Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Santa Cruz Island of Zamboanga: Pink Sand Beaches of the South

Wazzup Pilipinas!

It's now undoubtedly summer time in the Philippines even though it somewhat rained a few days ago. You can feel the extreme heat everywhere you go. The air-conditioning in public buses cannot cope with how hot it is right now that you'll sweat it out profusely if you commute in the middle of the day.

I would often bring a spare shirt everytime, and would take a bath before and after the daily trips. If only I could shower while commuting, I would do it just to get rid of this sticky sweaty feeling. I would do everything in exchange for the opportunity to dip in a pool, or better yet, I would trade my soul for a swim in the southern seas - specifically the pink sand coralline beaches of the Great Santa Cruz Island of Zamboanga.

The color of the sand comes from the pulverized red organ pipe coral from eons of surf erosion mixed with the white sand. There is a smaller island nearby called Little Santa Cruz Island but it's a guarded military installation.  Illegal coral reef mining has wiped out most of the Great Santa Cruz Island's vast and beautiful coral reef population but the coral reef at the Little Santa Cruz Island is still healthy, and could become a possible source for restoration of the big island.

You need to visit the City Tourism Office at Paso Del Mar if you want to visit the island. In our case since we are guest of the Department of Tourism Region 9, arrangements were already made prior to the trip.

For regular rates, the boat rental will cost you Php 1,000 per boat trip (back and forth) for a maximum of 10 people. You'll need to pay Php 100 per excess person in your group but I wouldn't recommend overcrowding the boat.

There is also an entrance fee of Php 20 and a terminal fee of Php 5 per person.

DOT Regional Director Mary June Bugante was there to join us on our trip to the Grand Santa Cruz Island.

Some of the foreign delegates who joined the 9th Philippine Bird Festival also were present that day.

Orange lifejackets hang along the entrance towards the boats waiting to take us to the island.

Motorized boats are now pulled over near the docks to accept passengers inside.

Participants wearing their lifejackets already proceed to boarding the boats

I was surprised to see a young boy manning the front of the boat. I actually interviewed him and learned that he, along with his father and other brother were running the boat. He is studying in grade school. There was no classes that day being a weekend.

My companions at our boat include our lovely DOT host, my companions from different magazines and newspapers, and some of the foreign delegates.

We've reached the island approximately after 20 minutes. You can see the decorative vinta sails from afar intentionally put there to add color to the island. We were actually the very first ones to board a boat but it so happens that the boat we chose was the slowest. Later we learned that the boat was running only on one engine unlike the other boats who went ahead of us because they were able to run faster.

The boy was getting ready to climb out and get on shore

Our DOT Regional Director poses with all smiles for the camera

The shoreline was lengthy and very convenient for a long walk along the beach. The sands were cool to the feet. You will feel it if you take off your slippers or shoes.

The big island is inhabited by a few people called Badjaos, known as sea nomads or gypsies of Sulu Sea, but there's still no electricity so it is disappointing we could not do an overnight stay as there are no accommodations available. However, it would have been fun to camp out and light a small fire, or better yet, a bonfire if only they will permit. But too bad because as of this writing it is still not allowed to even stay there for the night.

Just some of the media team who were invited to visit Zamboanga

There were some women sellers in the island with all sorts of souvenir item for sale. They have these colorful umbrellas per stall. I am not really sure if they are there everyday or only when there are activities scheduled for the island.

We were actually there as a part of the festivities of Dia De Zamboanga and both local and foreign guests from all over have come to joined the 9th Philippine Bird Festival celebrations.

We were treated to a tour of the city, and part of the tour was a trip to the Santa Cruz island.

Buying a few souvenirs to bring back home

Bargain conscious? Be prepared to haggle for the price. But if I were you, be generous since the sellers here do not often get a sale since visits to the island are very rare.

 Black pearl in matte color anyone? There are earrings, necklaces, and other accessories available.

 Adorable shells with various designs can be cute souvenirs.

Bracelets are also good as gifts to lady friends. Grab a few to bring smiles to the faces of your loved ones who couldn't be there with you.

Hungry, we had some of these tamal or tamales as snacks before setting forth to a tour at the heritage burial ground nearby. The tamal is like suman with sotanghon filling.

There were also other snacks available but this was the only one that caught my attention as something I've seen for the very first time.

Meet our island tour guide who will take us to the burial grounds of their ancestors. Considered a heritage zone you are not allowed to tour the site without a knowledgeable guide. The inhabitants on the island are mostly from the Sama Bangingi tribe with some Yakans, Tausugs, and Sama Badjaos.

On our way to the burial grounds. Police officers and guards assisted us during our tour.

The site was all filled with dry leaves but if you look closer you can clearly see that it was an abandoned cemetery. But our tour guide said some of the folks still visit the site on certain occasions.

 The dates on the tombstones date back as early as the 60s

There were all sorts of wooden symbolic carvings and decors on top of each burial spot like boats and images of people. There were also something like tattered tents to provide shade that were already old, soiled and damaged.

They say dying just takes you traveling to another place. Probably why there seems to be some boat-like objects made out of wood to symbolize usage to their journey towards another realm. There were even other spots that have bottles of sodas filled with water, or probably liquor, with an explanation from the guide that says they were probably fond of drinking when they were still alive thus their relatives made that offering.

Back at our cottage, we were glad  to see a bilao of alimasag waiting for us. Assistant Secretary Art Boncato was enjoying the crabs so much, we had to try them out ourselves.

Cottages at the island can be rented for as low as Php 100 and high as Php 500. But I couldn't confirm if this price is still current as we were there on a sponsored trip.

They were actually freshly catched and cooked for us. There were a couple of fishermen who tried to sell us a net full of these crabs for a certain price. But he will be delivering it cooked and ready for eating already.

Also available were these seafood delicacies that were actually cheap. If my memory serves me right it only Php 150 for everything.

Bienvenidos Ls Islas de Sta. Cruz!

My stay at the island was awesome. If you were not yet so convinced with the pink sand, you will enjoy swimming in the warm calm water. Some of us went swimming while others tried to take a vinta boat ride. You can also go skin/scuba diving, beachcombing, and sunbathing.

DOT Regional Director Mary June Bugante, DOT Assistant Secretary Art Boncato, and some foreign guests were able to visit the coral reefs located at another part of the island somewhere near the mangrove. They took photos of the magnificent images worth saving and maintaining for tourism efforts.

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  1. hi po na mention po ba sa inyo ng tour guide nyo na yung cementeryo ay sa mga muslim?yung mga designs po kc ng curvings sa wood ay simbolo kung ito ba ay babae o lalaki..

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