habal Ride: 60 Php per person (Round trip)
Total: 420 Php
Zamboanga Wharf Terminal Fee: 5 pesos
Isabela Terminal fee: 5 pesos
Malamawi White Beach Resort: 40 Php
Total: 50 Php
Heavy Breakfast at Basilan (Carinderia): Ranging from 75-100Php. (Rice + Fish/Beef + Veggies)
Overall total at 570 Php per pax
Malamawi White Beach Resort
Malamawi White Beach Resort
Magsukul Tuud Kaymu Basilan!
Thank you friends!