My Trip to Jolo, Sulu Island, Philippines

April 1985

The Pirates of Shan

Why did I go to such an out of the way place as Jolo? Back in 1985 I went on my first overseas trip and toured through much of south-east asia. Philippines was my last stop and I only had less than 2 weeks left.

When I was young I was fascinated by a story book "The Pirates of Shan" by John Blaine all about the Sulu Sea pirates and this led me to visit Sulu Island.

I arrived in Manila, spent a couple of days touring the city, and then flew to Zamboanga on Mindanao Island. On the way into town from the airport I clearly remember passsing a road shrine for the recently murdered mayor. My hotel had an armed guard at the entraceway.

At the time it was unclear if I could get to Sulu Island but I managed to locate the dock hosting the ship "Sampaguita Blossom" where I purchased a ticket to Jolo, the capital city of Sulu Island. The ship left late in the day and traveled overnight to Jolo. Because I bought my ticket so late, I think that I had a standing room only ticket - in any case I managed to locate a cot on which I could sleep the night. Little English was spoken!

The next morning we arrived in Jolo. For my photos taken in Jolo, Sulu Island, please follow this link:

Jolo, Sulu Island Photos

I recall being greeted at one point by the chief of police who politely warned me not to stray out of town as even back then there were kidnappings. Nevertheless, I had an enjoyable time during my 2 day stay. I stayed one night at an older hotel in Jolo and then left the following evening on a ship back to Zamboanga.

After returning to Zamboanga, I searched out a bus to Davao City, expecting a single day trip. As it happened, the bus only made it as far as Cagayan de Oro the 1st day and then to Davao City on the 2nd day. The roads were poor and travel at night wasn't adviseable. I stayed in Davao City one night and then flew back to Manila.

It's now 25 years later and I think about returning but the security situation seems as tenuous as ever. Nowadays you can even fly as Jolo has a relatively modern airport.

See these links:

David Williams


First published: August 5, 2010
Last updated: September 26, 2015




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