I was like a tourist guide to my colleague who hasn’t travel wide and I felt the urge to show him around even if I had been to Zamboanga only once in the 1990s. I don’t even have a recollection of that trip. My companion was a bit apprehensive about this trip given the reputation of the place. Let’s see….. There were the Basilan siege carried out by members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in 2013 and the bloody Lamitan siege when members of the Abu Sayyaf took over a church and a hospital and held priests, medical staff and patients hostage and using them as human shield to escape the government forces surrounding the rebels in 2001. These and other skirmishes of various Muslim rebel groups would be forever etched in our minds. I am not surprised about my colleague’s reaction.
However, we came to Zamboanga on business and there was no choice but to conduct our business. It was a short trip, just a day. We arrived in the evening of October 7 and would be leaving the following day. Be that as it may, I would not let a trip pass by without creating memories. It helped that one knows some people from the place and I do.
As soon as we arrived, I got a text message from a new friend I met in my assessment work. I told her I am meeting her after we checked in at Garden Orchid Hotel, a stone throw away from the airport. It’s only advantage. More in my review in Use it or Ditch it.
After we checked in the hotel, I met up with Doc M and her friend. She drove us through the city as she narrates about the places we passed by. Doc M told us that the means of transportation in going around the city are the tricycles with back to back seats which charge a horrendous P100.00 per trip to anywhere. If you are a local, you can speak in the dialect and they will probably give you a lower rate. Doc M said that the city is small and as we circled the rotunda, she said that is about it.
She brought us to Hacienda de Palmera Hotel and Restaurant, also known as Palmera, one of the famous restaurant in the city. It is a hotel with a restaurant and it was packed. Doc M who is an old family in this city had to look for the owner to make sure we get a table. I regret not asking her for accommodation option because she and her friend, Ms. A, were telling us that the rooms in Palmera are nice. I was quite disappointed with our hotel which is supposed to be a 4-star hotel. They ordered the Special Platter consisting of prawns, calamares and baked clams plus chicken adobo and lechon kawali, veggies and rice. This week happened to be the fiesta or something there which explained why hotels and restaurants were overflowing. They told us that locals everywhere go home to Zamboanga city on this occassion. Over dinner, our new friends regaled us with their tales of coping with the terror of a city under siege on a regular basis. These are courageous ladies who stick it out here to share their talents and try to make a difference. Doc M is a medical doctor while Ms. A is a professor in one of the colleges there.
Palmeras is also famous for a dessert called the Knicker Bocker, inspired by a similar dessert in Spain. They have recreated it to suit the Filipino palette. It is similar to halo-halo and is made of chilled fruits (mango, banana, watermelon) and jello swimming in cream topped with a scoop of ice cream. Our friends took the initiative of ordering this dessert for us as a nice conclusion to a sumptuous dinner. Food is one of the reasons to remember a place and I sure would be remembering this place and the stories we shared here.
After dinner, they brought us back to the hotel. After a long day, all I want to do is to sleep. Getting in my room, I realized I couldn’t accept that I would have to get stuck in a crappy hotel room after I discovered that the shower in the bathroom was damaged and the faucet was just my knee level. I hurriedly finished freshening up and made a call to the front desk. When we got back from dinner, we were told that there was no available room when we requested for new rooms. This time, I demanded that they give us new rooms or we would check out and ask for refund. Guess what? They transferred us to other rooms, still not good but not as bad as the ones we left. We finally called it a night.
Following morning, we had breakfast in the hotel cafe; checked out and headed to the Palacio del Sur, Marcian Garden Hotel, where our event was held. This hotel is ostentatiously lavish from ceiling to floor. My talk will be before lunch. Since we were early, we decided to roam around the Trade Expo in the main building. We looked around and found some interesting buys and took pictures of their local weavers from among the indigenous people in Zamboanga City known as Yakans scattered in the venue. Among the local residents who are particularly renowned for their colorful vintas, the Yakans are exquisitely known because of the vibrancy of color in their cloth and exceptional weaving techniques of their people. Each pattern of the garment woven by the Yakans is as unique as a snowflake and each one being infused with that of the weaver’s character and pride in their work. The patterns on the garment also reflects that of the time period it was woven in, a testament to the adaptability of Yakan weavers. It is such a painstaking craft and it is heartbreaking to learn that their woven products command only very low prices.
