Monday, April 11, 2016

BASILAN: A Day of Bliss and Disaster

Basilan, the largest island of Sulu archipelago, is located off the coast of Zamboanga City. Interestingly, Basilan is included among ARMM provinces but its capital, Isabela City belongs to Region 9 (Zamboanga Peninsula). So provincial affairs are being held in Isabela City while regional affairs are held in Lamitan City. The two cities, which are 45 minutes apart, interest tourists with its countless natural attractions. Like other islands in the country, Basilan is beautifully crafted and is worth a visit.


Before starting my tale, let me clarify my post title first. It might sound prejudicial and discriminatory but it is never intended that way. BLISS, because of fun and happiness that filled my very short stay, added the people's hospitality. DISASTER, because of a certain unique event that might happen anytime, anywhere. And it is never related to peace and order condition of the beautiful island. I DON'T MEAN TO SCARE YOU. Accidents do happen, even in the comfort of our own home.


It was my second trip to Basilan, this time unplanned.

Early morning, I just arrived in Zamboanga port via ferry boat concluding an overnight trip from Jolo, Sulu. I spent the past two nights in a boat to and from Sulu, all sleepless. Being in Zamboanga by 5:00 AM is too early to wait for a 7:00 PM flight to Davao. Doing nothing in the city the whole day will surely be boring.


Straight from the boat, I headed to a ticket booth marked Isabela City, Basilan. I decided to spend a day in the island while waiting for my evening flight. I joined the long queue of men and women clothed in Muslim outfit. Still far from being served, I saw another queue of very few passengers. I tried to ask about their destination.

"Lamitan City, another place in Basilan"


I shifted to that smooth queue and had my ticket right away. I didn't know about the place but knowing it's still in Basilan made me feel good.

We docked at Lamitan port in an hour. Not knowing where to go and what to do started my fear. I saw people taking tricycle so I also took mine. I asked the driver to take me to the city hall.


At the city hall, my baggage was opened for check up. I was then directed to Tourism office. Tourism Officer, Corazon T. Arreola, was so kind and hospitable. I was given a snack food said to be specialty of the place. I was even introduced to Mayor Rosita U. Furigay and Vice Mayor Roderick H. Furigay. I was so conscious of my souring smell. Spending the past two sleepless nights in a boat deprived me of my opportunity to take a bath.

Tourism officer Cora Arreola, Trekero, Mayor Rose Furigay and her staff


Since I had no idea of the place's destinations, Ms. Arreola introduced what Lamitan has in store. I chose to visit Bulingan Falls. I then asked where to hire a habalhabal but she said she'll be requesting a vehicle to take me and her team to the falls. She also brought along a landscaper to survey the place for further beautification. A packed lunch was ordered for the team including me. Ms. Arreola knows the place so well and the destinations. She can even guide a tourist. So typical of a tourism officer. One of her staff, Yazer Lauh, was actively assisting her on our entire tour.
Friendly staff of Tourism Office


Bulingan Falls, our first stop, is situated in a forested interior of Lamitan City. It cascades 15 feet high on a wonderful stair of mysteriously piled rocks in almost uniform rectangular shape. How could nature engineer such stair is truly a mystery.

 Local government has been working out for its road development. They develop the place into a prime tourist destination. Cottages exist in the vicinity. The pool area is concreted to block more water for swimming. But the cascades and the well carved rocks remain as is, thus, natural beauty preserved.


After taking lunch at the falls, the team brought me to Calugusan Beach and Palm Beach. Almost every island in the country has beautiful beaches. Basilan has also white beaches and clear waters.

Our tour ended by 3:00 pm with a target to catch the last ship traveling back to Zamboanga City. So the team accompanied me to Lamitan port. My short 6-hour daytour in Lamitan was filled with fun, wonderful experiences and superb hospitality I'm gonna cherish and be grateful for forever. While on the way, goodbyes and thank yous flooded in.



When we reached Lamitan port, no one was around except the guard who announced "No trip to Zamboanga because the vessel's engine misbehaved". Panic rushed all over my system. I couldn't spend a night in Basilan. I had to catch my 7:00 pm flight. 

