Are you still looking for the pearls from Davao? Those that came from the Sulu seas? Those oysters that were shipped to Samal island coming from different places of the country were to be cultivated and let to mature into pink, white, and golden- colored pearls and prepare them for processing after the harvest. Where are they now? And the farms?
After I checked in at Regency Inn Hotel in Davao city, I began my wandering moments walking around the city just to experience the best way to find out the whereabouts of city roads. Without losing the thought of buying pearls as my present when I come back from this trip, I wrote a message on a piece of paper which was actually my plane ticket, “pearls for mama and my sister”.
It was tiring going nowhere. I was like a satellite making an orbit around my hotel until I took notice of a book store a few meters away from where I began feeling, I should piss off. I came in and browsed some post cards displayed unattractively at the shelf. Five pieces were not enough to caught my interest but one. The Pearl Farm beach resort post card had my curiosity bloomed and made my mind beg for inquisitive action. Asking where, what, how had me for positive replies that suited my resources. The attendant was kind enough to tell me the nearest travel agency for a reservation. And the deal was finalized and closed. I would be crossing the sea for Samal island where Pearl Farm is, tomorrow.
The morning has come to sail the South sea. The moment I saw the silhouette of the Pearl Farm, I felt a different kind of feeling. It was like I’m on the clouds making some attack dives at the “Parola”. My excitement was raging and ready to burst out as I step on the wooden planks of the quay. Tourists, including me, were greeted with ice-cold, blood-colored fruit drinks as soon as the lady receptionists approached us with smiling faces puffed with powdered pinkish make-up. Exclusively for corporate tours only, each member was given a locally made necklace for souvenir. What a pity! I should have mixed myself with them just to have that necklace.
After checking my reservation, I was led to my cottage and as we walked, I can’t help but admire the beauty of the resort’s amenities. The myriad of birds flying above head was a welcome treat. I haven’t seen the whole surroundings yet, but I had concluded that it was a perfect setting for lovers.
It’s a bamboo cottage humble enough to be much bigger than an ordinary bamboo house. As I entered, a large bed greeted my eyes.There were orchid flowers strewn all over the spread and linen. And that made me think that this cottage is for newlyweds on a honeymoon bout. The soft bed was much wider than a queen size or matrimonial bed, as I wildly guessed its measurements. There was a large TV set with cable connection, a small ref with chocolates of different kinds, bottles of beer and soft drinks, and a telephone where guests can order food and have it served in bed. It was really amazing as there was a garden at the back where you can relax and inhale the coolness of the humid mountain breeze and the arid light wind of the nearby beach. The safety vault was a surprise to me. Now I could leave my wallet, cellphone, and other important items in it while enjoying this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The next morning was a bit lazy for me to flex some muscles. I was still heavily laden with dreaminess. At 7 a.m., breakfast was already waiting for me at the Pavilion.
There was a wide array of food to choose from. Set at the long line of tables were, American, Asian, and the native dishes of the region. Although it was an eat-all-you-can package , I still heeded my doctor’s advise back home not to overeat so, I settled for a low-fat, low, salt, low-calorie breakfast. And that meant american bread, a little of light butter, fruit juice and the fruits of the season. I thought that what I have eaten was not worth my regular breakfast back home but, it was healthy anyway.
Without boasting myself, a lady approach my table, and with pride, presented herself as the manager and the heir of the property. Opening up a conversation with me which touched our personal lives and a little of current events was a wonderful chat to end a meal.
The rest of the days were spent swimming at the white sand beach at the nearby island and at the infinity pool. I don’t own a muscled sexy body and, at the same time, I don’t have hairy chest. I am just blessed with a saintly face. As I said before, I’m not boasting but again, a woman approached me by the poolside and made a striking talk with me. I did not even made an eye to eye contact with her nor our sights met somewhere. She made her life open to me while I kept mum about myself. She continued conversing with me while her foreigner husband kept on looking at us while tending their child at the pool. I broke off the conversation as I sensed jealousy was slowly getting the better time of her husband. I went back to my cottage but spent a little while at the outdoor Jacuzzi. Enjoying the bath while several species of birds were flying over head was like taking a bath in a biblical river. What a day !
Meanwhile, trekking was a discovery. My first sight of a white parrot was really an educating task. I only know multi-colored ones and it amazed me to see a different specie of parrots. As I continued my trail, I passed by several women weaving sari cloth while some teens were assembling necklaces and bracelets that were up for grabs. There were also an assemblage of imported pearl products and other similar stuffs for sale at Pearl Farm.
The remaining days was swimming, and swimming all the time.
