While many are quite familiar with the number of islands (7,641) in the Philippines, what foreigners might want to know are the untold stories about them.
Although, I’m not going to talk about every island of the country (it would take forever to do that) —but, I’ll share some important and interesting insights about one of the three major group islands called ”Mindanao”.
What Is Mindanao?
The Mindanao is the second-largest island in the Philippines. The first one is Luzon, and third is Visayas. It is also named as Southern Philippines, and for many Filipinos, it’s known to be a dangerous place due to the history of crimes like kidnapping, terrorist attacks, and rebel groups.
While you might heard or read scary stories about Mindanao —I can assure you that not all of them are true. Some people especially from outside Mindanao (like those in Luzon and Visayas) tend to exaggerate about how life is like living in Mindanao.
I even experienced (countless times) being bullied and mocked by my co-workers, acquaintances, and friends just coz I’m from Mindanao. They’d say ”Really? You’re from Mindanao?OMG! That’s scary! How’s it like to live in a very dangerous place?” , ”I can’t believe you’re from Mindanao! That place has many terrorists or killers! You aren’t one of them, are you!?” , ”Do you know how to make explosives?” , ”Have you witnessed someone being killed or attacked?”, ”That’s why your accent is strange!”.
I was born and raised in Zamboanga del Norte province of Mindanao, so I can only speak for myself, and I can say that there’s no way I’d consider it as a ”dangerous” place. Perhaps, I can confidently say this coz I’m a Filipino citizen, but, if I’m a foreigner who’s not familiar about how it’s like to live there (btw, I’m in Cebu City at the moment..this city is in Visayas)—it’d be a different story.
Since Mindanao is a very big island, it’s no doubt why many people have contrasting beliefs or varying description about it. Like myself for instance, I don’t feel unsafe living in my hometown, but others might have an opposite opinion which is normal. So, if you ask someone who’s from Jolo, Sulu, for example (a place known for muslims, terrorist attacks, or rebel groups) —the response could’ve been different. No one can’t be comfortable at something he/she is not used to, and let’s face it!—There’s really no safe place in this world. I mean, we can’t guarantee our safety in wherever we go, whatever we do, or however we do things. There’s always this potential danger that may come our way whether we like it or not.
My hometown is located at the northern tip of western Mindanao (closer to Visayas than Luzon). As far as I know, there’s little to no muslim residents in our area, and majority of the people are Catholics. The closest city of my hometown only has about 130,000 population which makes it one of the smallest in the country. It doesn’t have many tourist attractions, but the vibe of simple living, the culture, nature, and people is definitely something you’d like to experience.
5 Interesting Facts About Mindanao
Filipinos are known to be very hospitable, friendly, cheerful, or happy in general. So, the moment you arrive in the country, you’ll surely get smiles or hellos from people you don’t know. I’ll bet that! (chuckle) Though it can be a strange thing for many foreigners, but it certainly is normal here in the Philippines.
If you go to Mindanao, I’ll guarantee that you won’t only get smiles or hellos. You’ll be invited for lunch, dinner or family gatherings (except if your girlfriend/boyfriend is Filipino). Really! That’s the way it is here in the Philippines especially in Mindanao —but not all can experience this though. If you did, well, you must be special.
Also, I’d like to mention about how talented many Mindanao people are. Not just in singing (like what most Filipinos are known for), but more on speaking at least 3 languages/dialect (Tagalog, English, Bisaya). Residents from Manila or in Luzon area do not know how to speak Bisaya at all (except those who have a background in Bisaya tho).
Whenever I’m in Manila and I speak Bisaya with my friends —native tagalog people who hear me say a Bisaya-sounding words always get annoyed by it. They hate it! They hate Bisaya , maybe not the dialect but the people speaking it. Why? Coz they don’t appreciate someone using something they don’t know. They want you to speak in a manner that they understand. I speak awkward-sounding tagalog, so I often choose to speak in vernacular or English when I’m in Luzon (Manila, Palawan, etc.).
Abundance of fruits and veggies.
Do you know that most of the fruits and veggies from major cities like Manila and Cebu are from Mindanao?
