Mindanao island group in the Philippines has been portrayed in the news as a dangerous place, with kidnappings by Abu Sayyaf group, and some clashes between the government troops and muslim rebel groups. With rich natural resources and tourism potential, its unfortunate that the region has been branded as such, though there are cities in Mindanao which are peaceful and more orderly than Manila.
Zamboanga City in southwest Mindanao is one of the nice cities in the region. Dubbed as the Latin City of Asia, its one of the strongholds of the Spanish colonizers during the 19th century when they built a fort on it. Many of these Spaniards chose to remain in the area despite the revolutions and wars in the history, carving their own micro culture and Chavacano language in the city.
We left Manila at a very early hour, so the sun was just beginning to cast its sunlight on the region, when we started our descent to the city. Their airport terminal building is unique, as if declaring to everyone that "this is our own identity, a mixture of Spanish and Moro architecture".
After dropping our luggages and quick breakfast, we proceeded to the Great Sta. Cruz island, less than 15 minutes by motor boat from the city's port. Two days prior, I sent our names, ages, and address to a DOT Zamboanga personnel by SMS message, for advance registration. We paid Php 20 registration fee per person, before boarding the boat which could accommodate 10 people.
For additional security, the tourism office sends an armed policeman on each boat, joining their colleagues stationed in the island. They have boats painted with camouflage design (see above photo), which they also use to patrol the sea facing the beach almost every hour. At first, I thought the beach has fine white sand.
But on closer inspection, the sand has its reputed pink color, due to combination of white and red granules. If what I've read on the web is correct, the pink sand on Sta. Cruz island is only one of the 3 or 4 unique beaches in the world. This is the reason why this island is on our itinerary.
So how did the island got its pink sand? Well, aside from the usual white sand that we see on our beaches, there are red corals on this part of the sea in Zamboanga. We were able to spot a few pieces below, washed out by the waves to the beach. Some larger samples were sold by the locals on the island, along with shell and vinta souvenirs.
On some knee-deep part of the sea, we encountered a few small creatures that have bitten our legs. They have white and almost transparent scale color, about 4-6 mm. in length. I don't know their name, but for the meantime I call them "kutong dagat" or sea lice. My 2 sons refrained from swimming at the sea when I showed them this creature.
The seafloor has some pebbles, not entirely fine sand, but they are not sharp so its fine with my feet. There are fishes like snappers, who like to swim between my legs. However, there seems to be no diving mask or snorkel set that can be rented on the island. Still, I enjoyed the water despite these conditions.
There are locals who offer mud crabs and another type of crab to the tourists. One huge mud crab was offered to us, weighing more than 2 kg, but we just cannot finish it. So we tried this different type of small crabs for our lunch, with steamed rice, vinegar dip, complete with dining tools that we can use.
The above crab has no rich fat on its carapace. Its crabmeat on the main body is fewer than a blue or mud crab, but they also taste good. Its shell on the legs and claws are tougher, but the meats inside can still be extracted with a bit more diligence. Total lunch bill is Php 150, plus tip to the old lady who sold and cooked our lunch food.
After lunch and some photo ops, we paid the Php 50 rental fee of our small cottage, then got back to the mainland for wash up and siesta. The Php 1,000 boat rental fee was paid when we arrived at the wharf in Paseo del Mar, our next destination later that afternoon.