Boracay Island, Aklan, the Philippines
June 18 – 21, 2022
There was truth to the cliché “less is more.” The eastern side of Boracay opposite the world-famous White Beach proved to be exactly that. Bulabog Beach was not as long, perhaps just a third in length. Sand quality, though radiantly white at mid-day, was not as fine. That said, only a tittle of tourists ventured here. No party music drowned out the sound of the surf and hardly any tout offering water activities interrupted the chill island vibe. It was closer to the Boracay Ki and I last visited 25 years ago. This time, we had Baby T, our toy dino, in tow.
Bulabog was not our original choice. Ki and I scoured Agoda for value for tariff. The sunrise side of the island held no special appeal to me as I had never been an early riser. Anyhow, only Aissatou Beach Resort delivered a beachfront room and a garden well within my budget. The boutique hotel served as digs for kitesurfing enthusiasts and newbies taking lessons at Habagat Kiteboarding Center, also by the same owner. It happened that it was off-season for the sport. Even wind turbines in the distance were at a standstill. Perhaps it was why we got a good deal, alas breakfast not included.
The beach may have been partially concealed by lush foliage, but a window wall opened up to a view we never had in our condo in the city. We woke up to and ended our day with the cute sight of resident furbabies, especially the adorable aspin duo Ginger and Brownie, lounging on the outdoor rattan couch. I could always trust dogs to teach us how to chill. After a day’s worth of sun and sea, I looked forward to this literal comfort zone with bedside lava lamps and a spacious bathroom. There was no pool, but who would need one in an island paradise with white sand beaches and turquoise waters?
The curious lack of swimmers in the sparkling waters at Bulabog was not as inviting as it would normally have been. Perhaps there was a reason it was mainly a kitesurfing spot, like strong currents. The damning factor, though, was Ki’s memory of feeling itchy when he took a dip here years ago. It called to mind the closure of Boracay in 2018 to clean up the coliform pollution on this side of the island. Still, we decided to soak elsewhere.
It was enough to comb the beach and do my Instagram reels in peace. Instead of videobombing tourists, we mostly came across local people and dogs going about their own business. A group of men was about to launch their banca from the shore. Ki asked where they were headed. They pointed to Carabao Island, part of the neighboring province. We guessed one of them, a local traveler, contracted the boatmen to take him there, apparently more easily accessible from Boracay than Romblon’s main island. He could also be a worker in Boracay going back home. It was but a tiny glimpse of the daily life of local islanders.
We found the only spot in Bulabog Beach that was a veritable tourist magnet. The iconic leaning coconut tree, which had figured in countless soc med shots by now, could be found in the northern half of the beach. It was so popular it had been pinned in Google Maps. Aissatou was not the lone hotel in this stretch. Newly-built resorts lined the tiled footpath running along the beach as did a few leftover sari-sari stores and more kitesurfing centers. Bulabog catered to more outlier demographics than one-size-fits-all White Beach.
Staying at Bulabog invariably got us to walk across the island, not just trace the beaches. The grid of alleys, mostly unpaved, crisscrossed the dense neighborhoods where local residents and service industry workers lived. How many of them were descendants of the original inhabitants before tourism took over the island? We bought toiletries and breakfast from local stores, one still hung the campaign tarp of my presidential candidate more than a month after the elections. We became suki of their addictive salted corn. Some of the hostels and B&Bs we saw at Agoda were located in this “inner city” of Boracay.
Of course, the Bora experience demanded beachfront dining as much as we could. There was a dearth of restaurant choices in Bulabog, however. We made an exception for our first brunch at Coffee 85 midway through Boracay Highway Central. In place of an ocean view, we looked out from our bar stools to Balabag Lake, a remnant of pre-development wetlands. I had never heard of these landlocked bodies of water in Boracay before.
I had lamented the (over)development of the island – the reason I stayed away for more the two decades. For better or for worse, Boracay brought its A game to become the country’s main tourist draw. I conceded and went with the times. At least, Bulabog Beach still served that throwback feels that White Beach had totally lost. Staying on the other side of the island made our Bora experience richer.
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