We bought some products and tried on some…..
An hour before my talk, we went back to the venue. We met a staff from my former office who told us about the colorful vinta race dubbed Regatta de Zamboanga that happened early that morning. Sadly, we missed that because we did not properly coordinate our trip with her. We didn’t know about the interesting events we can go to.. That could have been our chance to see what a real Zamboanga festivity is like. Next time, we know better.
Well, I did my talk for about an hour…. answered some questions…. We had lunch and stayed a little to hear the next speaker.
We went back to the trade expo and continued looking around to while our time as we wait for our flight in the evening. We went to a booth selling herbal oil for massage. A small bottle costs P75.00 and you can have a free 10-minute massage per purchase. Of course, we couldn’t pass up such a good deal We shopped a little for pasalubong. After having our fill of goodies, we decided to go back to the hotel to get our bags and check in early and probably tour the city some more.
On the way out, I saw our host, the highest official of our office in Zamboanga. We approached her to say goodbye. Being the gracious host, she invited us for dinner. We readily accepted the invitation since we will have time after checking in. I told her we’d check in first and go back to the hotel where we would be fetched.
We went back to the hotel, got our bags and walked to the airport. Yes, walk to the airport. First time, I was billeted in a hotel so close to the airport.
The check in counters were still closed when we got to the airport. We waited till it opened and checked in. Then, we left and decided to wander aimlessly looking for lanzones which Doc M said sells for P20.00 per kilo. Unfortunately, we didn’t see a fruit stand and the one we saw the previous night is far. We decided to go back to the hotel and settled there. It was around 5:30 pm when we were fetched by the staff of our office. The staff we met earlier, M, was with them. They were estimating the time as our flight is at 7:55 pm. Since we were already checked in, my colleague and I had enough time. However, M who was in the same flight, hadn’t checked in. The ride to the resto would be around 30 minutes. One of the staff decided to be left behind and go to the airport to steal some time for us
We didn’t know where we would be taken. I was delighted that we were brought to the famous, Alavar Seafood Restaurant. Who could resist that? To finally eat the very popular curacha crabs in alavar sauce….. even if we miss our flight.
Curacha also known as spanner crab or red frog crab is a local Chavacano name given to Ranina ranina, commonly found in the waters of Sulu and Zaboanga. It is known as Kagang Pamah in Tausug. It is a hybrid crustacean, with crossbreed characteristics of a large sea crab and a big spiny lobster. It is a large crab with a red color, which stays the same in color even when cooked. The crab is usually steamed or boiled so its flavor is preserved. Unlike most crabs whose majority of meat can be found in their claws, the mother-load of the curacha’s meat is found in its body.
When we came in, the official with other guests were already there. The table was set and the food were being served. It was quite a feast. Of course, there was curacha in alavar sauce….. crab soup, baked clams in garlic and butter (marisco en la horno), calamares, grilled fish, prawns in alavar sauce completed the buffet. Imagine the punishment of being told to eat all of these appetizing dishes in 30 minutes or less so we can make it to the airport in time. My mind and tummy were revolting. but we had to do what we got to do.
The curacha did not fail as expected. Everything was delicious. The only downside is it has lesser meat than a crab, which probably makes it more expensive. I especially liked the baked clams which was heavenly. Given the limited time, I got as much fill of this as I could.
Alas, it was time to say goodbye. Our official, probably sensing our disgusto with the harried dinner, over-extended her hospitality by asking the servers to pack the two untouched servings of curacha and gave one pack to me and the other to M. OMG, I can enjoy eating curacha unhurried….. However, I realized soon enough, not really. I had to leave late morning for a flight to Iloilo and will be back in Manila after 3 days. Going back to Manila was some sort of layover…. The curacha cannot wait till I get back! Anyway, I’ll find a way.
After goodbyes, we were on our way to the airport. The driver weaving through rush hour traffic was such a sight. I thought I’d only see that in Manila. Give the guy a break, he has a mission order …. to ensure that we will catch our plane. We made it, a few minutes to boarding time. M checked in…. We had to help her checked in because she had some excess baggage and we had some to spare.
We boarded the plane soon after…. and a little past an hour we are back in Manila. MD had to get me a Grab car because Manong H couldn’t fetch me for some reason. Now, as to the curacha …… I am so having a feast at breakfast tomorrow ;D