Monday, February 9, 2015

Basilan: The Hidden Gem of the Philippines

There are 7107 islands in the Philippines, all of which boast natural treasures worthy of a fun adventure. Most famous are Palawan, voted World's Top Island based on a survey by renown Conde Nest Traveler; Boracay, a popular beach destination for both international and local tourists; Albay, home to Mount Mayon, a beauty of a volcano admired for its perfect conical and symmetrical shape; Bohol, esteemed for its delectable Chocolate Hills; Ifugao, domicile of the majestic Banaue Rice Terraces; and Tagaytay, an elevated observation deck that provides a nice vantage view of the diminutive Mt Taal, a unique volcano within a lake within an island.

There is, however, a little known gem hidden in the Southern most region of Mindanao. In Basilan, the Malamawi and Lampinigan islands remain treasures that have yet to be discovered. 

Here are lovely photos of the two beaches courtesy of my cousin, Mr Conan Dans. 

 Malamawi's White Beach. 

Sunset at Malamawi

Lampinigan Beach

To get to these islands, we traveled by sea from the Port of Zamboanga to the City of Isabela in Basilan Province. There are options to travel either by slow boat, which is cheaper but will take some 1 and a half to 2 hour ride, or by fast craft at a slightly higher cost but at a shorter duration of 45 minutes to an hour. 

From the port area in Isabela, we proceeded to a small quay nearby where motorized "bancas" were docked for transport rental to Malamawi Island and Lampinigan Island. 

Small Quay for the motorized pumpboats

Malamawi is nearer and largely visible from the port. The ride only took 15 minutes to reach the island. As soon as we arrived, we were greeted by "habal-habal" drivers offering to drive us to the other end of the island where the beach is located. Habal-Habal is a transfigured motorcycle with a wooden plank strapped to the passenger seat to allow for more passengers. We went through a rough road which initially passed through several houses but later gave way to a panorama of nothing but coconut trees. I must admit that was very worrying but, when the road opened to a beach that was so pristine and wonderful, my apprehensions were somehow assuaged and set aside. 

The beach is rarely frequented by Tourists. Although there are a few cottages here and there, and a volleyball net can be seen set up in one area, the island remains mostly untouched. I would have to say that of the numerous beaches I have ever had the pleasure of visiting, none can boast as fine or white a sand, or as clear a water as the island of Malamawi. No exaggerations here, promise!

Lampinigan Island is farther than Malamawi. It can be reached in 45 minutes by a motorized banca. We requested to be brought to the beach directly so there was no need for habal-habal.  Instead we debarked straight to the coastline with our rented banca anchored to the shore. 

If Malamawi was a treat, Lampinigan Island was doubly so. The sands are even finer, the water even clearer, and the view simply a breathtaking piece of natural art. It is an island so detached from the outside world, not even a single cottage can be found to provide shade for a sunkissed traveller. Truly it is untouched in every sense of the word.

We couldn't stay very long in these islands though even if we wanted to. The most we could enjoy them were for a few memorable hours. We had to bid our adieus to them and the few CAFGU men who roamed their shores. 

It is truly saddening that because of valid threats to security, these lovely "no-go-zone" islands remain undiscovered by the rest of the world. 

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