Ernie goes to Boracay pt. 3 (Apr 2017)

The Rain Comes

And on the third day, the heavens opened up. Dirty rainwater gathered in pothole puddles as we navigated the morning traffic along Boracay Tambisaan Jetty Port Road, crammed into the makeshift sidecar of a motorized tricycle. The driver, a heavyset man carrying thick stacks of bills between his fingers, wound his way around idle cars, hotel shuttles, and fellow tricycles, bearing north along the island’s main highway. We were headed to Puka Shell Beach, a strip of sand along the northern edge of Boracay, known for its relative seclusion and isolation.

The skies were already grey when we set out from our hotel, and it was raining by the time we arrived at the waterfront. It was too late to turn back, or it seemed like it at the time, so we walked along the narrow beach for awhile before finding shelter underneath a couple of covered sun chairs. From our reclined positions, we watched our fellow tourists brave it out in the rain, including an engaged couple hellbent on getting their wedding pictures taken. Once the fact of the rain was accepted, however, the morning wasn’t so bad. The water was still beautiful, the waves just rough enough to be fun, and there’s something to be said about beachgoers determined to have a good time, rain or shine.

I’d happily wrap up this little section here, were it not for the loss of a valued item. There are signs around Boracay warning tourists about thieves and cautioning against leaving belongings unattended, but this daylight robbery was perpetrated not by human hands. We were wading in the water by the shoreline, letting the waves crash over us, when an unexpected surge hit me and wriggled free my wedding ring. The titanium band had always been a little loose, and I’d gotten used to holding on to it with the surrounding fingers for the last few years, but it was still a shock when I felt it wash away with the receding ocean. We tried looking for it for over an hour, but to no avail. It was a real downer, to be honest. Ever since I first tried it on – we ordered it online so there was no way to be sure if the sizing would be accurate – we knew that losing it would be a real possibility, and we even talked about how we were going to get a correctly-sized ring afterwards. Still, the sudden loss of it, combined with the gloom of the morning, hit us hard. Things are just things, but this was my wedding ring.

White Beach Deja Vu

For the third afternoon in a row, we found ourselves back at the main beach. The weather on this part of the island had settled into a post-rain calm, though thick storm clouds on the horizon made for a dramatic background on our walk along the shoreline. We made a brief but memorable stop at Hawaiian Bar-B-Que, a restaurant located in between Station 1 and Station 2, where we feasted on deep-fried spam musubi, but otherwise we just walked and talked. When we didn’t want to walk any further, somewhere around the further margins of Station 2 and the first few shops of Station 3, we doubled back and wandered into D’Mall. Dinner was at Spicebird, a peri-peri chicken joint à la Nando’s, and it was fantastic. When the sun had fully set and the ocean was a dark canvas beyond the beach lights, we took off our sandals and wandered from one open-air bar to another, enjoying the pleasant strains of a hundred acoustic covers as the surf broke and washed over our naked feet.

Sailing with the Red Pirates

Red Pirates is a notorious bar in the Station 3 section of White Beach. It’s a little further out than the bigger clubs and venues huddled around Station 2, but it has its own devoted clientele, drawn to its unique party vibe. In addition to the bar, however, the owners also operate Red Pirates Sailing Tours, taking tourists out on island-hopping excursions and beach-side barbecues. A couple of our friends had holidayed in Boracay about a month before us, and a sailing trip with Red Pirates came highly recommended, so we booked an excursion with them for our last day on the island.

The only problem was, they never got that booking. We showed up outside the bar at noon, the appointed meeting time, only to be informed that we weren’t in their records. A third party had handled our reservation, but, for whatever reason, it never reached the Red Pirates. There was nothing we could do about it on our end, and it looked like the trip would be a no-go. Fortunately for us, and it was very gracious on their part, they agreed to take us sailing anyway, though the last minute preparations would delay the trip until 2 in the afternoon.

Two hours later, we were skimming over the surface of the wide blue sea, sailing in a gentle arc around the southern end of the island. Ashley and I sat on webbed platforms suspended on the paraw’s outriggers, our feet splashing in the waves below, as the three pirates navigated the wooden vessel. After about an hour of sailing, we reached a quiet beach, our only companions a couple of dogs and a solitary goat. While we cooled off in the clear waters and watched the ferries shuttling tourists from one island location to another, the pirate crew prepared an incredible lunch spread for us – barbecued pork, chicken, stuffed squid, potatoes, rice, salad, and yellow watermelon. We ate ourselves to near oblivion, before crawling back onboard the paraw for the journey back home.

Sunset on the Sulu Sea

One upshot of our delayed sailing trip was that the return leg coincided with the sunset. Going out into the water at the end of the day is usually a separate trip, with an additional cost, but it worked out that we were able to do both our original booking and a sunset sail in one excursion. The view is much the same as what you would get on shore, and I don’t think we would have paid extra for it, but it does make for some really interesting and dramatic shots. Once the sun had completed its descent, the pirates took us back to shore, where we hopped off into the shallow water and said our goodbyes. We went back to Cyma for dinner that night, before taking one last long walk along Boracay’s incomparable beach.

A Strange Place

Boracay is a strange place, and I have unresolved thoughts about it. There is so much about this famous island that seems to work against itself, and it seems like it all should fall apart into a chaotic, dirty mess – and yet, inexplicably, it just works. Despite the crowds, despite the noise, despite the unashamed commerciality, Boracay still has some magic left. Or maybe it works for us, and not so much for others. I can’t quite place my finger on what it is about this place that elevates it above its baser elements, nor am I especially motivated to make a return trip any time soon, but it managed to exceed our expectations of a beach holiday, and that’s good enough for me.

One final, final note: The milkshakes at Jonah’s Fruit Shake & Snack Bar are incredible – we had one every night on the way back to our hotel.

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