As I mentioned in a previous posting, after initially deciding not to go to Boracay, Janet and I changed our schedule and spent five days in the most popular tourist beach in the Philippines.
Boracay has a lot of pluses: a long, white beach; island hopping and snorkeling; decent restaurants and hotels; dinner served on the beach; nightly free entertainment; massage places every ten feet. You can eat and drink yourself to exhaustion (and I did).
After 5:30PM the beach is magically transformed into the Philippines largest and longest restaurant. Each restaurant and hotel gets a strip of beach and sets up tables. Cute Pinays call to you as you walk by to check out the menu or buffet. All you can eat buffets line the beach; you can typically eat all you want for $10 or less and many sell two drinks for the price of one.
Each night two of my strongest characteristics clashed; my fundamentally lightweight drinking vs. my cheap-assed love of the bargain. The latter generally won and my standard one San Miguel became two. Most of the buffets served lechon and Janet was overwhelmed by the notion of unlimited lechon, a concept far removed from her upbringing, where lechon is a prized treat only served on very special occasions.
As you can see from the photo, one buffet advertised “organic lechon.” When I asked what made the pig in question organic, I was told that it was fed vegetables. Sounds organic to me 🙂 Janet actually said that it tasted different from standard lechon, but that didn’t stop her from going back for seconds.
As darkness set in and the tables filled with patrons, the music and entertainment began. The Philippines, known as one of the karaoke capitals of the world, where romantic 70s music is revered as if brand new, is also a hotbed of very talented singers and musicians. Go to most Asian cities and you will see imported Filipino musicians. On the beach in Boracay the musicians were plentiful and of good quality; that is if you’re an old fart like me and want to hear the tunes of yesteryear.
But in addition, bands of fire dancers entertained and generally brought in bigger crowds than the singers. The fire dancers in the Philippines are almost always ladyboys. I asked Janet why most fire dancers are ladyboys and got what would in the West be a politically incorrect answer; something about their loose limbed style of movement.
For that matter the moniker, ladyboy, would be highly incorrect here, yet the term is pervasive in Asia. Considering the Philippines is a conservative and Catholic culture, ladyboys, and indeed all manner of “alternative” cultures are accepted and enjoyed in the Philippines. I am not saying that they are as accepting as we aspire to be in the West, but I suspect that they are more accepting than we actually are.
But the bottom line is that despite the title of this piece, I don’t really know why ladyboys are firedancers in the Philippines, but it seems to be a pretty good skill to have and tips given by spectators were substantial. It’s a job opportunity here guys 🙂
I really love snorkeling and so island hopping is something that I look forward to when I come to the Philippines. Because I had injured my finger the first day we arrived and the doctor that patched me up discouraged me from getting into the ocean for a week, Boracay was my first opportunity to snorkel.
You can hop on a boat with a bunch of other people or find a private boat, which is what Janet and I did. The prices are reasonable and in my experience the vendors do not conform to US laws; that is price fixing is the norm. I actually found the system to be a little bit different from when I was in Bora 3 years ago. I didn’t pay the boat; I was led to a table where I paid and was given an actual, real life, no shit receipt, after which we were taken to the boat.
The snorkeling was fun if not spectacular. I think the most fun was that after I climbed back on the boat after a tiring dive, I saw a man in a small kayak paddling toward the snorkeling boats. Who says Filipinos aren’t creative business people? The man rowed to each boat yelling “ice cream.” He had a cooler in the boat. Now if only he’d had a cooler filled with San Miguels.
One of the biggest negatives in Boracay is the price of hotels. I guess most tourists want a fancy hotel and room with all the amenities. If you need this you’re going to pay. Janet and I are too cheap for such luxury. I want a decent bed, aircon (it was April, which is summer in the Philippines) and a shower with decent pressure and warm water.
So, for the second time I stayed at the Island Jewel Inn. The room is the size of a postage stamp but it has all the amenities we want. It’s not right on the beach (maybe 200 feet away) and best of all it’s located in Station 3, which is a 10 minute walk away from party central and consequently a place you can actually sleep. Actually, best of all is that at $50/night, it met our cheap-assed traveling budget.
Another improvement I noticed since three years ago is the process of transferring to Boracay. It’s still mass insanity but there is now a sense of organized insanity. Here’s how it works: you fly into Caticlan, take a car/van ride (just a few minutes) to a ferry, take the ferry to Boracay, and then a van from the ferry station to your hotel. Almost everyone sets up the transfer in advance. The transfer company grabs you right off the plane and tags your shirt like you’re a new student in the first grade. Hundreds of people are thrown into vans, then various ferries, and then onto other vans for the ride to your hotel. Only in the Philippines could such an insane system actually work. The price was not horrible, although every porter along the way wanted a tip. It ended up being easier just to grab our own bags.
Overall Janet loved Boracay, but after 5 days we’d both had enough and were anxious to get back to something that resembled the real Philippines. More on that with my next installment.
One more positive regarding Boracay. Before our trip I had scheduled my annual physical for the week we arrived home. When we got home I was worried. After all, I spent three weeks eating and drinking. I am a lightweight drinker and literally had more beer than I have ever consumed. I figured my blood work would be through the roof. Imagine my surprise when the tests came back with my cholesterol down and the doctor saying “whatever you’re doing, keep it up.” I didn’t have the heart to tell her that what I was doing was eating pork, drinking like a fish and chasing my young wife 🙂