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ON TO BORACAY ISLAND PHILIPPINES…

Cebu City- Philippines- ferry to Panay

Cebu City- Philippines- ferry to Panay

ON TO BORACAY ISLAND PHILIPPINES…

As soon as I boarded the overnight ferry at Cebu City pier I already felt better simply because of escaping that ramshackle city.  Adding to my relief, the ferry to Boracay Island was quite pleasant: 2 entire decks of bunk beds, open-aired.  It wasn’t crowded and very few people were assigned beds near mine, which meant quiet and privacy. I was given a bed on the outer corner of the deck, right near one of the women’s toilets. Very convenient. Nobody else used it, so I essentially had my own private toilet.  I slept exceedingly well on the breezy open-air deck.

Panay Island Ferry Port- Philippines

Panay Island Ferry Port- Philippines

In the morning, I awoke to cloudy skies near our destination. Hmmmm, it was completely different weather from Cebu City, which had been hot and sunny every day. I hoped the clouds didn’t mean rainy, stormy weather because I was heading off to find scuba diving work.  Theferry ports city, Ilo Ilo, on Panay Island, was much smaller, less-developed, and more natural (shady green trees) than Cebu City. The vibe was strikingly more relaxed.  I had to take a taxi to the bus station, then a 5-hour ride across the entire island of Panay. The countryside was very pretty and similar to Southern Thailand- flat, full of rice fields and trees, with tiny villages and towns scattered about.

Panay island- Philippines

pretty and laid-back Panay Island- Philippines

My arrival at Boracay was not fortuitous.  As soon as we reached the tiny ferry port village of Caticlan (with local boats to Boracay)  a torrential downpour flooded down.  Luckily, I managed to dash inside the terminal and avoided getting drenched.

ferries to Boracay Island- Philippines

ferries to Boracay Island- Philippines

Once the rain abated a girl at the tourist office escorted me to the island and helped me find inexpensive accommodation, which was apparently not easy to find. From Boracay’s boat pier we took a small “tricycle” (3 wheeled public transport) to… Holy Hell: a busy, congested, broken-down, narrow strip road full of rubble, ugly cement shops, traffic, fences, barbed wire, and crowds of people. What? “This is ‘Paradise Island Philippines’ ?” I was completely horrified.

road and traffic on Boracay Island- PhilippinesI wanted to turn around and leave immediately.  Instead, we got off the tricycle at… an entire block of broken-down rubble, cement slabs, and barbed wire fencing. The tourist office girl explained that this had been the market, which had burned down. I asked when it had burned… Two years ago! And it was still a rubble heap? They’d just left it like that.  It also just happened to be one of the main pedestrian thoroughfares from the road to the beach. That meant hundreds of tourists arriving on Boracay trudged through that rubble field everyday to get to… Paradise?

To reach the guesthouse, next door to the rubble field, we had to actually squeeze through a dilapidated wooden gate and cross the cement rubble.  “Where the hell am I?” I wondered.

guest house with garden on Boracay Island- PHilippinesAmazingly, we soon entered a lovely garden. The guesthouse, called ‘pension’ in Philippines, was a house with a few bungalows surrounding it, all set in a tiny but profuse garden. A little haven from the ghetto outside. I was given a really nice, clean room upstairs. The owner was very friendly. It cost more than I was accustomed to paying (on much nicer islands) but I could manage to afford it. The tourist center girl showed me a couple other places, but they were pretty squalid.  Apparently, that was it for Boracay’s budget rooms. So, I settled in.

souvenir shops- Boracay Island- PhilippinesBy then it was dark.  I went for a stroll on the beach-  accessed by the barbed-wire rubble field then two blocks of dilapidated cardboard and aluminum souvenir stalls. My God. Finally I reached the beach. Well, there was nice fluffy sand.  And the sea. But the entire beach was backed by a profusion of never-ending shops, restaurants, resorts, stalls, dive shops, and bars.

Boracay Island- PHilippines

Boracay beach crowded with people!

It was cram-packed with people strolling along. It was a huge jumbled hodge-podge of everything from ramshackle souvenir stalls set on the sand to tacky shops to high-end resorts, all mixed together.  In addition, a tall  imposing  ‘scaffolding’ of bamboo and cloth was stretched over most of the trees, blocking all views of  beach and sea.  It’s purpose was a wind barrier. Its affect was a hideous eye-sore.

