I caught myself gasping for air as the small boat wades through the calm sea. It must have been excitement or nostalgia, I couldn't tell exactly. In front of me, I see patterns of hues fluttering and dancing with the gentle sea breeze. And as the afternoon sunlight slightly touches my skin, the great feeling of riding a vinta never escaped me.
You know that feeling when you come face to face with one of your childhood dreams? You relive the sensation of wanting that to happen? That's how it has been for me since I started traveling around the Philippines. The feeling of excitement never gets old whenever I come close to a scenic spot that I have so raved for and seen straight from the pages of my Sibika and Kultura books back in grade school.
And experiencing the vintas of Zamboanga was definitely not an exception. The sight of the sail with assorted vertical color which is in the center stage of Zamboanga seascape lingered. So in my recent visit to Mindanao, riding one of the vintas was on top of my must-do list.
|Aboard one of the vintas|
Along with my perpetual travel buddies, Cha and Janet, we arrived in Zamboanga on a humid August afternoon. Upon touchdown, first thing I noticed was the unique design of the airport which deviates from the usual terminal buildings I saw around the country. It's one of the airport terminals where you would want to be photographed in because of the design of the facade.
|Zamboanga International Airport Terminal|
Zamboanga City is known as Asia's Latin City. Nowhere in the Philippines have the imprints left by Spain after its three-century rule ever more felt. From the local language to unique heritages to its many quaint structures, there's always this Hispanic influence comfortably blending in. As the only city in the Philippines and in Asia that speaks the Spanish-derivative Chavacano (60 percent Espanol and 40 percent native words), this old city is what they call "a place plucked from the very heart of Spain."
|Zamboanga City Hall|
As what we usually do on our trips, we wasted no time and immediately hit the road in search for the places worth visiting.
Here's the summary of the things I would recommend doing, seeing, eating while in Zamboanga City:
Chasing Cascades - See the stunning Merloquet Falls in Barangay Sibulao and Nancy Falls in La Paz. From the city proper, it takes one hour ride and fifteen minutes trek to reach Merloquet Falls. Nancy Falls is accessible in a two-hour drive.
|The tiered and delicate cascade of Merloquet Falls is hidden in a forested area away from the busy Zamboanga City|
Pink Island – I did not get to step on this island since we chose to go to Basilan (read my Basilan story here). But I heard a lot about it and I hope to visit it someday.
Go to Sta Cruz Island and lounge in its pink coral sand (creamy fine sand mixed with red pulverized coral). It can be easily reached via 15 minute boatride. It is advisable to coordinate with the Department of Tourism (near the gate of Paseo del Mar) since they are the ones arranging transportation and providing military escorts. The boats going to the island are docked at Paseo del Mar, near Fort Pilar.
Ride a Vinta – For only P30 per person, you could go sailing in one of the colorful vintas (local sailing boat) near Paseo del Mar. These vintas are available only during weekends and the sail starts at 4p.m.
Sunset and Food Trip – Head to Paseo del Mar during sunset and experience food coma by trying out some of the local favourites including the famous Knickerbocker (P65), Baolo, and Satti. This place has stalls that serve locals meals, and even street food. There are benches along the pathway where visitors could spend a cool afternoon near the sea and throw in coins to the Badjaos paddling near the breakwater. Paseo del Mar is about 100 feet away from Fort Pilar.
|The magnificent sunset at Paseo del Mar|
Don't Miss the Museum – Fort Pilar houses the National Museum. It has wide collections of cultural memorabilia and paintings which could be a good reference for the history of the people of Zamboanga.
|Inside Fort Pilar|
|The National Museum at Fort Pilar|
Relax in a Park – Spend a relaxing afternoon at Pasonanca Park and just rest underneath the lush trees, and be surrounded by flowering plants and shrubs around the park. It is about 10-minute jeepney ride from the city proper. You can also explore the Boy Scout camp site where you can see the tee pees and the tree house.
|The Boy Scout Teepee at Pasonanca|
Visit Religious Sites - Outside the eastern wall of Fort Pilar is a shrine dedicated to Our Lady of the Pillar, the patroness of the city. Tradition has it that Virgin Mary made apparitions in the city on December 6, 1734 to a soldier and on September 21, 1897 which according to witnesses she was attempting to save the city from a tsunami.
|Marian Shrine at Fort Pilar|
Another religious site worth visiting is the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
As I was mulling over the things I liked about the trip, one of the thoughts I had is the idea that there is no special reason to fear visiting Zamboanga City. While there is apparent diversity in religion and tradition among the people there, peace is still very much around the city. And I hope peace will remain there in years to come.