Unexpected trips to unexpected places can sometimes be the most pleasant.
Boracay was the last place I expected to spend Lent. After discovering mountaineering and places off the tourist radar, vacations had always been off the beaten track. A beach meant a quiet place with only the sun, sand, and sea. Isolated places like Casiguran in Aurora and Pinaitan in Bataan. I have had enough of Puerto Galera which I last visited almost ten years ago. As to why I have never been to Boracay, I’m not sure about my original reason anymore. I remember saying way back, that I’ll only set foot in Bora when I finally know how to swim. Todate, my swimming skills are limited to floating on my back for about 10 minutes max.
Lent was supposed to be spent way up in Bakun where the clouds kiss the peaks of Kabunian, Lobo, and Tenglawan. I vowed to summit all 3 mountains this time (I skipped Tenglawan last year). But Fate has funny ways of turning even your stoniest decision to water. When the opportunity to Bora finally presented itself courtesy of an available cheap ticket (my workmate’s bf backed-out due to a US trip)coupled with my workmates everyday mantra of “sige na!” punctuated with assurances of a really fun and fabulous time, I decided that perhaps, it was time to experience Boracay, for better or for worst. Besides, my chronic knee problem wasn’t up to the strenuous climbs laid out before me. Or perhaps I was just making an excuse.
The Boracay Beach Body Workout
With Mark Nelson half-naked enticing people to take a popular airline to Caticlan and bask in the famed beaches of Boracay, one cannot help but put two and two together. No, Bora doesn’t mean a date with Mark Nelson. Bora means sporting a body fit enough to get into boardshorts. So for the next two weeks I worked my butt off and lived on salads like a rabbit on steroids. It was cardio cardio cardio and weights weights weights. Everyone was at the gym was doubly encouraging and I even worked-out on Sundays. So did I get a body like Mark Nelson’s? No. But at least it was good enough for the beach.
I also realized I had no board shorts and my swimming shorts which were good enough for the isolated beaches would look too awful amidst the Billabongs and Ripcurls. So I bought some shorts to go with the tanning oil I had bought earlier for 2 previous beach weekends at Bataan.
The Little Airplane
Everyone who knows how I travel know that I dislike riding airplanes. My overactive imagination always have doomsday scenarios. It was my first-time to get on a really small plane and the fact that it was Zest, the former Asian Spirit, an airline company I have always avoided riding (“fly an Asian, land as spirit” , did nothing to assure me. Thankfully, I had my Happy to Fly pills and Luisa with me. This was also going to be my first air flight since having anxiety attacks so surviving this ride calmly and anxiety-free would finally prove to me that I was rid of my attacks.
Checking-in early last Wednesday, Luisa and I were upgraded to the 2pm from our original 3:45 flight which worked well since flights were delayed for almost an hour. Our friends on Thursday flights weren’t so lucky as delays ran for almost 3 hours. The MA60 had barely room for our heads and our legs. I had chosen Row 1 thinking it would be roomy. The flight was pleasant and smooth despite the incessant noise and vibrations normally, or I had hoped it was normal, made by a small aircraft. Either the day was really clear and cloudless or the plane was flying low, but I could see the islands laid out beneath us.
Our arrival in Caticlan and subsequent disembarkation at Boracay was reminiscent of my first arrival in the US. It was an “I can’t believe it I’m here” moment. Neil Armstrong must have felt the same way when he first set foot on the moon. Finally walking on the beach, my first thoughts were “It really is white powdery sand.” Now I understand why my sister, returning home from her first trip to Boracay, showed us her island keepsake– a mayonnaisse bottle half-filled with sand.
This Is It?
Walking along White Beach, fascination with the sand soon turned to horror as rows and rows of shops and stands crammed each other like shops in a mad Christmas bazaar while vendors shoved sunglasses and boat trips at you. And there were people!! It was only Wednesday and I could hear people saying, “There are already more people now.” Well, it was really expected but it did come as a shock to me having gotten used to empty beaches. It curiously felt like White Beach in Puerto Galera. But then again, what is Boracay in Lent without people. A day later, I had gotten used to darting around the throngs crowding the sand-covered pedestrian walkway. And on Easter Sunday, had actually missed the crowds who had gone home.
