Thursday, July 10, 2014

Boracay first-timer

After a long, long time of treating with indifference the idea of visiting Boracay, I wanted to finally give the popular summer destination a shot, so when my college friend Mines invited me and another college friend Mark to her colleagues' beach outing there, I said yes.

Almost perfect weather

As is my usual luck, however, and since summer had already ended, there was bad weather involved. There was a typhoon whose name I cannot recall for our Mount Apo climb last August, and there was Typhoon Yolanda for our hike up Mount Pulag with co-workers last November. This time for our Boracay trip, there was Typhoon Florita (Neoguri)...or at least its outer rainbands because it never really made landfall in the Philippines.

Mark and I flew with Air Asia Zest to Kalibo last Friday night, a decision which we regret in hindsight because we could have saved a lot of time flying directly to Caticlan. Island Star Express took care of our bus/boat transfers to our hotel La Carmela de Boracay in Station 3, where we arrived in the evening with the rain already upon us. Mines later on met with us at the hotel after Mark and I have had dinner and asked around for good deals on the usual touristy island activities. The three of us agreed on going with one John of Boracay Tours & Adventures who offered us helmet diving (complete with a CD of our underwater photos and video), parasailing and island hopping in Crystal Cove, Crocodile Island and some place we could go cliff diving, all for P3,083 per head for the three of us, spanning our entire day, with a bounty of fresh seafood provided for lunch. Come Saturday morning, though, it was pouring hard, so despite John's attempts at convincing us through text to still go through with the plan because the activities will be held in another part of the island anyway, we had to cancel.

Having nothing else to do because of the dreary weather, the three of us frolicked in the water, fought the huge waves while playing dugtungan ng kanta, and buried each other's limbs in wet sand at the shore while catching up. After several dugtungan rounds and rule revisions, Mines lost, so she had to treat Mark and me to some McDonald's sundae according to our agreement.

Gloomy weather in Station 3

We decided to reserve some calamansi muffins at Real Coffee & Tea Cafe to take home. The first taste that I had of the muffins was through pasalubong given to me last year—odd, initially, but delicious, almost like lemon, but very distinctly calamansi-flavored. A box has 6 muffins and they cost P320 (individually bought, a muffin is P60). Mark, Mines and I each reserved two boxes for pick-up on Sunday.

Real Coffee & Tea Cafe is in Station 1 of the island and because it was a long way from our hotel in Station 3, the weather was actually better in the area. Made us actually think we should have pushed through with our island tour package with John. I made a mental note to book a hotel in Station 1 for when I go back to Boracay.

Station 1 weather, which was better but still cloudy

Probably the only thing I didn't like about Boracay was the ridiculous number of vendors and travel coordinators waiting to accost you at every corner to sell you tour packages, raincoats, monopods and sunglasses. Mark, I didn't know, was prone to vendor charmspeak, and Mines, always the polite one, often ended up by Mark's side during sales pitches. I, on the other hand, avoided any interaction with vendors because even the slightest eye contact could lead to them covering my eyes with fake Ray-Bans or hanging a waterproof gadget container around my neck. Mark and Mines were accosted by a lady representative of Astoria Hotels who enticed them with a 420-peso 3-for-1 lunch buffet and accommodations at their newly built Astoria Puerto Princesa hotel if they listened to a sales presentation over dinner. The lunch buffet promo was very enticing, but since after seeing the weather improve a bit we had decided to join Mines' colleagues in the afternoon on an island hopping tour they got on their own, we simply had lunch at Hap Chan.

Hap Chan's fried squid with salt and pepper, which was sinfully good especially with their vinegar

The weather turned sour after lunch so we canceled the island hopping tour again and opted to take a stroll. We went past Station 1 and reached Willy's Rock, which had a grotto of the Virgin Mary.

Grotto of Virgin Mary at Willy's Rock

On our way back to our hotel, Mines wanted to buy a cocktail at Beach Hut Boracay. Their crazy-tall drink containers were so cool I considered buying too, especially since you can have them refilled whenever for a hundred pesos less than the original drink price. "Alcohol in the afternoon?" I contemplated aloud in front of the cheerful female staff of Beach Hut. "You're on vacation anyway, sir," she said with a smile. That convinced me enough.

Beach Hut Bar's crazy-tall drink containers

A liter of draft beer for me (only because I wanted the beer bottle which unfortunately doesn't come with cocktails) and a liter of margarita for Mines

We dropped by Mari-It Artworks, a nipa stall that sells native-inspired decor and accessories. Mark saw a beautiful necklace with a small, irregularly shaped, translucent white crystal which she planned to give to her girlfriend. It was P1,500, which immediately made Mark lose interest in it. I can only imagine how much more the animal skull staffs cost.

If you're into native-inspired decor or accessories with gemstones or animal skulls, visit Mari-It Artworks

Skull staffs, gemstone pendants, animal spine bracelets, etc.

I'm normally against staying too long inside the hotel room during vacation because it's a waste of time. But the weather being bipolar, rainy and windy one moment and sunny another (sometimes even rainy, windy and sunny all at the same time), we had no choice but to spend more time inside our executive suites. Thank goodness for cable and the bathtub with running hot water.

Bipolar weather at Stations 2 and 3

Spirited Away on Disney

For dinner on Saturday night, Mines and I tried the Astoria dinner thing offered to them in the morning. As it turned out, it was not at Astoria Hotel but in Casa del Pilar's buffet resto. We were sat down by this really pushy guy and asked to sign a registration form. I was already really grumpy because of the weather and all the earlier salespeople encounters so when I got to the part where the form essentially asked, "Would you agree to attend a 90-minute presentation where we yap about one of our hotel projects while we show you boring Powerpoint slides in exchange for gift certificates to Astoria Puerto Princesa?" Mines and I had to politely decline. Mark was not feeling so well anyway so we just bought pizza and pasta at Yellow Cab for take-out and ate in our hotel room. We didn't get to party at a bar or go pub crawling, although we got to binge on Beach Hut refills and some of my own vodka mix in the hotel. Aside from the hot shower and bathtub, the only other great thing about La Carmela de Boracay was the elevated seating area they had by the beach, so we took advantage of that, hung out by ourselves and slept late.

The next morning, we had buffet breakfast at the hotel again at around 9:30, and seeing that the weather was fairer, we decided to actually allow an island tour coordinator to accost us on our way to pick up our calamansi muffins so we could go helmet diving before check-out. Mines had an earlier flight back to Manila, though, so we didn't have time for parasailing anymore.

We didn't get to try any local delicacies in Boracay—or any food that couldn't also just be bought in the city, for that matter—although right outside Kalibo airport Mark and I got to enjoy a pre-departure feast of fresh mango shakes, binakol na manok (native chicken cooked in bamboo) and grilled boneless bangus. I wasn't able to take note of the restaurant's name, but all the food served to us were delicious.

Fresh mango shakes

Binakol na manok, which was like a better-tasting tinola

A red fish and Flounder from The Little Mermaid staring happily at a grilled boneless bangus (milkfish)

All in all, Boracay was able to redeem my perception of beaches. Sure, I might appreciate subpar beaches even less now, but at least Bora's one more thing I YOLO-ed and could now cross off my bucket list this year.

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