A Tour around Zamboanga City, Asia’s Latin City

Waking up after a deep sleep in a cold, comfortable bed in my AirBnB-rented room, I realized I was up for an adventure in another Philippine province. What made it more interesting is the fact that it was the first time for me to set my foot in the lands of Mindanao, at the Western part of it called Zamboanga City.

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Officially the City of Zamboanga, it is a bustling port area home to a variety of ethnic groups, religions, and cultures with Chavacano as the lingua franca, a Spanish-based creole that made the place a unique Latin City located in an Asian country. The region’s name originated from the word Jambangan, which means Land of the Flowers, as called by the early Malay settlers.

That day, I had the entire time to wander around the city. As I arrived at the city center after a few minutes’ jeepney ride from my neighborhood, I started to explore the area. Came into my sight was a small, simple park called Plaza Pershing, which serves as a venue for different events and a hangout place for families and students of the nearby Universidad de Zamboanga. Crossing the road past it led me to Rizal Park, where the national hero’s statue stands tall among others that represent different subjects in history and culture related to his works. In front of it is Zamboanga City Hall, a beautiful building that exhibits a colonial architecture, standing since the early 20th century. Looking back at its history, it was already the seat of government when Zamboanga City was still the capital of the whole Department of Mindanao and Sulu. While I was taking pictures of it, three kindhearted tourists from Laguna helped me take a photo of mine with the stunning building as the background. They recently came back from Tawi-Tawi trip and were satisfied to visit the faraway province. I gave thanks to them and continued my stroll.

After a while, I arrived at Fort Pilar and saw the closed gates to the regional branch of National Museum. However, the structure itself was worth visiting. It looks like one of the same forts that can be found in Manila’s walled city, Intramuros.

Going further leads to the entrance of the Roman Catholic Marian Shrine of the city’s patron saint, Nuestra Señora del Pilar. Lining in front of it are stalls where candles in variety of colors are sold, each with different symbols. I bought a bundle of it and lighted in one of the shrine’s designated area. A short distance away lies Paseo del Mar, an esplanade home to a number of restaurants and a big park. I passed by here and enjoyed the ambiance of the seaside for few moments. In this place, the islands of Sta Cruz and the province of Basilan can be seen from afar.

I took a ride to the Canelar Barter Trade Center to buy souvenirs before I run out of time. Sold here are imported products from the neighboring countries of Indonesia and Malaysia. Carrying a few bags of coffee and Malaysian milk tea powder, I went then to Zamboanga Cathedral and attended a short mass. It was held in the smaller prayer room in the ground floor, as the bigger one on the second level was closed. When the devotion ends, I went to the mall to eat my late lunch. Before I go back to my rented room, I visited Pasonanca Park, the so-called “Little Baguio” in Zamboanga because of its high elevation and cool temperature. Constructed in 1912, this park has swimming pools, a butterfly garden, the boy scout grounds, and the famous tree house.

I took a nap on my bed after a full day of tour and went back to Paseo del Mar in late afternoon to watch the sunset. As I walked towards it from the jeepney terminal, I noticed that most locals were also heading to the same direction. I was welcomed by a flock of them inside, celebrating the Muslim holiday Eidul Fitr. I somewhat felt like I was in Indonesia at that time since I also encountered the same number of tourists when I went to Borobudur Temple at the same festivity in 2016, with people mostly Muslims. As the sun goes down, I bought a cup of Knicker Bocker, a signature Zamboangueño delicacy similar to Halo-Halo, only the ingredients are fruits. The rays of sunshine gradually bade goodbye and hid below the horizon. It was a fantastic day for me. I ended the night watching the fountain show in the esplanade grounds along with the children and adults alike.

One day isn’t enough to see the sights in Zamboanga City. There are still a lot of places it offers that need a whole day to enjoy, including the Pink Sand Beach of the Great Sta. Cruz Island, and the Merloquet Falls on the Northern part. The next time I will be in this city again, I will make sure that I will not miss these two.

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