by Marie Yuvienco
The object of trying to get away from it all is to get away from it all, which you cannot really do in Boracay. Not today, anyway, and it has not been possible for quite some time now. The island was at its best when it was little-known, before it became the tourist trap it has become, when it was possible to commune with nature, under the stars, with the coconut palms swaying gently in the breeze, when it was the best-kept secret of the natives and a few tourists
in-the-know. Tourism may have been the best thing to happen to employment in the region, but commercialism was the worst thing that could have happened to it.
Let me tell you something about Boracay. The beach is wonderful, the water as azure as the sky above it, so much so that on clear, bright days, when you look at the horizon, you cannot tell where the sky ends and the ocean begins—it’s blue as a cyclorama. As for the sand, it is as the guidebooks say it is, which is that it is as fine as powdered sugar and even whiter, iF that were at all possible. But let me tell you something else about that sand: it may feel like talcum on your feet, but it’s evil. It practices deception of the most lethal kind. One fine morning, the running bug bit me awake and so I decided to go on a pre-breakfast jog. The fact that I had not packed running shoes did not present a problem because, after all, had not Runner’s World assured that running barefoot was the most beneficial favor one can do for one’s feet? That early in the morning, it seemed I had the whole beachfront to myself, so I thought to run-walk its entire stretch. So I did.
What no one tells you about the fabled Boracay sands, as fine as powdered sugar, is that it behaves in no way like powdered sugar. Sugar dissolves in water; sand doesn’t. It was low tide and the sea had wet the sand the night before. I am not sure about the physics involved, but when water mixes with particles as fine as the sands of Boracay, it compacts them to a density like that of concrete. I found that out the hard way.
Also, the sands overheat. Discard whatever illusions you may have of you and your darling walking hand-in-hand on the beach lost in the romance of the moment. When the sun reaches nine o’clock in the morning, the sand begins to retain the heat so that well before noon, foregoing flip-flops is a sensationally bad idea–walking barefoot on hot coals would be kinder to one’s soles. And besides retaining heat, the sands reflect the sun’s rays with blinding efficiency. I am not one for sunglasses, usually, because I think they look pretentious, but when in Boracay, well, your eyes will thank you, and so there I was, or rather, there were me and my feet, battered and pretentious all at the same time.
It has been quite a while since I’ve paid a visit, but from what I’ve been told, the island is simply too overcrowded to be enjoyable. Success has been too successful for Boracay and it has taken its toll on the ecology. What I thought at the time was sea grass, growing verdantly like a green stripe on the water’s edge, turned out to be coliform. Coliform are bacteria that thrive in water contaminated by fecal matter, and when plentiful enough, clump together in leaf-like filaments. Oh, and did I mention feces? Coliform blossoms in Boracay because human excrement was—is—being dumped directly into the sea because of inadequate septic and sewer systems.
(I don’t doubt that. Once, I saw someone standing waist-deep in the water for what seemed like a v-e-r-y long time. I cannot give visual confirmation of any floaters because that would have entailed my going nearer, but still, he was standing still for an awfully long period for what seemed like no good reason.)
I cannot imagine that President Duterte’s decision to shut down Boracay for at least six months pending rehabilitation was easy to make. A shut-down means a loss of jobs and a loss of jobs means a loss of steady income, and a loss of steady income is something that the people who work in and around Boracay can ill afford. Neither can their families. Neither can downstream industries that depend on the reliable flow of tourism. But if Boracay is to be saved, its environment must be saved before it becomes too late. In fact, it may already be too late.
Yet here is where I grow suspicious. A closure will force many Boracay establishments out of business. Meanwhile, a grand casino is being planned for opening. Guests and tourists who can afford to go to casinos will not appreciate having to holiday with the downmarket crowd, which is what Boracay tends to attract nowadays—practically anyone with a bikini or a Speedo can go to Boracay—and when local businesses go belly-up, their owners will be forced to sell their real estate, which will then be gobbled up by foreign investors and politicians who engineered the closure for seemingly legal reasons.
Will it be bali ha’i for Boracay?