Zamboanga in western Mindanao isn’t on anyone’s normal travel wish list, not even to many Filipinos. While it is full of pristine beaches and prolific marine life being a peninsula surrounded by Sulu Sea, Celebes Sea, and Moro Gulf, it is also famous by constantly appearing on violence related news in Mindanao. This is due to its close proximity with the radical Basilan Island group who are infamous for the muslin rebels in constant conflict with the government.
Of course, this is the very reason why I jumped at the opportunity, when one of my good friend Neil extended an invitation to visit his hometown in Zamboanga City.
It’s a 2 hour flight from Manila and it feels a little bit like getting into a foreign country. For one, the Muslim influence here is more evident than anywhere in Luzon or Visayas, beginning with the Islam inspired architecture of the airport. There are more women in hijab, less than Indonesia, but more than Manila. And probably one of the most unique in Zamboanga City is their dialect - chavacano – which is a merry mixture of Malay grammar and unconjugated Spanish verbs. Malay because Filipinos are of Malay descent and closest geography-wise and Spanish because we were ruled for 333 years.
Upon arrival, we were met by our host, the fabulous Que family and were immediately hauled into a van signifying the the official commencement of our road trip and food trip of western Zamboanga! Our short visit was packed with activities to match the amazing race, and food supply that not even Rio Carnaval Buffet in Las Vegas could match. Literally, we were fed 8x a day, at least. In fact, perhaps even the least grand, boutique hotel in Las Vegas could learn a little from the smorgasbord of unusual and delicious treats that these islands have to offer. I don't think anywhere does feasting quite like this. Although nowhere in the Philippines has quite made the list of Top 10 Cities for Foodies yet, who decides on these Top 10 things anyway?
Our first stop: El Guapito Cove, currently a secret hideaway but soon to be a scuba diving resort. This is where we had our first grand feast!! Salivate(!) with sample of food we had, beginning with a WHOLE lechon, just for us.