“You must go to Boracay!!” Ever since moving to Romblon countless Filipinos have given me this firm command. Boracay seems to be a land of incomparable beauty and a sign of status if one is wealthy enough to vacation there.
The small island of Boracay features one of the World’s Top Rated Beaches. White Sand Beach lives up to its name, with incredibly fine grains of impeccable white sand free from rocks and rubble extending along the island’s western side.
This World Class Beach also comes with all the commodities of high class tourism: Think SouthEast Asia’s version of South Beach, Miami. After over a year living in a small Filipino community with no grocery store or mall, I could not believe that just a two hour boat ride from my home there is a Starbucks, a Subway, two McDonalds, access to any international cuisine you desire: Mexican, Indian, Korean…etc and a place where tourists walk around in bikinis, rather than swimming in tshirts and shorts as is Filipino style.
The glamor of Boracay is both amazing and overwhelming. Each morning the beach is carefully raked and devoid of any trash particles. Teenage artists set about building ornate sandcastles in hopes of making a few pesos from photographing tourists. And stand up paddle board operators, skimboard vendors, and lifeguards set up shop for another day on the beach. By evening restaurants cart out tables and chairs, transforming the beach into a romantic dinner atmosphere complete with lights, all-you-can-eat buffets, live music and fire dancers. What may feel like a picturesque vacation spot during the day, transforms into a hopping party scene by night.
To the north, tourists can also enjoy Puka Beach. It’s less crowded and relaxing vibe is in sharp contrast to the hype of White Sand Beach. While standing on Puka, I could glimpse Romblon Province’s Carabao Island to the north and was again amazed of the proximity of this mass tourist attraction to my island Province where I frequently wake up at 2am to try to get a faster internet connection.
Scuba diving, Zip lining, Sailing, ATV riding, Kiteboarding, Parasailing… Boracay offers it all. But when I took a short morning run away from the tourist traffic, the island felt like any other small Filipino community: women outside washing their clothes, little sari sari stores selling snacks, small market stands with fresh produce and hanging meat. Each morning the working class from these homes trek into town and begin a new day’s production in waitressing or selling sunglasses to passing tourists. “Ma’am Sir, Ma’am Sir!!” This endless call rings in your ears while you wander along the beach walk.
As the tourist zone of Boracay continues to expand, foreigners are buying up land and frequently forcing locals to be squatters on their own island. Running along a bit further, I was unlucky enough to come across the massive dump of waste produced by this form of mass tourism. Not quite so beautiful.
Boracay is incredible, but if you are planning a trip to the Philippines, do not let this glamorous island be your only stop. You will miss the sights endless fields of rice stalks bending in the wind, of crowds of people gathering to meet small fishing boats and buy their catch, of watching a local saunter up a 40ft coconut tree with no ropes or harness and handpick a young coconut for you to drink. You won’t see the Filipino water buffalo (aka Carabao) swimming in a mud hole or working in the rice fields. And you will miss the challenge of navigating footpaths to find a local waterfall.
Romblon province is only a short boat ride north, but it is rich in Filipino culture and natural adventures. And for me, it is home!