Re-discovering Zesty Zamboanga!By Kara Santos
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Mention Zamboanga, and images of colorful vintas immediately come to mind. The striped sails of this traditional fishing vessel are said to represent the diverse culture and history of the Muslim community.
And indeed, “Asia’s Latin city” offers other interesting facets beyond its rich heritage and culture.
If you’ve already done the religious and cultural tour to age-old favorites like Fort Pilar, the National Museum, Zamboanga City Hall and Taluksangay Mosque, here are some new experiences you might want to try:
Sail on a vinta
It is probably the first item on the itinerary of every camera-wielding tourist: Find a vinta and get their photo taken next to it. But previous visitors to Zamboanga often found to their disappointment that vintas can only be seen during the Zamboanga Hermosa Festival held every October, or as decorative items in hotels.
These days, tourists will be glad to know that Vinta Sailing is offered at Paseo del Mar during weekends. The boats docked there are managed by fishermen who, after heading out to sea in the morning for the day’s catch, unfurl the colorful sails on their boats and, weather and wind conditions permitting, offer rides around the area.
Vinta sailing is offered from Friday to Sunday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Fees: P50/adult, P20/student and P15/child.
The pink sand beaches of Santa Cruz Island, just 15 minutes away from the city have been a popular attraction for day-trippers. But did you know that Zamboanga City is also home to a scenic waterfall not too far from the city?
Those who have a day to spare can spend it relaxing at Merloquet Falls. Located in the interior of Barangay Sibulao, some 78 kilometers east of the city, Merloquet Falls is a rising eco-tourism destination for nature-trippers. The lower level of the falls is not just pretty to look at, but great for relaxing too. Sitting on the mossy stones underneath the falls amidst a lush forest is the best form of hydrotherapy one could ask for.
The smaller upper level of the falls, which has a series of interesting jagged rock formations sloped diagonally, can be reached by a short, steep climb.
Entrance fee: P5 per person. Parking fees: P10 for motorcycles and P20 for cars and other vehicles.
Preserve indigenous culture
If you want to buy unique souvenirs that reflect the culture of Zamboanga City and support a good livelihood initiative, the best place to go is the Yakan Weaving Village on Upper Calarian road along the National Highway, where colorful embroidered fabrics are handwoven by members of the Yakan tribe.
Originally from the island of Basilan, many Yakan families now reside in this village and offer visitors a first-hand view of them working the weaving looms. The fabrics with the brightly hued designs and geometric patterns are sold as table runners, wallets, bags, accessories and other decorative items. Aside from fabrics, brassware and musical instruments, traditional weapons and other souvenir items are sold at some of the stores outside the village.
The best-selling souvenir items are the wallets and small coin purses made of Yakan fabric which cost from P25 to P100, while the bags range in price from P100 to P300, depending on the size and intricacy of the design.
Step back in time
On the second floor of a bank in the city, one can step back in time and feel how it was to live in the colonial era.
The BPI Museum Zamboanga contains a collection of period furniture and household wares that replicates the colonial character of the Spanish period trading house that the bank bought in the late 1920s from the heirs of Don Francisco Barrios.
The same building, which was once the official residence of Gen. John Pershing, has been occupied by the Bank of the Philippine Islands since 1912. The museum is an excellent showcase of period furniture, vintage photographs, traditional clothes, weapons and banking memorabilia.
The museum is open only during banking hours. Visits must be pre-arranged.
Savor the island flavors
The food most associated with Zamboanga City is curacha, coconut crabs that can only be found in the deep waters of Zamboanga.
The dish is served at the Alavar Seafood Restaurant, an institution here and a top destination for serious foodies in Zamboanga. Curacha is served with a delicious blend of coconut milk and spices at the restaurant located along Don Alfaro Street.
Green mango with bagon gata (a type of shrimp paste with coconut milk) and Zamboanga White, a creamy lychee shake are other house specialties.
If you’re on a budget, head for the satti places and streetside stalls that specialize in halal food. Satti is a local barbecue dish similar to the Malaysian satay. At John’s Place, you can have a filling breakfast or lunch of three satti sticks and sticky rice topped with a generous serving of thick spicy sauce for just P25.
The smallest order of curacha at Alavar Seafood Restaurant costs P850/kilo, so it’s best to dine here in a big group. You can buy frozen packs of Alavar special sauce as a take-home souvenir for P250/pack.
Soak in the night life
Very near the grand Fort Pilar are two destinations that have become favorite hangouts among the locals. Paseo del Mar is a park by the sea that was opened to the public in 2009. Paseo del Mar is reminiscent of Baywalk with its colorful lights, dancing fountain and vibrant night life. There’s a wide range of food stalls and resto-bars here where you can dine al fresco.
A branch of Alavar Seafood Restaurant here serves their best-selling grilled dishes and seafood platters (minus the curacha). Head to Bistro for pasta dishes, fusion food, affordable barkada platters and drinks. Pinoy Patio (a branch of Palmeras) also serves the most delectable Knickerbocker, a dessert of sliced fruits and gelatin topped with strawberry ice cream. More eateries and bars can also be found at Plaza del Pilar right in front of Fort Pilar, where musical events and concerts are sometimes held. •
For more travel and adventure stories, visit the author’s blog Travel Up at www.traveling-up.com.