“I’m booked for Zamboanga!” Jubilantly telling everyone, my mom, my relatives, friends, colleagues, my favorite barista, practically everyone.
The response I got? Weird. I get usually frowns and stern looks.
“I know someone who knows someone who can go with you. You need a guide or travel buddy.”
“The people of Zamboanga are not friendly.”
“It’s not safe!? Can you change your flight?”
Seriously. These were true replies I got. Not over reacting or something, but everyone I know seems to have this impression that Zamboanga is not safe. Well, here I am at the airport lounge going back to Manila and so elated and excited to prove that everybody was wrong about Zamboanga.
Every city has a story to tell and Zamboanga is no exception. Flashback to September 2013, entire Zamboanga was under siege from the insurgents of Mindanao. The city was plunged into chaos, trauma and hunger for days.
Back to today, Zamboanga is back on its feet. And it is a story of the people of Zamboanga and protecting their home at all cost. It is a story of families springing back to life after being displaced from their homes by chaos. It is a story of children going back on weekend afternoons to the breakwater jumping in delight into the beach. It is a story of teenagers and young love exchanging sweet nothings in the park before evening. It is a story of a city where faith, religion and culture is overzealously protected at all cost.
The craters bored into by mortars and bullet holes are still there in Barangay Santa Catalina, but slowly, at a steady pace, Zamboanga is back to its normal routine of living.
Walking thru its city streets, where dust never seems to settle and the tricycle is the king of the road, I see obvious evidences of recovery. Multiple branches of famous fast food hamburger chain in every corner. Shopping centers blasting their upbeat sound system to announce their items on sale. The locals going about their daily routine, spending their weekends for an early Zumba in the park, afternoon playing at the beach and dinner by the bay lit by an orange sunset.
It is said that get to know a destination and see its characteristics is to walk its streets. You can walk safely around Zamboanga. You can stroll safely after dinner around town and enjoy male teenagers close a portion of the city street and proudly showoff their daredevil skateboarding skills. Zamboanga City is pretty much walkable in any radius and you can reach the city center, the board walk, the famous century-old outdoor church and be back to your accommodation by the end of the day.
After a short visit to enjoy its famous knickbocker, a sinful creamy dessert loaded with fruits and homemade ice cream, and its beautiful pink sandy beach, I never felt safer in my walking tour. I have never enjoyed talking to tricycle drivers, fruit vendor, fishermen and local beach goers so much in all of my travels. Zamboanga has given me a new insight. There is nothing to be scared of, silly. This realization hits me hard in the head, like what were you thinking?
Everybody was wrong about Zamboanga after all.
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