I was free-lancing as a photographer when I first set foot on Boracay in 1980. I was passed on this assignment, with buddy Boy Yñiguez, to shoot the island for then Ministry of Tourism which was, in turn, trying to promote undiscovered gems in the Philippines. Oh how portent of that assignment was to become.
It looked and felt like paradise, with its long, true white and powdery beach; clear sea waters; and tall, swaying coconut trees. There was a handful of topless, bronzed European women here and there.
As soon as I returned home, I retold my wife of this wondrous island, seemingly torn from an Ian Fleming novel, replete with exotic locales for James Bond. Off we went, first on an interisland boat which anchored off the Kalibo port, then on a small baroto or banca to get us to the land, and then in a packed jeepney headed for Caticlan.
The trip took more than two hours, on a bumpy, super dusty road. Our clothes and hair were already white from the clouds of teeny-weeny grits. My wife, sweaty and looking ghoulish, was already incensed and muttered: this should all be worth it!
Upon reaching Caticlan, we had to trudge downhill to the seashore to ride on a banca that would take us to Boracay. What?!, exclaimed the wife who would have walked off if she only had a choice. She thought we have reached the end to the trip. With smoke in her nose and her green eyes turning flaming red, she hopped on to the banca. The vessel’s Briggs and Stratton motor propelled us on.
Not yet halfway through, the wife jumped from her seat and pointed with so much excitement to the crystal-clear sea below us. “Boboy, look, I can see them! I can see them!” And there they were: the schools of fish of various colors and shapes, the corrals, the sea vegetation in a welcoming choreography. All was forgiven and she fell in love with the island.
For P25, we had a kubo on high stilts in Manoc-Manoc, a part of Boracay. We had a gasera and water was brought to us by the owner of the kubo. We were still young and our fuel was full. If we caused some scandal, we wouldn’t know. Nobody complained about noises that arose three times a day.
Meals were for P5, mostly rice and fish caught a few meters off the shore. We watched the islanders hauling into their bancas their catch, shimmering in the dying light.
In the next instances, we visited Boracay every year or so, later buying into time-share arrangements. One time, we brought our children and their children. On their first day, my apos made sand angels. Another time, we transported the whole office staff in a van and a pick-up that set off from Batangas, to Mindoro, and then parked in Caticlan. We got stranded because of a typhoon in Boracay and we had to stay longer than scheduled. That was an episode of survival.
The last time we were there was almost 10 years ago, dismayed of what Boracay has become – with wild parties, trash galore, encroachments, and unrestrained “developments.” I recall this pretty Korean, white skinned and in a filmy party dress, trying to balance herself while walking on the sand with his stiletto hills. Then I thought, Boracay was bleeding.