As I write this, I’m seated in the middle of a popular beach resort in Boracay, surrounded by concrete structures, a chlorinated pool, and Caucasian women baking under the 10 am sunlight. There are green and blue striped beach towels on the rattan-like chairs and maintenance staff are around to cater to their guests’ every whim. My son is drinking a P122 buko juice after wading in the hotel pool. We are billeted in an air-conditioned room nearby.
It’s paradise, alright, but it’s a far cry from the Boracay I’ve known and loved since 1987. Back then, there was no electricity on the entire island. We needed flashlights to see at night. Bicycles could be rented for half a day, and we had the main road all to ourselves. There were no tricycles, trucks, mini-vans or motorbikes in sight. The nipa huts we rented had beds covered in mosquito nets to ward off flies. Joni’s fruit shakes were the highlight of our trip, and we knew our shakes were being made when the loud murmur of the generator competed with the whir of the blender.
Saying it’s changed since those early days is an understatement. Boracay has undergone a dramatic transformation in the past few decades. Naysayers have criticised it for selling out, dismissing it as a cautionary tale of paradise lost. Old timers long for those innocent bygone days when the main beach could be enjoyed for its quiet, effortless beauty.
Personally, I miss watching sunsets in relative silence, with the water kissing the shore again and again and again until there’s nothing left to see but the stars and a few flickering lights in the distance.
In the early days, businesses sprouted organically: tourists needed a place to sleep, so the locals set up huts for rent; the heat of the sun made you crave for something ice cold, so the famous fruit shake was created to quench people’s thirst; people wanted celebrate the full moon, so bars were created for everyone to party the night away.
But it was hard to keep Boracay a secret for too long. People started to arrive in droves in the late 90’s. Everyone was enamoured by the powdery white sand, idyllic landscape and carefree lifestyle. I’ve witnessed countless people from all walks of life visit the island with the intention of vacationing for a few days, only to leave their former lives behind to become permanent residents. Many of them have gained a foothold on the island. Some have established their own restaurants and businesses. Others have gone on to hold political posts in the local government.
And then there are also those who lament losing the old Boracay to rampant commercialism. They say that it has turned into a cash cow for many businesses, tarnishing its natural beauty.
More than anything else, the thing I miss the most about Boracay is the feeling of escape from the city. Back then, it was so easy to settle into vacation mode as soon as I felt the sand tickling my bare feet. I could be dropped off right in front of my rented hut in Station 2, shimmy into my bathing suit and jump into the water in less than five minutes.
Today its not as easy to do that. We had to be dropped off at the Cagban jetty port, ride a tricycle to the hotel, and wait the whole morning before having an available room. The sound of buildings being renovated or constructed was everywhere, and there was no quiet corner to be seen.
Today, even through it’s getting harder and harder to find the kind of Boracay vacation I used to enjoy in my teenage years, I still see it as an island paradise. Where else in the country can you find every type of food imaginable packed in one place? With cuisines ranging from Italian to Japanese to Korean to Filipino and everything else in between, it’s a real food haven.
There’s always something going on somewhere on the island. Regardless of whether you’re looking for a nice quiet night cap or an exciting party to meet new people, you’re bound to find what you’re looking for.
The sunset is still one for the books, bar none. It’s remains to be one of the best places to go to if you want to widen your horizons, what with the endless opportunity to meet people from different parts of the world all flocking to this corner of the Philippines.
While I miss the Boracay of old, I don’t dismiss it so easily. Some parts of the island paradise I’ve come to love still remain. Sometimes you’ll probably have to pay a bit more to enjoy that quiet nook on the island. Other times you might be lucky enough to stumble upon them without the steep price tag. The innocent Boracay of yore might be gone forever, but some of it is still there. You just need to search that much harder, or maybe pay a bit more, to find it.