Once On This Island: A Boracay Native Laments The Alarming State of The Place He Calls Home
When most people meet for the first time, one of the first questions asked is where are you from? What they are wondering about is not the plot of land you were born on, where you live, or where you go to make a living. They’re asking about that place you call home. When people ask me this the answer is both very simple but very difficult to explain. It is simple in that it can be summed up in a single word that you can immediately picture what I mean: Boracay. What makes it difficult is explaining why this is the place I choose to call home.
The author’s dad. Photo taken in 1991
I was born in Kalibo, the closest town to Boracay and the place where my father grew up. My mother, a Swedish then-backpacker, traveled with my father along the winding dirt road to Kalibo at the back of a jeepney for almost four hours to give birth to me. Kalibo was the closest place where there was a proper hospital. At that time Boracay had neither electricity nor running water. None of the comforts of modern living existed here at the time. As a child, I remember being on the beach all day until the sun set, when we would light our kerosene lanterns while thousands of bats flew overhead and prepare for the trek home. I remember sitting with the other children of Boracay, watching the sunset and building sandcastles, or splashing sea water in the glow of color by the shore. I remember hiking through the island jungles to reach its less accessible points and beaches. My parents settled here and chose to call this their home not because it was easy or convenient, but because there was and still is something very special about Boracay. There is something special in its natural beauty, with its blinding white sand, clear waters, stunning reef and amazing wildlife. There is also something special about its people, a tight-knit community brought together by their love for the island. I feel incredibly blessed to have experienced all that growing up. I imagine these were the reasons my parents decided to call Boracay home.
Boracay’s white beach, shot in 1991
Boracay today has gone very far from the place I grew up in; it has paved roads, water and electricity. The island is host to hundreds of hotels and restaurants, from small family-run bed-and-breakfasts to international brands and chains, various forms of entertainment, and thousands of people living and working. If you can think of it we most probably have it here. This has of course not happened overnight but neither has it taken the usual slow pace of progress. Along with this progress has, of course, come problems. The island is at times beset by traffic sometimes equal to that of Metro Manila as this seven-kilometer island is now home to hundreds of cars, tricycles, trucks and motorbikes all moving the islanders and its two million visitors along. Yet somehow the transport system is also inadequate, as you frequently see people waiting a long time for a ride while near-empty vehicles ply the roads. We have issues with infrastructure and implementation, with overcrowding, rising cost of living, solid waste and waste water management, power-outages, the lack of a place to get proper medical treatment, the deterioration of the reefs and all the little issues that go along with rapid development. Every sector has had difficulties with the island’s development, which is why we have welcomed the recent attention focused on Boracay as an avenue for the solution to these problems.
And yet Boracay is still one of the world’s top destinations. The white beach is still beautiful, its reefs still some of the most incredible places to dive, and the community is still as warm and welcoming as ever. Among countless other things that make Boracay great.
Circa 1995-1996: The author with his mom and sister, in front of what is now Shangri-La
When people ask me where I’m from I still say Boracay. It may not be the untouched island that I grew up in, nor is it close to being beyond or unworthy of saving. But the time to do the saving is now, and we all have our part to play. We badly need infrastructure and critical utilities to be brought up to par. We need these to be built not with yesterday but tomorrow in mind. We need a solution for both the traffic and public transportation issues. We need to properly study the islands carrying capacity and the limits of its environment. We need to educate both the residents and visitors who come from every country in the world and speak every language on the gravity of their impact and what role they can play in minimizing said impact.
In short we need to have an island that properly functions as a destination for millions of people. We need to make sure that everyone who has a part in the island does what we should to sustain it: from following the rules to looking at what each of us can do within our own spheres as businesses, citizens, visitors, and government.
As someone who owns a resort in the island—Balinghai, established in 1987—we do what little we can at the very least not to contribute to the problems, while keeping our business sustainable. We purposefully left our property as undeveloped as possible (we had six rooms in 1999 and today we have eight villas spread over a two hectare property). We have of course renovated and repaired since then but have not expanded the size of anything so as to avoid cutting our trees. All of the resort’s villas are built to take advantage of the natural air flow so we can minimize the amount of power we consume and we try to reuse any material from the renovations either in the rooms themselves or in other parts of the resort/our home. We are currently upgrading our waste water system and creating an organic garden which I hope will be able to provide all the herbs and a good amount of the resorts vegetables. All the lights and outlets in the resort are solar-powered and we hope to increase the amount of electricity we get from renewable energy.
I would rather not highlight what we personally do but my mom founded the Friends of the Flying Foxes, an NGO dedicated to preserving the habitat of our endangered giant fruit bats. We participate in beach/coastal cleanups and information campaigns either personally or together with the Boracay foundation. Personally we just try to reduce our waste as much as possible through recycling and other activities. But it will take so much more to rehabilitate the island.
Every single one of us including those reading this now has in some way profited from the island either through the billions in revenue it has generated for the nation, the opportunities, or even the experiences and memories created. As we have profited, all of us are duty-bound to give back, and to ensure that in the future people will have the same opportunity to see, feel and experience the island’s incredible beauty. If each of us does our part then perhaps 10, 20 or even a hundred years from now, people can still come to Boracay and find in it a home away from home.
Noa Macavinta a 25-year-old half-Swedish, half-Filipino hospitality professional and environmentalist.