Zamboanga delight

Last weekend, I took a 4-day trip to Zamboanga with my District Trainer, Dr. Jundad Legislador and District Secretary, Juan Antonio “Ja” Villaluz to conduct our third of five District Training Assemblies for incoming officers of our Rotary District 3850 which covers 12 provinces, including the Zamboanga Peninsula.

We were immediately met with a sumptuous lunch of Zamboanga’s famous Curacha, those big red crabs found only in their waters and some in Bataan, along with giant prawns, baked oysters and seaweeds as sidings, hosted by the Rotary Club of Zamboanga City, all of which were freshly caught just that very morning.

With cravings satisfied, we went to Grand Astoria Hotel for a quick nap before we were fetched again for dinner at the famous Alavar Restaurant, this time hosted by the Rotary Club of Metro Zamboanga. And again, an array of seafood were served, with Curacha prominently displayed again, cooked in the famous Alavar sauce.

Our hosts said we visited at the right time because there are months when one can hardly find Curacha as these are widely exported and in great demand abroad.

The Shrine of the Nuestra Senora La Virgen del Pilar in Fort Pilar.*

The following day was mostly serious stuff as we concentrated on training Rotarians to prepare them for the next Rotary year which will start on July 1. Club members from as far as Tawi-Tawi, Basilan and Ipil Sibugay joined six other clubs that are based in the city.

Enjoying a cup of Taza coffee. (l-r) Oliver Ong, Ja Villaluz, Josh Santos, me and Jundad Legislador.*

After a whole day of discussions, Past District Governor Oliver Ong treated us for dinner in a Chinese restaurant which served one of the best calamares I’ve tasted, then off to coffee at the famous Taza owned by the family of another Past District Governor, James Makasiar. We ended the night in fellowship with other Rotarians who stayed behind for some drinks and singing.

A piece of the giant Curacha crab.*

We were scheduled to go to Basilan on Sunday but plans changed and so I decided to join my good friend, and one of our speakers, Josh Santos from the Rotary Club of San Juan Supreme to visit the famous “Pink Beach” in Santa Cruz Island which was a 15-minute boat ride from the Zamboanga mainland.

The expansive mangrove lagoon is a great backdrop for tour guide, Al Amin Mukaddima.*

It was gloomy when we headed out early in the morning, which was a respite from the hot weather we had in the previous days, thus, without the sun, the pink beach wasn’t pink at all. Locals say it turns pink usually at sunset as the sun hits the sand with red pigmentation that came from red corals that drifted in the island.

Fresh catch for Pink Beach visitors. Locals will cook them right in front of you and they don’t mind visitors bringing in and eating pork, locals will not touch or cook it for you because of their religious belief.*

Rotarian Anton Lim who started the Yellow Boat Foundation with the late Gina Lopez, sent his staff, Kuya Ernie Castillo, so we can visit their project in Santa Cruz. The foundation has been helping the tribes that made the island their home and one of their greatest achievements is protecting over 100 hectares of mangrove plantation which we had an opportunity to tour, ably entertained and educated by our guide, Al Amin Mukaddima.

An Instagrammable pose from Josh on the shores of the Pink Beach.*

It was truly amazing to see acres of mangrove over very clear waters and get a chance to touch an “upside-down” stingless jellyfish and starfishes that abound in the area. Al Amin said they are thankful that the island has opened up for tourism because it gives them additional income. Their homes which are situated just before the entrance to the lagoon have withstood typhoons and their main food source, because of the protected mangroves.

Past District Governor Oliver Ong (left) and Rotary Club of Zamboanga City President, Oliver Cheong (right), hand over a Posthumous Award to Diane, the daughter of Past District Governor Charlie Reith who passed away last week.*

We passed by a sand bar where we were allowed a 10-minute layover for the obligatory picture for security reasons as this traverses to the military outpost in the connecting island. Then we headed back to the mainland just in time as it started to drizzle.

We then had a short stop at the Fort Pilar where we lit candles at the Shrine of the Nuestra Senora La Virgen del Pilar. Stories claim that an image of the Virgin Mary appeared to protect the peninsula from attackers many times.

Last stop was the Yakan Village where we had a short stop to watch an old woman weaving Yakan cloth. It was a bit pricey than regular cloth but considering the art of making it, with one cut taking days to weave, and the original patterns they make, it was worth buying, or at least Josh did, while I got a small utility bag.

We ended our Zamboanga visit by paying homage to Past District Governor Charlie Reith, a legend in our Rotary District family. Charlie, who was a member of Zamboanga’s mother club, was the youngest district governor that served our area before it was divided into two districts. He was only in his 30’s when he took over the Rotary leadership that covered even more provinces than what we have now.

He was a Filipino-Swiss who was so good-looking that we fondly called him our “Tisoy Governor” as Jundad mentioned during the eulogy. What made him a legend, apart from his service to Rotary, was a 2010 kidnapping that he survived after he was rescued from captivity more than two months later.

Charlie’s remains were brought to Iloilo yesterday for cremation by his only daughter Diane as there is no crematorium in Zamboanga yet. However, his ashes will be brought back on his 40th day as part of his wish was to be laid to rest in his beloved Zamboanga where he was born and where he wishes to remain forever.*

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