Travel By Heart: Lamitan, Basilan – Part 01

The first night I arrived at the island of Mindanao an old lady from Surigao asked me where I intend to go. I told her “I will try to reach the farthest that I can here in Mindanao. That would most probably mean I would have to go to Zamboanga.” She was very surprised and cautioned me, “Do not go there! There are a lot of bombings and terrorist activities that happens there.” Instead of becoming afraid I got more curious and wondered if this old lady has actually visited Zamboanga or she is just reiterating what is being broadcasted on the news.

I had to check out early, I only paid for 12 hours and it is due at 3 am in the morning. I packed all my gear and headed out, up to this point I still really haven’t decided If I’m going to push through going to Zamboanga or just go to Dapitan and leave Mindanao completely. I then proceeded to a 24 hour McDonalds to hopefully get some breakfast and arrive on a decision.

Slouched on one of the seats, I opened Google maps and typed in a direction… Iligan to Zamboanga. “Four hundred four kilometers and around eight and a half hours Damn…”. Just realizing the distance made me want to sip my coffee. I sat back and began to think about that old lady who warned me about Zamboanga. Then a voice inside my head quietly said “You are here if you don’t do this now. You might never have the chance to do it again. What are you even afraid of losing?”. Then I did some basic math, if I leave now I will have plenty of daytime to ride. Even if some misfortune, such as a flat tire happens, I will still have around 3-5 hour of daylight left. If all goes according to plan I will be having lunch in Zamboanga City.

Iligan City was still asleep, there were very few vehicles passing. I have this habit of following cars or service trucks on remote places and using their headlight as a means to see into the distance. But as I got farther and farther from Iligan the vehicles became fewer and fewer, it also got darker and darker. Until I the only one on the road with only the light from my phone and the directions by Google Maps to keep me company. A lot of scenarios were playing in my head, most of them are negative. It’s really hard to shrug off those thoughts, as I pierced the darkness I just kept on telling myself “It’s now or never”.

As day breaks just then did I really realized where I am and what I got into. I thought that the route I’m taking is very similar to the ones that I have ridden here in Mindanao, nice paved roads connecting one town to the other. This is different and a bit unusual, I found myself gaining altitude. With roads ranging from paved to unpaved, under construction or just completely remote. There are instances wherein my GPS would not lock on for 30 to 45 minutes, leaving the arrow to just float above on Google Maps. On the bright side, there were no fork roads, no right turn or left turn to be seen. But there is still that feeling of unease, especially when the road becomes rough, the vegetation becomes plenty and you haven’t seen another vehicle for an hour or so.

I finally arrived and saw something that I did not expect. The sprawling urban setting that is Zamboanga City, a couple of hours ago I was up on the mountain roads with very few houses now here I am on the busy crowded city streets. The roads were narrow and vehicles aplenty, the traffic reminds me Manila. As always I was not sure where I’m supposed to go. I started riding around looking for a hotel to check-in since I don’t think there’s a place here to camp. When all of a sudden at the corner of my eye I saw something that I have never bothered visiting all throughout this ride, the Department of Tourism.

The reason I stopped was really to ask for a recommendation for a place to stay for the night. But once I stepped inside, the office seemed to stop. All eyes were on me, then one tall guy came up and ask. “Is there anything that I can help you, sir?”. Then the usual explanation, after that I saw his eyes widen in disbelief. “You came all the way from Manila?”, my simple answer “Yeah.” He signaled for me to take a seat and wait for a couple minutes while he informs his superiors about me. “Uhmm… Ok” I muttered. As I didn’t see any real reason for him to do that.

An older and shorter man with glasses came out, he seemed excited. He held out his hand to greet me, then he introduced himself. “I’m the head of the Department of Tourism here in Zamboanga, I’m pleased to meet you.” I shook his hand and smiled, “I was told that you came all the way from Manila”. I said “Yes”. Then he looked back at his colleagues and said out loud “This guy came all the way from Manila on a motorcycle”. At that point, I was not sure if I should smile, wave or just disappear. One thing is for sure, even if my face has been burned by the sun I was still able to blush.

Upon hearing this, some of the people in the office that also rode motorcycle stood up and came close. They asked what my ride was since it was parked just in front of their office door, I pointed out to it. I was not sure if it was disappointment or wonder that was painted on their faces. I think they thought I was riding some kind of big cool bike, but when they saw a small one, they got puzzled. One of them asked, “What’s the displacement?” I replied, “It’s a 125”. He scratched his chin and said “hmmm… I didn’t expect a 125 could handle such a long trip”.

After the pleasantry, I asked them about places that they think would be worthwhile visiting and informed them since I don’t have a definite plan, I’m open to anything. They mentioned a couple of places, then just like an afterthought he said “You can visit Basilan” his voice was noticeably quieter when he mentioned it, as if regretting the suggestion. To my curiosity, I asked “You can actually visit that place?”, he said “Yes” and he followed it up with this line “It is a relatively safe place.” Giving emphasis to word “relative”. “We can’t guarantee your safety, but it is possible to go there.” This got me really curious, after letting him finish his suggestions. I asked for a nearby place for me to stay, he asked the tall guy from before to guide me a hotel nearby.

Before leaving he asked for my number, then he gave his and said. “I know a local biker club, they are known here in Zamboanga and they will be really interested to meet you. If you ever feel like meeting up with them just let me know.” I gave him a very big thanks for all his help and suggestions. The tall guy signaled that we can leave, I looked at the office one last time. Trying to make eye contact with the people inside. When I finally did, I waved my hand and said thank you to everyone.

On the way to the hotel, all I can think of was the word “Basilan”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *