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Friday, April 19, 2024

La Bella Ciudad de Zamboanga

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I remember when I was still in grade school, we were taught the song that goes, “Don’t you go, don’t you go to far Zamboanga…where you may forget your darling far away…”. I was intrigued by this as I tried to imagine what could be in that city that would make one forget his loved one.

Through the years, when I married into a prominent family from that city,  I discovered the many reasons that attract people to La Bella Ciudad de Zamboanga.  When I joined the campaign of my mother-in-law, that time she ran for and won as Mayor and, later, won a Congress seat, I had the chance to see all the barangays of the city while interacting with the friendly and charming residents.

It has been decades since I last visited the city, so when the Department of Tourism invited me to join the Philippine Experience Program featuring the Zamboanga Peninsula, I made sure I’d go, so that I could, once again, embrace the beauty of the city that once was a very important part of my life.

Our tour started with a visit to the city’s most popular tourist destination, the Fort Pilar Shrine, where I had the opportunity to pray and light candles in the image of La Virgen del Pilar.  We then proceeded to the famous Sta. Cruz island, well known for its pink coralline sand, and declared one of the best beaches in the world by National Geographic and media giant CNN.

DOT Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco (center) tries the delicacies infused with sardines at the WOW Sardines Festival

In the afternoon of that day, after freshening up and resting at our hotel, we were brought to the city’s Waterfront Walkway for a sample of the WOW Sardinas Festival. I just learned that Zamboanga is the Sardines Capital of the Philippines, producing 80 percent of the total canned sardines output of our country.

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The entire stretch of the waterfront RT Lim Boulevard was covered with stalls showing the many ways of using sardines in culinary specialties – for Lumpia, a sandwich,  for spaghetti and other forms of pasta, for canapes, for salads, and many others. It was a very interesting learning session for me. Now, I value sardines much more than I used to.

After feasting on what seemed like tons of sardine-infused culinary delights, we were treated to the iconic Regatta de Zamboanga, where 30 colorful vintas paraded on the bay in front of us.  I learned that the colorful sails on the vintas represent the harmony of the different tribes representing Mindanao’s culture and its past.

Students welcomed the Philippine Experience Program guests through a colorful performance at the Waterfront Walkway

That same evening, we were treated to an extravaganza, La Celebracion de Colores, a visual feast that bannered the costumes of the Tausug, Yakan, Sama and Subanen tribes.  The finale was even more colorful — a parade of elegant Mascotas, the traditional wear of the Zamboangueñas.  A Mascota is made up of 6 elements – corpiño (silk or cotton slip), candongga (panuelo), renggue (upper garment), sobre falda (tapis), cola (skirt), and enaguas (inner lining of the skirt). 

The following morning brought us to the Yakan Weaving Village where we saw a sample of the Tanyak-Tanyak Facial Art and a wide display of handwoven Yakan materials using traditional weaving techniques. I couldn’t stop myself from buying a very nice polo shirt with a colorful woven design in front. After our “shopping spree,” we had lunch at a restaurant known for its specialty, the Tiula Itum. This is a Tausug delicacy made of braised beef characteristically black due to the unique use of charred coconut meat.

We made a short stop at the famous Vista del Mar Resort, known for its Tree House accommodations. It has three fully equipped Tree Houses and nine casitas. This beautiful beach property facing Grande Sta. Cruz Island prides itself on purely organic food and amenities and has areas ideal for teambuilding sessions and other corporate activities.  It also has a large picnic area for families to avail of any day of the week.

A Zamboangueña flaunting an intricately designed six-piece Mascota

Of course, a much-awaited part of our itinerary came after lunch – the Canelar Barter Trade which is known to have low-cost items imported from Indonesia and Malaysia. Naturally, the calories we had for lunch gave us all the energy we needed for our shopping spree. Good thing this was our last activity before dinner as our vehicle could hardly accommodate all the giant shopping bags each of us had.

Dinner that evening was at the Palacio del Sur, a recent awardee in the ASEAN Awards for MICE Category and the only Halal-certified kitchen in Zamboanga Peninsula.

I’m glad I revisited Zamboanga. This short visit made me discover so many interesting qualities of the city and its people. More than ever, in my book it will always be La Bella Ciudad!


A teenager brings her new boyfriend home to meet her parents. They’re appalled by his haircut, his tattoos, and his piercings.
The girl’s mom whispers to her, “Dear, he doesn’t seem to be a very nice boy.” “Mom,” says the daughter, “If he wasn’t nice, would he be doing 500 hours of community service?”

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