It was a usual day in the office when one of my officemates asks me, “Where are you flying next?” I told them that I’ll be visiting Basilan next month (October) and I wasn’t surprised to have one common reaction from them. “Sir Cai, Are you serious? You’re crazy! It’s not safe there. What are you going to do there? There’s nothing to see in Basilan, think about that travel plan. My officemate even browses photos of Basilan on Google and as expected you will see photos of danger, bombing, and terrorism associated to this province.
I wouldn’t deny that I’m having a second thought to fly even in Zamboanga City. because of the stigma in traveling in some parts of Mindanao. Also, It was 3 years ago when the city was under a siege. Zamboanga Airport is the closest airport to Basilan.
I understand why people are trying to stop me from visiting this part of the country. I know that terrorism is active on this island. If there’s one thing that scares me before my flight, it is the idea that I’m staying on the same island with one of the notorious international terrorist’s groups in the world. I know that the island is too big for our path to cross. But no one knows, I’m closer to them, right? Yet one thing is for sure, I’m confident that I’ll be going home safe. Why? I have faith; I just know that I will not die here.
Some of my friends in Manila are worrying about this travel as if we are always safe in our own city. Come on guys; is there still a safe place here on earth? The danger is always there, if it’s bound to happen, it will happen even if we are inside our home. If we will always show them that we are scared, they will continue to scare us. I believe that today would be the best day to reintroduce Basilan to Filipinos.
We arrived before sunrise to Zamboanga City, rode a tricycle and went directly to the port (80php). We catch the first trip bound to Basilan at 6:45 a.m. via fast craft (150php fare + 11php terminal fee) Travel time took an hour. You can also take RoRo for only 50php but travel time will be an hour and a half. There are times that I’m feeling paranoid, there are what ifs that are running in my head on our way to Basilan.
What if there is a bomb here, what if there will be bombing in the city and other crazy things concerning about my security. You can’t blame me. Again, that thinking that I’m closer to a terrorist group is still in my mind.
The purpose of our visit here is to attend the feast of Nuestra Senora Del Pilar. Supposedly, we are 5 in this travel but ended up 2. For obvious reason, they are also afraid to go here.
An old seaport, where there are small boats and tens of houses standing just beside the water was my first sight of Basilan. If a big city, Zamboanga looks left behind by other big cities in Mindanao. What else do you expect from the small city of Basilan, Isabela City? The road is under construction, there are buildings that look abandoned, it wasn’t a vibrant city which is understandable since it has been heavily damaged and affected by ongoing war. Hence, it’s slowly standing. There are banks, schools, fast food store (Jollibee) and a very busy public market. Hundreds of tricycles are making the street of Isabela moving. This is the main public transportation in the island.
10 minutes from the town proper was my home for 3 days stay in the province. Signal was intermittent to none in this area. If you wish to get a better connection you better stay near the port or public market.
Our host family immediately prepared our food which was a mud crab cooked with coconut. I swear that it was so delicious. They are so proud on their crab saying that it could only be found here in Basilan. They asked me, “Where are your other friends? I said that they didn’t push through. They told me, “Good thing you’re not afraid to go to Basilan” I just smiled.
Late afternoon we decided to swim on one close beach called Fuego, Fuego, travel time is less than 30 minutes from the place where we stay. The road was steep, muddy and as we move its becoming dense.
When I feel the road gets dense and saw a military base camp. Again, I became oversuspicious but I am not showing it. Fuego, Fuego is more like an abandoned small port than a beach. It doesn’t have sandy shore instead big rocks. There was a signage saying “civilians are not allowed to swim here” which quite frustrates me.
I saw 2 military men and ask permission if we could enter the Cabana built on the shore. He asked permission to his superior and good thing that we are allowed. The view from here is so peaceful. Probably, someone wouldn’t think about Basilan. The water was so calm and there are few fishermen catching fish. I saw a school of fish from above which excites me to swim. Again, I ask permission if we could and gladly we are permitted.
The water was clear but there are few trashes on the shore. I just stay close from the Cabana made of woods since there plenty of fish on this point. There were no colorful corals on the seabed near the shore and I can’t think of something that I can’t brag about this place. For many travelers, they will find Fuego, Fuego ordinary but for me, the view was special. It’s a peaceful and calm view in contrary to what people think about Basilan.
We arrived back home where people are praying the rosary, right before our dinner. There was a blackout. I heard from Inday Gayle, our host. Cai welcome to Basilan. This is normal. We spent our dinner eating Lechon under the candle light. Blackout last for an hour, as per locals it usually last for an hour or two, sometimes six to seven hours.
The continuous cockcrow woke me up early in the morning. Unlike my alarm clock which I can stop from snoozing, these hens are unstoppable and like having a concert exchanging their crows.
We went to Basilan’s very own white beach. If there’s one place where people of Basilan can be proud of, I believe it’s their white beach. From the port of Basilan, we rode a small boat and crossed the other island going to Malamawi. It was a 5 minutes ride and fare is just 5php.
From there, habal-habal (motorcycle) drivers are shouting white beach. The road going to the white beach was mixed cemented and rocky, more on the later. The view was tall trees and houses which get fewer as we passed by. It was 15minutes ride from the port; fare is just 50php per head round trip. Make sure that you arrange pick up with your driver back to the port of Malamawi.
The place is a pleasant beach resort. There are people who do gardening and cleaning when we arrived. Entrance fee is 30php. As expected there are fewer tourists in the area. The place is laid-back, the waves are crashing smoothly, the sun is perfectly set, and there are small groups of people enjoying our private stay in the resort.
I remove my slippers, walked and feel the sand squish slowly through my toes. The water is clear and low. This is a kind of beach I’m looking. peaceful, tranquil and undisturbed. This is the most beautiful sight of Basilan I have ever seen.
As I go back to the house of our host to celebrate the fiesta. There was one one lady asked me “What can you say about Basilan?” I said, it’s quiet and the beach is beautiful” She said, ” Tell it to the people in Manila, they only hear Basilan on the news when there is danger here.”
As I travel back to Manila, I will never think the same way about Basilan. Yes, it is true that the island is still facing threat from a terrorist group. With that, I would like to borrow this line from Patti Smith “I’m not afraid of terrorism at all. I’m afraid of loss of our freedom, loss of mobility, loss of global comradeship. You, What’s stopping you to visit Basilan?