Sunday, September 5, 2010

Turn your Tropical Island Trip Upside Down

My family name clearly doesn’t sound Spanish or much less a native Filipino surname. Since I’m carrying my husband’s Croatian surname with a soft ch represented by an accented c on top of the letter, my Filipino friends and even immigration officers show fondness in pronouncing my strange married name. After all those aaahhh-so-that’s-how-you-pronounce-it reactions, I somehow nurture a funny feeling of false joy with the fact that I’ve given a tongue twisting challenge to curious readers of my foreign sounding name.

As a Filipino, who travels to the Philippines yearly for my summer holiday, the pride to showcase my country’s national traditions, uniqueness of culture, picturesque places, people’s warm heartedness and hospitality made me feel like an Oscar multi-awarded actor brandishing a shelf full of Oscar statues in my own home.

More than all of these, the most interesting part of my husband’s tourism adventure was to have a feel of the rhythm of life in a tropical country. His excitement and enthusiasm to travel six thousand miles away from home to discover an interesting place in Asia was my motivating factor to book my trip six months in advance and to endure the bureaucratic tra-la-la that goes together with fixing of my traveling papers three months before August departure date.

Although my initial goal was to give him a meaningful first hand experience from riding tricycle, malling ( at the Mall of Asia which is ten times the size of a regular mall in Croatia, seriously), trekking in Tagaytay, revisiting history in Intramuros and bar hopping at night to keep his Manila schedule full. But the hype about Boracay's beauty and splendor proved to be more irresistible than experiencing the horrendous Manila traffic.

Thanks to My Cheap Travel, my professional and reliable travel agents who worked with our itinerary and other travel needs in a breeze (

Boracay, a famous tourist destination is located in the Northwest of Panay Island in Western Visayas region of the Philippines. It takes a one and a half hour plane ride from Manila via Kalibo then continues to a one and half bus ride to Caticlan where you can enjoy the panoramic view and a whiff of fire wood scent typical in a rural Filipino town.

Once you reach the port in Caticlan, the highlight of your adventure will amaze you with an exciting fifteen minute boat ride that gives you the first adrenalin rush of the day. As you get closer to the place, you'll understand why Boracay is a top choice by local and foreign tourists.

On the way to the airport, as we rushed to catch up our early morning flight, we hailed a cab and boy, we're glad that the cab driver didn't contract us for a fixed rate. He used a meter. Yey! But at the airport, I thought I spoke too soon. He suddenly blurted,"
Can you please add some more to the total amount of 150 pesos?" I gaped as I handed him 200 pesos. Do I have a choice but to let him keep the change since catching our flight in a jiffy was more important than to get a 50 pesos change back, right?

Thankfully, we hopped on the plane and went through the nine seater van tough ride on a curvy rocky road plus traditional banca boat splashing adventure before our eyes gazed through the majestic beauty of the island. Sugar powder like white sand, countless coconuts swaying, sky blue sea water beckoned and welcomed us – a little short of saying, enjoy your stay.

It's true. The place has a distinct character like an x factor that you can't simply describe. It's totally captivating. No wonder why a slew of foreigners mostly Europeans decided to settle in Boracay for good.

But hold your horses, for visiting tourists, not all that glitters in Boracay is gold. Or should I say everything you touch in Boracay is gold and pricy. Everytime I strolled with my Caucasian husband in tow, few yards away, a flock of fake watch vendors, water sports agents, locals offering massages, manicure, hair braiding and henna tattoos swarmed and incessantly hard sold us with their services.

So since we stayed for 4 days and 3 nights, and we sashayed on the main pathway on a single day for 10 times, we were also approached with "wanna ride banana boat mam, sir?" 10 times. Same faces, same sales pitch and same questions. If we only had known that low season means more aggressive vendors, we could have worn a shirt that says " No- thank- you. Please- leave- me- alone" shirt print.

But hey, vendors just wanted to earn money. And we wanted rest, peace and quiet and also get our money's worth as vacationists. After all, this was exactly the reason why we crossed continent- to have a taste of a tropical island paradise vacation.

Virtually, prices in the island also vary depending on who's asking. When I asked for a pair of earrings, one night, I was told it was less than 100 Pesos. Then the next morning my husband and I asked again and it suddenly increased to 150 pesos. Ok my eyebrows raised with 150 pesos and so was my blood pressure .

That night, we swung by and lo and behold- the price was right this time, 85 pesos. Thank God for small mercies. But if you want to know the secret- I asked my Caucasian husband not to stay with me while I was buying. If you're married to a foreigner, do this trick and you'll definitely get a good deal. My friend once shared that her Filipino husband, being the chinky eyed fair complexion was mistaken for Japanese. And voila, his price of shirt was different than hers. His was higher and hers was on a regular price, ofcourse.

Inspite of Boracay Island's glaring metamorphosis from an erstwhile quiet island paradise known for its array of homey coconut cottages now turned into to a highly commercialized island with a cluster of five star hotels by the beach, still has its natural charm bonded by its x factor.

Braving the challenges of travelling especially with a Caucasian foreigner in Southeast Asia is inevitable and quite unexpected as a sudden downpour on a hot sunny day. At least now I know. Unpleasant eye-opening travel experiences can happen anytime anywhere- not only limited to Southeast Asia. Take this type of experience with a grain of salt. Let it not hinder you to pursue your next trip at the same place again. On the contrary, it should make you bolder, wiser and learn to bargain for something. If anything else, at least you get to brush up your skills in the art of negotiation.


aileen Tagumpay said...

Brave, Joy!! Reading your blog makes me want to go back to Bora. I've become quite jaded re: Bora. As you said, it's become quite commercialized. I prefer those out-of-the-way, not-too-touristy places in The Islands. Seeing Bora through your eyes makes me want to see it again! Maybe 1 of these days . . .! Aileen

Eric said...

tsk..tsk.. hindi man lang nagparamdam :(