SHORT but sweet. That’s the best way to describe my very first time in Asia’s Latin City—Zamboanga. Too short, in fact, that the travel time to the place was longer than the actual tour of the Chavacano-speaking city. Maybe the afforded time was the reason why it made the visit sweeter. Teasingly sweet that I knew I had to be back for more and add a few more “flower facts” in my “jambangan” of knowledge. (Jambangan translates to flowers in a vase, a speculated etymology of the city’s current name.)
The trip coincided with the BIMP-EAGA Joint Tourism Development Cluster Meeting between the neighboring nations of Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines (with Mindanao as the focus area), ergo I was going to explore the city alongside with the tourism bigwigs of the East ASEAN nations.
And for this tour, a good guide was in order. When you need one, request (or should I say, demand) for Milabel Richter. This woman’s personality is as rich as the city’s history itself making the guided tour more fascinating than it already is.
Here are interesting facts about Zamboanga that you may not know about.
1. Zamboanga was once the biggest city in area in the world. Not until the island of Basilan became a chartered city and was pulled out of Zamboanga City by virtue of Repulic Act No. 288. Zamboanga lost its claim to the title as the world’s biggest city in area in 1948.
2. One progressive area in the city is called Ayala.
Ayala is a coastline barangay, one of the 98 barangays in the city divided in only two districts— District 1 (West Coast) is comprised of 38 barangays while and District 2 (East Coast) has 60.
No, the place is not named after the prominent Manila family but after a village in Spain where the Spanish missionary priest who decided to stay came from (according to recorded history).
Maybe the name may connote an upper scale economic status since it bears the same name as the affluent center in Central Business District of Makati in Manila, and there may just be some truth to that. Ayala is one of the most progressive barangays in Zamboanga and holds four of the biggest processing plants for sardines. Ayala can boast of its high employment rate (well, until the close fishing season comes).
3. Zamboanga is the Sardines Capital of the Philippines.
This you may have heard of, if you are fond of sardines. But if you’re the corned beef and bacon for breakfast kind of guy, then this fact eludes you.
Nine out of the dozen sardines company in the Philippines are operating in Zamboanga, and 70% of the city's economy is attributed to sardine fishing and processing. The city’s location at the western tip of the Mindanao makes the area a natural docking point for vessels traversing the rich fishing grounds of the peninsula and the neighboring Sulu archipelago.
The canneries employ thousands of workers, process 1,000 tons of sardines daily, which are sold locally and exported internationally under different labels.
4. There is a coconut museum in Zamboanga.
Or a semblance of a museum.
One of the most important branches of the Philippine Coconut Authority, the Research and Development, is found in Zamboanga City. Within its premises in San Ramon is a genebank that holds one of the most important assemblage of local and foreign coconut ecotypes in the world. In its collection, there is a total of 262 accessions consisting of 107 talls, 53 dwarfs and 102 hybrid/line of coconuts.
The place will change your view of coconuts and become paranoid with the tree you have in your yard—is it what you really think it is? If you don’t want a stranger in your household, have its gene tested and know the pedigree. You may earn bragging rights if what you have is a rare variety.
5. The mystery of Recodo.
There is this barangay in Zamboanga called Recodo also known as the Ship Building and Repair Barangay. At any day of the year, there is at least a dozen ships dry docked in the area.
Did you know that this place was formerly called “La Caldera”? Presumably because this coastal barangay is situated in a “caldero” (cauldron)-shaped cove. But somewhere along its history, the name was changed to Recodo. How the name came to be no one seem to know. Mysterious.
4. The most inexpensive 18-hole golf course membership in the world is in this city.
Well, at least in the country it is.
Golf is one of the most expensive sports. A complete golf set of good quality can cost an arm and a leg, and a membership (or golf shares) in a country club will cost you the other set of arm and leg. Which body part you want to give up to pay off the umbrella girl, the caddy or the golf cart rental and the booze at the end of the 18th hole after each game is up to you.
But playing your sport in Zamboanga will save you one set of your anatomy because to play in the 1910 golf course founded by Gen. John J. Pershing, one of the oldest country club in the country, will cost you peanuts, “With an annual membership of only P3,500, it’s the cheapest golf course to play in the world,” said Ms. Richter. Now that’s a steal. This means you can tip the umbrella girl and caddy more generously or have more bottles to drink after a game.
5 Satti is the (un)official breakfast in Zamboanga.
Satti is considered to be the most famous Muslim dish in Zamboanga. The native cuisine consists of a “puso” (rice cooked in coconut leaves woven in a shape of a diamond) and paired with choice/s of barbecued beef, chicken or chicken liver in small bamboo skewers served in a deep plate and poured with a hefty serving of satti sauce, a thick sauce spiked with chili.
With chili (know for its various health benefits) as a main ingredient of satti, the spicy and best-enjoyed-when-hot dish makes for a perfect meal to jumpstart the day (stalls usually open at 4 AM). In Zamboanga, Jimmy’s Satti along Pilar Street is a very popular joint for this specialty.
6 Zamboanga has a very, VERY exclusive residential island
The Sta. Cruz Islands are not only famous for its pink sand beach, it is also the most exclusive residential island in the country, perhaps even in the world. Anyone can visit this very popular destination in Zamboanga, just coordinate with the Philippine Tourist Authority in the city, but to move and live in the island is prohibited.
By the lagoon of the Great Sta. Cruz Island you’ll find the “exclusive village” of the Sama Bangingi Tribe, the only group that can live in the islands. No migrants allowed, even if blood related, not even if you have the spending capacity (it’s not for sale anyway). Only through childbirth by the present inhabitants will the headcount in the island increase.
So if you want to know how it is to wake up to a beautiful sunrise, glistening pristine blue waters with waves gently rolling on pink sand, pray that your next life will be reincarnated via a Sama Bangingi mother in the Sta. Cruz Island.
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