Mindanao is blessed with fertile soil and good climate all-year-round, so there are many varieties of fruits and vegetables that we can grow. Veggies like bitter gourd (ampalaya), pumpkin or squash, eggplant, okra, carrots, cauliflower, bellpepper, among others. Fruits like watermelon, papaya, mangoes, durian, pomelo, banana, mangosteen, lanzones, and more.
Besides, if you own a piece of land in the province of Mindanao or have a backyard —you can make a garden and plant your own produce.
My parents have a garden on our backyard, so they don’t really go to the supermarket to buy fresh produce. They can just pick and savor some fruits and veggies from their home garden whenever they like.
Another thing to note is that, there are many fruits and veggies in Mindanao that you might not find easily in other countries (or even in other places in the country), so I suggest trying them all when you get a chance. Fruits like iba, marang, atis, tambis, kakao, siniguelas, and more. Veggies like alugbati, malunggay, kangkong, among others.
And by the way, I noticed a huge difference between living in Visayas, Luzon, and Mindanao. In my hometown, people are friendlier. I know everybody in our neighborhood. Whereas here in Cebu, I know nobody (though I lived here for many years). For the most part, I guess it’s my fault cuz I didn’t try my best to make friends with people around me.
In Mindanao, neighbors are like part of the family. You can ask a favor, borrow something (kitchenware, clothing, husband —kidding!) eat together, invite them to a party or gatherings, among others —but in other places (bigger cities, more developed areas) people tend to be preoccupied with oneself.
Affordable cost of living.
It’s no surprise that Mindanao area has the lowest cost of living compared to Visayas and Luzon. But that doesn’t mean all goods and services are cheap.
What I’m sure is that —apartment/condo/house/dormitory rentals are cheaper than outside Mindanao. Fruits and vegetables are way better in prices too especially if you go to the wet market (dirty market), and not in the shopping mall’s supermarket. One interesting example is the price of 1-kilo ripen mangoes. Can you guess how much is the lowest possible price you can pay for it? —20 Php. These are the small sized mangoes you can find in the province. They’re very sweet! I eat them like a viand on top of my rice. When I was younger and under my parents’ roof, I remember that we don’t really buy mangoes coz we can harvest it from our farm, and sometimes the neighbors give us for free.
One more example I can give is the picture below. A simple house facing a beautiful beach for only 5,000 per month rental (including water and electricity).
There is a plethora of beaches to visit in the Philippines, and I haven’t even been to some of the most famous destinations. However, I’ve been able to witness the beauty of other beaches that are uninhabited like this one below 🡫
Nothing is compared to the soothing sounds of the waves that relaxes our mind and body. It’s like a meditation that calms our soul.
Having over 7,600 islands is something that we can all be excited to explore with. Whether you book to a renowned beach resort or visit an unfamiliar seaside —there’s going to be something special ahead of you. Every ocean has its own unique wonders to offer, so be present and savor the moment.
I was once asked by someone about the places I may recommend to tourists, and my answer was ”Explore Mindanao! There’s so much that it can offer, not just the stunningly untouched beaches, food, but also the cultural richness and warmth welcome of the locals”.
Although you won’t see bullet trains and all those state-of-the-art rail transport like in Japan —but we have a three-wheel vehicle that you might want to sit on (for a change).
This one on the left is what we call ”traysikel” in tagalog or tricycle in English. In Bisaya, we just call it ”motor” (there’s another term for it but I forgot). The other one is called ”habal-habal” in Bisaya, ”motorsiklo” in tagalog, and motorcycle in English.
These vehicles have different look and it varies in every place you go. Some may look prettier or safer than others. You may also witness situations where passengers sit on top of the vehicle or worst a kid sitting in front of the driver (where it may look scary or dangerous). Doing so is illegal in the Philippines, however, due to the stubbornness of people and the lack of concern or interest of the authority —the rule seems nonexistent.
These are just a few of the many fascinating things that awaits your trip to Mindanao, Philippines, so I hope you won’t be culture shocked that much. 😀
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