Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The beauty that is Bongao

The islands of Sulu and Tawi Tawi are almost always in the news. It seems that from the mainstream media's viewpoint, any of the islands beyond Zamboanga is strife country. So why did we venture here despite the bad press? Maybe it's a strange fascination with Mindanao. Surely, the country's second-largest island group hides beauty that seems to be gilded with danger. Maybe it's also an attraction to something distant and remote -- after all, it is said that Tawi Tawi got its name from the Malay word, "jaui" which means far.

Coming here, we wanted to look past the headlines and be more open-minded. so after nearly 17 hours on the sea, we finally landed in Bongao, the capital of Tawi Tawi. It was rainy. we were hungry. Oh, we were just eager to freshen up before finding something to make productive use of the afternoon.

The friendly people of the Tourism Council met with us as we were settling in at the Beachside Inn. We were in touch with them months ago but we thought it was just for mere formality. as it turned out, they were intent on taking us around.One morning, we surveyed the town from the Kapitolyo which is nestled on a hill. In the early hours of daybreak, the town appears a picture of tranquility (save for the many joggers who use the steep hill to test their mettle and perhaps work up an appetite). Bongao looks beautiful enveloped in the mists.

When the fog lifted, the lay of the land glimmered in the warming sunlight -- the Bajau village to the north and Mt. Bongao to the west. Ahh, this is indeed a beautiful place to be in.Visitors' info: The Tawi Tawi Tourism Council warmly welcomes guests, ready to provide assistance and coordination work. Contact Salvacion Rescadora, Provincial Tourism Officer at 0910.6716367 or Sirikit Arip, Supervising Tourism Operation Officer at 0919.4325553. Transpo precautions: Some motorcycle drivers we rode with early on charged us up to five times the normal rate so beware. Rides within town proper costs P20/pax. Outside, negotiate to get reasonable rates. Fuel prices in Tawi Tawi cost almost double than that of Manila prices which may explain the overcharging of some drivers.


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