You could tell if a destination is gaining ground in terms of tourism when their infrastructure starts improving. During my recent visit to Tawi-tawi, I was able to climb Bud Bongao again. I certainly noticed a new building, paved stairways and other pleasing developments. It was eight years ago when I last climbed Bud Bongao. A time when there still a heavy stigma hovering over the province. But now that stigma is slowly lifting. People are learning that Bongao, Tawi-tawi is relatively safe which resulted to a three-fold increase in tourism arrivals just this year, 2017. At the forefront of the province’s tourism project is the Bud Bongao Eco-Tourism Park. A 342-meter high sacred mountain with an imposing presence at the center of the island.
It took me three visits to Tawi-tawi before I finally set foot on the famed Panampangan Island. It’s not an easy island to reach like most of the islands in the region. Hiring boats have a hefty cost especially for independent travelers. An invitation to cover the Kamahardikaan 2017 festivity includes a visit to the island. It was an opportunity that’s hard to pass. Panampangan Island is considered the longest sandbar in the country.
I like non-commercial festivals like the Agal-agal Festival in Tawi-tawi. They are refreshing and different. Unlike popular festivals that honors the Sto Niño, Agal-Agal Festival celebrates the way of life of the Sama people. From harvesting agal-agal (seaweeds), courtships, and even the supernatural. I was excited to see the Agal-Agal Festival 2017 since I enjoyed witnessing it the first time three years ago in Bongao. This year, the 44th Kamahardikaan Festival is hosted by the municipality of Languyan.
“Edit your life frequently and ruthlessly. It’s your masterpiece after all.”
This was one of the first few images I shot with the Nikon D7100. I liked it so much because of the simplicity behind it hence the title “Beauty in Simplicity”. I found this dilapidated house while walking the road stretch of Pasiagan, Tawi-tawi coming from Sandbar Lepa Beach Hotel to Beach Side Inn where I was billeted that time. I had to stop and try to compose something given that the afternoon sky is starting to show it’s color. Simply one of my personal favorites.
“Oooh! I got my own water dispenser in the room. That’s something new and unexpected for a place like this.” That was my first reaction when I saw my room at Sandbar Lepa Beach Hotel and Restaurant. Back in 2008, when I first visited Tawi-tawi, there were no cottages in this Sandbar Lepa beach. Only the lepa-styled (a house boat by the native Sama people) restaurant stood there since year 2000. Almost six years after, they now have a hotel and a huge convention hall.
If you have ever seen Christian Bautista’s music video “Masusulan Tawi-tawi” and wondered where that picturesque beach was where most of the budding romance scenes from the video were shot? Look no further than in Pahut, Bongao in Tawi-tawi. This is the famous Dr Ibbo’s Beach now known as Almari Beach Resort. The landmark mangrove tree, the white beach, clear sea waters, peaceful garden and native cottages makes this a local favorite in Tawi-tawi.
It was a feast to the senses. The vibrant colors move in a captivating array of patterns in purple, gold and rich green. The choreography was so just entertaining and their Pangalay (a type of Muslim dance) was just hypnotic in its graceful body movement paired with the elegant gestures of their fingers. I just came back in Tawi-tawi after more than five years since my last visit and already, I’m bombarded by this showcase of Sama culture in this Agal-agal Festival. Agal-agal is the local Sinama term for seaweed, an abundant commodity of Tawi-tawi. I can say what a festive way to welcome my return to the southernmost province of the country.