"a caterpillar doesn't just grow into a butterfly. a caterpillar must undergo metamorphosis, and a cocoon is where a caterpillar risks it all: enters total chaos, undergoes total rebuilding, and is born to a new way of living. only in taking the risk of entering that inert cocoon can the caterpillar go from dormancy to potency, from ugliness to beauty."

Monday, July 16, 2012

exploring tawi-tawi's sibutu island

“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” 
-- Jawaharlal Nehru

from one island to another in tawi-tawi
this is part 3 of a series entitled breathtaking tawi-tawi: our journey to the philippines' southernmost frontier.

map of tawi-tawi
image source: google maps

day 2. april 22, 2011. holy friday.
route 1: zamboanga city to tawi-tawi, then bongao to sitangkai
route 2: sitangkai to sibutu

after exploring the waterworld of sitangkai, our travel party went to her nearest neighbor within philippine territory -- the visually arresting and oh-so-tropical long island called sibutu.

where is tawi-tawi's sibutu island?
image source: google maps

our main ride for the day, a speedboat powered by two efficient engines, quickly conquered the distance between sitangkai and sibutu so it didn’t take very long for us to have a close-up view of sibutu and her white sand beaches, coconut trees, and stilt houses.

approaching the picturesque island of sibutu

being each other’s nearest geographical neighbor, sibutu and sitangkai do not only share cultural heritage and trade environment but political history as well.

when sitangkai was created as a municipality in 1959 by an executive order released from the office of then president carlos p. garcia, her territory included the island and islets of sibutu. it was not until 2006, 47 years later, that the municipality of sibutu was created from 16 out of 25 barangays of sitangkai by virtue of a duly ratified muslim mindanao autonomy act.

destination: sibutu
island home of skilled seafarers, expert boat-builders, and master woodcarvers

when you find yourself already in the philippines' southernmost borders, make it a point to pay sibutu island a visit. it is definitely worth the stop! the place is undeniably tropical and has a peaceful, friendly aura.

we first set foot on sibutu at the pier -- not just a place for docking and undocking but also a good spot for viewing arrays of stilt structures and some pretty beaches.

celebrating our arrival in sibutu island with a jump!
this is my only jumpshot for the entire tawi-tawi trip :)
(photo by kat)

our travel party's arrival in sibutu
leaving the pier and officially entering the municipality of sibutu

we did not linger at the pier. as soon as everyone was all set, we followed the concrete road that led us inland to the municipality of sibutu and to where our lunch was waiting for us. after traveling for most part of the morning -- exposed to the summer sun in open sea and to the salty air -- we arrived in sibutu excited and spiritually high but physically parched and hungry.

the welcome marker and the concrete road of the municipality of sibutu

since we had to walk a short distance first to get to our hosts' house, we also took this opportunity to soak in the place's natural vibe.

along the shores near the pier, it is common to see concrete houses that are not at all very different from the concrete houses that can be found in the rest of the country. their backyards (or front yards, depending on the orientation of the main entrance to their dwellings) are interesting and make the big difference  -- outbuildings supported by stilts standing on seawater and charming wooden footbridges!    

outbuildings on stilts and footbridges like these are common along the sibutu coastline

because we couldn't resist the footbridges, we had to walk on one :) | sibutu, tawi-tawi

the combined aroma of the sea and lovely sights of stilts and footbridges that extend out to the water made us temporarily forget our hunger.

our hosts served malaysian specialty dishes for our lunch -- they're all spicy and yummy and went well with both bread and rice. the malaysian food theme came as no surprise. like sitangkai, sibutu is closer to sabah, malaysia than to the mainland of mindanao -- consequently, malaysian influence in the area is so strong even down to the cuisine.

malaysian specialty dishes for lunch | sibutu, tawi-tawi

after lunch and some bit of rest, we all boarded a mini-truck to go further inland -- to explore more of sibutu island. it's amusing how around 20 of us managed to fit ourselves at the back of the mini-truck. i guess, when adventure calls, things just fall into place. haha.

a glimpse of our sibutu island roadtrip

sibutu island's natural freshwater swimming pool

our first stop was a swimming hole called kaban-kaban, a cave with a natural pool of clear freshwater. the place was just a short walk away from where we stopped along the concrete municipal road. the area was cool, shaded with trees, and had a very refreshing vibe. at first, we thought it was just a look-and-see kind of stopover but...

