Escaping the Hell of Boracay in Carabao

     Everything wrong about Boracay can be summed up by the fact there are no basketball courts, which is because there is no central plaza, no community, no planning. There might be one tucked away from my eyes; I could only handle a day in hell. The crowds were overwhelming. It was amazing. Tons of Koreans. Tons. TONS! I weighed them all, and it was tons, and that was just one nationality. I have haven’t seen more than a dozen travelers in three weeks, and now I see thousands.

boracay crowds

     A small, small sample size

     7107 islands in the Philippines, and Boracay is the most famous. Why are people all over the world coming to this over-developed little island, this speck on the map with two McDonald’s, a Starbucks and a mall coming soon?
     Boracay’s selling points are its sandy beach and fantastic sunsets, but the beach is very narrow in parts with no space to enjoy it since it is crowded like Coney Island on the Fourth of July. I saw a guy trying to run on the beach but it was hopeless, like negotiating an obstacle course. The water was clear but chilly, this being the coldest time of year. The only reasons to come to Boracay are wind/kitesurfing or to party with lots and lots of people. Then you are in heaven. Nothing else can be defended.
     Wait, let me wipe the foam from my mouth. OK, I’m good now.
boracay sunset1

     No, I’m telling you, Boracay is really, really bad.

boracay sunset2

     Seriously, you won’t enjoy yourself!

boracay sunset3

     Anyohaseyo! Pass the kimchi!

     The real question is how Carabao (also called Hambil), the next island to the north, can remain unaffected while its neighbor is bursting at the seams. It’s startling how calm and peaceful it is in comparison. Same sunset, same white sand (but on the sunrise side,) but a low-illuminated village means a night sky filled with stars.
boracay sea urchins

     Saw innumerable sea urchins and starfish in the shallow waters leaving Boracay. Sea urchins freak me out since my “minor operation” in Vietnam when I had to take a dozen needles out of my feet.

boracay boatman

     My boatman from Boracay. You will need to bargain. I paid 100 pesos. I actually paid 150 pesos because I liked him and he had ten kids. I asked why ten and he said some were “unexpected.” Philippines is a country that might be better served with 20 million people rather than approaching 100 million. There is zero family planning, but that’s a rant for another time.

carabao girl balloon

     This was my boatman’s niece, I think he said. I made an animal balloon for her in a cynical ploy to be short-listed for the Nobel Peace Prize.

carabao sign

     Notice the pawn shop in the background. There’s always the pawn shop.

     Carabao means water buffalo. Consensus appears to be that it once was populated by them but the tourist office claims the island is in the shape of one from a certain angle, which, if this were a Rorschach Test, would be deeply unsettling.
     The boatman left me off near San Jose, the only real village. I meandered on the sandy path and barely noticed a faint sign for a tourist information office in a building on the beach with a Jetsons round spaceship design. I went upstairs and gabbed with the three girls (Three! For a place with almost zero tourism!) demanding to know where the Jollibee was. I noticed a bed in one of the adjoining small rooms and they said they rent it out to make some extra money. That’s a great idea. I stayed just for that reason as well as its great location: I love falling asleep to waves gently lapping on the shore below, though less thrilled by the 5am wake-up call of roosters, barking dogs, and people kibbutzing around.
san jose beach

     The tourist information office by the beach, aka my home for two nights.

     There is no real road outside of San Jose. I saw only two vehicles during my stay. Instead, there is a two meter wide concrete strip around the perimeter of the island so everyone uses motorbikes.
     I hitchhiked to the grungier west coast for the sunset in Lanas and Tinapan Beach and then paid a guy too small for his motorcycle 50 pesos to come back. Sitting behind him, he reeked of rum. He said his uncle was the ex-mayor who owns the only place open at night and where the few people here come to hang out by the beach, Five Thirteen. (The gossip is that he was the ex-mayor because he paid the government employees only half their salary.)
     I played basketball one afternoon with the present mayor’s son. The basketball court, like in most small towns, is the center of the town, often more than the Catholic Church. It sits next to a police station. I asked him why Carabao has a police station since there can’t be any crime, and with perfect timing two officers were escorting a man in handcuffs across the basketball court. Public drunkenness.

     There’s a transgender person named Michael by day and Ella by night who rents a room upstairs from his/her eatery for 150 pesos a night. At night there are only two or three places to eat if you don’t want to be in a resort, and Ella’s is the only restaurant, but even then you should order earlier. That is a drawback of Carabao.

carabao bed view

          Staying in the tourist information office costs 300 pesos but there is no shower; they bring you well water and you ladle it on you. I guess it isn’t for everyone, but it’s cool to have the whole little building to yourself, and this is your view.

     The island has electricity from 4-6am and 1-10pm. There is wifi at Five Thirteen. The password is “republic”.
     From Caticlan on the northwest tip of Panay island to Boracay it’s 25 pesos for the boat, 75 pesos for a completely bogus environmental fee and 100 pesos for a completely bogus terminal fee. I’m completely cynical about these fees. Of course, the pier in Boracay is a shambles; the fee money is lining someone’s pockets.
     There are two boats a day from Caticlan to San Jose, Carabao, bypassing Boracay at 9am and 3pm, but the port is is actually in Tabon a few km away, and almost no one in Caticlan knows about it, especially the brain-dead people at tourist information.
     From Boracay to Carabao there is no scheduled boat, but several people told me that half the island comes over to work in Boracay–—a nice commute!—–so that means early morning and late afternoon there is plenty of traffic. I went on the eastern side, Bulabog, on the northern end, but I heard it would be better to find a boat on the western side, White Beach, by Station One.
     Hurry up and go to Carabao; they’re building an airport.
carabao sunset

     See? Carabao has spectacular sunsets, too! Take that, Boracay!

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Escaping the Hell of Boracay in Carabao — 13 Comments

  1. Nice post! Brings back the memories of travel in the PP. Too noisy to sleep in the am, no info, mis-info, minimal eateries…but fun all the same. Good to know nothing has changed. Thanks

  2. Sounds like you almost found the beach there. The photos are fantastic. I’m curious, how did you first decide to go here? What drew you here?

  3. You won’t catch me on Boracay, I think. It sounds the way I have always imagined it. I like the sound of Carabao, though.

  4. Graydon, if you want to just hang out at an all-inclusive resort tucked away somewhere, I can see it, but otherwise, no.
    Phill, I don’t even remember how I heard about Carabao. Someone must have told me about it, and since it didn’t appear hard at the time to get there, I thought I would give it a try.
    And when I looked on the map I envisioned a daisy chain of other islands, so it made sense to at least check it out

  5. I’m still searching for the (relatively) undeveloped tropical paradise which isn’t infested with deranged roosters making noise all night long.

  6. I read all your posts. I admire your zest for life and adventure, and your openness to meeting new people and experiencing different lifestyles. As we age together (I’ve been following you for years now), I shake my head in amusement — and sometimes roll my eyes — when I see the lengths you go (and the places you sleep) to save money. You are one of kind, that’s for sure. Respect!

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