On the small Philippine island of Boracay, a security guard stands watch over a popular tourist hotel. He’s dressed in a gray uniform and stands at attention along the sand boardwalk running in front of the hotel. His eyes dart back and forth, always alert for suspicious people and aware of danger lurking.
His name is Raymond and he grew up on a smaller island not far from Boracay, so close you can see it on a clear day. He dropped out after elementary school when his father died and his mother was left alone to raise him and his nine older siblings. So, at nine years old, Raymond went to work.
He now lives on the island of Boracay in a small boarding house shared with two others. It’s a very basic house with dirt floors and simple furnishings. He doesn’t own a car, a motorcycle, or even a cell phone. His life and his needs are simple.
One evening Raymond is standing guard when he notices two foreign women at a nearby table. They’re drinking Red Horse beer and have had just enough to make everything seem funny. Tonight’s sunset is stunning and the curly-haired one starts snapping sunset shots, almost like she’s never seen such a beautiful sunset before.
They make some small talk and Raymond makes the bold decision to invite these two on an island-hopping tour the following day. They’ve just arrived on the island and he looks forward to showing them the beauty of his homeland. Happily, they agree to meet him the next morning.
This was our introduction to Filipino people – the beauty of their warmth
The Beauty of Boracay
We spent the following day island-hopping with Raymond, learning so much about his life growing up in the Philippines with big dreams but few opportunities. Through Raymond, were introduced to the kindness and generosity of the Filipino people.
Raymond showed us the physical beauty of Boracay, an island which draws hordes of tourists every year. The island is a water-sports mecca with an endless supply of adrenaline inducing thrills. Parasailing, banana boat rides, and helmet diving are offered off the small pontoons dotting the crystal blue water. Jet skis bounce off wakes of passing boats, disturbing the peace with their blasting engines. If that’s your kind of thing, this is your kind of place.
There is also stunning beauty found in the amazing sunsets offered right on schedule every evening. On the second evening, just before the show began, I found my “happy place” on a red bean bag chair in front of a nearby restaurant. I grabbed a cold Red Horse beer and plopped down on a chair, my little table precariously perched in the sand. I did my best to focus on the setting sun, turning the clouds different shades of red, pink and purple, and the outline of sailboats gliding by on the horizon – while tuning out the salesmen selling a variety of miscellaneous crap I don’t want or need. Tuning out the chaos surrounding me.
Meditating on the beauty and ignoring the chaos. Listening to the soothing sounds of Adele and Norah Jones tunes wafting from a nearby cafe, soothing music not yet competing with the pounding bass from other bands. It was too early in the evening, before beautiful Boracay transforms into the Beast. As the sun sets and darkness arrives and the dark side of Boracay slowly emerges.
The Beast of Boracay
Darkness takes over and music blasts from competing stages. Fire twirlers entertain the crowds. The crowds get younger, the clothes get tighter, the heels get higher. I feel old and underdressed in my Bermuda length shorts, cute summery top, and basic but practical flip flops. My version of nighttime beachwear fashion.
Wandering along the sand boardwalk one evening after sunset, I was looking for a spot to just observe – a comfortable chair, a cold beer, and a view of the parade of people walking by. When Boracay transforms into the Beast of the Night, that kind of spot is hard to find.
I stopped at one place to consider the menu, not really hungry but taking a moment to get a feel for the vibe of the place. I was approached by an older man (probably MY age but seemed older) and he invited me to join him at the bar. He seemed friendly, and I sensed he was harmless, so I pulled up a stool and he bought me a drink. An American with a thick accent originating in Israel, he was staying at the adjoining hotel and raved about the bar.
I glanced around at the “older” foreigners mingling with local Filipinos, hanging out, talking. Seemed like a place where I might fit. No loud, pounding, annoying electronic dance music, no scantily clad 20-somethings looking for some action. And, other than his support of Trump, the American Guy was interesting and entertaining. My hopes for fitting into the dark side of Boracay were raised…for a moment.
A short time later he was joined by his Aussie buddy and the conversation turned deeper and darker – to prostitution. Like most western men in Asia, Aussie Guy was drawn to the Philippines by the lure of beautiful women willing to do almost anything for a price. Men like these perpetuate a growing problem all over Asia – slimy men taking advantage of beautiful, desperate women.
Sitting between these two men, I began to notice glaring looks from a growing number of scantily clad Filipino women across the bar. I was in the way. I was cutting into their business. American Guy claimed to have no interest in buying love for the night, although he was approached by a beautiful, young magician who obviously had an interest in him. But Aussie Guy was into it. Proudly. Two at once. No remorse.
Like Raymond, a kind and gentle Filipino man with dreams but few opportunities, these beautiful young Filipino women likely have big dreams and are simply doing what is necessary to survive. Sadly, slimy western men perpetuate this cycle. The Beast of Boracay.
The following night American Guy invited my friend and me to join him for a midnight stroll to the really seedy end of the strip to see the infamous Lady Boys all dressed up, doing their thing. Curious, we joined him and dove even further into the dark side of Boracay. Pounding music. Clubbing. Flashing disco lights. Hookah bars. Shady characters. Beautiful Lady Boys dressed in their finest.
It was like walking through a really bizarre movie, only the characters were real and could reach out and touch us.
Walking back to our hotel after “the show”, we felt very vulnerable. Two western women walking along the dark boardwalk, with shady characters lurking in the shadows. (Thankfully, American Guy escorted us safely back to our hotel.)
Raymond had warned us of dangers lurking in the dark and, after witnessing the nighttime Beast of Boracay, he was right.
Amazing Boracay – the Beauty and the Beast.
Next trip I plan to explore a more serene side of the Philippines – Palawan and Coron. Hopefully, I can dig my toes in the sand, sip a cold beer, and listen to some Jimmy Buffet tunes.
Have you been to Boracay or Palawan? How do they compare?