Sunday, June 29, 2014

Discovering Basilan : A Misconception on a Beautiful Island Province

Basilan Provincial Capitol
Basilan Provincial Capitol
Basilan is a Philippine province known not because of many beautiful things but because of the violence perceived to be always happening in the island. It is not an ideal tourist destination and many people would not visit it if they can help it. To many people, it's a war torn province and they wouldn't dare go there unless they would want to be embroiled in a battle between the government and rebel forces. Even I thought like that before finally having the courage to visit the province, and discovered to my utmost delight, that Basilan is not an everyday bombing venue, and that most of the time, it's just like any other Philippine towns: peaceful, full of life, and beautiful.

Welcome to Basilan!

Together with two fellow travel bloggers Glen (Escape Manila) and Natz (My Wandering Soles), I boarded a fast craft from Zamboanga City Port to bring us to Isabela City, Basilan. Soldiers can be seen roaming around the port and there's also one carrying a very large ammunition in the very vessel that we boarded. Their presence made me feel somewhat nervous but it didn't deter me from my resolve to finally visit the island few people outside of it would want to go to. An hour passed and we finally reached Basilan.

Basilan Port
Philippine Ports Authority - Basilan
Isabela City proper can be found near the port so it was not hard for us to start our tour right then and there. We first looked up for a place where we can have our breakfast and we were particularly delighted to discover that there's a Jolibee! Yes, a JOLIBEE right at the heart of the town. Just across Jolibee is the beautiful Basilan Capitol which design is unmistakably heavily influenced by Muslim Architecture. 

Sta. Isabel Cathedral
Also in the city center is Sta. Isabel Cathedral, Basilan's largest Roman Catholic Church. Churches are what usually spike my curiosity and interest so upon seeing the church, all my worries evaporated and I immediately took my camera to take a shot of it from different angles. I wasn't expecting there would be a Catholic Church right at the city center but there it was, and I wasn't complaining. I also went to enter the church and said a little prayer.

Sta. Isabel Cathedral Facade

The church's interior is simple but elegant and what made me curious is the altar's design. It is a modern rendition, done in mosaic, of "Last Supper" where Jesus and the disciples are all standing. It is beautiful, more so if I just know what the standing Jesus and disciples really mean.

Church Altar, Sta. Isabel Cathedral

After touring the city proper, we decided to visit Basilan's rubber plantation next. We took a tricycle and while on the way, we passed by Isabela City Hall. We asked the driver to briefly stop so that we may have a look and take a picture of the city hall (after asking permission from the guard on duty, a must). 

Isabela City Hall
Isabela City Hall
After passing by many roadside houses, we finally came to pass by tree-lined roads. We just realized we are already in the rubber plantation when our driver pointed out that the trees we are seeing are rubber trees already.

basilan rubber plantation
Rubber Trees on the roadside

How the tree saps are gathered

Plantation worker harvesting rubber tree sap

A large drum of rubber tree sap
Our driver suggested a different route from where we came from back to the city so that we may have a better and longer tour of the place but a soldier we talked to while we are taking the detour told us to just go back to the city proper already (after telling us off in a civil way for wandering around the plantation on our own). He told us it's not safe wandering around the place all by ourselves considering that we are not from there. We heed his advice and get back to the city proper.

Goodbye Basilan!
When we get to the city proper, we then took another fast craft going back to Zamboanga City Port which ended our brief, but I may say, daring tour of Basilan. 

I cannot say that visiting Basilan is a must but there is some kind of satisfaction upon finally seeing the place normally painted by the media as a war zone in its mostly peaceful and welcoming state. More than anything else, it's just your "pamasahe", digicam and "lakas ng loob" that you need in visiting this largely wrong perceived beautiful island.
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About the Author

I am ROMEL RAFOR JAIME, the man behind San Josenyong Gala. My travel blogger name came about because I am a proud resident of the City of San Jose del Monte, Bulacan. In real life, I am a licensed librarian who works in a college in Gapan, Nueva Ecija as a librarian and teaches general education subjects from time to time. My goal is to visit all the 81 provinces of the Philippines before visiting other countries. As of 2017, I have already visited 73... :)

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