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.
And I thought it could only happen in fairy tales. A structure made entirely of crystal. Well for this, the Crystal Mosque (or Masjid Kristal), it’s mostly made of crystal with some metal and glass. Nonetheless it’s a beautiful, one of a kind structure found in Kuala Terengganu. We were supposed to visit a floating mosque but got lost here on an island within a city to find the golden ochre walls of this mosque reflecting the warm light of the afternoon sun.
Wandering around the streets of Cotabato City, It’s easy to assume that the city is predominantly a Muslim country with many minarets and crescent moons from Mosques jutting out from the city skyline. In fact, if it weren’t for the Hijab (women’s headscarf), it’s hard to tell whether one is Muslim or Christian. Both religions have been deeply intermingled since the birth of Muslim and Christianity in Mindanao. The Tamontaka Church, the oldest church in the city, stands in testimony on the harmonious co-existence of both religions.
Never judge a place by its reputation. Cotabato City is one such place that has been marred by negative publicity it constantly gets – bomb blast, kidnapping, corruption and political strife. It’s a prime candidate for an episode of Don’t Tell My Mother in National Geographic. I can’t deny these things happen, in fact the vice-mayor was ambushed a couple of weeks after my visit in the city. But all these things are not as bad as media painted it to be. It happens to any other place although amplified to an exaggerated degree. There’s also good news coming out of the region, the Masjid Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah or popularly called The Grand Mosque rose like a golden sun, inviting droves of tourist in this commonly misunderstood city.