Tell your mother that you are going to Basilan Province and you’ll definitely get a mouthful. But you cannot blame her because Basilan is one of the places here in the Philippines that is frequently on the headlines of newspapers for all the wrong reasons.
Since college, I have heard a lot about Malamawi beach and its white sands. Stories from my classmates who had been there were all positive. It’s just one ferry ride away from Zamboanga City and getting to Malamawi is just as easy as one-two-three. I did the unthinkable. I went to Basilan a year ago for a day tour with three strangers from Manila who are on a backpacking trip. It took just a few exchange of direct messages on instagram and I agreed to join them. I had so many fears and inhibition but at the back of my mind I was telling myself “If backpackers who are not from here can do it, why can’t I?”
It was just recently during my fourth trip to the island that I decided to write this article. I had been answering questions from backpackers and helping them with their itinerary for more than a year already.
To maximize your time, riding the earliest fastcraft from Zamboanga City to Isabela City, Basilan at 6:30 im the morning is the most efficient way to go. The trip takes an hour and a half for 150.00 via a fastcraft. Other trips are scheduled at 9:30 in the morning. Getting around on foot in Isabela City is very easy. Breakfast at the Font Restaurant which serves tapsilog and other value meals is a must try. Their value meal costs between 60-80 pesos. Although it’s not extra ordinarily special, the servings are large and their dishes have a home cooked feel. We then took a short walk to the Isabela City Cathedral to take photos of its stained glass windows and high ceilings. The plaza with the “Isabela,Basilan” sign is just outside the cathedral and next to it is the Basilan Provincial Capitol. You can order take out food at Jollibee Basilan for your lunch.
A few steps away from the town center is the small port going to Malamawi Island where you can ride a small boat for only five pesos. Habal habal drivers were already waiving at us as we slowly docked after the five. We broke a deal with Ronel (0926 359 3123), a habal habal driver who courteously approached us. 50.00 per head is the normal roundtrip fare for habal habals. Ronel offered to take us to a view deck for an extra fee of 25.00 pesos each. After snapping some shots at the view deck, we went downhill and entered Mamawi White Beach for a 30.00 peso fee.
Serenity in Malamawi
All of my inhibitions disappeared once I saw the beach from the view deck. The bright cerulean waters turning to deeper shades of blue filled me with so much excitement. On the other side was a view of lush greenery of mangrove forests and coconut plantations. Last month was my fourth time in Basilan but it was my first time in the view deck. Looking down, I saw a lot of improvements at the beach where cottages, conference halls and a boardwalk were being constructed.
We went down to the beach and arranged our things in a mat under the shade of a tree. With so much excitement, I removed my sandals to feel the white sand under my feet. For an island boy like me, the beach is a playground where I could easily disconnect from the world. Ironic as it seem, I find serenity in Malamawi specially on a weekday where there are not much tourists and locals around.
As the sun was shining brighter during the mid-day, the waters illuminated in beautiful shades of blue. The waves slowly hit the beach while making sounds like little thunder. It was perfect and serene. I never thought that I would find serenity in Malamawi but I definitely did.
Fine Dining in Basilan
After a few hours of bathing in the waters, we decided to go back to the mainland to have some snacks. A friend of mine recommended the Gazebo, a very small but elaborately designed restaurant near Jack and Jill School which is a trike ride away from the port.
Ronald Rodriguez, a former nurse at a popular hospital in Manila decided to quit his job and open a chic restaurant that serves pasta and dishes you will find on the menus of fine dining restaurants. The Gazebo is a very small yet well decorated space. Each corner can be shot for an instagram posts! As you enter the Gazebo, you will be welcomed by an arc of flowers fabulously adorned by hanging crystals! Tables are made of glass and stainless steel which compliments the white granite floors. The Gazebo is just as big as my bedroom but it has four chandeliers with over the top crystals. Elegant and sophisticated, it’s a very pleasant surprise to have a fine dining experience in a conflict affected area.
We ordered spanish sardines pasta and cheezy nachos. Our choices were limited during our visit because of the black out and their kitchen appliances won’t work without electricity. The best way for you to enjoy your dining experience is to make reservations ahead of time! You can call Ronald at +63 916 746 2568. If you are lucky and he is not busy, Roland is very accommodating and will definitely entertain you with his stories! Try dining at the Gazebo, it is truly a great find in Basilan! Each plate that comes out of the kitchen is not only picture perfect but also very tasty.
Most bombed Jollibee?
I have read from another blog that the Basilan Branch of Jollibee is the most bombed in the entire country! Scary, right? I did my research and found out that it was bombed way back in 2008. But putting a label as the most bombed branch is an exaggeration. In fact, according to a news article, it is the 500th branch of the famous fast food chain. I find it unfair to the residents that we add fuel to the fire of the burning reputation of Basilan. Although we want to entice our readers and get as much mileage as we could, it should not be done at the expense of other people. Putting a negative label on a place is not a good practice and should not be done especially if you are not sure of the facts. If you aren’t sure about it, don’t say it.
The locals of Basilan are very warm and welcoming. It was not hard for us to ask for directions when you go around on foot. Tricycles, busses, and cars crowd the streets of Isabela. The city has a lot of old buildings and the market place is very vibrant with culture coming from different tribes. The island province might have graced the local and international news because of the presence of rebels in their mountainous areas. The conflicts are mostly isolated in the boondocks and the city proper feels relatively safe. The government, both local and national, are not sitting ducks and just let the issue of terrorism plague Basilan. Military and police men secure the corners of the city and the different tourist spots.
Perhaps, it is hard to persuade people to visit Basilan but there will always be curious travelers that would find their way to this very beautiful island. This article is written to guide those who would leave their apprehensions and discover the beauty of a misunderstood paradise. Always remember, you don’t need a lot of courage to travel, you just need an open mind.