Go places where you least expect yourself to be. Basilan isn’t really on everybody’s bucket-list of travel destinations especially with the stigma attached to the province. But the pandemic has changed the way we travel. Why not go to places where you’ll see less tourist yet still enjoy equally wonderful attractions? Isabela de Basilan’s just got the right mix of natural wonders, variety of culture and plenty of halal goodness.
Isabela de Basilan
Isabela de Basilan has an interesting position in the province of Basilan. While geographically part of Basilan island province, it is considered an independent city under the Zamboanga Peninsula region. With this, the provincial capital was moved to Lamitan City where the rest of the region is part of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).
There are 45 baranggays in Isabela de Basilan. Eight are located in Malamawi island while the rest of 37 is on the mainland. Used to be called City of Isabela, Isabela de Basilan is often used to differentiate from the city in Cagayan valley.
Malamawi White Beach
The Malamawi White Sand beach is the the crown jewel attraction in Isabela de Basilan. And I couldn’t agree more. It is one of the best swim-friendly beaches I’ve been to. Sands so soft, minimal rock obstructions on the sea floor and the waves are just gentle. Not to mention, the water is so clear.
I had the pleasure of seeing Malamawi White Sand beach before without any structures in the area. Now a wharf is constructed and the beach is now privately owned. The organization handling the beach property have plans of reopening it to the public as soon as they are done with renovation plans. I’m just glad to be able to see this place again. I remember we had escorts while roaming the beach, now we can freely explore on our own.
Marang-Marang Floating Cottage
After settling in and dropping some of our luggage at Kasinnahan Hotel, we were off for our activities for the day. First is a seafood feast prepared by the Sama Banguingui (sometimes spelled as bangingi). The Sama Banguingui is part of the Sama-Bajau ethnic group, distinguished by their unique Banguingui language.
The seafood spread prepared by the Sama Banguingui samples everyday fares. Ingredients are sourced in and around the mangrove area in Marang-Marang, a coastal baranggay in Malamawi island. Best example are the kalugmata, the red-eye mangrove crabs, the coconut-rice infused okoy-okoy (sea urchin shells) and lambi shells. Other notable favorites are the fish cake, langka salad and dessert treat, putlihmandi.
Marang-Marang Mangrove Cruise
After a hearty lunch, we boarded the outrigger-less local boats they called papet. We went inside the vast network of mangrove pathways inside Marang-marang. It was a relaxing cruise and just astounded at the abundance of marine life here. To think a lot of the ingredients from our lunch were sourced from here makes me think how lucky the Sama Banguingui are.
Santa Isabela Cathedral
At the heart of Isabela de Basilan is the seat of Prelature of Isabela city, the St Elizabeth of Portugal Cathedral or popularly known as the St Isabel Cathedral. One of the two post-modern Philippine ecclesiastical architecture to feature a stained glass artwork placed along the lateral walls and a large mosaic of Christ and the apostles imported from Italy.
In baranggay Sumagdang, Masjid Geras or Geras Mosque, stands imposing with its natural cement facade. It features a detailed artistic design and straight-up minarets in its architecture.
Now here’s an easy-access falls near the main road in baranggay Cabunbata. The Cabunbata Falls is a high multi-tiered falls surrounded by fields of Rubber plantations.
Basilan is the first place in the Philippines where a Rubber Tree (castilla elastica) was planted. It was introduced by American Dr. James Walter Strong in the early 1910. It became one of the major industry in the province and became one of the exporters in the country. Unfortunately, insurgence interrupted the rubber plantation operations and other plantations popped out in different parts of Mindanao.
The Rubber plantations stretch out for miles and would be a nice picturesque visit.
School of Living Tradition
Isabela de Basilan has a School of Living Tradition (SLT). These schools are initiated by the National Commission for the Culture and Arts (NCCA) to preserve cultural heritage. There are “masters” teaching traditional crafts and arts. In this case, the Yakan way of life from weaving, music to performing arts.
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.