Revenge Travel? Zamboanga Peninsula (ZamPen) is Ready for You

The Kumala Weavers of Kumalarang, Zamboanga del Sur

Team Out of Town Blog Hub (www.outoftownblog.com) – After being stuck at home for more than a year, it’s only natural that you will want to begin to travel again. If you are looking for a vacation spot that will fulfill your sense of wanderlust, Zamboanga Peninsula (ZamPen) is the spot for you.

This region, located at the Southernmost portion of the Philippine archipelago, will make up for more than a year and a half of mobility restrictions with its unspoiled natural wonders. Between delectable dishes, a vibrant culture, a rich history, and plenty of fun adventures; you name it, they have it in ZamPen.

Before I go further, let me address the proverbial question: is it safe to go? Yes, it is! You will experience what a group of travel influencers invited by the Tourism Promotions Board and the Department of Tourism, Region 9 are raving about.

I was lucky enough to be part of this trip, which highlighted 3Hs – Habi (weave), Hilom (wellness), and Halal (cuisine) in the cities of Isabela and Lamitan in Basilan, Zamboanga City, and the municipalities of Kumalarang and Lapuyan in Zamboanga del Sur.

Habis

Although Lamitan is a part of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, a 3H tour isn’t complete without paying homage to National Living Treasure or Gawad Manlilikha ng Bayan Awardee Apuh Ambalang Ausalin.

The author with Apuh Ambalang Ausalin
The author with Apuh Ambalang Ausalin

Apuh Ambalang is recognized for her role in preserving Yakan’s art of tennun weaving.

We visited her at her GAMABA Weaving Center, where she and her community of weavers are keeping the tradition alive and making sure the younger generation learns the craft too. The Basilan School of Living Tradition in Isabela City also promotes tennun and other indigenous crafts, music, and dance.

Aside from Basilan, a community of Yakan weavers can also be found at the Yakan Village in Zamboanga City. The village is a collection of stalls that sells tennun and other local crafts. They also demonstrate weaving to visitors.

Tennun on display at the Yakan Village in Zamboanga City
Tennun on display at the Yakan Village in Zamboanga City

Zamboanga City, a melting pot of cultures, also showcases Pis Siyabit, the handwoven cloth of the Tausugs of Sulu. ZamSulu Crafts, located at The Azurra Hotel located at Sto. Nino Village, Putik, sells table runners, shirts, and bags; plus mats and dolls made by the women of Sulu.

In Zamboanga del Sur, we visited the weavers of Kumalarang and Lapuyan.

Anyone looking for colorful mats with intricate designs should come to the Kumala Weavers in Kumalarang, which is run by a family of weavers.

The Kumala Weavers of Kumalarang, Zamboanga del Sur
The Kumala Weavers of Kumalarang, Zamboanga del Sur

The Dacula family has kept the art of weaving alive for more than a century and is passing it down to the next generation. Each mat they sell is a masterpiece and reflects the group’s culture and tradition.

Less than an hour away from Kumalarang is Lapuyan, home of the Subanen people.

Subanen dancers
Subanen dancers

After cultural presentations, some performed on a deck overlooking Lapuyan waterfalls, and a visit to their heritage house, our group visited their Kabuhayan Weaving Center. The establishment sells traditional Subanen dresses and weaves made by differently-abled persons.

Halal

What’s a vacation without food?

As colorful as their weaves are the region’s cuisine. Halal is an Arabic word that means ‘permissible’.

Cooking demo by the Subanens
Cooking demo by the Subanens

In Isabela City, the Marang Marang Women’s Association prepared a banquet of heirloom recipes of the Sama and Tausug cultural communities. We had oko-oko, a Sama sea-urchin delicacy; utak-utak, a fish cake; putli mandi, steamed rice cake; and junay, a packed rice dish wrapped in banana leaves with burnt coconut meat and various spices.

delicious junay is usually partnered with egg
delicious junay is usually partnered with egg
oko-oko, one of the group's favorites
oko-oko, one of the group’s favorites
Putli mandi paired with mangoes
Putli mandi paired with mangoes

Talking about instagrammable food spreads, not to be outdone was our Malamawi White Beach’s seafood feast of crabs, which included curacha, fish, prawns, shells, and squid. Equally memorable was our gastronomical adventure by Lamitan City’s famed Bulingan Falls. We had curacha cooked in bagoong sauce, tiyula itum or black beef soup, shells cooked in coconut milk served inside a squash, and prawns in Alavar sauce.

