Wake Up, Philippines!

Tawi-Tawi: The Backdoor Gateway

Posted in Tourism, Travel by Erineus on April 16, 2009
By DATU AMA
March 21, 2009, 2:13pm
Bolobok rock
Bolobok rock

“The vision is to develop Tawi-Tawi into a new cultural and ecotourism mecca of the Philippines and showcase its natural beauties and wonders hidden within its 307 islands and the underlying seas,” said Vice-governor Ruby Sahali-Tan.

The island of Bongao in Tawi-Tawi is the farthest you can go in the southern part of the Philippines. Farther down is Sabah, Malaysia. To reach the southern tip of the archipelago, I took a most exciting sea travel that brought me to the part of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao known as the Philippines’ “Last Frontier.”

I have only read about the amazing “last frontier” that is sandwiched between the South China and Sulu seas: it is a sanctuary with extensive rain and mangrove forests, rich culture, majestic mountains, primeval caves, coral reefs, and the world’s rarest marine life, outstanding dive sites and pristine white sand beaches.

On the invitation of Vice-governor Ruby Sahali-Tan, I packed my bag and went on a Tawi-Tawi experience. From Manila, my travel companion and I flew to Zamboanga which is the only take-off point going to Bongao, which is an hour away by plane or about 26 hours by ferry via Jolo.

From Zamboanga, we flew via SeaAir to Bongao. At the Sanga-Sanga Airport, we were greeted by Mark and Serekit, the cheerful and courtly staff of the Provincial Tourism Office. From the airport, we proceeded to the provincial capitol, perched on the hill of the island where ne can see a perfect 360-degree view of the whole Tawi-Tawi bay and the town of Bongao.

“Tawi means far,” Gov. Sahali-Tan informed me. Along with her husband Mayor Nickerson Tan of Mapun, they took us via speedboat to Panglima Sugala, hometown of the Sahalis.

As the soft breeze invigorates us, we were impressed by the unspoiled white sand beaches and colorful marine life. There were  still-house dwellers whose have deep attachments to the sea which is their main source of livelihood.

On the shore, I saw Badjaos men and women, with their children, selling different kinds of seaweeds and the fresh catch of the day.

“Tawi-Tawi is the backdoor gateway of the Philippines to the rest of Southeast Asia, and you are now in the farthest province of the Philippines down South,” Vice-gov Sahali-Tan said. “Ninety percent of the population is composed of Muslims- Badjao, Samal, Tausog and Joma Mapun. My vision for the province is to uplift the quality of life here,” she added.

Nirvana believer

The second day was a “wet” day because it was reserved for exploring the beach and the islands. We first visited Palanjal Kam Balobok Rock, an uninhabited island perfect for sunbathing and private picnic lunches.

By the way, take an island tour when the habagat (southwest winds) is not blowing too strongly. A big bangka (wooden row boat) should take around 30 minutes to reach each islands except for Mapun and other municipalities which take a day to reach.

When you take a dip or do a little sorkeling, you will find amazing coral reefs, especially at the drop-off which bottoms out at 40 meters (120 feet).

We feasted on the beauty of the underwater and the magnificent corals.

As a nature nirvana believer, I communed with Mother Nature at Sand Bar, the resort owned by the vice governor.

When we return to the house of the Sahalis, we were treated to mouth-watering delicacies such as darar, palikambing, junai, panpan, and pasong, definitely our ultimate nirvana. While savoring the treats, the Provincial Tourism Cultural Dance troupe gave an impressive interpretative dance called pangalay.

The music, the food, and the people were a balm to our senses. It was like going back to the essentials of life: beauty, adventure, sustenance, harmony, and romance, the very things that modern life has left behind.

http://www.mb.com.ph/articles/199763/tawitawi-the-backdoor-gateway

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