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Photo: Sampath Menon
Photo: Sampath Menon

A week in Boracay, the island paradise

This Philippine island is just what the doctor ordered

Boracay is one of the many beautiful islands in Philippines, and gets its name from its fine, white beach sand that resembles cotton.

Whenever my wife goes shopping for that extra pair of footwear she doesn’t really need (well, is there such a thing?), I tease her saying “Oh, another pair… who do you think you are–Imelda Marcos?" Over the years, I had actually forgotten who Imelda Marcos was, but the phrase still lives on in my household.

(Imelda Marcos is the widow of former Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos, famed for her collection of shoes. As first lady, Imelda used to live a lavish lifestyle while the majority of Filipinos remained in poverty. I learned about her while growing up from our local newspaper, which had carried a full-page feature on her, along with photos of her room-filling shoe collection.)

Given that short introduction to Imelda and her poor countrymen, you may have got a fair idea about my wife’s shopping priorities, and possibly my current financial situation as well. That tidbit about the Philippine president's wife covered about 80% of what I knew about the country until about a few months ago. Then all of it changed—suddenly, the Philippines came into my life rather unexpectedly. I spent seven wonderful days in a beautiful island—yes, Boracay. White sand beaches, turquoise-green waters (you know—the kind you would see in luxury product advertisements), corals and lovely people.

You know, life can be funny. I had never in my life heard of such a place, nor dreamt that I would ever visit this place one day. But here I was, in one of the most beautiful of the Philippines's beaches, sitting around lazily in my shorts, showing off my well-rounded hairy Indian body, sipping cold coffee and dipping my fork in sticky white rice, watching the sun come up and go down. How was this even possible? Enter my friend Smiling Buddha (I call him so, because he is a Buddhist). 

A bunch of his friends and he were planning this trip to Boracay and he included me in their plans since he knew I needed some lifting of spirits. When he called and informed me of the travel plans, he’d already made reservations for me, and all I had to do was get my amply sized back into the competitively sized economy-class seat of an AirAsia flight. Well, that was a small discomfort I was ready to live with in exchange for a magical week in a beautiful tropical island.

Boracay is one of the many beautiful islands in Philippines, and gets its name from its fine, white beach sand that resembles cotton (which in the local language is borac). And what are the top favourite activities to do in Boracay?

1. To do nothing, or

2. Watch the sun come up and go down (if you are the active kind, I guess).

I did not make those up—I actually read that in a book about Boracay that I found in my hotel room. There are about 30 beaches in and around Boracay; White Beach and Bulabog being the most popular. We had booked our accommodation at Hotel Milflores De Boracay—a well-kept, cozy hotel located close to White Beach.

Our flight to Philippines had us coming through Malaysia, where we had a rather long transit. We spent most of our time in the airport food court, enjoying ‘kaya’/butter toasts and teh tarik (milk tea) from the Toast Box outlet.

We then flew into Calebo through Manila, from where a two-hour bus ride got us to a ferry, across which was Boracay. The bus ride gave us a peek into the Philippines countryside—green paddy, locals going through their day lazily—all of which reminded me of my hometown back in Kerala.

The Philippines must have the worst looking electric distribution system though—the lines bunched up shabbily, running along everywhere, spoiling otherwise picturesque views.

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From the jetty, we had to take a boat to get to Boracay. Boats in the Philippines are narrow, and have bamboo structures attached to their sides for stability and support. The ride itself was adventurous, and scary at times when the boat negotiated giant waves.

The jetty, the boats and the hardened, shabby boatmen reminded me of the movie Water World. By the time we got to Boracay Jetty, I was wet and dripping, my legs as wobbly as the finest jellies. I managed to walk myself to terra firma by tip-toeing over a narrow plank they had set up between the boat and the jetty.

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If getting to Boracay was such an adventure, I wondered what would be awaiting us in the coming days. Thanking god, we entered the mini-van that took us to our hotel.

My friend had planned our week to a tee. Not a hard thing to do, since our plan was to have a vacation with no agenda nor time pressures. Every day, the bunch of us would wake up at some reasonable hour in the morning, walk down to the beach, park ourselves in a beach-side café and decide on how we should be spending the rest of the day. Here are some of the things we got around to experiencing:

Walking the 3.5km White Beach stretch: The walkway alongside the beach is lined with small shops selling all kinds of stuff, restaurants and cafes. As we walked, we also bumped into hawkers selling baluts (boiled, fertilized duck eggs). Now that’s something one doesn’t get to eat often in our part of the world, so we did give it a shot. I should say that if you can get over the looks of it, you should try it. Not bad at all.

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Helmet diving: Remember Captain Haddock going under water in Red Rackham’s Treasure? That’s precisely what this is, except that one doesn’t need to wear a heavy suit. A boat took us to a large stationary platform from which divers helped us wear a 30kg helmet fitted with an oxygen pipe, and guided us through a beautiful underwater walk.

If you, like me, have an eternal fear of deep blue sea thanks to the Jaws movies you saw in your childhood, you may find it difficult to go under. But once you get over that initial fear, this is once-in-a-lifetime experience.

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Wondering why you aren’t seeing any divers? They are all under water!

Island hopping: Where they took us to three beautiful islands near Boracay—Puka Beach, Crystal Bay and Tambisaan Beach. This was a full-day activity and included a buffet lunch. Puka Beach is one of the cleanest and most beautiful beaches I’ve seen in my life.

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(Above) one of the beautiful rocky islands we visited. (Below) Kite surfers do their stuff in Bulabog.

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Parasailing: Well, if you like to be unleashed from a speedboat and left dangling in the air for about 20 minutes, parasailing is for you. If you can stop worrying about whether you are buckled safely to the parachute, or what would happen if the rope gets cut, you could catch some great aerial views of Boracay.

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Snorkeling: Now, this one everyone can try—even if you don’t know how to swim. They took us in a boat to a shallow area where we were given the gear and helped into the water. If you can't swim, you could hold on to the ropes tied to the boat and dip your head under water to get fabulous views of corals and fish underwater.

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ATV/buggy ride to top of Mt Luho: Exactly what it sounds like. We explored the island on an ATV, and went up Mt Luho, and caught a great view of the entire island.

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Evenings in Boracay: Once the sun goes down, everyone settles into one of the many restaurants lining the beach. While some of them have live music, many have flame dancers who amaze the audience with "live-fire" performances. Every night we explored a different restaurant, and loved each one of them.

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D’ Talipapa – Wet Market: This is a fish market where we got to see the freshest of sea food, haggled with the sellers for the lowest price, and took our fish to the nearest restaurant, where they cooked them just the way we wanted. A fun experience, though the haggling part was a bit tiring.

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Scuba diving: Scattered along the White beach walkway, you can find shacks where you could sign up to learn scuba diving. There are about 15 dive sites near Boracay with underwater tunnels caves, corals and other beautiful spots. After giving it some consideration, we decided not to scuba dive in this trip.

And there are many more things to do in Boracay—banana boat riding, flying fish, cliff diving, sailing, sail boarding, canoeing, and so on.

Be it a lazy vacation, or an adrenaline-pumping active one, Boracay has something for everyone. It took me a few weeks after I returned to get over my Boracay hangover. For now, I am just thankful to my friend the Smiling Buddha for introducing me to a new land.

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(Above) Sights along White Beach: A weird items seller? (Below) The beach itself.

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(Above) Kite boarding at Bulabog beach. (Below) One of the best loved activities in Boaraca—doing nothing.

And I leave you with one last shot.

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Sampath Menon is an IT industry veteran, entrepreneur, travel addict, foodie and occasional blogger (he blogs at sampathmk.com).  

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