Lunch by the falls. This is Bulingan Falls
Lunch by the falls. This is Bulingan Falls

Alavar sauce, a blend of coconut milk, crab roe paste, and various spices, is originally served in Alavar Seafood Restaurant in Zamboanga City.

In Zamboanga City, our group also sampled Jimmy’s satti, or grilled meat skewers, which are served with a sweet and spicy red sauce; Palmera’s Knickerbocker, a halo-halo like dessert; Woodland Ranch’s tiyula Itum; and Dennis Coffee Garden’s pastil, an empanada like dish dipped in sweet vinegar and Bangbang sampler, which includes biyaki or corn cake; wadjit, similar to biko, and daral, a crepe with bukayo filling.

We had our satti in Great Sta. Cruz Island in Zamboanga City. Our gracious tour director, Errold Lim Bayona of iTravel Tourist Lane, made sure we do not leave Zamboanga City without having this breakfast staple.

Aside from that, he also served deep-sea crabs, prawns, tuna, squid, and fruits cooked by members of the community.

In Kumalarang, we were served crabs, chicken piaparan, prawns, and various rice cakes at the Kumala Weaving Center. The lunch was served in an elaborate moro-style setting called pagana.

In Lapuyan, we learned the process of making a rice cake called thimo, which is usually served during special occasions. It is made of glutinous rice, coconut milk, ginger juice, brown sugar, rock salt, and lemongrass wrapped in a wild leaf.

Hilom

Nature has the power to heal and soothe us. We all had our much-needed Vitamin D at the White Sand Beach of Malamawi Island and the Pink Sand Beach of Great Sta. Cruz Island.

Malamawi White Sand Beach
Malamawi White Sand Beach

Malamawi White Sand Beach is dubbed the crown jewel of Basilan’s tourism, and rightly so. It has a long, wide stretch of soft, grainy white sand and calm turquoise water.

The Great Sta. Cruz Island, which was named one of National Geographic’s 21 best beaches in the world in 2017, is known for its pink sand. The color comes from pulverized red organ pipe coral mixed with white sand.

Yellow Boat Mangrove Tour
Yellow Boat Mangrove Tour

We also had our commune with nature at the mangrove forests of both Malamawi Island and Great Sta. Cruz Island.

Both mangrove cruises are run by community members, so when we take those tours, we give back to the community members who make sure we can experience these natural wonders.

The Yellow Boat tour of Great Sta. Cruz island also allows guests to interact with stingless jellyfish and harvest sea grapes. At the end of the tour, each visitor has the opportunity to ride in a vinta, a traditional outrigger boat.

Subanen Hilot. Photo by Marky Ramone Go of Nomadic Experiences
Subanen Hilot. Photo by Marky Ramone Go of Nomadic Experiences

Apart from nature’s healing powers, a few members of our group also had a chance to try Subanen’s ancient healing art, or hilot, at their heritage house.

#OnceAgainZamPen

It was not my first time in that part of the Philippines, but as its tagline goes, #OnceAgainZamPen! This area is definitely meant to be experienced more than just once, and it still managed to surprise and delight. In fact, I’m certain this place still has more surprises up its sleeves.

As soon as its doors are open again for tourists or when you feel safe to travel, go to ZamPen. After all, life is more fun in Zamboanga Peninsula!

The group followed strict safety protocols the entire trip. Each underwent an RT-PCR test before and at the end of the trip. Masks were worn the entire time (except when eating), face shields were worn indoors, and social distancing was strictly observed. #SafeTripPH

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Also read: Likhang Habi: This Artisanal Trade Fair Reintroduces The Journey Of ‘Habi’

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