Over the past years I have had more than a few opportunities to travel across several continents, but there’s still one high-priority area that has eluded me: Mindanao, the southernmost region of the Philippines. Although sidelined by the emergence of the Islamic State last year in the Middle East – when I ended up visiting Iraq – and a commitment to learning Spanish that brought me to Mexico and Central/South America, I remain anxious to visit this largely uncharted cultural destination, risks and all.
For fun, here are a few photos of Mindanao and some of its interesting sights. The images below focus on the Zamboanga Peninsula, it’s largest city of the same name, and the island of Basilan to the south.
Visiting mosques is always exciting to me — has been so ever since I strolled through Delhi, India, and ended up at the Jama Masjid, the country’s largest Muslim house of worship. Host to a majority Muslim population, Mindanao is sure to offer me the chance to repeat that exciting experience many times over.
This white sand beach outside of Zamboanga City shows that there’s something for everyone in Mindanao, maybe even the casual tourist accustomed to Hawaii or the Caribbean — *as long as they are aware of the dangers that can be found in the region.
Again, I must unfortunately emphasize that I have not been to Mindanao or the Philippines yet, but seeing images like the market above are almost mystical to me. I can only imagine and savor the excitement of getting off a ferry and stepping out into a port with this kind of activity going on all around.
Another street scene, pictured above. I am looking forward to the day when I can post photos and details from an internet cafe about my experiences in the Philippines.
*A word of caution, however, if you are planning a trip yourself. There are a lot of beautiful sights to be seen in Mindanao, but it I must state clearly that dangers persist in this area, especially in Basilan, nearby islands such as Jolo, and the rural areas of the Zamboanga Peninsula due to the threat of the Abu Sayyaf network (a group that recently drifted into the Islamic State camp) and other Islamist militants. Kidnappings and large-scale incidents do occur, as was the case early this year. Even Zamboanga City – which many foreigners consider safe – was the scene of a siege and insurrection in 2013, an incident that left some two-dozen security forces, several civilians and around 200 attackers dead.
That said, if what I hear from local contacts in the Philippines and fellow travelers who have had the privilege to visit is true, Filipino security forces are very professional and the people themselves have been dealing with these issues for years. Major cities have standard protocols and safety expectations, while the consensus dictates that the countryside and the islands are only for the most daring and adventurous travelers.
I hope to be one of them soon enough.