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Travel Stories

Bailed Out in Basilan

Are you there God?
It’s me, Lauren.

And i’m broke. :(

It’s the premise of a Comedy movie, going against the grain in the most awkward moment possible. Unplanned and no holds barred.
Like the day i went to Basilan.

I had a depressing Jollibee breakfast in Zamboanga, and called Dong Ho to report my status. If only i knew then that he had to convince his brother to take me out on a tour that day. I’d probably get shy. Or maybe– most likely not really.

It was 10 or 11am when i said Hasta La Vista to Zamboanga and boarded a Weesam Express boat to Isabela City. The trip is less than an hour and the ride was bumpy– i like it that way anyway so no complaints there.

Approaching the Island, you can notice Mangroves enclosing the perimeter, they say it helps with the fish cultivation and when you can make out the stilt houses near the bridge, you’ll know you’re only minutes away from getting offboard.

I wouldn’t have passed up the chance to visit Basilan, whether alone or with the help of a trusted friend. It’s just that, if i was alone, i’d probably have a different IT and would be staying at this wonderful 5 star hotel just smack in the middle of the city.

If you stay within the confines of the city and go around in a mad dash, it’s possible to see all there is to see in about half a day’s tour. The unmissable destination for me would be the canopy of rubber trees just half an hour’s drive from the port. It’s a huge picturesque plantation and with the proper “pretty please and googley eyes combo” you can even visit the factory to see how condoms are made, oh did i say that? i meant rubber products.

Now it eludes me whether this is a good thing. the CARP Law that enabled the farmers to get their land after going through 10 or-so years of feudalism. Ludwig told me that the factories were owned and managed by American companies before and now the entirety of the operation has since been handed down to the honest-to-goodness people of Isabela. He also told me about how they can afford to make their houses from stone now, and how each and everyday the workers would wake up at 5am to collect the rubber sap of the trees to be sent to the factories for processing.

My googley-eyes had to go on a hyperdrive when i almost didn’t get inside the factory due to security reasons. yes, i looked like a bandit that day, and my DSlr wasn’t allowed to take pics of the machinery due to proprietary secrets. Not that i would’ve taken a lot. It was very…. fragrant inside that factory. A feast for your olfactory sense.

Glad the owner eventually succumbed, and he even gave me a teeny bit of the Grade A rubber product to be kept as a souvenir. I still have no idea whatever happened to that bit of rubber, and it has since clogged up our washing machine when i tipped off my entire lot of trip-abused dirty clothes when i went home.

Afterwards our stint in the plantations, Ludwig invited me over to his house to meet his lovely Ilongga wife and for some Oishi snacks and coke. Or was it before, i’m not sure if this post is chronologically accurate anymore. But anyway, if you can guess who is the notoriously famous guy pictured above, you will win a prize from the EpicPotato. :)

Dong told me you’d want to avoid building a grandiose house in Basilan, lest you’d like to receive a love letter from insurgents. But the Jollibee branch i saw was quite pretty, so i guess, it’s a good sign that business will be booming in these parts after about a few years. I’m willing to bet on that, oh, and Palabok is conspicuously missing from their menu, as a courtesy to the Muslims who can’t eat pork.

Of course, you should still operate with caution around these parts since ummm, part of my tour had Ludwig pointing out recent bombing sites, these aren’t tourist deterrents, i think. You’ll be safe even if you are a Catholic, oh, what? That Church was bombed? Ummm okay– but at least their Seminary is safe. Oh, there’s an Italian priest who was abducted? Oh…. But keep an open mind, a lot people chose Basilan as their home, Muslims, Catholics, Christians (Born-Again/Methodists) and even Jehovah’s Witness. It ain’t such a bad place, i think.

A little bit of political gossip that Ludwig shared to me was how the current Isabela City Mayor, used to be the secretary of the ARMM Governor who she eventually married and that is why Basilan now has a pink and green city Capitol.

The park in the city center is aesthetically pleasing, albeit a bit baffling with the huge bowling ball statue encased within a mini bonsai garden. Mysterious choice of centerpieces aside, we still a few more things to do, like the cemetery. Please don’t ask why i am interested with that, or maybe we simply passed by it and i mistook it as something noteworthy, but Muslim cemeteries- or was this one Chinese? are a novelty to me, in terms of design and cultural significance.

A few days ago, Dong Ho told me an interesting story about a species of ghost endemic to our Muslim friends, they call them “Lantaw”, a perpetually stiff-necked apparition that floats and has its head positioned sideways, so if you were in front of it, you’d be safe but no such luck when it’s beside you. Dong told me these are made when there’s air that comes out of a deceased Muslim’s grave, so apart from them being buried vertically, extra care is given that no gaps in the earth will let any “Lantaws” apparate into our world.

And since the natural flow of life would call for food, or maybe creepy eerie things just wakens my appetite everytime, we went to the local market where i had a really good surprise. I saw men hauling mini-jackfruits all around and if i understood it right, they’re being sold at 10pesos per piece. No, these aren’t jackfruits, it’s Marang– one of my most favorite fruits now, it’s like eating a sweet and creamy egg, soft in consistency and pleasant in smell, not like the heady durian that i never got the palate for.

And with that amazing dessert you have to have Curacha crab as your main course, sold by Ludwig’s Lady, who is so warm and inviting, it’s such a shame that i couldn’t bring some home, because aside from the weight, it’ll probably go bad in a few days, and i have a long IT ahead of me taking me all the way up to Dipolog.

I kinda regret not staying in Basilan long enough for her to boil my crabs, prolonging their lifespan by a margin then maybe i can bring some home to Manila as a pasalubong for Dong Ho and for my family and close friends. It’s considerably cheaper there, since it goes for 600 a bunch in Zamboanga. But it’s okay, a hug from her sufficed any crustacean ravings i might’ve had.

Short story long, like how i’m having difficulty ending this blogpost and i’ve just been droning on and on, I felt like i left Basilan too soon, no regrets though. I’m not after Malamawi Beach, i was too lazy for Lamitan Falls, although going on a Kalesa ride would’ve been fun (but sadly, it’s a long-gone practice by the time i’ve arrived) just simply walking around the city was enough for me during that day.

I hugged Curacha Crab Lady, and my wonderful brother-in-another-Island, Ludwig, got my ticket for the last trip bound for Zamboanga and said good-bye to a day well spent in one of the most notoriously dangerous places in the Philippines, where i ironically got the friendliest smiles and warmest hugs.

I took a few last glances at Basilan, and then i found out that my adventure was far from over. I was actually sharing my boat ride with the new ARMM Governor, imagine that, being on a tin boat with red alert political bigshots with their cronies and bodyguards carrying more than my entire weight in gunpowder. So i bonded with my fellow passengers with this baffling commonality. Did i mention i was mistaken as a Press? Very fun boat ride indeed.

And after landing in Basilan, with a new friend in tow, who allowed me to hitchhike going to Alavar’s Restaurant in the Geewan District.

That next morning i was finally going to get my ass to the promised land.
Epic Potato meets Tawi-Tawi.

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