In other words, Boracay’s beach was a huge mess.  And crowded. For an entire 3-4 kms.  I was astounded at the sheer amount of stuff and ugly and ick and people. The whole disgusting place was practically overwhelming for me. I felt nearly panicked.

coffee shop- Boracay Island- Philippines

one of the nicer coffee shops on Boracay

I tried to calm myself by finding positive points. I noticed that at least out on the beach there was no road or cars, only a pedestrian thoroughfare. And at least there was no pavement, just sand to walk on.  And at least there were a few tasteful bars, restaurants and resorts crammed in randomly. At least tables were set out on the sand under palm trees. I could indeed find some nice spots. Still, I could only wonder, “Where did I get myself this time?” I went to bed, exhausted.

Boracay beach- PhilippinesThe next morning I got up early to visit all the dive shops, looking for work. Despite my horrid first impressions of Boracay’s so-called paradise, I thought I should at least give it a chance after spending 24 hours and a ferry, taxi, bus, boat, and trishaw getting there.  I removed all my piercings and put on one of my new dresses from Bali. The dress proved to be totally useless for making an impression since nobody cared about style or fashion. Fashion-wise, Boracay was the same as Cebu City. Everyone just wore neutral colored  t-shirts, jeans or shorts, and flipflops. So much for looking elegant.  They could care less.

In any event, several dive shops were very welcoming to me. They explained how things work on the island, invited me to sit at their shops to draw customers, and even offered to take me diving to learn the dive sites. That was encouraging at least. I also tried looking for a cheaper place to stay, but that was entirely useless. I only found one dump.

dead coral reef- Boracay Island- Philippines

notice the algae-choked dead coral reef and very few fish- Boracay Island

On my second day I continued meeting with shop managers and took my first dive with a shop that anticipated needing my help soon. What I discovered was appalling: most of the coral was dead. By scouring the reef carefully, I could at least find a few scattered live corals and many interesting fish and marine life. It was ok. However, the following day,while doing 3 dives, I discovered that my first dive site was the best one at Boracay!  All the coral on all the sites was dead! Boracay was the worst, most damaged, and most boring diving I’d ever seen. The shops explained that the coral had died during El Nino in 1997, because of the sea heating up to 31C. If true, that  meant they’ve had crap diving for 10 years.

bad diving practices- Boracay Island- PHilippines

bad diving practices- divers grabbing at fish- Boracay

Making matters much worse, on every dive I did, I saw divers grabbing coral!  They were touching, picking up, and poking at coral, fish and marine life.  They inadvertently kicked the reef and critters with their fins. More appallingly, the dive guides didn’t say anything.  In fact, often it was the guides doing the touching and grabbing! Totally Astounding. None of those behaviors would be tolerated at any other places I’d been diving. In fact, poorly-behaved divers were sometimes even prohibited from diving again. Boracay divers exhibited the worst diving attitudes I’d ever seen. I had to wonder if it was actually ‘El Nino’ that had killed Boracay’s reefs.

Lash diving in Bali, Indonesia

Lash diving

So there I was at Boracay Island. In a ghetto. With horrible diving. That cost more than I was used to paying for absolutely  gorgeous places.  I wanted to escape immediately. However, I needed to earn some money very soon. I’d been told Boracay was my best chance to secure diving work in the Philippines. The island received the highest flow of visitors. Diving course prices were high. (to dive at this shithole?!)  and instructors are paid 35% commission, versus 20-25% in Thailand, Bali, and Malaysia.  So, between the high course prices and good wages, it would be possible to make a decent salary, if there’s enough work.

So I stayed a bit longer. From my second day onward, I began diving regularly. For two days I went out with various shops to learn the reefs. I also assisted on a rescue course. On my forth day, one shop hired me to teach a 1-student Open Water Course.

kite surfing- Boracay Island- Philippines

Boracay is famous for kite boarding- other side of island

The student turned out to be one of the world’s top Kite-boarders.  He was just 21 and had been kiting since he was 13. He gets flown all over the world to do commercials, films, and competitions. He told me he’s never in one place more than 1 week.  He was just 21 but had already seen most of the world.  More importantly, he was a really really nice, low-key guy. He proved to be one of the easiest and most competent diving students of my career. I finished his course  and convinced him to continue with the Advanced Course. Diving-wise, not bad for my first week on the island.

In all other aspects, however, Boracay was grim. To make matters worse, one morning I was told by my landlord that for 2 weeks in mid-December his place was already fully booked. Which meant I’d be kicked out. For 2 weeks. At Christmas. Now, what were my chances of finding any place to stay during the peak season? Visions of  homelessness crept through my head.  I consoled myself somewhat by reasoning that if worse came to worst I could probably sleep in one of the dive shops.

