I joined my family for a week-long vacation in Boracay Island. Here are some cursory observations. To state the obvious, the best place to be in Boracay is the beach. The international magazine Travel + Leisure awarded Boracay as the best island in the world last year for this. And indeed Boracay’s famous White Beach is four kilometers of white sand, blue sea water, and palm trees.
Lined along this long stretch of beach are resorts, restaurants, hotels, bars, shops, and food stalls, making your vacation needs easily available to the demanding tourist. And while sandcastle-making is now prohibited unless you pay the municipal government P100 per square meter you can still do swimming, boating, scuba diving, snorkeling, windsurfing, kiteboarding, and other beach-related activities.
And you can also party all night. Lots of people are out in the beach during the day but Boracay is the place where everybody seems to go out of their lodging houses at night. White Beach only begins to become crowded by 6PM onward. It’s definitely more fun in Boracay Island.
The obvious downside to all this is that everything is also very expensive, from the food, transportation, to accommodation. Ordinary food will cost you hundreds. Even McDonalds charge more in Boracay (ex. cheese burger small value meal is only P79 in Iloilo but costs over a hundred in Boracay).
Boracay is perhaps one of the most commercialized areas in the country. It moreover seems to be one of the most cramped spaces with all sorts of overlapping structures punctuating the narrow labyrinthine roads. On top of this are the slums in the island’s interior, the stench from the sewage, and the semi-permanent flooding in the side streets during the rainy season that is a stark contrast to the splendor of the White Beach.
Attracting foreign tourists to the beach seems to be the only thing that counts. Everything else is secondary. Prostitution is rampant, the one obvious place that gives credence to the sensational statement by Harry Thomas, US ambassador to the Philippines, two years ago that 40 percent of foreign male tourists visit the Philippines for sex. And most Ati indigenous people you find along the main throroughfares and spaces are beggars in an island historically home to their tribe.
Boracay must be the epitome of neoliberal globalization, a place where the market reigns supreme and where the state’s presence is predicated on the perpetuation of this reign. From the absence of history, the wacky shop names, to widespread architectural pastiche, Boracay also represents a high mark of postmodern kitsch. Boracay is the neoliberal heaven. The Philippines is rich but its people is poor is a paradox that holds true even here. But all in all, it’s not that bad if you have the money.