A lot can happen in a few days, especially if you’re in Boracay, inarguably one of the Philippines’s most well known destinations. My mom, sister, cousin and I stayed from May 25 – May 28 booked through Airbnb. Besides spending major family time at this legendary location, I got sun burned, went parasailing for the first time, was propositioned every night by numerous transgender prostitutes and approached by countless vendors and activity guides, I consumed various delicious plates of Filipino goodness, strolled the sands at the death of most parties late at night and marveled at the twinkling stars accompanied by a boy I had met who deserves the world.
In short, I had a wonderful time and I wish I was still there! But I was only ever slightly disappointed. Many people have opined that Bora was a better place to visit only 5 years ago, a sentiment echoed by the people I met there. It was certainly a different place than what I imagined, which I felt intuitively the moment I set foot on the main pathway on the beach. It was an endless path overly saturated with the airs of the commercial and artificial. To be fair, there was a balanced mix of upscale restaurants and fast food establishments, convenient inns and high class resorts, and of course, bougie and trashy island bars, but the over commercialization was the last thing I expected Boracay would hold. Instead, I expected a dazzling beach escape with a more compact party area and much less noise and nightly distractions and vendors. However, some things were as fabulous as I had hoped. Though usually praised for its white sand, its true color was actually an extremely pale shade of beige and had the fun consistency of baking flour. It was as if some giant baker in the sky poured flour across the whole beach of Boracay. The water was blazing light blue with hints of bright green which ombred into darker, more mysterious blues; trademark tones of Philippine island water.
Commercialization was inescapable in Station 2– the center of Boracay and where we stayed. The quieter, more pleasant spots were located at the ends of the island, in Stations 1 and 3. As I traversed throughout, I realized Boracay possesses an energy, environment, and scents reminiscent of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Universal Studio CityWalk, Atlantic City, and at its most ratchet, Seaside Heights and Point Pleasant. Boracay is pretty much the “Jersey Shore” hangout of the Philippines, but with a luxurious beach, cleaner paths, less trash cans, more obvious poverty, and much better places to eat and stay. Due to the lack of a kitchen in our Airbnb rental, we ate out for every lunch and dinner, from super cheap places to more expensive, higher quality places, and one free buffet lunch provided by Astoria Resort in exchange for a highly irritating four hour time share presentation, which we ultimately denied. [My Kuya once told me to never get a time share because they’re a waste of money] For breakfast, we bought bread and fruits and jugs of water [we could only drink bottled water since we had no filter] we bought on our first day.
Every day went like this: Wake up. Eat breakfast in our room. Swim. Eat lunch somewhere. Swim again. Eat dinner. Stroll the beach or through D’Mall– a shopping/restaurant centre. D’Mall was my least favorite place and probably the most ghastly within Bora. It felt way too touristy and below the standards Boracay should have. I was appalled that it existed. Generally speaking, the whole strip of stores, restaurants, hotels, and bars on the beach felt incredibly tacky, perhaps besides the nicer places. One of the coolest things we saw on our walks was this brilliant queer fire circus comprised of dancers that wined to loud music, artfully spinning and throwing balls of fire into the air, one of them even rapidly climbing up a palm tree and according to my sister, “humped the tree.” They were an entrancing group of mostly transgender dancers called the Boracay Phoenix Firedancers. As I watched them, I kept wondering, “How did they find each other? Fellow queer performers that love to dance with fire?” A Philippine mystery.
I didn’t enter any bars because most of them had cover fees and I didn’t want to drink alone. So I spent my nights walking the beach with a guy I met on my second night; I’ll call him Jose. Jose was the first guy I have met so far in the Philippines. I wanted to meet someone in Bora and before I came here to the Philippines, I made it my goal to make friends because I never got to, besides family members. I want to meet people who can give me a different experience of the Philippines than what I already know. I want to be shown incredible things and taken to a level of living reality. My family here is my reality, but because of my age and where I’m at in my life, others can show me different parts of the country and culture that my family may not be willing or able to show.
People of the Philippines are known to be some of the kindest, heartwarming, and empathetic people around. Jose was possibly one of the kindest, open,and loving people I have ever met, all of which I was able to gather the night we met and sat on the beach and began to know each other. My experience with Jose, walking alongside peaceful waves, underneath black skies and diamond stars, having deep conversations and peering inside the mind and heart of another queer, but native Filipino, wrapped in his kindness and tickled by his curiosity made me wish I studied here for university. I was in awe of his presence and feeling how grounded he was into this country and the experiences he’s had here. He had such an outwardly pure, giving, beautiful, yet saddened soul. We shared many personal things with each other in our short time together. Sadly, I never met anyone who was as unaware and in denial of his own beauty. I wish I had more time to show him how lovely he truly is and I wish our goodbye ended on a more encouraging note. I hope he has something to believe in, even if it isn’t yet himself and that one day soon he’ll be able to see his true beauty for himself, inside and out; he’s a radiant boy who deserves the world and I’m glad I met him. I will certainly never forget him.
These are my days in Bora.