Fam trip to Zamboanga: Thoughts and post-trip blues

Kat in Zamboanga Sibugay Capitol

Hola! This October, I’d been invited as part of the familiarization tour to witness Zamboanga Hermosa Festival 2018, as well as discover the eco-attraction in  Siay, Zamboanga Sibugay. I’ll write specific posts about everything we did, but today I’d just like to make chika about what happened to this fam trip.

First of all, it’s our first time to be approached for a fam trip. (Hali is busy at home, he has just started with a 3D animation course, and so I responded that I’d be going.) So my reaction was a happy dance and a whoopsiedoopsie whoops! I immediately pm’ed the news to my friends. As far as I know, fam trips are exclusive to veteran bloggers or bloggers/vloggers with huge following, something which we don’t have. We’d been invited to events before, some resorts and hotels, but a fam trip sponsored by the Tourism Promotions Board (TPB) is totally new. Networking wasn’t really one of my strong suits, you see, and even today I’m too laaaaazy to go to blogger meetups and events.

The fam trip ran a whole week, from October 7 to 13. I flew from NAIA airport direct to Zamboanga City. As expected, the majority of the bloggers & vloggers already knew each other, and as expected even more, I was told I’m quiet. I’m an introvert, we’re like that. Anyway, I get to see the real people behind the blog names — Potpot of Travel Trilogy, Kara of Traveling Up, Christian of Lakad Pilipinas and Glen of Escape Manila. It feels really nice to be with these people. At the end of the 1-week trip, I made new friends and acquaintances. (Special mention to Princess, who was my companion almost althroughout the trip.)

Kat in Bisaya-Bisaya Island, Once Islas

Now that we’re on the topic of my (or our — because everywhere I go to is also in behalf of Hali) first fam trip, on the first day while we were watching Regatta de Zamboanga, the kit lens for my Olympus mirrorless camera broke down. This lens is 14-42mm and basically my all-around lens. It’s perfect for shooting everything from landscapes to food. Or maybe it isn’t. I spent an hour googling for a solution and the one absolute thing I gathered is that the lens has a design flaw. Something about the ribbon being broken from extending/retracting when zooming in/out. This incident reminded me of my first solo international trip to Maldives when I found out I was scammed by my Airbnb host in my first day.

I’m not sure if those incidents hold any significance. I’d like to believe that I’m at this vibration where these incidents do not bother me as they would before, and I can actually look at them in a positive light.

(My extra lens, a 50-120mm, was good for shooting other activities that we witnessed at a distance, such as the streetdance. Thank God the salesguy was good at pitching me an extra lens, otherwise I’d have no quality camera to use except my GoPro Hero 5, which while useful isn’t really good for close-ups.)

So, that’s that. The other thing that I want to talk about is Zamboanga City. Zamboanga City is located in Mindanao, and we all know it’s considered “dangerous” territory. Only daring backpackers visit here, and usually it’s to “conquer” and “survive.” Regular tourists stay away from here. I didn’t know any better myself, and in the few cases when foreign travelers & readers asked me if it was really dangerous to venture to Mindanao, I only said that I didn’t know enough to give a reliable answer. I actually received flak for this before, but I don’t think people understand that being a blogger is a huge responsibility in itself and that whatever I say can be taken as “professional” advice. So it’s a good thing I was able to visit Zamboanga City personally and see it for myself.

Street of Zamboanga City
Street in Zamboanga City.
Bird feeding in Zamboanga City
Bird feeding during the walking tour of Zamboanga City.
Municipal Hall of Zamboanga City at night
Municipal Hall of Zamboanga City at night.

Zamboanga City surprised me because it seems like any other normal city. In fact, for me its ambiance is comparable to that of Dumaguete City — which is to say it’s chill, a place that makes you want to stay for days just so you can stroll around the historical sites, spend afternoons in cafes and eat your way to local cuisines.

(After initially publishing this post, I had a conversation with my friend Andrew and I’d realized I had overlooked to mention that, yes, there is visible military presence in the city. During the Zamboanga Hermosa Festival, groups of soldiers can be seen in patrol and in one occasion there was even a demonstration of naval capability. There are also checkpoints in and outside Zamboanga City. However, this does not change my impression that it is safe and the locals I’d talked with are in agreement with this.)

The locals are also warm and welcoming. And they speak Spanish! Or specifically, Chavacano — which is Spanish creole, or Spanish language which has evolved to include local dialects. Yes, I heard about this before, but I wasn’t aware that it’s so widely used in Zamboanga City that everyone speaks it and it’s included in the educational curriculum.

Kat in Pasonanca Park, Zamboanga City
In Pasonanca Park, Zamboanga City.
Kat in Yakan Weaving Village, Zamboanga City
In Yakan Weaving Village.

Going forward, the food here is to die for. (Again, I’m writing a separate post about must-eats in Zamboanga.) Seafood is Zamboanga City’s main industry, so there’s a lot of fresh fish and crustaceans to fill your cravings. Did you know that over 90% of sardines in the country comes from here? Zamboanga is also famous for curacha (or spanner crab, which is a cross between crab and lobster) usually served with finger-licking alavar sauce. My friend Hermes sent me a video featuring curacha when he learned I’d be going here, so this one was something I looked forward to — and was not disappointed.

(Pause) I’m going to stop here because I’m getting hungry just thinking about the food and anyway there’s another time for that.

The last thing is the Zamboanga Hermosa Festival itself. Put it in my list of first times — I’d never attended a festival before. I don’t like the heat and the crowd, I thrive in the quiet, and as you notice we usually backpack to crowdless places. Anyway, despite this preference, I enjoyed Zamboanga Hermosa Festival — the fashion show, dancesport and street dance, the food celebrations. I didn’t even mind the urban heat and sweat when we were covering the street dance.

During the street dance, I felt like I was back in college as a journalism student, covering an event, except this time not only do I have to write/report, I have to take photographs too (traveling is so much easier with Hali). Being in a fam trip is so much different than traveling on my own because I have to make sure to take snaps at the right opportunities to give a high-quality output, as compared to the latter when I can put everything down and just relax. But it’s also fun because the TPB has obviously made sure we get to experience, see and taste the best of everything we were meant to help promote — this time Zamboanga City and Siay in Zamboanga Sibugay.

All in all, I appreciate the efforts of the local government to prepare activities for this month-long festivity. It must have taken so much time, resources and love to hold this tradition alive.

Zamboanga Hermosa Street Dance 2018
Street dance during the Zamboanga Hermosa Festival.

So far, Zamboanga marked a great impression on me. Not only do I recommend visiting Zamboanga to friends — and even you, reader — we’re also now excited to make plans to explore the rest of Mindanao. This trip had successfully convinced me to do so.

I love Zamboanga City signage

Muchas gracias for a fun trip, Zamboanga!

 

P.S. You might also be interested in these:

Here’s everything about our one-week trip to Zamboanga:

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