“Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let the pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.” ~ Iain Thomas
I visited Zamboanga before and after a rebel siege in the city two years ago that left a portion of the central town bruised and battered, and kept many wary visitors away and in fear. Despite a peaceful and meaningful celebration of Hermosa Festival last year where balikbayans came home to join in support and unity, foreign travel advisories stayed adamant.Zamboanga: 'Asia's Latin City Click To Tweet
I expected to focus on remnants of a combat zone (portion of an abandoned village was to be kept intact as a shrine), but there were other things that captivated me more.
Laughter of kids at Paseo del Mar, a beautiful boulevard along the bay. Seeing hope in people’s eyes. Early morning breakfast of delicious satti. Haggling at the barter trade compound for the cheapest Malaysian goods. Capturing birds in flight at the lagoon. Quiet walks at Pasonanca Park. Throwing coins at badjao kids in the boulevard. Yummy treat of the popular knickerbocker. Locals sitting on the park benches just to watch the sun set each night. Island hopping in Sta. Cruz. Heritage tours of museums, Fort Pilar Shrine and visiting the Yakan weaving community. Eating the sumptuous curacha (lobster crab) with bare, sticky hands.
Everywhere you go are posted streamers and signs that say “No Te Vayas de Zamboanga,” a plea in the Spanish language which means “Don’t go or leave Zamboanga” It comes from a popular song composed years ago by Juan Cuadrado Sr., a Spaniard who decided to stay and marry a Zamboanguena lass after the Spanish troops left the islands. When the crisis struck the city two years ago, it became a meaningful phrase to encourage visitors and even locals to come and stay in Zamboanga. Residents speak Chavacano, a simplified dialect very much influenced by the Spanish occupation in the 1600s.
In every aftermath of a tragedy I visit, I marvel at the resilience of my people, whose will to survive remains intact even after it has been deeply scarred. They are determined to move on, so must we. Let tourism flourish again.
This beautiful city nicknamed “Asia’s Latin City” (Ciudad Latina de Asia) for its most Hispanic influence in culture has been slowly but firmly getting up on its feet, and I will be there to cheer it on.
Thanks to Cebu Pacific Air and Department of Tourism (DOT) 9 and 11 for flying me in during the Zamboanga Hermosa Festival last year.