But I guess, Boracay is really big enough that there’s room for everyone, no matter how crowded. 4 kilometers of beach has to have some place for someone. You just have to find the spot that’s right for you. And I did find that spot, actually spots. The far ends of Stations 1 and 3 give way to lovely beachfronts and resorts and bars with more character and atmosphere. I’d park my yellow sarong and lather on my tanning oil and tan like it was going out of style. At night, for some fun and booze, I’d go to the center of the action near D’Mall.
Sun, Sand, Sea, and Booze
The next couple of days and nights were a heady mix of tanning and swimming during the day, eating-out, and going to the rockies at sundown all taken with endless bottles of booze. I had a stash of Absolute Raspberry, a bottle of Baileys, and 8 bottles of Mudshake. Then of course, there’s Red Horse. I must have had more booze than water.
It was nice chilling-out at Sur late afternoons with its happy hour and nice lounging chairs. It’s 3 for 100 beers and Buy1 Take 1 coctails were a real steal. On the opposite end, at Station 3 was Jungle Bar with its live drum music and backpack atmosphere.
One doesn’t necessarily go to the beach for its food considering the amount of skin and muscle tone on display. Looking at all those half-naked baked-in-the sun bodies is enough to induce anorexia-bulimia and guilt feelings for the bannana shake you just had. But one cannot live on booze alone so I had to grab some grub.
Gone are the days when beach food meant only grilled stuff. The sheer number of food choices available from Indian (True Food) to Thai (Sulu Thai) to French (La Revere) to Spanish (Ole) is option paralysis causing. It’s really the amount of moolah in your wallet that determines where you eat. Unless you go to the talipapa or live on the budget meals at Andok’s, the food range is about 180 to the sky. One of the best eats I had were at the 2 Mexican restos. Manana, a hole in the wall with only about ten tables at Station 1 where I had a filling combination of 2 burrittos and a taco plus a good frozen margarita. Equally good and expensive Bolero near Station 3 with wooden swings in front where I had the perfect Mojito while watching the beach action.
But because this was the Philippines where crass commercialism must rear its ugly head, after all Boracay is heavily commercialized, there was bound to be a —– Starbucks!. If the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia, which is home to one of the largest tea plantations has a big Starbucks, why not Bora? There was also Shakey’s and Yellow Cab. I was expecting a Chowking or a Jollibee to turn-up at the next sation. I have nothing against these brands but it kinda made the place less charming and was a grim reminder of urban life which everyone was trying to flee from. At least FIC and Cafe Mediterranean were in sync with the place and totally unobtrusive. I would definitely choose Real Coffee and its freshly-made calamansi muffins anytime over Starbucks and the Php 40 pizza slices at an Italian roadside stall were definitely way way better than Shakey’s.
And of course, there had to be a mall. At least, in the case of D’Mall, it was a stripmall with some charming shops and delighful restos. I just hope SM and the local government doesn’t get the bright idea of putting up an SM Boracay.
My first dinner at Bora was at Burger Grill which had yummy juicy burgers and potato wedges. Opposite it was LemonTwist which had a display of delectable mini cakes. Their brownies were sinfully soft and fudgy. Hungry Monkey had a really good burger too. Fatter and juicier than Burger Grill’s. Normally, I would have gone on a food binge but I didn’t want to spend the rest of the sunny days lying flat on the sand looking like a beached butanding.
Any famous place deserves equally famous food. The shakes at Jonah’s do live up to the hype as a must-taste considering that every stall, cafe, and resto advertises fresh fruit shakes. The Banana Peanut Choco and the Banana Mocha Peanut were smooth, thick, and creamy.
Of equal legendary status was the choriburger at any of the hawker stalls. A Visayan chorizo , slightly sweet, grilled, then placed on a hamburger bun and lathered with your choice of either sweet or spicy reddish sauce. It’s a perfect ending to a night-out.