Another port (and more popular) in Basilan is in Isabela. The team rushed me to public terminal to take a bus to Isabela and catch the last trip going to Zamboanga. Isabela is 45 minutes away from Lamitan. Would I catch the last trip? I felt everything was in rush except for the bus I was on.    


Panic intensified when I arrived at Isabela port by 4:30 pm. A large number of passengers crowded outside the gate. I rushed myself in and found out that the gate was already padlocked. The last trip vessel had already gone. There was a small fast craft but fully booked. I vied for a title "CHANCE PASSENGER" along with many passengers outside the gate. My hope vanished when the vessel roared away. 


One frustrated passenger hinted to hire a pumpboat from fishers living in stilts surrounding the port. We had to form a group of ten. The price was not bad, just P50 higher than the regular fare. There were 5 of us who dove in to the idea. The fisher led us to his boat and there we waited for other 5 passengers he might recruit. At 5:15 pm, we completed the pack, some members were still in doubt and haggling. Then, finally, we were ready to go. 


Our boat started to cross along houses on stilts. Among the houses, one caught my glance--- the balcony with new shiny roof, evidently new. And our boat stopped right below that balcony with bamboo flooring. The boatman ordered gas for fuel. A man with 20 liter container drew nearer to us and handed the fuel. Many of his housemates followed, women and children standing and watching us.


In a matter of seconds, I heard some screaming and shouting. I found myself drooping the lowest I could enough not to be hit by the roof that leaned over our semi-capsized boat. I was among those seated at the center so the roof fell right on us. Some jumped on the water but I alone was left. Good thing I was left untouched but I could not move out. Someone asked if I was alright down there. I laughingly declared I was okay. Haha! To my rescue came other passengers and pulled me out. The shame that covered me was overcome by horror. I saw my fellow passengers crying, some struggling in the water. Children, women and men from the fallen house were swimming and crying. Neighborhood then came to rescue. 

All men passengers and men nearby collaborated to free our boat from the very heavy fallen roof. We freed it after many attempts, some men fell on the water as our boat almost capsized. 

Looking back at the fall, I grinned trying to comfort myself with a thought "A new, shiny roof, indeed, is not a guarantee of a strong structure."

When everything went normal, I noticed everyone on houses becoming our audience. About to go, some passengers insisted to withdraw their trip and get their payment back. The boat owner would not return their money since the boat was set to travel with that number of passengers at that packaged amount. The argument lasted for sooo long. The payment of withdrawing passengers was refunded in half. One Tausug lady passenger uttered "It's a premonition! It's an omen". 

OH, MEN! So much time wasted. We departed Basilan by 6:00 pm. Still in shock, knees still shivering. "Would I catch my 7:00 pm flight?" has become my greatest worry.


In the middle of the trip, waves sprinkled us with seawater. Drizzle also showered upon us. So uncomfortably and sticky wet, I was so irked of my own smell--- combo of heat, sweat, seawater, drizzle, oil and what else? I was so uncomfortable. Remember, I haven't bathed for two days. Whew!  


We were approaching the port of Zamboanga by 7:00 pm. I just had to wave goodbye to a plane which just took off. I was sure that was my supposed flight. Mixed smell and emotions. Disheartened, dismayed but delighted of the fact that I was safe and sound. And I was terribly hungry. I addressed my latter feeling at a nearby eatery. 


I hired a tricycle to Giwan Terminal. I took an aircon bus bound to Cagayan de Oro. I changed clothes but sadly I couldn't change my smell. I just concealed it with rubbing alcohol. And I felt sorry for my seatmate whom I might have stung. I somehow managed that shame by sleeping.  

We departed Zamboanga at 8:30 pm and arrived CDO at 8:00 am. Another 3 hours took me back home to Malaybalay City.

I finally had the chance to see the bathroom. 



From Zamboanga City, boats travel to Isabela and Lamitan as early as 6:00 am. The last trip from both ports going back to Zamboanga is 4:00 pm. 

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