Find us on Google+ Love Mindanao: Cotabato City: Traveling with the Men in "Ghutra" (part 1)

Cotabato City: Traveling with the Men in "Ghutra" (part 1)

Complicated and challenging travels are what I always look for whenever I plan an outdoor getaway to break the monotony of routine activities I have in my work. To mitigate the complication along the way, I usually  prepare sets of alternatives before stepping a foot outside of my  door and I always assure the  security condition of the places with emphasis on the safety and far  from any danger that can put my life into peril. (Who doesn’t?)

But in the latest escapade that I did, I somewhat have become so reckless, unpredictable and bent the  golden rule of traveling as I have come unprepared visiting  one of the most feared places in the Philippines-Cotabato City. 

 Sultan Dipatuan Kudarat-7th Sultan of Maguindanao
Visiting any places in ARMM wouldn't be dared by any 'regular' citizens as most of us are afraid to be caught in the middle of war between the MILF and the AFP, plus the terrorism brought by some groups that made the place a nightmare to everyone's  journey.

But with the recent development , launching and signing of the "Framework Agreement" between the government and the MILF, I felt that bumping in ARMM is little less hazard compared to previous years.

Curious about the impact of such agreement, I decided to wander around in one of the "troubled" cities in the ARMM, Cotabato, to test the effectiveness of such strategy coming from both parties- but I am not setting myself as the sacrificial pancake for this as I just want to see it with my own eyes the PEACE that we are all hoping to happen very soon.

The City of Cotabato  is actually engulfed within the province of Maguindanao , thus making Maguindanaon as the general dialect spoken in the area but you will hear Tagalog being spoken everywhere as well. The city has been a synonymous word for danger, kidnapping and most of all, bombing as news released by media generalized  the restlessness of the city that over shadowed  the other peaceful places in the island of Mindanao. 

The city was even highlighted in a negative way during the tragedy of the Maguindanao massacre in which a number of journalists and some members of a political clan were murdered just outskirt of the city during the election season.

Minding those past events, I felt challenged to see for myself the truth about the place and discover the other good side of Cotabato City as I always believed that mirror has two faces reflecting two different sides  of the story. 

With a very raw information and unassured  invitation from a Muslim friend Jafaar, I packed my bag and hit the road for a 15 hour bus ride going to Cotabato City coming from Surigao del Sur via Davao City. 

Jafaar (Saddam) and me reunited after two years since my gig in Lyceum of the Philippines University
Reaching the place, I was very glad to be reunited with Jafaar better known as Saddam as he introduced me to the staff of the DXMS AM & DXOL FM Radio Station in Cotabato City where he currently works. After a few moments of greet and meet, we went outside to look for an accommodation to where I can spend my first night in ARMM. I never thought that Cotabato City has a number of good hotels and pension houses that were almost the same as to the lodging houses of other cities in the Philippines. I settled in Diamond Hotel along Jose Lim St. for Php 650.00 for a single air conditioned room.

Meet and Greet with the staff / radio personalities of DXMS AM and DXOL FM Cotabato City
Lured by faith, I met  the Pinoy Travel Blogger couple Marky of Nomadic Experience and Lauren of Epic Potato after they missed the last trip bound for Pagadian and decided to join me and take refuge in the hotel. We decided to take a bigger room to accommodate us all for Php1000.00 and the hotel manager was so kind that they didn't mind our request for a room transfer.

Jafaar, Nicky the Music Monster, Me, Lauren and Marky
We went to the DXOL to meet Jafaar and his friend Sam (another radio announcer)  for  dinner and we were so lucky to meet some of the personalities behind the beautiful but strong voices of the number one FM and AM radio station in Cotabato City. 

One in particular was Nicky the Music Monster of Happy FM 92.7. With her natural talent in speaking, her stories made me cheer up and lighten the nervousness I was feeling already for hours since I arrived. I have never met a Muslim woman who can speak very “liberal” and share her thoughts in a becky style.

Jafaar and Sam  brought us to Al Nor to have a taste of their traditional Muslim dishes. 

To eat a Halal food isn’t new to me but to sit in a restaurant filled with Muslim customers was an unusual experience. 

We ordered some authentic dishes in Alibaba. Lauren and Marky ordered something I can't even pronounce so I settled with simpler dish Lahma Kabab-grilled beef slices tagged with roz masry for Php 135.00 only. 

Before the main coarse meal , they served us with a very tasty tea  which I can’t determine the plant source. It tastes similar to a very sweet "date" fruit –a staple food in the Middle East. We munched on our freshly cooked served food as if we have not eaten for two days.

