I know a lot of people would ask, “Why the hell would you want to go to Basilan?” I mean, with all the bad publicity it’s getting because of the Abu Sayaff years back, the place had a negative notion of always being in a state of strife. I myself couldn’t believe stepping on this part of the country as it is the last place on my list. But since one of my travel buddy and fellow photography enthusiast wanted to visit this part of the region since he has seen most of the major areas in the Philippines, I thought, why not, so I tagged along with other 7 adventurous individuals and ventured where only the daring go.
Getting into Basilan
To reach Basilan, the fastest way is to fly to Zamboanga City and from there, head of to the pier where several vessels can take you. A fastcraft can take you in an hour for Php 130. But if you are on a budget you could also take the Ferry which will take you in for an hour and 20 minutes for only Php 50 if you are on the upper level and Php 40 when you are at the lower level. We took the cheap ferry actually since the 20 min difference isn’t a big thing to how much we would save. Besides, it’s comfortable enough with the strong wind. I was able to sleep during the travel. In no time you’ll find yourself at the pier of Isabela, Basilan’s Capital City.
Before reaching Isabela City, you’ll pass by the Isabela Channel where on your left is the city town proper and on the right is the Malamawi Island, dubbed as the Gateway to Basilan. What surprised me most along the sea channel are the numerous stilt houses in the area. It reminded me of the Floating Villages in Tonle Sap in Cambodia and I never thought we also have one like it in our country.
Much like the people living at the floating village in Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia, our fellow kababayans here are mostly fishermen. It is easier to gather fishes being close to the sea. Most of them are called Badjaos or the “sea gypsies” of the Sulu and Celeb seas and they live mostly on house boats all their lives. In this region, once they have caught their fish, they just easily cross by the port and sell their fresh catch.
Malamawi White Beach
In Malamawi Island, our first stop is their famous White Beach. But before that, let me tell you about Basilan, when we visited DOT, most people were surprised that we were brave enough to be here. We were looking for a place to stay that day in Isabela before we headed of to Malamawi the next day. We were pointed to Channel View resort and Farm Land Resort. In Channel View we fortunately and accidentally met local PNP Col. Sheppard who was dumbstruck to find us in the place without us not knowing anyone there. He cleared that the Abu Sayaff threat is no longer here, but what is sensitive at that time is the warring families since the official winner for the local positions have not been declared yet. So he promised to provide us 5 PNP Escorts on our visits around the area. I will write in detail about these local resorts at a later post.
So at the port, we got a pump boat from a guy named Kaizer Adams (cool name huh?). We managed to get a boat that would take the 8 of us along with 4 PNP escorts and 2 boatmen to different points around the island for Php 1500 back and forth. We boarded and head off again in Isabela Channel. Malamai is very close from the pier but the White Beach is on the other side of the island and it would be faster by pump boat.
It was a scenic ride along the channel passing by more stilt houses, mangroves, sailboats and other locals engaged in fishing by the sea. There’s also an old functional lighthouse which you’ll pass by. And shortly you’ll find yourself on a stretch of long white beach. There are no overnight facilities in the area save for some cottages and restrooms as well. There’s a Php10 entrance fee, a Php 200 charge on the Big Cottage and Php 50 charge on the Small Cottage. Fortunately for us, there was no one manning over the area so we didn’t have to pay for anything.
Admittedly the beach is very nice. The sand quality is very good and the shoreline wide enough and the sea bed is very fine with very few rocks, perfect to take kids along. But honestly it’s not the best beach I’ve seen but it ranks there high up as one of the best ones out there. Especially it’s private and secluded nature adds to the charm. Venturing off to where the sign in the first picture can be found are more rocky shorelines. I don’t know what the danger in the sign means but it could also be because of the rocky nature on this side of the beach. There I found a lone sprout among the rocks which somehow for me symbolizes a hope of peace in the area so more people could again enjoy what natural beauty Basilan has to offer.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.