Stingless Jellyfishes, Sea Grapes, Vinta Rides: There is More Fun in Sta. Cruz Island

September 30, 2021 Travel

Many would think pink sands are all there is when it comes to Great Sta. Cruz Island in Zamboanga City. Don’t get me wrong: those blush-colored sands are reason enough to book a ticket to Zamboanga City. National Geographic listed this beach as one of the world’s top beach destinations in 2017. 

However, when you book a Yellow Boat Adventure, you’ll find out there are more to Great Sta. Cruz Island’s sandy glory. 


Yellow Boat Adventure


Coming from a year and a half with no beach, all I was looking forward to that day was for my feet to touch down on the sand. We enjoyed a day at the beautiful white beach at Malamawi Island in Isabela de Basilan a few days before, but I wanted more sun and sand. Our itinerary included a lagoon tour prior to the beach.   


I was part of a group invited by the Tourism Promotions Board (PTB) and Department of Tourism (DOT) to explore Zamboanga Peninsula or ZamPen under its Philippine Tourism Influencers Program (PTIP).


Our activities started at Paseo del Mar early morning where we attended a briefing highlighting the environmental rules of the islands. 


Both islands have protected landscapes and seascapes. Single-use plastics and smoking are not allowed on the islands, and bags are inspected prior to boarding.


After the orientation, we donned our life vests and rode the outrigger boats that took us to a small community in Great Sta. Cruz Island. Our paddlers and their yellow boats were waiting for us there. 


They steered us inland to the middle of the mangrove forest and we made several stops. 


First, we looked at and tried to distinguish male and female mangroves. Then we went to the part of the lagoon where a bloom of jellyfish live. It was quite soothing to watch their gelatinous bodies in the waters. It is not often we encounter jellyfishes without the venomous stings, so I also played with my own jellyfish.


I only know of two other places in the country where we can swim with jellyfishes – Bucas Grande in Surigao del Norte and Britania Islands in Surigao del Sur. The last time I went to Tojoman Lagoon in Bucas Grande, we barely saw jellyfishes. We were told part of the reasons was because of the sunblock applied by tourists.  


After our sea jellies encounter, we moved to a place where we can harvest and eat sea grapes. Our tour director, Errold Lim Bayona was even ready with spray-on vinegar. 


The finale was vinta rides. Vintas are Zamboanga City’s iconic canoes with double outriggers. In the six times I have visited Zamboanga City, that was the first time I rode one. 


Changing Life for Locals


The Yellow Boat Adventure is a well-run tour, and it is nice to know community members, which are members of the Sama Bangingi cultural community, directly benefit from this tour operation.


According to Errold, this all started when he was searching for other offerings for tourists who visit Great Sta. Cruz Island. This also initiated more livelihood opportunities for members of the community.


“Kasi dati talagang punta lang ng beach, then a visit at the Ancient Badjao Burial Site, which was famous during the Cruise Ship Days. Madaling ma-bore.” (Before this, tourists would just go to the beach then drop by the Ancient Badjao Burial Site, which was famous during the Cruise Ship Days and got bored). 


Things started falling into place when The Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation donated three boats to the community. The organization, formerly referred to as Philippine Funds for Little Kids, started as a national movement to help children who had to swim to get to school.


“We thought of making use of the boats to tour around the lagoon to see what is in there.” 


They discovered an ecotour course like no other and started offering these to tourists. 


Eventually, Yellow Boat Foundation donated more boats, gathered more funds for additional boats and training of the community members, marketed, and managed it in partnership with Zamboanga City Protected Area Management Office.


Now, 85 families are receiving additional livelihood from the tour.


The Pink Beach


I thought we would wind down after the Yellow Boat Adventure, but the fun continued.


We were relaxing in our cottage and enjoying our satti, a breakfast staple in Zamboanga City, when we heard kulintang music. We ran to the beach and saw a parade of vintas arriving with dancers in colorful costumes onboard gracefully moving their arms and hands. 


Their dance is called the pangalay, traditionally performed by the Tausug people.


During their performance, several members of the group joined, which was also a picture-taking opportunity.


After watching the performance, we were called back to the beach to have our lunch. 


That was our sixth day on tour in ZamPen and the fifth day we had crabs for lunch. We already had spanner crabs, which is a must-eat in ZamPen; kalugmata, red-eye mangrove crab served at the Marang Marang Floating Cottage in Isabela de Basilan; and mud crabs. This time we were served deep-sea crabs harvested by the community members. I think that is my favorite among the crab varieties because of its juicier and tastier meats. 


We also had shrimp, fish, squid, and different fruits. It was another glorious spread of food, modified to adhere to safety-measures and lovingly prepared by members of the community. 


After lunch, we had our beach moments. Some took the opportunity for some quiet or me-time. Others had their pictorials. I did what I wanted to do, which was swim! After all, it took so long for me to return to that pink beach. My first visit was in 2014. I was recovering from a mountain-climbing accident, and I was still in crutches so I could not swim. Heaven knows how much I wanted to come back. 


I am so thankful that through PTB, DOT, and Out of Town Blog, I was able to experience the pink beach again and see Little Sta. Cruz Island, which is known for its sand bar, for the first time. 


The tourism tagline of this region, #OnceAgainZamPen is true! This part of the Philippines is meant to be experienced more than once, and there will surely more surprises the next visit. 


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