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As I tell my friends about my trips to Zamboanga City, they always give me a surprised and puzzled look. They can’t believe that I have so much praise for such a place that has had so much bad publicity. Whenever I ask them to come to experience Zamboanga City (or Zambo, as it is fondly referred to) for themselves, they cringe a little, fearing for their lives as if I had just asked them to come with me to the set of a horror movie.
I don’t blame them, as most of them had been misled by information from available media about the situations that arise from neighboring towns and cities. Since the news sources have established safe headquarters in Zambo, the reporters begin and end their broadcast by saying: “Live from Zamboanga City”.
I was born and raised in Manila, but spent many a summer break visiting the lovely City of Flowers (one of the city’s lovely names). Everytime I’d visit, it’d be as if for the first time. There’d always be something new to see, especially because the flowers and the trees form a virtual kaleidoscope as they dance to the gentle breeze.
Every available color on the visible spectrum seems to have its own flower, with some blooms taking a selfish share of more than one hue. All throughout the city, various plantlife add color to the ertswhile dark image of Zamboanga.
As if to say the ground on which they’ve been planted is no limitation to these flowers, you can even find them floating through the air of their own will in the form of beautiful butterflies. After all, Science-Fiction author R.H. Heinlein claimed that “Butterflies are self-propelled flowers”.
The colors of Zamboanga City’s aura are not just reflected in the form of floral ornaments, but in the aroma and taste of its culinary treasures. Among the many things I’d gladly keep coming back to Zambo for are the mangoes. Sure, people would say that Guimaras is the Mango Capital of the Philippines. In fact, most of the species of Mangoes found in Zamboanga came from Guimaras. But, after they’ve been planted and grown in Zambo, they seem to taste a lot sweeter and touch the soul in a place children’s stories know best.
And then there’s what goes best with Mangoes — Bagoong (Fish Paste). Now, Bagoong is not specific to Zamboanga, as this is available throughout the Philippines and its neighboring countries, but Zambo put one up over the rest of them by coming up with a twist to the local condiment — Coconut Milk. Yes, Bagonggata ( as it is spelled in Zamboanga) is a must-taste, must-try, must-have. This tastebud tickler goes well with anything from mangoes to meat and fish, it even goes well on its own with some rice to contrast the flavor.
Sadly, the one thing Zambo is best known for (its curacha) is something I personally can’t have due to my shellfish allergies. Curacha a crab that likes to be different, as its locomotor direction is forwards instead of the typical side-to-side crabwalk. Most of its meat is concentrated in its round center area, and not in its claws as with other crabs (Curachas have relatively small claws).
Then there’s the beach.
Being part of the Zamboanga Peninsula, Zambo City is 20 minutes away from the sea from any point of its territory. There are beaches of all qualities around Zamboanga City: sandy, silty, rocky, you name it. One of its most famous destinations, however, is the unique and lovely Santa Cruz Islands. Just a twenty-minute boatride from the city proper, Santa Cruz boasts of pink sand and pristine, clear waters. When you explore the nearby mangrove area towards the heart of the island, you may even find some small red crabs reminiscent of those that infest Christmas Island.
All of these things, I’ve seen in the course of my many, many visits to the lovely place. They may sound too good to be true, especially after media influence, but every time one of my friends has actually visited Zambo, they agree wholeheartedly.
I know that most of them want to see as much of everything I’ve mentioned in as little a time as possible, so I take them to where I stay when I’m there — a little place called Vista del Mar.
Vista (as I like to call it) has been my home in Zambo ever since I can remember. It’s got good food (everything I mentioned above, I tried first in Vista), especially since they grow most of their vegetables organically. They’ve even started to raise organic pigs! The kilometer-long resort is filled with different flora and fauna, masking the fact that it is actually within the city limits.
Being only 15 minutes away from the airport, Vista del Mar is the ideal spot for first-timers to Zambo. If there’s a perfect place for soulsearching, it’s Vista. They’ve even played around with the name, as it’s labelled a Re-Creation Center.
If none of what I’ve just said makes my point, I bet the sunset will.
Photo Credits : (c) Javier Lobregat (@javichips on Twitter) except Curacha Photo.
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