The Deep South

Cebu Living - - Travel -

Tawi-tawi is the Philip­pines' south­ern-most prov­ince and is a splen­did chain of 107 is­lands and islets. To most Filipinos, Tawi-tawi is as mys­ti­fy­ing as folk­lore, and as seem­ingly in­ac­ces­si­ble as the tallest moun­tains. But un­be­knownst to many, this en­chant­ing mini-ar­chi­pel­ago is within reach to any­one who cares to visit.

The town of Bon­gao, Tawi-tawi's cap­i­tal, is a fas­ci­nat­ing blend of the old and the new. Old tra­di­tions are still very much ob­served by the towns­folk, while new tech­nol­ogy and all its trap­pings are wel­comed and have be­come an in­te­gral part of the peo­ple's life­styles. Trav­el­ers will surely en­joy what this prov­ince has to of­fer when it comes to the pur­suit of ad­ven­ture and dis­cov­ery.

AC­COM­MO­DA­TION

For tourists who want to visit Bon­gao, Air­phil Ex­press flies there four times a week from Zamboanga City; and an­other air­line is set to fly the same route within the year. There are quite a few small ho­tels on Bon­gao, but to ex­pe­ri­ence is­land life to the fullest, stay at the Beach­side Inn. It sits on an ex­pan­sive prop­erty fronting an im­pres­sive coast­line, and bounded to the west by the enig­matic Bon­gao Peak.

Beach­side Inn has 20-odd air-con­di­tioned rooms that, while far from be­ing deluxe ac­com­mo­da­tions, will suit the needs of most trav­el­ers. The ho­tel also has func­tion rooms, and a restau­rant that's open from 7am to 10pm. The best part, how­ever, is that the beach across the prop­erty is ac­tu­ally a scuba diver's par­adise.

Con­tact: (68)268-1446. Room rates: P700-1,000 per night.

SCUBA DIV­ING

Blessed with miles upon miles of white sand beaches and pris­tine coral reefs, and sur­rounded by the Celebes Sea, Tawi-tawi is home to a host of marine life. There are about a dozen dive sites that have been es­tab­lished by the Tawi-tawi Divers Club around Bon­gao and San­gaSanga is­lands alone. The other is­lands of­fer al­lur­ing un­der­wa­ter ex­plo­ration op­por­tu­ni­ties as well.

One must-dive spot is the Pahut Plane Wreck. Sit­ting at a depth of 60 feet off the coast of Brgy. Pahut is a WWII fighter plane that is now home to var­i­ous coral, squir­rel fish and other sea dwellers. Vis­i­bil­ity is crys­tal clear, although the cur­rent can get rather en­er­getic in that area.

The dive site be­hind the Sanga-sanga air­port is also highly rec­om­mended by lo­cals. It fea­tures a deep wall, an ex­plo­sion of coral for­ma­tions, pelagic fish, manta rays, and even friendly marine tur­tles.

For more ad­ven­tur­ous divers, Si­tangkai should be in their bucket list. Dubbed the “Venice of the Philip­pines,” Si­tangkai Is­land is the far­thest of all the is­lands in the prov­ince. This town's main mode of trans­port is the ven­er­a­ble banca, and houses are in­ter­con­nected by wooden foot­bridges. Div­ing there of­fers en­coun­ters with a va­ri­ety of shark species, decades-old pawikan and other ex­otic sea crea­tures. The Tawi-tawi Divers Club has its own air com­pres­sor, scuba cylin­ders and com­plete sets of dive equip­ment. Con­tact: Dive Mas­ter Ra­mon Tañ­gon, (918)699-2822.

BON­GAO PEAK

There is a fa­ble sur­round­ing Tawi-tawi's most fa­mous moun­tain, Bon­gao Peak (or Bud Bon­gao). Near the sum­mit is a Mus­lim grave that is con­sid­ered a shrine, both by Mus­lims and Chris­tians. In the cap­i­tal, Chris­tians num­ber about 30 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion. It is said that all trans­gres­sions will be for­given if one vis­its and pays re­spects at this shrine.

Lo­cals also say that to have vis­ited Tawi-tawi is to have as­cended Bud Bon­gao's peak. And it is one ac­tiv­ity you mustn't miss, be­cause the sum­mit of­fers a breath­tak­ing view of the white-ringed is­lands and, on a good day, a hint of Bor­neo on the south­ern hori­zon. It takes only about an hour's hike to climb.

The moun­tain is home to a large troop of na­tive mon­keys. Make sure to bring bananas or other fruits to keep the furry guardians of the Bud ap­peased.

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