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Bacolod City, Philippines Tuesday, November 12, 2019
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Come To Think Of It
with Carlos Antonio L. Leonardia

Overrated, underestimated


We took our kids to Boracay for the first time a couple of weeks ago, during the post-Undas semi-long weekend, after the island got good reviews from the wife who enjoyed her recent visit with her workplace besties a couple of months ago.

Despite being one of the country’s top tourist destinations, Boracay had fallen off my radar in recent years. Even before it was shut down for rehabilitation, I had discovered that I preferred the quiet and undiscovered beaches of Sipalay and Hinobaan to Boracay. I figured I was just growing old and was tiring of the lively beach party scene and would rather not have to worry about my OOTD while on vacation.

In other words, I had subconsciously overrated Boracay ever since my last visit way back in the early 2000’s that was before I got married and had offspring. While there is no denying the beauty and appeal of its powdery white sands and clear azure waters, it had become too loud and commercialized for my tastes.

Furthermore, it didn’t seem worth it to bring young kids there. Everything was expensive, it was too crowded, and it had too much bacteria lurking in its deceptively clear blue waters. My wife and I figured that our kids wouldn’t enjoy it anyway so we avoided the island and preferred to explore other parts of Negros Island and the Philippines.

It eventual shutdown and rehabilitation only confirmed our Boracay-based concerns so it was no biggie for us that we haven’t been there in almost 15 years. Another factor that weighed on our decision to stay away from Boracay was accessibility since getting there from Bacolod could be quite a chore, taking up almost half a day.

However, with the news of the island’s shutdown and rehabilitation, the reviews from those who have been there since it reopened, and the ripening of our kids’ ages, the idea of visiting Boracay started creeping back into our subconscious. The last straw was my wife’s positive experience during a recent visit with her friends. When she got back home from that trip, she started looking at booking websites and the calendar to check for opportunities to bring our kids there because it seemed like the right time to let them experience the Filipino beach that has consistently been ranked among the world’s most beautiful.

If there is one thing the rehabilitation of Boracay and the development of technology couldn’t do, it cannot make the trip faster. We still took 8 hours to get there and 11 hours to get back home. The trip going there was faster because we chartered a van and left during a holiday so there was no traffic and the waiting times were minimized. On the trip back, our van had more passengers, it was a weekday, and the schedules weren’t as perfectly aligned so the travel time took almost 3 hours longer. Either way, be prepared to spend half a day traveling to Boracay from Bacolod.

Once there, everything was so different, probably more so for me, whose last visit there was during an era when wifi and mobile data weren’t even a thing yet. The shutdown and rehabilitation must’ve contributed greatly to the improvements in the way they do things. The transfer from Caticlan to Boracay is centralized and more organized, and while you can no longer get off the boat and hop straight onto the beachfront of your chosen resort, the current system put order into the chaos and freed up the beach for the people.

The most dramatic improvement for me was the beachfront that had been totally cleared and returned to the public. Unlike in most developing or developed Philippine beaches, beachfront resorts and restaurants no longer acted like they owned the beach. Everybody on that island had a temporary but legitimate claim to the beach and that is something that local governments that host beaches with potential should emulate. In a country without parks, our beautiful and awesome public beaches could be a significant source of free entertainment and relaxation for the people who are fortunate enough to live near one.

If we could, we would just spend hours on the beachfront, relaxing on a beach towel on top of the powdery sand that had molded to our bodies. For beach bums like us whose idea of relaxation is simply hanging out and bonding, there would be no need to indulge in the many activities that touts were constantly selling to the tourists.

But for those who feel inclined to enjoy and partake of the beach activities being offered by the island, Boracay had everything for everyone. Sunset sailing, island hopping, para gliding, ATV rides, jetski rentals, banana boat, helmet diving, paddleboards, etc… Those who have no budget can enjoy the beach, those with a bit of leeway can pick an activity or two, and those with unli budget can try everything. Just make sure you talk to official representatives who usually come in uniforms instead of the numerous touts who most likely charge higher for their markup.

Another reason we enjoyed Boracay was the diversity of the food. We figured that a place with such a huge tourist market should have good food available for all the different tastes, preferences and budgets and it did not disappoint. For the less adventurous, the regular Filipino staple fast foods are always present.

This Boracay experience, almost two decades after my previous one, showed me that while I had overrated the island, I had also underestimated it severely. Boracay is still beautiful, it is still something to be proud of as a Filipino, and despite all the criticism and complaints, and it is something all Filipinos should experience. We checked this off our kids’ bucket list for them and despite it being an obligatory item on that list; it was and is still pretty impressive for all of us.

Boracay is a treasure. And while I still don’t see myself coming back every year, it is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful islands on the planet. Hopefully when my kids do come back on their own coin, it is still beautiful because Filipinos have taken care of it. And hopefully we can do the same for all our other beaches that are also beautiful in their own special way.*  

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