I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I finally figured out Hollywood. I’ve got all those television commercials pegged. I know the secrets of those tourist ad campaigns where a sweeping shot of the most beautiful beach imaginable is shown, where it quickly becomes the backdrop for some cliché catch line as, ‘the most beautiful white sand beaches in the world; visit (fill in the blank).’ Yup, I’m on to all of them. Here’s the secret… Boracay, Philippines is all of those pictures. No matter the country, the continent, or hemisphere, all those pictures are Boracay. Boracay is the silhouetted sailboat against a burning sunset, it is the sand so soft it resembles cooking flour, it is the brown palm trees with striking green leaves stretching over the aqua marine waters and crystal blue sky, and it is the happy hour margaritas with your toes in the sand. It’s everything that every beach in every part of the world wants to be. And the best part about the entire thing, you’ll be the first person in your group to know about it.
I took the advice of a well traveled friend after a conversation we had about some different destinations in Asia. As soon as he finished describing it, I booked tickets for Manila. My girlfriend and I were on our way.
Manila, at first impression, is an unkempt, run down, impoverished, and threatening sprawl of a city. ‘Pearl of the Orient’ it is not; barely a shadow of its former self. The raw energy of the city, intimidating gawks from nearly all we encounter, and oceans of jeepneys, the local and very unique form of transportation, are enough to turn anyone away, but at the end of this exhaust choked journey, lay our golden ticket, a week of pure bliss on the most beautiful beach in the world. It was only a short puddle jumper flight later that we were sipping freshly made mango margaritas from the comfort of handcrafted bamboo chairs, watching the sun gently slip below the horizon, and drifting into a meditative trance by the sounds of the relaxing ocean swells.
The second I walked out on the sand, those pictures weren’t just pretty pictures of a place I’ll never dream of finding, they weren’t the images of great expectations; they were right in front of my eyes. It was if somewhere between Manila and the alley path we used to get to the beach, we crawled through the same coat rack and entered our very own world of Narnia. Palm trees stretching to the ocean then gracefully curving to the heavens, sand so white that it takes a second for your eyes to adjust before you can take in the entire scene, and a beach lifestyle so chilled out and cool that Jack Johnson would feel at home. We looked in both directions and saw restaurants, shops, massage therapists, dive companies, adventure companies, and beautiful auburn island goddesses waiting to accommodate any way they can. The restaurants served their meals at tables in the sand; you can drink your fruity concoctions from the shade of a palm tree with your mind a million miles from anywhere. I did, in all my sensory ecstasy, notice there was a lack of something; a lack of something I had only recently become accustomed to… hordes of people… and this was considered the “high season.” That made me think, am I on to something here?
The more we walked the beach, the more we were amazed at purely the set up of this place. Apparently the city planners and engineers that were supposed to be fixing Manila, gave up on the poor place, and all went to Boracay instead. To describe this best, I’ll pull out a perpendicular cross section of the beach and try to describe it. First, opposite the water, you have all the businesses, all tropical themed as you can imagine they would be. The accommodations, along the beach, very from the backpacker’s bungalows at $3 a night, to the posh luxury resorts. Their storefronts are all generally lined up with the beach path, an eight or ten foot wide, hard sand area everyone accepts as the main highway of transportation. One step closer to the water is the area of palms. This is about a fifty foot wide swath of deep sand, the gorgeous palm trees, lounge chairs, with the occasional tiki hut grill or bar. It seems as though the corresponding businesses have claim to this area and either serve meals or drink there, but it is mostly set aside during the day for people looking for some shade. Then come the chairs and umbrellas in the sun, mostly all of them come with waiter service from the closest restaurant. Next, you reach the beach, where we normally tossed down our towels by day, and took in the sunsets by night. Finally, you reach the waves of the crystalline blue ocean waters.
Approaching the late afternoon time, the beach goes through this incredible transformation; almost beyond recognition. The restaurants spill their tables out onto the section of sand under the palms and decorate the areas with the utmost brilliance. Tables and chairs in the sand, tablecloths and candles, rope lights on the trunks of nearby trees, the sound of waves crashing, and decorative lights hanging from the canopy above. The reflections of the beginning sunset over the water were casting wondrous, soft orange hues about. It was romantic, it was hip, and it was fun.
What can I possibly say about this place? Why isn’t there tour bus after tour bus pulling up to the line of gaudy concrete mega resorts? Where are the armies of, too tanned to be just arriving, too hot for their own good, spring breakers? When are the developers going to come here with their bags of money and ‘pave paradise to put up a parking lot?’ There is definitely a heaven on earth and it is found here, without a doubt, without the crowds, and most importantly without everything and anything that seems to always ruin the very reasons we seek the destinations.
The sirens song and clarity of water is truly irresistible, the sand tugs childhood fantasies of sandcastle building and burying a loved one to the surface so much that you need to recognize and act on them. The breezes dance through the palm trees and drift over your skin to butterfly kiss your sun drenched cheeks. Here, your mind has the room it has yearned for, leaving the complexities of life somewhere in the banana tree groves you passed over on the flight. This is a place where your soul can forget about what is true, and live what has been only previously imagined. It can sip fresh mango margaritas while pulling up a bean bag chair, first row, center stage, to take in the explosions of oranges radiating from a glorious sunset, wonderfully silhouetting sailboats and distant parasails, before it slowly slips just beyond the curve of the earth.
Boracay is an island oasis disguised as, well, an island oasis. One that will set the standard for all future trips to any island paradises, anywhere. But just remember, that’s our little secret.