Boracay: A Tale of Three Summers
If you look hard enough, you can still find its pure beaches of yore.
ONE : PAST PERFECT
I had walked on these beaches before they were defiled. Desecrated by millions of cigarette butts and water bottle caps, carelessly, heedlessly, shamelessly left behind by the hundreds of thousands of tourists who enjoyed the island, but did not respect, love, nor care for it.
My first trip to Boracay was in the summer of 1989. The trip was rough. Only PAL flew to Kalibo, and from there, it was an almost three hour jeepney ride to Caticlan, the last thirty or so kilometers, over rudimentary dirt roads. I arrived at the port looking like dust covered desert refugee, but I was giddy with anticipation as I boarded the flimsy banca that would bring our group to the island. As it rounded the turn and we all got our first glimpse of the beaches, all of us, all at once, fell in love.
It was all greens and whites and blues. Endless palms trees formed an emerald backdrop to the brilliant, blinding sands, and the pristine crystal waters reflected the skies above. Seconds after taking my first steps on the shore, I felt like I never wanted to leave.
Pale Pilsen was the only beer available, and Bob Marley’s “Legend” seemed to be the only cassette playing on repeat in all the beachfront bars. But it was enough. There was no electricity, and every afternoon, giant blocks of ice to chill the night’s drinks had to be ferried to the island. It was all very rustic. The visitors were mostly Europeans, blonde and burnished gold by the sun, and bikini tops were considered optional. It was quite a paradise. The local dialect was Ilonggo, and the locals’ accents and amiability were contagious. I was very much a tourist in my own country, but very much welcomed, and for the first time in my life, I realized how beautiful my Philippines truly was.
For the next fifteen years, I’d go back to Boracay again and again. A weekend, maybe a week; once or twice, sometimes thrice a year if I was lucky. Each and every time, it was the sweetest of homecomings.
TWO : PRESENT TENSE
Boracay is closed. Shut off from the rest of the country, and the whole world. For at least 180 days. Ostensibly to cleanse it, to let it breathe. To heal it. It is a painful and controversial process, but ultimately, necessary. Perhaps, it will be a return to Eden. Perhaps.
It’s not just a matter of exorcising the twin demons of over pollution and overpopulation, it’s also an opportunity to take a step back, and think about the extreme sacrifices that really need to be made. Will the powers-that-be have the courage, the political will, and the longterm determination to bring back what once was? To demolish immense structures of concrete and steel and lay waste to tens of millions of pesos worth of reckless investments that have wreaked havoc on the island’s ecosystem, and eradicated most of its natural beauty? Or is that the destiny that’s now been charted for Boracay -- unbridled development not unlike what blights Metro Manila. Is my island truly gone forever?
THREE : FUTURE PROGRESSIVE
I will be walking on these powdery beaches again.
Just a couple of weeks before the commencement of the island’s “sabbatical”, I visited it to see its current state, and what could realistically change over the next six months. The beachfront from Stations 1 to 3 will be needing salvation: it’s all commerce with very little charm. I planned to spend a morning there, but after a hectic, almost toxic hour walking towards D’Mall, horrified by the many fast food outlets by the shore, I tapped out and retreated to a cove that captures the serenity of the Boracay I remember from 1989.
Back then, Club Panoly was synonymous with the island. For a long time, it was the most exclusive enclave on Boracay. It’s long gone, and has now
been replaced by the very new Mövenpick Resort. It’s blessed with a majestic beachfront with an unobstructed view of those legendary sunsets. It’s a balm, with architecture and furnishings that blend in with the trees, the sand, and the water that surrounds the property. A soothing Swiss institution imbued with intrinsic Filipino hospitality. It’s ironic really, that barely four months after it opened, my new discovery, my new “happy place” on the island, will be inaccessible. But not for good, and I’m hoping, not too long. That is my silver lining, and this is the thought that will keep me smiling.
Next summer, I will be going back home to Boracay.
Caticlan New Arrival Terminal Willy’s Rock