Wednesday, January 9, 2008

48 hours in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi (Day 2)

continued from Day 1

What’s a visit to Bongao without my prerequisite sunrise scenes? Think of the unique places that could not be found elsewhere like Muslim mosques or traditional Samal houses on stilts.As always, I checked out the map to scout for vantage points so I knew that staying at Beachside Inn which faces southeast the Simandagat beach would be convenient.

phototip: Underexpose a sunrise shot to get silhouettes.
Camera: Canon EOS 350D, 0.4s, f/10, 55mm, ISO 100
at Simandagat, Bongao, Tawi-Tawi, the Philippines

Everyday scenes offer a lot too. You may choose to photograph fishermen pulling out into the sea, subsistent fisherfolks gathering sea urchins or even school children walking to school. I even found one interesting “welcome” dome-shaped archway of a barangay.
phototip: Be patient. For the shot above, I waited for most of the clouds to clear as I wanted only just a few wisps. Negative space can be dramatic especially if the sky was this blue.
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 0.001s, f/5.6, 55mm, ISO100, +1/3 EV
Bongao, Tawi-Tawi, the Philippines

Simunul Island
I strongly suggest getting to Simunul island, an island south of Bongao considered to be the birthplace of Islam in the Philippines. Catch a public boat or charter one if you could afford it. Simunul is less than an hour away.

phototip: Watch out for fleeting scenes. Always be ready for unrehearsed moments. This girl was playing with her home-made toy airplane solo, lost in her own world, while our boat slowly tried to dock.
Canon EOS 350D, 0.001s, f/5.6, 255mm, ISO 100
Tubig Indangan, Simunul Island, Tawi-Tawi, the Philippines

Largely laidback and quiet, Simunul is where the Arab missionary Karimul Sheikh Makhdum built the first mosque in the Philippines in 1380. For obvious reasons, this mosque is revered by Philippine Muslims and every Friday is a designated congregation day for imams and religious folks to come and pray. Already a national monument, visitors are welcome to come inside whether you are Muslim or not. People are accommodating and would gladly show you around. This mosque is sparse but it still proudly houses four 3-feet diameter ipil pillars of the original structure.

Camera: Canon EOS 350D, 0.001s, f/6.3, 34mm, ISO 100
mosque of Makhdum, Tubig Indangan, Simunul Island, Tawi-Tawi, the Philippines

Within the vicinity of the mosque is one of two reputed graveyards of the Sheikh Makhdum. It seems its actual site is in dispute as when I visited Sibutu Island in Sitangkai, there’s another monument there claiming that the Sheikh was buried in the area. Also check out several centuries-old sunduk gravemarkers that are often featured in magazines and books.

sunduk Simunul
Camera: Canon EOS 350D, 0.008s, f/6.3, 21mm, ISO 100
a centuries-old sunduk across the mosque of Makhdum, Tubig Indangan, Simunul Island, Tawi-Tawi, the Philippines

Tango Island
The visit to Simunul will only take you half a day. The afternoon should be spent in any of the sandy beaches and reef that Tawi-Tawi is blessed. My pick of heaven on earth is the islet of Tango with its exceptionally white sand, with nary a cover except for some greens of mangrove and coconut. Surrounded by generous sandbars and emerald waters, it is paradisical. I only saw this island from the plane but I wish I could come over and immerse in its shores.
Canon EOS 350D, 0.002s, f/6.3, 55mm, ISO 100
Tango Island, Bongao, Tawi-Tawi, Philippines

One should not leave Tawi-Tawi without bringing home a banig or handwoven mat from the screwpine palm leaves (called pandan or romblon). The Philippines claims to produce the handsomest mat in Asia and arguably the most colorful and intricate fine-grained mats are handwoven by the Samal tribe of Tawi-Tawi. Preparation takes one week, with at least 2 cycles of boiling, stick-beating, drawing into strips, sun-bleaching and finally dying. Weaving consumes another two to five weeks. The bordered double-layer mats are the most expensive at about $20 each and is valued to 2-3x as much when brought to the big cities of Cebu or Manila. There is a cooperative of weavers which has a stall near the Notre Dame University in Bongao. Or check out the inventory at the Bongao Department of Tourism which also sells woven pandan salakot hats.

BANIG made for sleeping
Canon PowerShot S40, 0.001s, f/2.8, 7.1mm
Tango Island, Bongao, Tawi-Tawi, Philippines

Saying goodbye to a place after 2 wonderful days can only be sweet if tempered with a promise to return back someday. I never am sure when but I bet there are more nooks to discover in faraway Bongao.

