Small Love for Boracay

Sunday, June 09, 2013Ryan Mach

The sea is heaving. The waves, restless and angry, threaten to upturn our outrigger boat manned by two young Hambil locals. The boat creaks as it bobs over a deep blue bayou that stretches out to the treacherous Tablas Strait in the west. For nearly about an hour, my heart is in my throat.

Sailing to Boracay from Tablas, Romblon when the waves are rough can be a scary ordeal. The sea that separates both islands tends to get tumultuous even during summer months. They say there's a powerful current that flows from Sibuyan in the east all the way to Palawan in the west. Even local fishermen who knew these waters like the back of their hands were not spared from its menace. I remember a friend who grew up in Carabao Island telling me stories about fishing boats being washed away by these tricky waves - the hapless fishermen were found miles away in the south, near the waters of Mindoro and even as far as Palawan.

Just a month ago, my friend's parents and a number of local passengers were caught up in some sort of sea storm when the waves got a bit rougher than usual on their way to Boracay. Coast guards had been summoned because the boat, whose engine had to be stopped, bobbed precariously somewhere in the middle of Boracay and Carabao Island.

And how can I forget my sister's tale about their tragic accident several years ago when she and her friends decided to go to Boracay aboard an average-size fishing boat that could barely fit more than ten people. They were young and free-spirited; adventurous and careless. As they were sailing past Agoho, a big wave tossed their boat and flipped it over, throwing them and their things away into the open sea. They had no idea what had just happened, and for around 6 hours,they found themselves clinging to the upturned boat, which was relentlessly pounded by big waves. A number of sharks were lurking nearby.

A passing cargo ship spotted them a few hours before dusk.  
[Less crowded Puka Beach]

The current near the waters of Boracay feels like an organized chaos. The waves look sinister and parlous, big and raging. And yet they seem to dance - they move with graceful rhythm, pushing our boat forward.  When I see the outline of Puka Beach in the near distance, its white shore glistening under the intense heat of the sun, I heave a sigh of relief. The worst is over. Boracay, here I come, again.


It was 2002 when I first set foot in Boracay. I was a freshman student in college - young, penniless but happy. My high school friend, Ayen, who was also spending her Christmas break in Tablas wanted to visit her relatives in Boracay. She tagged some friends along. I didn't learn about her exciting plan until I went to town and found some of my guy classmates preparing to leave. The fact that I wasn't invited for their little excursion was painful, but I didn't have time to wallow. I headed back to the house, packed a few clothes and bade my family goodbye.

With a measly cash in hand, around Php700.00, I survived a 3-day trip in Boracay. It was a money well-spent and the spontaneous getaway was as memorable as I expected it to be. I remember the sand to be extremely fine and white; and the water refreshingly cool. The crowd back then wasn't as overwhelming as it is today. There weren't many establishments lining the white long beach either.
Back then, boats from Caticlan and Romblon were still allowed to dock in front of Station 3. Strong muscled men would carry passengers who didn't want to get wet on their broad shoulders. I don't remember seeing a lot of boats or paraws. The beach wasn't littered with them.

We stayed at my friend's relative's house in Manok-Manok and beached in Station 1 from early morning till dusk. It didn't matter that we couldn't book any cottage near the beach, we simply left our towels and extra shirt on a random boat moored on the sand not far from we were swimming. We couldn't even afford a pack of bread sold in one of the stands that lined the shore.

It was only a decade ago but it feels like a lifetime. So much has changed since then.When I went to Boracay last year, my view about the island paradise has completely changed. It's a paradise lost.

"Sa Station 1 ron lang ta madunggo," one of the boat men tells me. The plan is to sail past Puka Beach and past handsome hotels and bungalows sitting on cliffs, then dock in front of Station 1. Before I can point out the crimp in the plan, the boat man quickly explains that we'll act as if we just came from an island hopping tour. We will get down the boat without our stuff and walk normally to the shore.

"Ayos yan, Kuya" I say to him approvingly. 

Boats coming from Tablas are not allowed to wharf in Station 1, or Stations 2 and 3 for that matter. But since ours is the size of a regular boat used for island hopping, we are able to get around the rule. Apart from a few collective stare from random beach combers, no one seems to notice our arrival.
When I notice the water plagued with green filamentous algae, I am reminded yet again why I have small love for Boracay.

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