Mouth watering Lahma Kabab of Alibaba Restaurant
Upon finishing our meal, the upper floor of the restaurant was filled with laughter as we boast our best stories and experiences in our travel and even some personal Maalaala Mo Kaya stories were spilled out. We even received some tips from Sam on how to survive our stay in the place.

Our reliable Muslim hosts, Sam and Jafaar
At the end of the day, Sam and Jafaar offered to arrange a trip to Bongo Island, with boat being sponsored by a “personality.” Mixed emotions filled my heart since I have never heard the place before and glad that there will be another discovery and tips to be shared with travel enthusiasts who wish to visit Cotabato City after this trip. 

Al Nor by night
After the sumptuous delight they sent us back to our hotel with word of cautions not to wander around  at the middle of the night especially without any Muslim friend accompanying you. 

I will leave you a little  hanging for now until the next post for the Part 2 of my Cotabato Adventure as I visit the Masjid Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah.


  1. ive never tried muslim dishes. i wonder how they taste like!

  2. Maria Gemma Defeo-HilotinNovember 9, 2012 at 6:54 AM

    Good thing you have a Muslim friend to accompany you the whole time! I've never been to that place.. not sure if I'll ever will.. love your experience though!

  3. I hope that Mindanao start dissociating with the negative impression of safety from MILF as we really need to step up the promotions of attractions there and Cotabato is an interesting stop there.

  4. galing! love reading the post Dennis at ang bilis ha:)

  5. I may not be brave enough to go to any place in Cotabato, According to my husband who is a police officer, they could hardly penetrate to any area without escort coming from the local headquarters... when they were assigned for a work related job.

  6. I live in Mindanao but never been to any place in Cotabato or ARMM. And even if I want to the chance I have is also slim since I know no one from the place. That's really so brave of you to have taken the risk.

  7. I've been to Cotabato City a long time ago, I wonder if the surrounding town looks scary till now when you travel going to Cotabato? Hope not!

  8. it's sad that a beautiful place like Mindanao cannot be explore because of fear and safety, as much as they want to promote it.

  9. I never thought of Cotabato to be a dangerous place..
    Though I've never been there, I have some cousin that actually grew up here.
    It would be good to renew connections for sometime..
    And maybe you can tell me something that I could do in here, especially in photography,
    then I could check Cotabato off my bucket list soon.

  10. I really have a lot of places yet to visit in Mindanao and Cotabato is one of them. It was nice of you to meet fellow travel bloggers along the way and was able to get a good deal on the room.

  11. Good to see you and couple Marky and Lauren met in Cotabato, I bet you did enjoy your stay in once battleground city. After looking your food picture, makes we want to eat Kebab. drooling wohooo.

  12. Cotabato,lovely place. I have read a lot of nice thing and good place in Cotabato .I love their culture and heritage.

  13. While a lot of people find Cotabato scary, I similarly want to go there and uncover all the stereotypes. I know Cotabato has a lot to offer in terms of cultural aspects.

  14. The Lhama Kabab seems tasty. They say that Cotobato is quiet unbalanced, but to your post, it seems to be quiet beautiful. :D

  15. It's all about stereotypes, see.. if you choose positivity and the way to find it yourself everything is possible if you find yourself what the mass media talks about true or fallacy, discovering great places and the negative thoughts you don't mind results to an amazing experience, eh? Cheers for Mindanao, Mindanao is Love! :))

  16. I hope most people won't have the impression that ARMM is not safe for travelers young and old. But my mom told me that its only a case to case basis though.

  17. armm is just as that of the other places here in the philippines... you just need to visit it to know the reality. and it is just as livable as any place in the country. Yahweh bless.

  18. Thanks for the online tour. Cotabato City has lots to offer pala.

  19. Oh I love Cotabato City, been there for 4-5 times already and i still want to go back.. there's too many interesting places to see there.. looking forward for the photos of the golden mosque :)

  20. I can't think how much risk was involved when reading this post, but the way you said it turned out to be good's nice to know Somebody exploring cotabato city

  21. Interesting! Cotabato City looks very promising. I am for Peace in Mindanao and I'm hoping to travel to this city someday.

  22. Very interesting. And you were with some PTB peeps. :) Mindanao is in my travel list next year (including Cotabato, of course). I hope to explore the same way you did. And hope to see you there. :)

  23. i hope to meet you also somewhere down the road :)

  24. I couldn't agree more .. Mindanao is LOVE :)