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Boracay: The Many Faces and Facets of Paradise

February 9, 2011

It’s a universe all on its own. Its gaily littered shores teem with every kind of race and color. In waters away from the crowded beach, the school of fishes are just as colorful and diverse. On the white sands, the drunkenness and revelry are concealed by the dancing coconut trees. Around them weaves the sound of percussions and Filipinized reggae music. The air is riveting and brings a shock to the soul, reminding you of what breathing should really be. Then just when you’ve gotten used to this unusual sensation called “fresh air”, you are suddenly assaulted by several scents: aromatic oils from masseuses by the shore, stuffed squid slowly cooking on the grill, and the smell of a an evening full of promises.

Never has an island been so overwhelming to the senses. This sexy island called Boracay, a tropical island found in the Western Visayas region of the Philippines archipelago, it’s like a temptress; it refuses to release you. It gets to you even when you’ve left it and calls for your return. The talcum fine sands stick stubbornly between your toes, the touch of its sun remains raw on your skin, and her smell continues to haunt you when you’ve gone back to the city.

What is it about this beguiling island that makes you want to keep coming back, and makes tourists come in droves? It follows its own rules, moves to its own beat. It is in every way Filipino, yet it is a world entirely of its own. It has its own citizens, its own culture – Filipino yet not quite. Here a clean cut Caucasian shares some laughs over a bottle of San Miguel Beer with a dark-skinned sun worshipper sporting dreadlocks. Here, a 48-year-old Italian restaurateur finds home in Boracay’s bosom almost 27 years ago. Today, he expands his business and helps out in putting up a school for the privileged children of the island.  A half Sri Lankan chef decides to make his famous vegetable samosa by the beach and has been doing so for over five years. These, and many others like them, are willing castaways that have been bewitched and have made the islands their home, living harmoniously with the locals.

artists painting T-shirts by the shore

The locals in turn have embraced the visitors, knowing that they bring with them good fortune. A golf caddy has seen the comings and goings of tourists through the years, and welcomes them with open arms, because she knows that Boracay’s livelihood depends on these foreigners.  The artists know this as well. They thrive in the island’s bohemian culture. In Boracay, the restless warm wind and the overflowing booze inspire their art.

Like art, commerce flourishes in this island. It does not apologize for unabashedly embracing commercialism, welcoming into its fold big food and clothing chains like Yellow Cab and Nothing but Water. Where else in the world would a beach have a mall, “The” mall (D’Mall), right in the middle of it?   It is only in Boracay where the Starbucks Cafe floor is littered with beach sand, and it seems perfectly all right. Jonas’ Fruit Shake used to be the number one watering hole on the main coast. It offered refreshment in any kind of tropical fruit available, way before Boracay was identified in the tourist map. It has evolved since then as it now serves smoothies to go in a plastic water bottle. After all, it has a lot to contend with, what with tall mocha fraps being served next door in fashionable Styrofoam cups.

Local seafood restaurants that boast of the freshest catch – squid, prawns, lobster, oysters – sit contentedly aside restaurants that sell the best baby back ribs in town or the most authentic Italian cuisine. How about traditional Japanese food by the beach? It’s any taste and preference. However you want it, Boracay serves it. It does not discriminate. It has even opened its doors to our small brothers and sisters with the Hobbit House promising every kind of beer or ale from all over the world.

beach side shop selling dream catchers and shell pendants

Enterprise is much alive by the beach with locals hawking everything from puca shell trinkets to braided friendship bracelets, from bottled colored sand to sundresses of every color. Boracaynons camp on the sand, offering a massage by the lapping waves or hair braids and weaves. Corn rose anyone? Never mind that you look ridiculous with your tresses in pleats. You’re in Boracay – making a fool of yourself is forgivable. This seems to be the unspoken rule in the island. Whatever happens in Boracay, stays in Boracay. You could have your crush’s name temporarily tattooed on your back and then wash the henna off when you go home. Go ahead and take off your top on the beach. It’s absolutely acceptable. Have an island fling, then forget everything when you leave.

There is something about the air that makes everything seem possible. The island gives off a natural psychedelic drug that makes people fall in love with everyone and everything. Everyone in this island is beautiful, blessed by the sun, loved by the gods. The fire dancers at night cavort to the beat of the wind like ethereal beings, spinning magic balls of fire that rival the magnificence of the stars. Women in bikini brandish golden tans while men show off their sculpted abs. The sand strip is practically a tropical runway.

The beauty of Boracay is that in spite of the onslaught of tourism, in spite of its worldly and superficial offerings, there are still places of tranquillity where one can be still and listen to the song of Boracay’s soul. In private coves found in several resorts in Station One, are pockets of seclusion that reflect the virgin island that Boracay once was.  Here the water is so clear that it is almost tempting to drink from it. Here the sand is so fine and soft, it makes you want to lie down on it in complete surrender, allowing the sun to bake you until it sets into a glorious spectacle, painting the island with an otherworldly glow.

while on assignment with another writer

Station One along the main coast is less crowded and offers a wider stretch of beach. It is also where the high end resorts are. Close by is Station Two, the party central of the main coast, or the White Beach. Station Three is where the more affordable accommodations are, proof that there is something for everyone in Boracay.

If one wishes to leave the touristy areas, one can simply hire a boat and visit the neighbouring tiny islands or simply go underwater to commune with sea creatures and drown out the din of the crowd. Snorkelling is a favourite activity in the island because it is easy and relatively inexpensive. Coral gardens are aplenty and quickly accessible. Scuba diving is also another option. To experience the winds, Boracay offers windsurfing, skim boarding, water skiing, banana boat rides, and parasailing. Fishing for red snapper, Spanish mackerel, and king fish is a relaxing alternative.

On land you can explore the other side of Boracay by renting an all terrain vehicle (ATV) or a bug car and drive all the way up to Mount Luho, the tallest point in the island. The scenic ride up offers a peek of the real Boracay and the local culture where sari-sari stores and unassuming homes line the streets. Fish vendors carry the bounties of the sea on their shoulders, steering clear of tricycles that seem to rule the narrow roads.

When you reach the top, you will see majestic birds of blues, reds, and yellows, otherwise known as parasails that color the sky. From above, behold a different perspective of this island paradise where whitewashed sailboats are nothing but mere flecks on the vast blue, like white ripples on the aquamarine surface. From up there you will clearly see how the mountains curve around the lagoon, giving the beach an air of seclusion. From up there you will not be able to see the many faces that make Boracay. They are just tiny dots in the portrait that make up an island. The tattoo artists by the shore, the masseuse patiently waiting for a customer, the vegetarian yoga teacher who preaches a holistic lifestyle, and the mixed media artists who promote the culture of the katutubo (native)they are nothing but grains that make up the powdery white sands that Boracay is known for. But here between these pages, we see them up close, revealing to us a Boracay we’ve never seen before. Rediscover Boracay through their eyes and fall in love with this island paradise all over again.

Published in AsianTraveler Magazine, 2009

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