The hectares of cultured pearls are gone and it really puzzled me. But despite its disappearance, Samal island has still more beautiful places to visit, more interesting things to discover and more smiling and friendly people to be with. The island is still green and thriving with nature’s lives. These are the reasons why this island is called the “Garden City of Samal Island” and it saddened me when the time to say goodbye is at hand. I grieved in silence when the last passenger has taken his seat and the boat’s engine started to grind. I guessed, this was the kind of feeling one had experienced when they left this garden city. Needless to say, I can be counted as one of those whose heart was heavily knotted to this paradisiacal beauty of the place. Samal Island is truly a garden island.
Disembarking from the ship from Bongao, Tawi-Tawi I happened to pass by the ticket office of ferries going to Basilan, a terrorist’s lair. It was a Holy Thursday so ferries were few with a handful of passengers making a short queue to buy tickets for the island. A bit nervous to scour and sail the sea, I have to be stouthearted just to be there and spend a week to observe how it was like in Abu Sayyaf infested Basilan during the Holy Week.
It was already 11 a.m. when passengers and I boarded the large wooden motorized boat. The aerodynamically designed boat was long but without a balance on both sides. We were already in the middle of the sea when I saw two speeding gray gunboats approaching at our direction. I was not sure if they were Philippine boats because the flag looked like Malaysian. I estimated the distance of the first one to be a kilometer away from us and the second was just about a hundred meters. They were travelling so fast parallel to our route. The gunboat’s speed accumulated a big mass of water ready to hammer our boat. True enough, the silent, swelling and bulging waves surged to our path and rammed its force directly on the right side of our boat which shook heavily. The shaking didn’t stop immediately. Passengers were shouting as they fell out from their seats leaving me alone seated for I held tightly on the window pane. “This is the end of my trip”, I quipped. Children were crying while holding unto their parent’s hands.
I thought the boat would capsize and eventually sink. But our navigator was alert enough to put off the engine. After a few minutes of floating and drifting aimlessly, the boat gained balance again as we made way to the island.
Houses on stilts were visible as we approached the waterway of Isabela, Basilan’s capital city where an unfinished lighthouse stands as if greeting its visitors from other places. At that time, the ebb tide made it hard for the passengers to disembark and unload the boat.
Catching sight of a famous fast-food chain was a relief for my protesting stomach. The strain in following it became a pressure embraced by nervousness due to the presence of so many Marine soldiers at the plaza. Police were at every corner of the streets. The whole scene looked like there was a military uprising where the plaza became a war zone of sort. I didn’t know that Marines were on high alert status in this area.
The cathedral nearby was also watched by Marines and truckloads of soldiers were dropped at strategic city streets. They were heavily armed and ready to fire their weapons whenever an Abu Sayyaf group attacks the city any time of the day.
In the morning of Good Friday, I visited the Sta. Isabel Cathedral right across the plaza, two blocks away from Sofia Hotel where I stayed. A lot of Catholics in the capital braved the rebels’ threat of aggression as evidently shown by the overflowing presence of devotees at the side entrance. Marine soldiers’ visibility near the altar was a manifestation of how dangerous it was even in the house of God. Even ATM machines have Marines on guard.
After my Visita Iglesia at the cathedral, I hanged out at the plaza and happened to know a Muslim woman who works at the Provincial Capitol of Basilan. She told me that a 10 o’ clock curfew was imposed in the city because of threats coming from the rebels. In fact, a human head on a bamboo pole was displayed at the plaza the morning after a grenade exploded one night.
For an hour, our conversation flowed smoothly and ended offering her trike that I could use to go around the city and the outlying areas. Without hesitation, I grabbed the offer with her two sons as my guide and driver. The next day we left Isabela city and headed to Lamitan District Hospital in Lamitan city, the place that once shared the headlines because it was used as a hiding place of the kidnappers. With their victims in their hands they were pursued by the military and slipped from the pursuit operation. A nurse showed me the room the rebels occupied. I also visited the Lamitan Catholic Church which was bombed by soldiers because the rebels hid inside. Now it has a beautiful interior after it was rebuilt and refurbished. Lamitan is also proud of its beautiful city hall building.
Several checkpoints spaced every three or more kilometers dotted the road. As we came nearer to the town of Maluso, the place where Ces Drilon and other reporters were abducted years ago, sand bunkers by the roadside were strategically erected with government soldiers positioned.
Every minute was a heart-stopping suspenseful journey like a post-war Iraq. I was always waiting to be kidnapped on the road.
At the checkpoint in front of a Marine’s barracks, I took some photos of the building where the soldiers stay not knowing that they would suspect me as a spy for the Abu Sayyaf. My driver told me to delete what I have just photographed while he drove past the two manning soldiers. We were stopped at the other end of the checkpoint fifty meters away. The soldier let me scanned my digital camera. Failing to see any suspicious shots that would endanger their safety, they let us go.