the natural pool was inviting to most of us especially since we already had more than our fair share of exposure to the sun that day. plus, our guides shared with us that it's often said that no one can really say they've been to sibutu if they haven't taken a dip in the pool.

sibutu's natural swimming hole

convinced and already badly wanting to beat the sweltering tropical heat, most of us took a dip in the swimming hole. the water was cold and the pool was deep! good thing, there were trusty roots to hold on to along the sides and there were also some helpful poles close to the stairs.

our group enjoying the waters of kaban-kaban, sibutu's swimming hole
(some of the photos in this collage were taken by our guides)

some of us were brave enough to take an exhilarating jump going into the pool. the rest of us enjoyed swimming-and-floating in the cold freshwater and watching the splashes created by those who jumped from the overhang.

after our enjoyable swim, we all climbed back to the mini-truck. like most of the rest who went swimming, i was wet and shivering but the summer heat soon balanced things out and all was well. on our way to the next stop and while the mini-truck was moving along the road, i managed to take pictures of things that caught my interest.

prior to our tawi-tawi trip, i already knew that sibutu is regarded as the home of the south's boat-building industry, being the island of master boat-builders whose skills and expertise in making sea vessels date back to pre-colonial times. as jun mercado shared in a blog article, "big and small boats that navigate the sulu sea are 'made in sibutu'. these boats are more popularly known as kumpits."

with that information in mind, i was stretching my neck and looking out for something resembling a shipyard during our roadtrip in sibutu. however, i only saw two or three boats that appeared to be work-in-progress -- and i was able to take a picture of only this one.

a work-in-progress, a boat made in sibutu

the other thing that caught my attention was the community graveyard that we passed by. less concrete or stone materials were used but the markers were engraved with ornate designs. there was an ongoing burial when we arrived at the area and i was tempted to document that but i restrained myself from aiming my lens in that direction.

ornate designs standout in a graveyard in sibutu

makhdum memorial
tandu banak, sibutu island, tawi-tawi

our next stop was the makhdum memorial, an impressive structure with elaborate engraved designs built in honor of sheikh karim makhdum, the arab missionary who reinforced the introduction of islam in the philippines. although old and unfinished, the memorial -- declared a national shrine in 1993 by the national historical institute -- is attention-grabbing and very picturesque.

the makhdum memorial

side view of the makhdum memorial

the ornate details of the makhdum memorial

it is said that sheikh makhdum was buried in sibutu island. the makhdum memorial with all its ornate designs was put up to mark his burial ground, a simple mound located at the back of the structure.

at this point, it is worth sharing that the site of sheikh makhdum's "real" grave is a subject of controversy. there is also a tomb of sheikh mahkdum in tawi-tawi's simunul island, the cradle of islam in the philippines and which happened to be our next island destination that day.

before we left sibutu island to get to know simunul, we went to one of sibutu's white sand beaches and took a dip in the celebes sea!

white sand and the celebes sea | sibutu island
if you're after unadulterated white sand beaches in the tropics, sibutu has them!

getting wet in the celebes sea! | sibutu, tawi-tawi
(photo by kat)

next up for this series: setting foot on tawi-tawi's simunul island

breathtaking tawi-tawi: our journey to the philippines' southernmost frontier | the series


  1. Wow, what a journey you had!
    The blue hole Kaban-Kaban looks so fresh. And I'm not surprise if there are many Islamic heritage across the ocean and near Indonesia or Malaysia.

    The weird and funny thing is, local legend always believe there's always Islam character's grave in their island even it is not certainly true. Hehehe...

    Anyway, I also do love to travel to little-known places or road less traveled. Just like this place Sibutu Island. Not many people know it exactly.
    If I want to visit the island, can I take a boat from Sabah?
    Or maybe I have to go to Philippines' main island first?

    "It's not just about the destination, but the journey"


    1. ello george! thanks for leaving a message.

      yes, it's possible to travel directly from (and to) sabah like some people in the south do. always be ready with your important travel docs, especially passport.

      happy and safe travels!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...