What really surprised me was the number of buffets available averaging 250 bucks nett. I tried the one at Sands, Bug’s Grill, and Boracay Peninsula (not affiliated with the Peninsula group). Sands was the better option as it came with a juice station plus it was quite removed from the rest of the buffet scene which had a lot of people. The selections were not very varied but were quite good. With the price of a la carte, the buffets were really good value for money.
First night-out was at Juice Bar where a Greek guy as debonaire as George Clooney came-up to Luisa for big-time flirting. I was shouting, “Bait bus! Bait bus!” a joke we both shared. Being a good girl, faithful and loyal to her bf, Luisa gently turned the guy down which horrified all of us . “Bait bus!”
Thursday was even wilder and more fun with the free Marlboro event that had bottomless beer. The bars were closed on Good Friday so I stayed home and was catching by 40 winks by 10pm which was good because Saturday turned out to be the grandest of them all with me going back home at daybreak. It was as if all those weekends I stayed home came together and beat the shit out of me. I could her Bryan from Queer as Folk, repriminding me, “When you grow old, you’re going to remember all those nights you stayed home.” I swear, I have never drank and danced as much as before even beating my Bangkok partying. We started close to midnight at the Marlboro event. The line to the entrance was really really long. The idea was to fill-up on the free San Mig light (which had too much ice and thereby really diluting the beer) before heading to Big Fish’s Slinky where we had VIP access courtesy of Gold’s Gym’s sponsorship. There were less people at Slinky but the music was really so much better and people seemed to be having more fun. Dancing on the sand at the Slinky event as the sun rose is an experience I am never ever gonna forget. It seemed almost surreal.
Our last night was at Club Paraw and Guilly’s where we danced with Patrick, a Swiss that we befriended earlier while sunning at Sur. A nice 23-year old chap from Zurich, he treated us to beers and had a liking for Luisa. With her statuesque figure, long hair, and brown model looks, Luisa was a magnet for foreigners, especially cute ones.
Indulgence at Nami
One of my most enjoyable experiences, albeit, an expensive one, was the the spa at Nami. Perched picturesquely on a cliff overlooking quiet Diniwid Beach, Nami is a luxurious hotel with only 12 villas and a quiet and soothing ambience. The view from its balconies while sipping a glass of Boracay Sunset, a heady concoction of fruit-flavored vodkas and coconut rhum, was the Boracay that I had seen in postcards. The staff were really friendly even if we weren’t hotel guests. “Enjoy your massage,” called out one of them as Luisa and I were led by two masseuse to a glass-walled treatment room with a view of the sea. It was so serene and peaceful as even the masseuses spoke in hushed tones. Our 2 and a half-hour Ultimate Experience started with a scrub that felt so good on my sun-punished skin followed by a soothing yogurt body mask and culminated in an aromatherpy massage. It was the ultimate indulgence. A treatment at Nami is definitely a must in every Boracay visit.
The lucky old-times wistfully remember the Boracay of old pre-development days when White Beach was simply a beautiful beach. Maybe it’s global warming, but people say, even recent visitors such as Luisa, that the tide line has been rising higher and higher. One morning, strolling to Station 1, the tide was lapping-up the doorsteps of Jonah’s. The Save Boracay campaign that the locals and business owners started seem to be working, at least for now. In spite of the number of people, the beach and the surroundings are clean. Buying a pinipig crunch from one of the vendors plying the beach, he asked for the ice-cream wrapper and showed it inside a plastic bag he was carrying for trash. Throwing trash on the beach was not allowed, he told me. Now, if only everyone were like that.
I love Boracay. It is a place I would go back to over and over again. Ultimately, its beauty and its survival rest on people like us who visit. Boracay is nature’s gift to us and we who have been blessed to partake of its offerings must do our best to take care of it. Boracay deserves no less.
What We Can Do To Help Boracay
1. Leave no trash behind. Absolutely carry all trash with you even small ones such as candy wrappers. Even if it’s not your trash, pick-it up.
2. Try to leave as minimal trash on the island. Carry your trash with you back to Caticlan and dispose of there.
3. When buying mineral water, buy the largest gallon then just have a small water bottle to refill. That way, you minimize the use of plastic bottles.
4. Support green-friendly business establishments.
5. Practice green-friendly diving ethics and practices.