So my brilliant idea to go to the Philippines for ‘fantastic diving’ and ‘great work opportunities’  landed me in a much worse position than I’d been before. I’d become accustomed to diving on beautiful, healthy coral reefs. I was used to living in places that I liked, that are beautiful, peaceful, and not badly developed.  And getting kicked out of my long-term room over Christmas was simply ridiculous.

I seriously contemplated leaving as quickly as possible. However, I was quite apprehensive about not finding diving work elsewhere in the Philippines. With my low funds, I was very hesitant to walk away from the ‘best place to find diving work’. I was left in a quandry while hanging on a bit longer to see how the diving season unfolded there.

Find out what finally happened in my next installment: Escape From Boracay.

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18 comments

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  1. Waegook Tom

    Wow…I’ve read a bit about Boracay and heard it described as getting “over-developed” and “touristy”, but judging from your pictures and descriptions, these sound like pretty generous statements. Come on Philippines, clean up your number one tourist draw!

    That beach looks horrendous, too. I’d turn around and leave right away.

    1. Lash WorldTour

      Hey Tom, Thanks for stopping by. Yeah, come on PHilippines, clean up the island! It seemed to me the mess came about because of completely uncontrolled, unregulated development and also some very unscrupulous land developers. I could’ve added a lot more- like the sewage flows into the sea, the water is glazed with a coat of oil and gasoline, etc etc…

      In my case, I really could have avoided this experience- I could tell just by reading hte guidebooks that Boracay was not my kind of place… just chasing that hopeful job and dollar.

      Amazingly, almost everyone I’ve met who’s been to Boracay loved it! Excuse me? I just do not get that. Different strokes for different folks! cheers, Lash

  2. Kevin aka EyeTravelSolo

    Great read Lash. Always glad to see your objective and down to earth Post that reveal the true side of these places intead of a “Fluff” review that is so common.

    I feel comfortable taking Boracay off my list when I hit PH. :)

    Kevin

    1. Lash WorldTour

      Hi Kevin,

      Thanks for stopping by. Glad you enjoyed my ‘true report’. That’s how I saw it anyhow.
      Amazingly, everyone else I’ve met who’s been to Boracay loved it. What?! That’s truly unbelievable.

      I’m sure there are some beautiful places in the Philippines. But i didn’t see them, unfortunately.

      Let me know what great places you find there. cheers, Lash

  3. Talon

    I avoided Boracay like the plague when I was on Pinay and heard similar comments about the condition of the reef there. I, like you, highly doubt it was El Nino but the careless people who dive there. So sad because it could be such a promising place.

    1. Lash WorldTour

      Good plan Talon! I wish I would’ve done the same. I could tell from reading the guidebooks that it was no place for me! yet… a very hip dive instructor I met highly recommended it to me, both for diving, pay, and the island itself. Whew, was she wrong!

      I’m excited to hear that you’ve heard similar tales from other people. As I mentioned,everyone I’ve met who went there loved it! EH?! no comprehendo.

  4. derek anthony gibson

    Hello Lash. I was thinking about heading to Boracay in November 2012, but after reading your post and seeing some of the photos of the crowds and the beaches I seem to be changing my mind. It is a long trip from New York and I would hate to get there and want to head right back. From what I have read November is supposed to be the LOW season and less crowds, but it seems like there are still a lot of people there. The way you described the white beach is not what most of the tourists have been posting. I normally go to Tahiti where you don’t have the crowds and the life is much more quiet and laid back. I am not into the crowds and don’t really care for the big party scene which I can sidestep. I could not afford Tahiti this year (overpriced) and was looking for some place cheaper that had good beaches and low cost places to stay… From what I’ve read Station 3 is supposed to have the cheapest accommodations. But it appears you could not come across “cheaper” accommodations, which is probably different for different people.. Also, when the boats land at Boracay do you have to get out in the water and wade ashore?? I had to do that in Thailand at one island and the water was waist high at the time of day and me and my heavy bags got soaking wet. All they have to do is build a damn pier. I take it that your trip and your post was in the last 5 months which would make it even more relevant to me. Hope to hear from you soon.

    keep smiling
    derek

    1. Lash WorldTour

      Hi Derek,

      Thanks for stopping by and reading my post on Boracay.
      I was there from October to March. It was very busy during that time, especially with locals from Manila and other places in PHilippines, who were there on various local holidays and weekends. It was ALWAYS crowded.