I heeded my guide’s request to backout from proceeding to Tipo-Tipo and Sumisip towns as there were groups of rebels roaming around those areas.
On the way back to my hotel, we passed on lonely roads and bridges. Not a single human being was seen walking on the road. It looked deserted. We stopped at a ravine where victims of ambuscades where thrown into just like dead animals.
Perhaps, hundreds of dead bodies have been hurled into the ravine and souls were searching for earthly figures to reincarnate and continue their interrupted lives.
Before I returned to my hotel, I passed by the market and I’ve finally concluded that Isabela is a progressive city. Judging from the marketplace, it was very clean and orderly and sells almost everything from clothes to construction materials, from kitchen wares to food products, from fish to detergents, etc. Passing by the Basilan Provincial Capitol Building was a pride every Basilanon felt as it is Muslim inspired. Just nearby is the Sta. Isabel Cathedral and adjacent to it is a Jollibee branch. See, business thrive in this diverse meeting of cultures. Before, my idea of Basilan was a land of war where Catholics and Muslims fight. But after the visit I discovered some tourist attractions where, sad to say, I felt I was the lone tourist in this island. But after awhile these discoveries of waterfalls, white sand beaches, rubber plantations, beautiful resorts, etc. changed my perception. It has its own share of greens making it a precious gem to be owned by anyone who wishes to unmask Basilan and experience what it has to offer. Asala malay cum!
PALAWAN, the country’s last frontier has earned a lot of acclamations for its next-to-paradise grandeur. Numerous write-ups and pictures about the province describe it as the “Eden of the New Age”. With these information at hand, I became enthusiastic discovering the truth myself.
An unplanned travel was realized despite the heavy rains. My interest and desire did not diminish as I form visions of picturesque Palawan while awaiting for my plane to land.
Being new in the place, I started to gather information that would make up my itinerary. Resort leaflets from the airport information center were voluminous. Words from tricycle drivers, front desk officers, waiters, waitresses, and security guards helped me sourced my sought after materials needed for the trek. Then I looked for a cheap place to fill-up my near-empty stomach which folded my wings a little. After consuming a hearty and delectable divine meal, my late dinner in Puerto Princesa gained me new strength.
It was still raining the next morning but I continued to follow my itinerary. I visited the Crocodile Farm which gave me a little learning about them. They are kept in their respective cages according to age.
At Tagabinet, portions of Cleopatra’s Needle are amazingly stately and majestic.The clouds hovering near its peak create a portrait that can be compared to the famous and lovely Swiss Alps. I won’t get tired watching its breathtaking contours for hours, days or even weeks.
We headed off to my real destination, the Sabang Beach, which is a three to four hours drive from the city. It is the jump-off point to the underground River.
The weather must have really played against me. Rain kept on pouring and the sea was very rough for sailing. Small boat operators canceled the day’s tour. It’s a pity that I will not be able to visit the provisional winner of the New 7 Wonders of Nature, The Underground River. So I stayed in the resort and, suffice it to say, that Sabang beach is a galore of pleasure and recreation. The beach itself was a statement of tranquility and modernity. Street lights are powered by solar and wind energies.
I decided to go to Port Barton to further explore Palawan. On our way, we stopped at a roadside restaurant for a late lunch. I managed to fill up my stomach with dried squid, dried danggit and rice. My driver and guide had wild boar adobo, wild chicken tinola, grilled wild lizard and rice. What a wild choice of menu?
After our meals, we went westward passing through the 22 kilometer stretch of unpaved road which at times caught us plunging in deep mud causing delay in our movement. For several times, the whole tricycle was like a loose material that could easily fit in the crater-like size of potholes. And if we’re not lucky enough, we push the tricycle out of the knee-deep mud. After 3 hours of travelling and jostling out the trike from giant road cavities, there was total darkness in the mountain and amid the moonless night, I was able to conceal my trepidation. My fear was momentarily dismissed when fireflies came flying by doing their own circus show. “Wireless Christmas lights” at its best. But in that moment as well, with the help of the trike’s lights, I saw a snake with its teeth deeply dug on a rat. This scene made me more fearsome of the darkness in the wilderness. Finally, we arrived at Deep Gold Resort. Dead tired, I readily succumbed to the sounds of the rolling waves despite the cold evening sea breeze.
On the next day as I prepared myself for the waterfalls trip, I was dismayed by the news that the trek was canceled due to heavy rains. Drooped in my room, I was hooked-up on a foot long lizard chased away by a squirrel. Running up and down the wooden plank, these two animals got lost from my sight. Not far away, a heron was being driven away by a dog under a torrential downpour. These two drama-filled episodes served as “fill-ins” in my quest for adventure in an aborted waterfalls trek.