If there is one place in Tawi-tawi that was initially at the top of my list, that has to be the island municipality of Sitangkai. For several years, I have read that this sword-shaped island is the Philippines version of Venice where there are waterways and bridges, instead of roads and streets with a touch of Asian culture. With this narrative alone, it has confined my thoughts for quite some time. (Well who would not have wanted to see Venice?)
And so, when I had the opportunity to visit Tawi-tawi (the Philippines southernmost province) I did not let pass by the idea of visiting the famed floating market in the Philippines. During our 2nd day in Tawi-tawi, we made our way to Sitangkai. From afar, one would already notice how the island seems to float on water. It is very noticeable that most of the houses were standing on stilts.
As we come nearer, we have noticed that despite the very clear waters surrounding the place, a lot of garbages were scattered floating. But I did not allow these sights to affect my excitement. We reached a wide canal to which our boatman remarked that we are now entering Sitangkai’s market. It was as if I was brought to a new world.
Several smaller boats further greeted us until we docked at an area where there were lots of seaweeds being dried. Sitangkai is also known as the “seaweeds capital of the Philippines” due to the large production of seaweeds. From there, we started to walk our way further inside the market. According to our guide, before, one can reach the end of the canal by riding a boat. But now, that is no longer the practice since some areas of the canal has become more congested.
It was a humbling experience seeing the life of our Tausug and Sama Dilaut brothers and sisters despite having mixed feelings during our quick walking tour of Sitangkai. The “Venice” I initially had in mind may not be the same with what I have seen personally, but the utter exquisiteness of the town’s core built on coral reefs plus the natural water passageways is purely beyond explanation. However, I am fervently wishing that the people and their leaders do something about the town’s garbage problem. Based on my observations, it looks like the people have the habit of just throwing their trashes into the waterways. I am not certain but I feel that the people are thinking the sea will anyhow wash this garbage away from them.
I wish that the locals realize how this appalling issue on trashes impact our environment and their future. And that an environmental catastrophe might sooner or later threaten this paradise in the middle of the Sulu Sea.
How to Get to Sitangkai:
From Manila, ride a plane to Zamboanga City and another plane to to Bongao, the capital town of Tawi-Tawi. From the airport in Bongao, ride a tricycle to the Chinese Pier and look for the ferry (lantsa) going to Sitangkai. The boat (lantsa) ride will take you around 5-6 hours depending on the cargo load of the boat. It leaves Bongao around 10am on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Alternatively, if you are already in Sibutu, you can charter a boat from Tandu Owak which is only about 45 minutes ride.
For assistance: Contact Ma’am Salve Pescadera of Tawi-Tawi Tourism Office at +63 910 671 6367 or +63 905 154 7865.
Don’t be a wasted soul, be ‘juan’derlust.