Now it can be said that ours is a truly marvelous country that is rich in resources far more beautiful than the other countries that I have already visited. Touring the Once Islas in Zamboanga City has made me realize that many parts of the 7,100 islands in the country are still pristine and one should treasure this, keep it this way forever.
This tour package is new to Zamboanga City according to blogs. Evidence shows this in the fairly new carved wooden planks that mark the islands. The bamboo huts and tables are about three years old. The bancas are still brightly painted and life vests in good order. Similar to the banca rides in Hundred Islands, these ferry the tourists to the ones that have wide enough beaches and facilities.
This tour begins at the barangay hall of Panubigan in Zamboanga del Sur which is one hour away from the heart of Zamboanga City. We log in as the first protocol and board the motorized bancas in sets of five. A fair warning is that toilet facilities at the jump off point are wanting.
The first stop of the boat ride was Siromon Island. The tour guide made an attempt to tell us of the meaning of the name, but this was a brief stop. The white sand beach was the most attractive thing about this place. They placed sails of the vintas for photos and this also had elevated huts to view the beachfront or for the soft breeze. The waters that surrounded it were clear. There were turtle egg net shelters in some parts. The tour guide said this allows the eggs to hatch and is kept away from the lizards that eat them.
The tour guide was helpful with snapshots and his skill at taking good ones. This reminded me of our photographer at the Balete tree in Baler. Their manipulation of the panoramic app in cellphones makes for marvelous memories.
The next island was Baung-Baung, translations say this means barren. It is perhaps because of the rock formations and the hardened corals that are found in most parts that give this its name.
In this island, a natural infinity pool is part of the panorama and the main attraction, of course, we should have gone swimming here but didn’t take the time to do it. Instead, we were given one young coconut each for rehydration after some two hours touring. After drinking the coconut juice directly from the hole in the fruit, the sweetest and tenderest coconut meat was to be scooped out with the natural chip from the same coconut.
Here, was where we took the time to do jump shots on the beach and walk on the big rocks. We were warned that the coming high tide towards noon would require us to board the bancas on the small pier. Indeed, we had to wade through the water and trek up on the rocks on the other side of the beachto get to the dock. It sounds scary but the water hardly rose four inches, it was just that the bancas would be harder to push out that made us change course.
Lunch time brought us to Bisaya-Bisaya Island, the term means whatever, I think. This was where the feast from the riches of the sea was ours laid out in the tradition of the cadets at Philippine Military Academy, a boodle fight. The twist was that the rice was steamed in banana leaf, and we could have a woven basket plate to use lined with the banana leaf from the steamed rice. The crabs were delightful, squid a little chewy, and the grilled tuna nice and firm. These from the bounties of the island itself. We hear that Bisaya-bisaya Island has a pond where these are kept and harvested. The bananas were unusually different from those in the North, a little richer or possibly creamier? The mangoes were sour but with the shrimp paste cooked with coconut milk and chilies the sweet, salty, and sour flavors were perfect with crab, squid, and tuna.
The steamed rice was as I enjoy it, sticky and soft. Of course, seaweeds, tomatoes, and cucumbers were part of the fare too. The chilies were something super spicy and we found out that these were grown on the island too. Of course, we will try to grow them in these mountains.
The rains came in at the same time as the mountains, twoish. We were back at the port in good time. The five hours we took for the tour was an exciting revelation of a beautiful part of our country that is still protected from plastic and emissions. We hope it remains for another couple of decades, if not forever.