Paradise regained?

Posted on Jan 13, 2019 by Administrator

Paradise regained?

By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) - January 13, 2019 - 12:00am

We had planned to go to Boracay months ago. The President had promised that Boracay would be reopened in six months. We were sure that by January of 2019, the resort we had booked would already be opened for guests. Sometime in October, we called the resort to check if they had their permit to open. They still did not have it. We hurriedly looked for an alternative and ended up booking three rooms at the modest but comfortable Shoretime Hotel, a resort we had stayed in twice before.

My daughter Ala, her husband John and their toddler Zadie arrived in Manila from Sydney on the eve of Christmas. We left for Boracay last Jan. 1 on a morning flight. 

We had heard so much about the changes the government had done to clean up this magical place. We were excited but at the same time apprehensive. We wondered if the government had turned Boracay into something better than what it was. Or was it now a cleaner place but with so much regulation that it would not be the same fun place anymore? We would soon find out. 

We arrived at Caticlan airport around 11 a.m. From there, we rode a car for 15 minutes, got off and went to a welcome tent to register as guests with proper vouchers from the hotel where we had registered. As a tourist, you can’t get into Boracay now unless you have a voucher from an accredited resort. Accreditation means these hotels have followed the required installations and repairs to deal with their sewage systems. It also means they have fixed any encroachment issues they had (if they did) and have abided by other regulations.

From the tent, where we got hand-stamped, we entered a building before going to the boats waiting by the docks to take us to the island. We had to purchase tickets, go through x-ray inspections, wait in a waiting area, then proceed through ticket counters and walk to assigned ferries. It was a 20-minute boat ride to a dock in Boracay. The last leg was a 30-minute land ride to Shoretime Hotel at Station One.

It is pretty challenging to go through all this without help from the hotel that you are staying in. You can’t go to Boracay and then find a place once you get there. You need to have a booking prior to going.

After checking in, we strolled by the beach and took a swim. The water was cool but pleasant. Noticeably, there was no green algae. It looked beautiful and pristine. When I shared this observation with the natives, they explained that during December, the beach is really algae-free. They said the green stuff appears during summer. They added that it has been about six months since the island was closed and cleaned. It is only natural that the scene had a fresh look to it.

The tourists have not come back in droves. Sometimes, the beach is hardly populated. In the late afternoons, people come out to take photos and enjoy the sunset. At this time, the beach is alive and busy but not anywhere close to what it was before. For a tourist like me, I saw that as a good thing. By 6:30 p.m., at least at the front of Obama Grill, there were just a few people out on the beach.

Lots of the resorts and restaurants along the strip are still closed. I saw only one bar operating 500 meters to the right of the beach when I took an evening walk around 9 p.m. There were hardly any people — unlike its heyday. The first evening we were there, the stars were out. I could see the Milky Way with my naked eye.

When you ride around the city, you will see open spaces where lots of buildings stood before but now have been torn down. They had violated easement boundaries and had to go. I heard from the locals that more will be destroyed. Some roads have a fresh coat of cement but their open sewers have not been finished. The holes, pipes and exposed metal bars are ugly eyesores. They look quite intimidating and dangerous. People or vehicles could fall into them.

The roads on Station One have been dug up and excavated but still have to be cemented. A local said that the government ran out of funds but promised that they would fix it this year. Until it is fixed, prepare yourself for the roughest ride of your life over potholes. I actually bumped my head a few times while riding tricycles going back and forth to and from our hotel. When it rains, the potholes can look like mini lakes. Watch out to avoid being splashed by muddy water from passing vehicles.

Like before, Boracay still has its gustatory attractions. We had a great time eating out everywhere. Thai Basil at D’Mall, Sunny Side at Station One, Real Coffee, Pig Out all served delicious meals, desserts and coffee. I talked randomly to foreigners who said that they were enjoying themselves and would definitely come back.

If you’ve been to Boracay many times before, what you will miss these days are the Poi fire dancers at the beach during night time, the sandcastles, massages offered by natives under coconut trees, dining al fresco nearer the water, music by the beach from establishments, concerts by the beach, big crowds, and vendors. It has ceased to be a party town in this sense. Boracay’s charms are just too enticing to ignore.

There are still a few vendors who sell sunnies, souvenirs along the strip but not too many now. Notably, I also am quite bothered by the presence of military security wearing T-shirts with “SWAT” written on them patrolling the beaches.

Also notable, despite the reported massive cleanup, is the absence of trashcans along the beach.

Natives say that a lot of things for Boracay’s future will depend on this coming summer. Will the algae be back? Have they really solved the sewage problem that has been dirtying the ocean for decades? Have they rid the waters of the e-coli that thrived on green algae? Will the roads be finally finished? Will the resorts earn enough to keep going considering that there is now a cap on the tourist population?

Many people lost their jobs. Even if some of them are back, they still feel the loss of so many months without income. The procedure going to work in Boracay from the mainland and going back home has become expensive and cumbersome. Too many rules. One worker said it was like martial law because of the military presence. Where before their families could easily visit them on the island, now they have to go through certain checks before entering.

Would I recommend that my readers go to Boracay? The jury is still out concerning the changes that have been introduced. It will take time to see the results. I share the natives’ skepticism and caution.

But I must say that, in the end, Boracay’s charms are just too enticing to ignore. The scenery is still achingly beautiful. The fine sand is the best in the world. And the sparkling blue-green waters, the refreshing wind, and the sunset are too magnificent to resist. The red tape and regulations are a small price to pay to get to Paradise.

I would return again.


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