Bo­ra­cay: A Tale of Three Sum­mers

If you look hard enough, you can still find its pure beaches of yore.

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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.

Möven­pick Beach

Möven­pick Pool

Cat­i­clan New Ar­rival Ter­mi­nal Willy’s Rock

Bo­ra­cay 1980s

Bo­ra­cay 1991

Dini­wid Beach

Möven­pick Sun­set

Möven­pick Bar

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