May 15, 2018
It was the first morning of the closure. As soon as I stepped out of my room and through Boracay Terraces, my family’s resort on Station One since 1986, something felt already different. While I wanted to walk to the other end of the white beach to see how it looked like without the tourists, I could not say “no” to the motorbike driver who offered a ride since I knew that the locals were desperate to make money during the closure.
I dropped off at Station Two and started my walk towards the middle of the beach, and then I saw it. No hordes of tourists and vendors, no motorboats, and no para-sails clogging the skyline. It was as if I was back in the past! This is Boracay as I remembered from my childhood.
I was overwhelmed with emotions as I saw the view in front of me. Just like in the 1991 film, “Hook”, where one of the Lost Boys touched the grown-up Peter Pan’s (Robin Williams) face before exclaiming, “There you are, Peter!”, I, too, was saying “There you are, Boracay!” I didn’t expect the change to be this drastic. This felt like the Boracay Island I knew rather than the Boracay “city-island” that most people have known it through the years before the closure. It felt like meeting a long-lost friend.
People often complain about the island’s glory days being in the past, but the ”old Boracay” of my childhood was here all along. I consider myself lucky to have lived there during those years.
My parents, like many business owners in the island, were not from Boracay. My mom was from Roxas City, while my father is a Miag-ao native. My dad, who passed away in 2011, first set foot on Boracay when he was still in grade school. He fell in love with it so much that he built one of the first resorts there during his twenties. My mom’s first memories of Boracay, on the other hand, involved bringing back a cooler from the mainland to Boracay—after having to endure hours of a long land trip and a boat trip—just to enjoy the luxury of drinking Coke by the beach!
Our family lived in Iloilo City back then, but Boracay was our second home, a magical place we frequented to during weekends, summer vacations, and school breaks. I, of course, also had fond memories of Boracay when I was still young.
Back then, my mom and aunt would say ”Get ready, we are walking to Station 3.” Me, my siblings, and cousins—all of us kids cursed with short legs—treated the walk from the Terraces to Station 3 like an epic journey. To make the trip more fun, we played this game where we ran towards and hid beside each coconut tree’s shadow as the sun blazed over us until we reached Station 3. After getting there, we would have halo-halo, pizza, and fruit shakes before going shopping with the adults.
The daily adventures did not stop there. My siblings and I would swim all day until our skins got dark, and we would build sand castles until we just decided to throw sand at each other. When evenings came, we lit torches and oil lamps because the island had no electricity. It was important to have a deck of cards to pass the night, and we usually played with the kids of our guests. Of course, this gave us a reason to exchange spooky stories with each other about ghost ships, fairies, and dwarves that made up the enchanted beings of our island folklore. As we prepared to sleep, fireflies hovering on the mosquito nets covered over our beds. Each bathroom also had a resident tuko, which we joked was a part of the cottage’s decor. I believed Boracay to be an enchanted island.
Not everything was quiet, though. My father brought the first piano in the island, so some evenings were spent with a pianist and a saxophonist jamming while a pig was being spit-roasted on the beach. On nights when my family would walk under the stars, we would sing whatever musical or Disney song we had memorized to keep us entertained. Up until the recent closure, that became impossible to do because the beach didn’t have rows upon rows of bars blasting music simultaneously then. I guess all of this became the foundation to my musical career.
Of course, backpackers went to Boracay to have some fun. At that point, only a few key places like Cocomangas and Beachcomber in Station One and Bazzura in Station Two existed to serve them. The partygoers embodied the bohemian spirit: they’re young, wild, and, most importantly, free. Our parents brought us personally to these wild parties, where I also got my first sip of Malibu rum. My parents may have encouraged this behavior, but they felt that letting us taste alcohol early on wouldn’t make us feel like we’ve been deprived. Beer disgusted me then, but Malibu’s coconut aroma felt just right, especially since it reminded me of the coconut trees towering over Boracay. Sadly, the last of these ancient coconut trees were cut down around the early 2000s. It will probably take another fifty to a hundred years before any of the existing coconut trees on the island will reach the same heights as the giants I remembered.
2000 was the year Boracay started “modernizing”. Even with the massive influx of tourists and new buildings rising everywhere, I never stopped considering Boracay as a Paradise. And I was right all along, as I stood in the middle of the beach during the first post-closure day. Without the distractions, the island’s intrinsic beauty was more evident. Cleared of any boats or people, the beachfront horizon looked beautiful. I was surprised at how the coconut trees on the white beach resembled the ones on our old Boracay photographs. Was I dreaming lucidly? After letting all of these sensations sink in, I became convinced that, yes, this is all real.
Fifteen days has passed since the shutdown as I’m writing this. While I’m all for the island’s rehabilitation, I am also worried about Boracay’s uncertain future. If the powers-that-be really care for Boracay, they should also extend that care to its people. The lack of compassion for the island residents, along with the recent news about the two incoming casinos are disturbing. However, the silver lining I see to this is that the island community may finally rediscover itself by going back to its roots and become one, united island family that would support each other through these challenging times as we prepare ahead for bigger challenges.
As for me, I choose to contribute to the community, our island family, through my music. I believe music strengthens the soul of the island by tapping into its core and history, granting us the power to tell our story. Indeed, Boracay is entering a new, yet vague, chapter. With so many forces at play here, it would take for everyone to navigate a safe course. We all need to be vigilant guardians of our paradise so that, in six months, I can only hope we can share our island story with you once again, as what I am doing right now. .
We may be from different regions, but we are still of one world.
One island, one world.