When I visited Zamboanga last year, I saw this island that was calling on me form a distance. I wasn't able to go, since it was the time when there was an all out war in Basilan, and there was a boat curfew starting at 3PM. I ended my business in Zamboanga at 3:30PM, and I was to fly to Davao early next morning. So when I was back in Zamboanga last month, I didn't let anything get in my way of going to that island, the Sta. Cruz Island or more popularly known as the Pink Island.
So, how do you go there? It's about 15 minutes via a pump boat that you can hire from Lantaka Hotel near the pier. But before doing that, there are some steps you must undergo. First, go to the Department of Tourism office beside Lantaka to secure a permit to travel and a request for tourist police (they call them escorts). After that, you have to go to the Tourist Police office in the building on the other side of Lantaka. It is the last room on the ground floor along the driveway. Once there, present your permits at request to the Head Officer. Wait for a little processing of papers and for the escorts to come with you. In Lantaka, you have to seek the permission of the manager there for your boat to dock on their beachfront. If no, ask the boat person to go to the pier near the boardwalk area. I know, I know, it's a hassle, but this is the procedure in traveling in the troubled South. Once everything is set (negotiate with the boat man, P800), you're off with a couple of guys with machine guns.
The ride was smooth, and seemed long. I finally reached its shores and we docked in a designated area. There were picnic tables and some deserted rooms.
Sta. Cruz is a small piece of land surrounded by fine white sands. Why pink? From afar, it didn't look as pink as I thought it would be. The reason for the pinkish hue was because of the coral below that was abundant in the area:
Sta. Cruz Island is inhabited, so you could see a village on one part of the island. When we arrived, I noticed that these villagers began to pack up some things, took on their small boats and rushed towards us. They came a dozen, running and with merchandise that they laid out at the back of the picnic area. They really took time to set up, and when they were done, they just looked at us. With all that effort, we just had to buy something.
Sta. Cruz was a peaceful island. It was unspoilt and I was happy it was kept this way. They told me some rebels hid out here, so I was very cautious exploring a part of the island.
I was ecstatic that I finally made it to Sta. Cruz, but I just had a short time (an hour) because I had to catch a flight back to Manila. I wasn't able to swim or do anything else. We didn't even had snacks. Our guides told us that more people came during weekends and that it was possible to stay overnight, only if you had a special permit.
I just love the South. Next year, I hope to visit Tawi-Tawi. I just couldn't stop myself from seeing more of Mindanao.