      Strangely, and quite unbelieveably to me, I’ve met many people who LIKE Boracay! I think anyone into a party scene might enjoy it.

      As for arrival, whether or not you have to wade in to shore from your boat depends on which boat you arrive on. The regular shuttle ferries don’t require wading. But some speed boats arrive at the beach, where you would have to wade in.

      But if you’re used to Tahiti and you like peace, quiet and few people, I really think Boracay is not for you. There are many other great places in the Philippines such as Bohol, Panglao, and Palawan. I bet you’d like those places better if you’re going to Philippines.

      I don’t know where you’re traveling from, so I dont’ know the distances, travel times or flight costs for you to different places. BUt if you’re looking at Asia, you can find much less-developed beaches n islands in Indonesia and Malaysia.

      HOpe that’s helpful. cheers, Lash

  5. Erika

    That’s so nice of you to describe Boracay as “disgusting”. This is kind of offensive. Just saying :)

    1. Lash WorldTour

      Hi Erika,

      I respect your opinion. Thanks for your input.

      Everyone is entitled to their opinions and, unfortunately, that’s my honest opinion of Boracay.

      I know many other people like it there, so perhaps you’d enjoy their stories better. :)

      cheers, Lash

  6. Gerald V

    Hi there Lash World tour,

    I am Filipino though sadly I share your sentiments about Boracay. I was told of its white powdery sand and beautiful sunset. but I was disappointed when I visited the island in 2013. The Paradise is destroyed by commercialism and trade. I am not sure if the island will be returned to its previous state. I guess it’s Paradise Lost

    1. Lash WorldTour

      Hi Gerald,

      Welcome!

      Thanks for stopping by to add your perspectives and experience visiting Boracay.

      Well, sounds like we had the same views on the place. yes, Paradise Lost is a good term for Boracay in my opinion. Sadly, I”m quite sure it will never recover to its former glory. :( Let’s just hope some other pristine islands around Philippines are not destroyed in the same way.

      cheers, Lash

  7. ad.phantas.adventuris

    Hi Lash,

    Firstly, I want to say that I appreciate you writing about your travel experiences. I am sorry to hear the less than ideal experiences that you had at Boracay.

    I have to admit, it pains me to hear stories about islands like Boracay that are ruined by the hordes of tour guides, boats and tourists. The issues of over-development and a marked increase in tourists come at a great cost, even when we like to think about the short term benefits of commercialisation particularly in the demographic, social and economic changes to the local people.

    I understand that these islands have an appeal to others but I would much prefer the experience that I recently had at a private B&B beach resort at Redang island in Malaysia. I had an amazing beach view from the chalet that I stayed in and I saw the powdery white sands and the crystal clear blue waters from a close distance. The beauty of it was that you had the beach to yourself and it was just captivating. I just hope that these places will last the test of time, but sadly, once a paradise is found, people will find ways to exploit its beauty.

    I thank you for sharing your experience on this blog about Boracay. If I ever get a chance to go to the Philippines, I will definitely consider the lesser known islands like Malascupa, Bohol and Palawan. Once again, thanks and have a lovely day!!!

    Adam

    1. Lash WorldTour

      hi Adam,

      Welcome and thanks for reading.

      thanks for sharing your experiences on Redang Island, malaysia. Surprisingly, to myself mostly, I’ve never been there yet! I’ve visited most of the islands on the east coast of Malaysia, so it’s quite odd I’ve missed that one, especially given it’s great reputation as a still pristine & quiet place.

      Thanks for sharing your views.

      cheers, Lash

  8. Michael

    Thanks for sharing this. I’m in the Philippines now trying to find a nice beach to go to. Your post helped me cross Boracay off my potential list, saving me loads of time, thanks!

    1. Lash WorldTour

      Hi Michael,

      Welcome!

      Great, glad my experiences there could help you avoid it and pick a better island for your travels. :))

      thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      cheers, Lash

  9. Alex

    I too made the mistake of going to Boracay last month. I scrapped the two countries I planned on going to in SE (Vietnam and Cambodia) to spend three weeks in the Philippines. What a bad choice! What a crap country.

    1. Lash WorldTour

      Hi Alex,

      Sorry to hear about that! Yes, in my opinion, Boracay is one of the worst places ever. But lots and lots of people clearly love it. To each his/her own.

      I didn’t enjoy Philippines either. But I’m sure there must be some wonderful places there. Maybe I’ll make it back one day to see them.

      Hope you get to visit Vietnam & Cambodia another time.

      thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      cheers, Lash

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