Canon EOS 350D, 0.002s, f/6.3, 25mm, ISO 100
Bongao, Tawi-Tawi, Philippines

Canon EOS 350D, 1/1000s, f/4, 21mm, ISO 100, -1/3EV
an uninhabited island of Tawi-Tawi, the Sulu Archipelago, Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, the Philippines

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Donna said...

I love to travel the world through your eyes.

John said...

You have some great shots! I was really reminded of my own visit to Bongao and Simunul in 1964, when I was in the US Peace Corps, stationed at Davao City High School. The place was beautiful and the people very friendly.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for bringing back good memories. I spent part of my childhood and teenage years in Bongao and Sanga-sanga and those were some of the best years of my life. I'm looking forward to going back someday to show my husband and kids why the place holds a special place in my heart.

bing said...

I really enjoyed looking at the pictures...they brought back fond memories of my years spent in Tawi-Tawi,Ungus Matata, to be specific.I'm hoping to go back and visit relatives in UM and Bongao.See you there!

Anonymous said...

Superb shots! I was born in Bongao, but I have never been to Bongao Peak. How I wish people who will see the beautiful photos you have will try themselves to visit Bongao too. Try visiting Tango Island someday, I have been there once and its really beautiful with its white sand and clear water you feel you're in paradise!Though I grew up in Zamboanga, Bongao will always be special to me!

Anonymous said...

AWESOME foto Farl...and thanks from a native of the Island...

"indeed it is a place where the ANGELS (Malaikat and Biradali) used to play... GOD Speed.... " esl

lagalog said...

ei farl! nice to stumble upon your site. grabe, ganda ng tawi-tawi. we're planning on a trip over here come december and i'd ask for tips from you :-D

Marco said...

This is my goal next year, to visit Tawi Tawi and Batanes. the northernmost and the southernmost tip of the philippines!!

MayaFlaminda said...

Hi Farl! I'm going to be in Simunul, Tawi-Tawi next week to join the Sheik Makhdum mosque anniversary celebrations. Exciting!

Anonymous said...

thanks for the fantastic reminded me of my childhood days coz am a native of Tubig-Indangan Simunul-the place where I was born.But now am very,very far away from home...........oh!got homesickkkkkkkkkk

Farl said...

thanks everyone for the nice comments. that I made Tawi-Tawi closer to you heartens me. it is a beautiful place that should be in anyone's itinerary.

Anonymous said...

My dad was killed in action just off this island during WWII. He was manning a 50 caliber on a PT boat and was hit by shore fire on March 25th, 1945.

I have recently retired and hope to visit this island if at all possible.

Jack, Denver CO, USA

Farl said...

Jack- thanks for sharing your story. I hope you'd get the chance soon.

gha65 said...

farl, photos tell it all. immersion is for diverse cultures and traditions into one.


Anonymous said...

Wow! I am so proud for being one of the tawi-tawian, i can't wait to come home, to see my beautiful lovely place,Bongao and Simunul is my home town,thanks a lot to you Farl, for sharing all the great shot you got and for hearing all the good staff about my birth place

JAUHARI said...

Thinkin Sabah as my paradise on earth... Lookin at this photograph , I wish this country will be at peace and the world will be there!

GILBERT said...


I am hours away from taking a ferry to Bongao from Zambo and chanced upon your fotos and brief description of Tawi Tawi, wow!
very excited now, I promise to write about it on my blog here's the link if you want to see Tango island which I intend to visit:

happy travels kababayan!


Anonymous said...

Wow! Tawi-Tawi is so beautiful! Do you mind me asking how much money I need to bring if I'm taking a vacation here?

Anonymous said...

i want to visit in tawi tawi to see the place and to meet a lot of people there..:)

Anonymous said...

Thank u for sharing the pictures... I'm so happy i came across your website. It made me homesick at the same time excited to go back home. I'll be going home this August. Thank u again and God Bless!

Anonymous said...

Now i learn to appreciate my mom's passion in making colorful mat. She's really good at it and with mixing the colors. And she doesn't use salt water coz according to her it won't last longer... To those who are asking about the fair. Just visit airphilexpress website or cebupacificair. A lot of promos are going on.

Khear@houses in the philippines for sale said...

One of my dream is to travel all over Philippines and hopefully I can visit also tawi tawi and experience how fascinating this Bongao Day is. Mukhang maganda dito. hehe..Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Looking at those pictures makes me cry..,i miss my hometown so bad,i spent 16 years of my life in this amazing place..,i miss the white sand beaches,the yummy foods that you can only have in tawi-tawi..,the simple and quiet life. now am so far from home, not even a day am not missing the place, i always do and silently wishing that someday,i can visit again this beautiful place..and no matter where i am now, Tawi-tawi still holds a special place in my heart....