The other side of Zamboanga City-A A +A
Saturday, February 23, 2013
ONE of the best things of being a journalist is that you get the best of both worlds as a privilege -- you can work and at the same time have some fun exploring different places and tourist attractions.
Recently, I got the opportunity to travel to Zamboanga City, the Latin City of the South, for a three-day media exchange familiarization tour courtesy of the Department of Tourism (DOT)-Zamboanga Peninsula Region and DOT-Northern Mindanao Region and Cebu Pacific.
Zamboanga used to be just a figment of my imagination. I see it as a place with an untouched nature, famous for its rich culture, preserved history and sumptuous delicacies that to me would be hard to explore due to the city’s negative image as a conflict area with unstable peace and order, which of course was tainted by malicious press releases in the past.
Aside from that negative impression, transportation going to the city was once a big problem since the only available way is through land trip – which means you have to endure at least a 12-hour bus ride from Cagayan de Oro.
But now, travelling to Zamboanga City has been made convenient as Cebu Pacific opened a route for tourists and businessmen who want to be in the Latin City in an instant.
From a grueling 12-hour bus ride, a trip to Zamboanga City is now down to just one hour and 15 minutes by plane.
Upon arriving at the airport in Zamboanga, we were greeted by the locals, talking in their unique dialect, which is Chavacano, a mixture of Spanish and native dialects that are still the predominant medium of communication in the city until today. They warmly welcomed us with the words “Bienvinidos Zamboanga,” which means “welcome to Zamboanga.”
DOT-Zamboanga Peninsula Region was our gracious host who led us to Orchid Garden Hotel, located just a few meters away from the airport.
The hotel served as our temporary home while we are away from our comfort zones, exploring the wonders of the city.
After we checked in our luggage, we did not waste time and immediately rode on the coaster for a city tour.
Ms. Icelle Gloria D. Borja, the city’s museum curator, explained to us the famous monuments and landmarks of the city and acquainted us with its rich history.
Our first stop was the marvelous works of art at the Zamboanga City hall.
Personally, I was amazed at the city hall’s architecture. The meticulous hands of its carpenters showed a perfect craftsmanship.
The city hall was built in 1905 and was completed two years after. It served as the seat of government for American Governors assigned in the Zamboanga Peninsula and until now, it was preserved and used as the office of the mayor. It is also considered as the historical landmark tourist attraction in the city.
Overlooking city hall was another landmark, the Plaza Pershing, a grand rotunda route named after the great general Pershing, and the great monument of Rizal that serves as the focal point of the city’s center.
The mix historic past depicting the solemn fortress of both history and democracy in the south with modern infrastructures made the place look more cosmopolitan.
Just a few walks away from the city hall is an old house of the Del Barrios where General Pershing once lived. There we saw his personal antique collections, which are preserved until now.
We next visited Fort Pilar, originally built by the Jesuit Priests to protect them from the invaders and pirates from Southern Mindanao and Jolo in the year 1635.
Through the concerted efforts of the DOT, the Department of Public Works and Highways, the National Museum and the City government of Zamboanga, Fort Pilar was declared as a national cultural treasure under Presidential Decree 260.
After having acquainted with the city’s rich history, it was time for us to satisfy our gastronomic needs. Our tourist guide led us to their famous resto, the Alavars. There we indulged in a sumptuous array of seafood and tasted the restaurant’s famous curacha crabs cooked with a Zamboangueño taste.
We later did a quick shopping at the city’s Barter Center located along Canular St.
At the Barter Center, my bargaining skills showed out as I was able to shop for the city’s famous batik bags, sarong, tubaw and other imported items at a lower price.
After doing shopping galore, we then visited Pasonanca Park.
Our day ended at Vinta Sailing located at Paseo del Mar, about 100 feet from Fort Pillar. In the area are several concrete benches with a long walkway near the shoreline or breakwater, overlooking Sta. Cruz Island, a place known for its pink sand.
As the night started to fall, the well-lighted Paseo Del Mar transformed into a great view as if welcoming the tourists and assuring them to just enjoy dining in and hanging out while seeing the dancing fountains sway to the beat of the music.
My second day at the city was very exciting as we got to visit Sta. Cruz Island, former graveyard of the Sama-Badjao of the sea gypsies.
The place appears creepy since some parts are the graveyards of the Badjaos. But the pink sand surrounded by blue waters and corals which obviously have not yet been explored make us feel we are in a paradise.
Sta. Cruz Island is indeed a place for relaxation and a perfect hideaway.
After hours of splashing in the water and exploring the place, we finally head back to the mainland on board a motorized boat for another adventure. This time, we are in for a windshield tour on the other side of the city.
Zamboanga is blessed with different species of fishes, which is among the cheapest that is why the city is considered as the Canning Capital of the country, as explained by our tour guide.
Our group went to a barangay called Ayala. No, it is not a mall. It is a progressive village where the canning factory for sardines such as Mega Sardines and the penal colony for prisoners serving life sentences are located.
We also stopped by at the Yakan weavers where we saw the beautiful craftsmanship of residents making table runners, bags, wallets and accessories for export. I bought some of their products as pasalubong.
Generally, our tour was very informative. Zamboanga City has great people, many beautiful beaches within the city proper all within reach and good food. The city may not be as modern as we think but it is one of the most beautiful cities in the country.
Our three-day tour certainly gave me fun memories. I did not only explore the beauty of the city but forged new ties of friendship with the locals.
Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on February 24, 2013.