Visitors of that famous island paradise called Boracay could now only wish they could travel back to a time when the sugar-white beach was only lined with palms and not concrete buildings and thousands of tourists.
If they can’t travel through time, these tourists can just travel to another island that has an equally beautiful beach. It’s the island of Basilan, which is just off the coast of Zamboanga City.
Yes, no thanks to headlines about terrorist threats, Basilan hasn’t been the destination of choice for tourists, but that’s what makes it so appealing. Its natural landscape and beaches have been preserved and remain free from inconsiderate tourists who tend to leave their garbage scattered all over.
The beach in question is Malamawi, which is as pristine as any beach can get. Its waters are crystal clear, and its white sand is at par with that of Boracay. It’s become a favorite place for local tourists.
Many of the guests also come from Zamboanga City, where it’s possible to catch a Ro-Ro boat to the city of Isabela, Basilan’s capital. One could travel by tricycle to Malawali, which has a few amenities for those who might want to stay the night.
An elegant two-story hotel has rooms that can accommodate couples and small families. The theme for both architecture and interiors are distinctly Balinese. It also has a restaurant that serves full hot meals and snacks.
The property of this resort is so vast it also includes a farm and a hill, where a view deck has been built. From this high vantage point, one can have a spectacular view of the hills and the sea that surrounds Isabela City and a glimpse of Zamboanga City across the Basilan Strait.
Nature lovers will also enjoy the drive through some of Basilan’s many rubber tree plantations. Forests of rubber trees frame both sides of the road; so thick high and are these trees they seem to form a natural tunnel. So abundant are these trees, we were told, that Basilan was once a top supplier of rubber for a major American tire manufacturer, which had co-owned one of the plantations here.
The island of Basilan is no larger than Bohol but it has an eclectic culture, what with a population composed of the predominantly Muslim tribe called the Yakan and the Christians from Zamboanga City, commonly known as the Chavacano Zamboangenos, who also speak the most commonly spoken language here.
The Chavacanos originated from the Spanish-Jesuit settlement that established in the town of Fuerte de San Jose in 1635. Indeed, first-time visitors to Basilan will be surprised by the numerous road and commercial signs written in Spanish, which is the root of the language used here.
This fact isn’t lost on certain officials of the Makati-based Instituto Cervantes, who have done research on Spanish influences in Basilan and it neighboring provinces in Sulu. Hopefully, when complete peace is restored to these islands, the Instituto may invite Spanish nationals to visit Basilan and the rest of the Sulu islands.
The city of Isabela isn’t crowded, but it’s hardly a backward place. The city roads are bustling with activity, and tricycles must jockey for space along with the latest SUVs. Although the younger people might want to enjoy a snack at Jollibee, tourists will enjoy the Muslim delicacies, which include the local version of the suman.
The Yakans are famous for their malongs, which are made of pineapple cloth and cotton and come in bright and vivid colors, all painstakingly hand-weaved. Worn by Yakan men and women on special occasions, it takes an entire week to complete a malong. But since tourists rarely get a chance to visit Basilan, the malongs are sold at the Yakan Weaving Center in Zamboanga City.
Veteran Yakan weaver Brainy Ilul said that with this store in Zamboanga, they get to reach a bigger market. He has followed in the footsteps of his parents and grandparents and continues the tradition of weaving malongs. Born and raised in Basilan, Ilul hopes his own children would continue the practice.
Basilan was the last province to join the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, in 2001. Today, ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman is developing the infrastructure in the province, particularly in the town of Al-Barka, a former stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group.
The town will be benefitting from P132.5-million worth of infrastructure projects, which will include a seven-kilometer road, several water systems, and bridges.
Official data showed that from 2012 to 2017, the ARMM government earmarked a total of P887 million worth of infrastructure projects in Basilan, of which 90 percent went to road projects,
With its rich culture and breathtaking landscape, Basilan is a haven for travelers searching for less touristy destinations. The stunning beaches that beckon remain tranquil and safe. After all, even Paris, the romantic City if Lights, hasn’t been immune from terrorist threats. Yet as tourists still say, we’ll always have Paris. The natives here would reply, “We’ll always have Basilan.”
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