Tawi-Tawi is one among the provinces in my to visit list this year. Visiting the southernmost frontier of the Philippines; enjoying its unspoiled white sand beaches; visiting the country’s very first and oldest mosque and seeing the indigenous Badjao tribe on their houses in stilts would be an ultimate travel experience. I started googling about the province and discovered that Tawi Tawi celebrates its annual Kamahardikaan Festival during the last week of September. I then decided that the last week of September is the right time to visit Tawi Tawi.
Getting to Tawi-Tawi
Unknown to many, Tawi Tawi is very accessible if you are coming from Manila or Zamboanga. However, there are no longer direct flights to Tawi-Tawi from Manila via the budget airline Cebu Pacific Air. Being a budget traveler, I could not afford to book flights to Tawi-Tawi. Getting there requires two flights (Manila to Zamboanga flight then Zamboanga to Tawi-Tawi). And another two flights back to Manila (Tawi-Tawi to Zamboanga and Zamboanga to Tawi-Tawi). Come Cebu Pacific seat sale, I immediately booked flights that will get me to Tawi-Tawi just right for the Kamahardikaan Festival. I only spent 2,800 Pesos for four flights (Manila to Zamboanga, Zamboanga to Tawi-Tawi and vice versa). I saved a lot compared to booking on regular rates which could cost around 10,000 Pesos.
Travel with A Purpose Project in Tawi Tawi
A month before my Tawi-Tawi trip, I travelled with my girlfriend to Islas de Gigantes in Iloilo. It was Islas when I started my Travel with a Purpose Project. My sole mission is to randomly give gifts to the locals. I started putting up fundraising accounts via various fundraising sites like gogetfunding and fundmytravel. Despite of not getting any donations, we pushed with the plan and just bought 2,000 Peso worth of toys and goodies in Roxas City before visiting Islas de Gigantes.
After our trip to the beautiful Gigantes Islas and after the successful gift giving, I published some photos on my social media accounts. It was on one of my Instagram post where a fellow Travel Blogger, Dave of Silverbackpacker.com asked me when will be my Travel with a Pupose Project in Tawi Tawi. I said I’ll be visiting Tawi Tawi during the Kamahardikaan festival. He did not hesitate to join. He immediately booked his tickets and helped me raise funds for the gift giving in Tawi-Tawi. Dave also introduced me to the founder of HOPE Incorporated, a non-profit organization whose tag is Helping Others Passionately Everywhere. I partnered with Silverbackpacker and HOPE Incorporated to make the Travel with a Purpose in Tawi-Tawi possible.
Festival No More
A week before our trip, I tried to get in touch with Ms.Marikit, Tawi Tawi tourism officer to ask for their suggested itinerary. I received a sad news that the Kamahardikaan festival. It will be held in Mapun, an island which is a 16 hour ferry ride away from the Tawi Tawi center- Bongao. She also advised that everyone from the tourism will be in Mapun for the festival. I started to lose hope as I really wanted to take part of the festival. Me and Dave will only be in Tawi-Tawi for 2 days and 2 nights. We are pressed of time and going to Mapun will not be possible.
I decided that I’ll go with the plan and will still visit Tawi-Tawi. Witnessing and taking part of the festival would be plus but not necessary. And besides Tawi Tawi is my 2016 ultimate travel destination.
Safety and Security
When I booked my flight in March, I was aware of the situation in the ARMM specifically the Sulu. The province is known as the battleground between the Philippine military and the terror group Abu Sayaff. Tawi Tawi being near to Sulu did not bother me as there have been a couple of travel bloggers who stepped on the province. All of them were able to tour the province safely and securely. Though there are only a few information about travelling and touring Tawi Tawi, I still did my research. With all the available articles and videos about touring Tawi Tawi, I concluded that it is safe to visit the province.
I also prepared for my Tawi Tawi tour by growing my beard and mustache and tried to be under the sun as much as possible to get my skin tan. I know that I’ll blend in with the locals and will not look of high value.
Come September, encounters of the military with the Abu Sayaff were all over the news. Since we do not have contacts from the Tawi Tawi tourism office as the entire team will be in Mapun. I have to admit that I started to feel worried because I’ll be traveling with Dave, a foreigner who is likely a target of the terror group. Not until Ritz, the founder of HOPE Incorporated informed me that she will be coordinating with the Philippine Marines for our security during our visit in Zamboanga and Tawi-Tawi.