“Can the water get any more turquoise than this?” I thought to myself as the main island of Bongao came clearer into focus. Despite the dark clouds on the horizon, the depths of the sea seemed to glow a piercing shade of blue-green, unlike anything I had seen before.
We had just visited Sheik Makhdum in Simunul Island, the site of the first mosque built in the Philippines, and were on our way to Sangay Siapo, a remote island accessible by boat ride from Bongao, for day trips and swimming. Some of the sites nearby are said to be ideal for snorkeling or diving if you have your own gear.
From afar, all I could see was a grove of trees on the tiny island. As we approached, I noticed that the island’s shoreline was fine sand, dotted with a few tiny pebbles and corals. Save for the island’s caretakers and their kids, we were the only ones on the island that afternoon.
For some reason, I was immediately drawn to the rickety wooden pier on the opposite side of the shore. With more than a few rafters missing on the walkway, and its stilts encrusted in barnacles, it has probably seen better days. In fact, the whole island feels that way.
Apparently, the island used to be a resort for locals, but it seems that the main multi-story house there has been abandoned. A few pieces of furniture gathered dust next to broken glass in the large, empty rooms. From the structure’s open roofdeck, I got a clear view of the island, which is small enough to walk around. In fact, you can probably circle the whole island in a mere 10 minutes. More white sand beaches were visible in the land mass right across the island.
For lunch, we settled in an open air structure outside the abandoned house. Since there’s no place to buy food here, our guide had brought packs of junay (rice steamed in coconut milk and toasted coconut) from the market. The aromatic rice was wrapped in little packets of banana leaves and tied up with string like suman to keep it fresh. This made it easier to eat along with the salty fried fish. Doused with shredded mango in soy sauce and chili, it was a simple yet heartwarming meal.
After lunch, the boatman went off to take a nap on a bench under the shade of the trees, while the rest of us walked around to explore a bit and take a dip in the water.
Unlike the sandy shore where we had docked, the other side of the island near the wooden pier was rockier and riddled with more stones, corals and a few starfish. But it provided a secluded cove and nice view of occasional passing boats. The water felt really refreshing, and it was nice to just sit on the shore and just drift with the waves and enjoy the view.
In most other provinces in the country, an island as beautiful as this would probably be crowded with noisy tourists on a weekend. But I guess its remote location has kept it shielded for years. There are numerous beaches and islands in the country that may offer more in terms of amenities. But this remote island on the Southernmost tip of the country is one of the most memorable in my book.
NOTE: Visited in March 2013; For more things to do in Tawi-Tawi, check out the related posts.