Saturday, January 15, 2011

Another Day in Boradise


It wasn't love at first sight. White Beach of Boracay Island in the Philippines constitutes the main strip of the island and is choked with all sorts of resorts and kitsch vendors catering to the tastes of Western and Manila-residents alike. There's even a claustrophobia-inducing strip mall selling enough disposable clothes, toys, and other crap to create a landfill as big as the island. Every possible urge to consume is provided for in this mall. And if that weren't enough, there's a pedestrian path on sand running parallel to the shoreline and the main road, also teeming with commerce. Bad bad techno (redundant?) pumps out of various bars every hundred feet or so. Either that or a remake of "No Woman No Cry", or a combination of the two. Squint your eyes and you could be at any number of white sand beaches in Southeast Asia.

But walk just a little further, or cross the island, or make just one quick turn down an alley, and that weird, Southeast Asian beach version of Las Vegas is gone. That's how I found Boradise.

Sometimes I am lucky. Through a friend of a friend of a friend, I was led through a tiny, unremarkable alley off the main drag, into the Boradise Resort Hotel. Essentially, this "resort" is comprised of little more than a conglomeration of Japanese-styled cement houses with which serve as more of a family compound than a hotel. There's a Japanese restaurant and breakfast bar under thatched roofs, serving Western-styled meals and coffee. Lines of Japanese lanterns trim the areas and provide illumination at night in case one returns home tipsy. Chickens run wild, and if you're lucky like me, you'll even get to see a pig roasted. All this within a stone's throw away from consumer-central.

I got my own room with a/c, a large bed, a Japanese-style sink, and a little Japanese garden, all gated off from the main quarters. After looking at the luxurious villa of Shangri-La my newlywed-friends were staying at, and the smelly backpacker camp recommended in my Lonely Planet guide, I felt like a triumphant Goldilocks when I found Boradise.


Life is not rigorous on Boracay Island. My schedule for the first few days consisted of meeting up with my old friends to eat, drink, walk on the beach, you get the idea. And when the friends left, my time somehow filled up more quickly than I could keep track of. Shall I meet an interesting stranger and have a long conversation? Or shall I finish reading that book today?

In large part because I look Filipina, I quickly became the adopted relative of Boradise Resort owner, and local councilman, Jason and his family. One of his brother is the mayor, and his other brother sports dreadlocks, and is the MVP of the Boracay Island Ultimate Frisbee team, who apparently just recently finished second in an international competition in Brazil.

I extended my stay on the island for the Ati-Atihan festival, a celebration of some quasi-religious figure mutating Catholicism and some sea-creature character. Drummers from all over the country came into town to compete with their respective relative's group. Jason gave me a t-shirt bearing his tribe's name, and I paraded with them throughout the island, on the beach and to a central park, where all the groups converged. Drumming and parades occurred in the morning and evening, reminiscent to me of the New Orleans second line parades. A pig is killed, roasted, and consumed, and karaoke is set up outside. And does not end for another 36 consecutive hours later. It was a first for me to hear "With or Without You" to synthesizer and a Filipino accent.


I scubadive with local divemasters, who also treat me like family, invite me to drinks and play pool.

Later, I meet a funny, talkative New Yorker, who reminds me of, well, New York. To quell his urban restlessness, we walk briskly to the highest point on the island and see a somewhat depressing yet funny attempt at a zoo on top, as well as a beautiful vista.


And of course, I take kiteboarding lessons from two Frenchies, and almost break a limb.

I manage to escape the consumption pit with only a pair of havaina flipflops. And, by the end, I'm glad to have the resorts there, with their posh bars at which I sit and watch the sailboats pass by during the sunset, sipping cocktails in between pages of a good book.


But my favorite is walking. Either on the beach, or on the main road, or to Bulabog Beach. I know I'm where I should be when I'm strolling leisurely, with the commotion of a place surrounding me, but only peace and quiet in my head, as if I am at once apart from but also a part of a place. It's a sensation of feeling that the world is spinning, and at that very moment, I have no responsibilities in it. The traffic moves by, chickens cross my path, and I am on vacation.


I came to Boracay with no plans other than to soak up some sun with my good friend Pam. I left wondering if I should stay longer. When I eventually return home to New Orleans, and I'm behind a desk, getting frustrated and about to bang my head against a wall, I will smile knowing there's a place where there is nothing to do but whatever you want.

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