WE ALL heard about Tawi-Tawi, but have you ever considered putting it in your travel list amid all the conflict stories attached with its name? If not, let me tell you six interesting things about this pure paradise and, yes, you’ll thank me for this.
1.Virgin, unspoiled islands
One of Tawi-Tawi’s beautiful islands is Panampangan Island in Sapa-Sapa town. I’ve been to many bucket list-worthy islands in the country but this island is remarkable, impossible for one to forget. It is an island of beyond descriptive words.
Just 30 minutes to an hour away (via speedboat or boat) from the capital town of Bongao, this island has the longest sandbar in the Philippines, stretching over three kilometers long or 3,128.37 meters (m).
The island is picture-perfect. Its clear waters appear to be a glass mirror to the white clouds and blue calm skies.
Panampangan is located at the northernmost extremities of Celebes Sea.
You can’t visit Tawi-Tawi without hiking one of the province’s highest peaks – Bud Bongao Eco Park. It stands 342 m high, rising proud and tall like a sentinel safeguarding its natural resources.
To non-hikers, worry not, as the way to its peak is already well-paved.
The best part in hiking Bud Bongao, apart from the overlooking sceneries of vast land and seas from above, is interacting with the friendly monkeys at the sidelines on your way to the peak. Just make sure you bring enough bananas or food for them to enjoy!
3.Sheik Karim al Makdum Mosque
Simunul, another town in Tawi-Tawi, is known for being home to the first and oldest mosque in the country – the Sheik Karim al Makdum Mosque.
Built in 1380 at Bohe Indangan, the mosque is named after an Arabian missionary Sheik Makdum, who introduced Islam to our country. His remains are buried in the mosque’s vicinity.
The original structure was destroyed by a fire and is now replaced with a concrete mosque, which houses the pillars of the original mosque. When we visited the place, there’s an ongoing renovation of the structure.
The mosque has indeed colorful history, the very reason why it was declared a National Historical Landmark.
This November 7, the Muslim community will celebrate the 637th Sheikh Karimul Makhdum Day.
It is best to visit Tawi-Tawi on September 25 because the province celebrates the Agal-Agal (Seaweeds) Festival.
Known as the seaweeds capital of the Philippines and Carrageenan capital of the world, Tawi-Tawi honors its bountiful harvest of seaweeds and showcases the rich history and culture of the Sama, Badjao, Jama Mapun and Tausug of southern Philippines through the festival.
The festival is the highlight of the festivities coinciding with the Kamahardikaan Tawi-Tawi, the founding anniversary of the province.
It is said that around 80 percent of Tawi-Tawians earn a living from seaweed farming.
While walking around Sanga-Sanga in Bongao and in another town, Sibutu, it is impossible for one to pass without noticing the large ships built by the locals. I was able to talk with one craftsman and found out that it takes around one year to build one wooden Prahus ship, all by hand.
Most of the workers were Sama-Bajau. Shipbuilding and craftsmanship are some of the few things unique and remarkable in Tawi-Tawi.
While exploring the province, one thing that caught my attention is seeing people, mostly women, with burak on their faces.
Burak is a natural sunblock made by the Sama-Bajau and is beneficial for the skin. It is applied to the face as a wet paste and dries minutes after, creating a white or yellowish coating.
I was unable to witness the process of making this sun blocking cream but I learned that it is made by manually pounding rice and turmeric together into a paste.
My four-day stay in the province of Tawi-Tawi is never enough to explore and experience its total beauty and unique culture but it sure is one of the most memorable trips I had so far. I’ll make way to revisit the wonders nestling in Tawi-Tawi.
Ooops, you are welcome!