Team Out of Town Blog Hub – After staying home for more than a year, it is only natural that you want to start traveling again. If you are looking for a place to relax that will fulfill your feeling of wandering, the Zamboanga Peninsula (ZamPen) is the place for you.
This region, located in the southernmost part of the Philippine archipelago, will compensate for more than a year and a half of mobility restrictions with its pristine natural wonders. Between wonderful dishes, lively culture, rich history and many fun adventures; you name it, they have it in ZamPen.
Before I go any further, let me turn to the proverbial question: is it safe to continue? Yes it is! You will experience what a group of tourism influential people, invited by the Council for the Promotion of Tourism and the Department of Tourism, Region 9, are excited about.
I was lucky enough to be part of this trip that highlighted 3Hs – Xabi (weaving), Hilom (wellness) and Halal (cuisine) in the cities of Isabella and Lamitan in Basilan, the city of Zamboanga and the municipalities of Kumalarang and Lapuyan in Zamboanga del Sur.
Although Lamitan is part of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, the 3H tour is not complete without paying homage to the National Living Treasure or Gawad Manlilikha ng Bayan Awardee Apuh Ambalang Ausalin.
Apuh Ambalang is recognized for his role in preserving Yakan’s art of weaving.
We visited her at her GAMABA weaving center, where she and her community of weavers keep the tradition alive and make sure that the younger generation also learns the craft. The Basilan School of Living Tradition in Isabela City also promotes tennun and other local crafts, music and dancing.
Apart from Basilan, a community of weavers from Yakan can also be found in the village of Yakan in the town of Zamboanga. The village is a collection of stalls selling tennun and other local crafts. They also demonstrate visitors’ weaving.
Zamboanga City, a melting pot of crops, also features Pis Siyabit, hand-woven fabrics by Tausugs from Sulu. ZamSulu Crafts, located in the Azurra Hotel, located on Sto. Nino Village, Putik, sells runners, shirts and bags; plus mats and dolls made by Sulu women.
In Zamboanga del Sur we visited the weavers of Kumalarang and Lapuyan.
Anyone looking for colorful mats with intricate designs should come to Kumala Weavers in Kumalarang, which is run by a family of weavers.
The Dakula family has maintained the art of weaving for more than a century and passed it on to the next generation. Each mat they sell is a masterpiece and reflects the culture and tradition of the group.
Less than an hour from Kumalarang is Lapuyan, home of the Subanen people.
After cultural presentations, some of them presented themselves on deck overlooking the Lapui waterfalls and visiting their heritage house, our group visited their Kabuhayan weaving center. The restaurant sells traditional dresses and fabrics from Subanen, made by people with different abilities.
What is a vacation without food?
No matter how colorful their fabrics are, this is regional cuisine. Halal is an Arabic word meaning “permissible”.
In the city of Isabella, the Marang Marang Women’s Association prepared a banquet with recipes for the heritage of the Sama and Tausug cultural communities. We had an eye-to-eye delicacy of the sea urchin Sama; utak-utak, fish cake; putli mandi, steamed rice cake; and junay, a packaged rice dish wrapped in banana leaves with burnt coconut meat and various spices.
Speaking of continuous food spreads, it is not to be surpassed by the sea crab festival of our Malamawi White Beach, which included chicken, fish, shrimp, shells and squid. Equally memorable was our gastronomic adventure from the famous Bulingan Falls in Lamitan City. We had chicken cooked in baguette sauce, tulle itum or black beef soup, shells cooked in coconut milk, served in pumpkin, and shrimp in Alavar sauce.
Alavar sauce, a blend of coconut milk, crab paste and various spices, was originally served at Alavar Seafood Restaurant in Zamboanga City.
In Zamboanga City, our group also took samples of Jimmy’s honeycombs or grilled meat skewers, which are served with a sweet and spicy red sauce; Palmera’s Knickerbocker, a halo-like dessert; Tiula Itum of Woodland Ranch; and Dennis Coffee Garden lozenges, an empanada-like dish dipped in sweet vinegar and a Bangbang sample that includes beef or corn cake; wadjit, like a bull, and daral, crepe stuffed with bukayo.
We had our hours at Great Sta. Cruz Island in the city of Zamboanga. Our lovely tour director, Errold Lim Bayona of iTravel Tourist Lane, made sure we didn’t leave Zamboanga City without having this basic breakfast.
It also serves deep-sea crabs, shrimp, tuna, squid and fruit prepared by community members.
In Kumalarang we were served crabs, chicken piaparan, shrimp and various rice cakes at the Kumala Weaving Center. Lunch is served in a sophisticated Moro style setting called pagan.
In Lapuyan, we learned the process of making a rice cake called timo, which is usually served on special occasions. It is made from sticky rice, coconut milk, ginger juice, brown sugar, rock salt and lemongrass wrapped in wild leaves.
Nature has the power to heal and soothe us. We all had much-needed vitamin D on the white sand beach of Malamavi and the pink sand beach of Velika Sta. Cruz Island.
Malamawi’s white sand beach is called the crown of Basilan’s tourism and rightly so. It has a long, wide stretch of soft, grainy white sand and calm turquoise water.
The Great Hundred. Cruz Island, which was named one of the 21 best beaches in the world by National Geographic in 2017, is famous for its pink sand. The color comes from powdery red coral tubes mixed with white sand.
We also had our commune with nature in the mangrove forests on both the island of Malamavi and the Great Hundred. Cruz Island.
Both mangrove cruises are run by community members, so when we do these tours, we give back to community members who make sure we can experience these natural wonders.
The tour of the Yellow Boat of Great Sta. Cruz Island also allows guests to interact with jellyfish without stings and collect sea grapes. At the end of the tour, each visitor has the opportunity to ride a propeller, a traditional wear boat.
In addition to the healing powers of nature, several members of our group also had the opportunity to experience the ancient healing art of Subanen or Hilot in their heritage house.
It wasn’t my first time in this part of the Philippines, but as the caption says, #OnceAgainZamPen! This area is definitely meant to be experienced more than once and yet managed to surprise and delight. In fact, I’m sure this place has more surprises up its sleeve.
As soon as its doors open again for tourists or when you feel safe to travel, go to ZamPen. After all, life on the Zamboanga Peninsula is more fun!
The group followed strict safety protocols throughout the trip. Each underwent an RT-PCR test before and at the end of the trip. Masks were worn at all times (except for meals), face shields were worn indoors, and social distancing was strictly observed. #SafeTripPH
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Read also: Likhang Habi: This craft fair re-introduces Habi’s journey
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