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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION (44 pesos = US$1)
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.
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.
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