Zamboanga Hermosa (part 1)

I’m back! Well, I’ve been back since Sunday but you know how it is…trying to ease into the swing of things while your body and mind are still lounging in the warm afterglow of a fantastic holiday. So let me linger a bit longer in this post-vacation bliss by sharing it all with you…

I was eagerly looking forward to returning to Zamboanga after my first eventful trip there two years ago. During that trip I got my first taste of C’s birth-city, my first taste of curacha, and my first taste of being engaged. Zamboanga delighted me at every corner, swirling around me in so many colors like the beautiful batiks you find in the market.

This year we went back with a bunch of friends in tow, which made the trip extra special…and extra fun! Every day was an adventure, whether we were eating (which we did in glorious excess!), shopping (again…glorious excess!), lying on a pristine beach (sweet island life…), painting the town red (viva Zamboanga!), or singing on stage (oh boy…this needs no further explanation I think). Nothing makes a holiday better than a fabulous group of people to share it with :)

Here are some of the highlights* of my trip:

Zamboanga Airport
Laid back and open air, with a roof designed to blend in with the native architecture and sunlight streaming through the skylights. A troupe of dancers sashay to local music to welcome you. Everyone is smiling and the exotic sound of chavacano tickles my ears. It is at this moment when I feel the complete disconnect from Manila and from work. Heaven!

Knickerbockers and Crispy noodles at Palmeras
Palmeras was the lovely hotel we stayed at. Relatively new-ish (compared to the old, venerable Lantaka by the sea), it has nice clean rooms, friendly staff, and a pretty garden to hang out in. It also has a great café that serves Knickerbockers – a pile of fruits (bananas, watermelon, mango) and jello cubes in a glass, topped with a scoop of strawberry ice cream. It is at once sweet & luscious, and cool & refreshing. I cannot count how many of these concoctions we consumed as a group…too many I’m sure! And every other table in the place seemed to be ordering them as well! Aside from the blessed Knickerbocker, the Crispy Noodles with Seafood is also worth a taste – the sauce is thick and intensely flavorful with tender chunks of seafood all throughout, topped with a generous head of noodles, crispy on top and soft where they are soaked by the sauce. Palmeras Hotel & Restaurant, Pasonanca Road, Zamboanga City. Telefax - +63 62 9913284.

Shopping at the Barter Trade
Now who doesn’t enjoy a spot (or more!) of shopping? :) I certainly do! The barter trade is a complex of stalls selling everything from instant noodles to gorgeous batik cloths, malongs, and sarongs. We all went a little bananas here (well, the girls at least). I came away with malongs and batik robes for the folks back home, as well as kantiw (or sawal…are they the same? anyone?) – the loose cotton pants worn by the Muslims in the region – these pants are so comfy and perfect for lounging!

Exploring Zamboanga City Market
I hadn’t been to the main market the first time I visited Zamboanga, but because we had a contingent among us clamoring for durian off we went to get some. While the durian-eaters inspected the fruit, extolling the virtues of each variety, I wandered about looking at all the produce on display. Aside from the colorful fruit stalls they had the hugest daing (dried salted fish) I had ever seen! Later in the afternoon (yes, we went more than once…apparently cravings for durian are wild and unpredictable!) there were big hunks of tuna being loaded onto scales…although we weren’t in our tuna capital (that would be General Santos), Zamboanga is still a treasure trove of all manners of seafood.

Jimmy’s Satti Haus
Another bit of local eats I missed during my first trip. Satti is little bits of beef or chicken on a stick, grilled over hot coals, much like the Malaysian satay (as we are close neighbors the two could very likely be related). It is served with a sticky orange sauce which is both sweet and spicy. The satti is placed in a bowl literally swimming in the sauce together with rice that has been packed so much it is practically solid. I think we were a bit shocked at how small the satti pieces were, but we quickly found a way around that by simply eating more…heehee! We bought our satti at Jimmy’s Satti Haus (Campaner cor. Brillantes)…get it fresh off the grill and don’t forget the sauce and the rice! We ate ours plain because we got it to-go but I would have loved to have it with all the trappings! Next time I am definitely planting myself at a table and getting the full treatment!

Contemporary designers’ take on the Mascota
The mascota is the dress traditionally worn by the high-society Zamboanga ladies of yore. It is said to be Spanish in origin, which is easy to believe as many things in Zamboanga (including its language) seem to originate from the Spanish. So as not to lose this tradition the city started a mascota competition where local designers create their own renditions of this beautiful costume. The competition this year was held in Fort Pilar and the old stone walls of the aged fort proved to be a magical backdrop for the charming models (each of them tall and tan and slim, with dark shining hair and a come-hither smile…I used to dream about looking like these girls when I was a child!) in their mascota finery. Here’s an article you can read about the mascota competition last year.

That's all for now as the “daily grind” calls and I must answer (criminy). But stick around for part two :)

*I'll be posting highlights but if anyone has questions just email me and I'll answer as best I can!