Boracay & Beyond

It is somewhat difficult to regurgitate all that I’ve absorbed in the past few days. I am horribly jet-lagged, a bit sunburned and the culture shock is still sinking in. When things move at such a fast pace, it is difficult to form an opinion that is not somewhat muddied by the waters of change. None the less, I have to write a few things now or else I risk forgetting all that is fresh in my mind.

Of all the things that stand out the most, both in Manila and here in Boracay, the abject poverty is the most striking. Poverty is nothing new and I’ve certainly seen my share of it in traveling but it seems to exist here on a grander scale. It is on display in both the shanty towns that line the river banks and also on the price tags of goods & services. As if that it is not enough, it confronts you face to face in the form of street vendors and beggars, a blatant confirmation of the reality that there is a definite presence of two groups in life: the haves and the have-nots. Whether the problem is one of education, of government or of self-motivation is impossible for me to say, but regardless of the cause, it is by no means hidden and restricted to out of the way places. It is both a tragedy and a humble reminder of our blessings. It makes me further appreciate the simple and unpolluted joy that most Filipinos display in their day to day lives.

Though I hate to see the economic depression that is in place, part of me has enjoyed the liberty of the dollar. I’ve been in desperate need of new glasses for quite some time and I picked up a name brand pair for less than one-third of the US cost. Last night I had a haircut for 50 pesos (roughly one dollar) and my one hour sailboat ride around the island shores here was only $20. My favorite acquisition is truly the massage services: full-body one hour for only $10. In the states, it was not uncommon for me to pay ten times that price. With the cost of living in the United States, I can not imagine retiring there and I have already seen numerous ex-pats that have made their homes here in the Philippines in order to give themselves the kind of life that the US can not provide on a social security check.

Economics aside, day to day life here seems a bit chaotic. I suppose I should quantify that statement. The traffic is chaotic. Let me rephrase that a bit more: the traffic is insane and navigating through it is equally maddening. Were it not for previous experience with traffic conditions in Central America, I would be far too afraid to enter a taxi here, much less one of the numerous motor-trycs. A simple ride to the mall will not only land you at your destination, it will do wonders for your faith in God! Were it possible, I would travel around with my own personal air-bag. When it gets really bad, I try to close my eyes and pretend I’m at Six-Flags.

Despite the traffic, Manila is fascinating to me. It is large and, from all appearances, laid out like one of those mazes you might find on the back of a McDonalds bag. The constant weave of Asian culture with western influence is intriguing to say the least and there is something to see around every corner. Granted, the geography is very new to me and I find even the most trivial things exciting at this point. I’m sure I’ll tire of seeing things like the JolliBee but until that time, I smile when I pass the distinctly Filipino fast food chain. Fascinating or not though, I wouldn’t want to live here (I hate large cities); I need more nature and less people.

I was hoping to get a bit of that nature here in Boracay and I find that I am disappointed to say the least. From extensive reading I was aware that the island was over commercialized and now I know it was an understatement. Restaurants and shops line the beach in such an excess that during the morning high tide, you can not walk along the full length of the shoreline. It is somewhat disgusting to see what the quest for money (albeit survival) has done to what must have a been an exceptionally pristine island fewer than twenty years ago. Shanties, excessive construction and nipa huts are everywhere and the most beautiful sections of the island have been quarantined by the multimillion dollar resorts. The back side of the island has some unspoiled areas but access to them is a bit tedious and from the growth rate on the island, I suspect it won’t be long before those areas are gone. I look forward to seeing some of the more remote islands such as Palawan in order to find that perfect touch of nature that I so desperately crave.

Harsh criticisms aside, the water here is the most beautiful turquoise I have ever seen and I find myself almost mesmerized looking at it; the island is also not without its own set of charms. There is a nice vibe and the people, including the ever so abundant street vendors, are polite and hospitable. The food is good and the pace can be as fast or as slow as you like. After going through Manila, I can fully understand why Filipinos trek here for their summer get-away. It is, in someways, the best of both worlds.

Even though I haven’t fallen in love with Boracay as most people do, I am in no wise less enamored with the people, the culture and the general way of life. This place is only one of over seven thousand islands and I am looking forward to stepping on the sands of the next one, and the next one, and the ones after that. One island at a time, I am learning that tomorrow will always be better than today and the past will always be smiled upon. This is, after all, the Bahala na Republik.

Photos over at Myplog

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