Saving paradise

Saving paradise

WEDNESDAY was my birthday and ever since 2016 I’ve not been too keen on the usual birthday celebrations. So I said to myself since my dad went to Heaven (the proverbial “much better place”) on this day in 2016, maybe I should also go myself to paradise? And that’s why I found myself on board a full PAL flight to Caticlan and on the island some call “paradise” by noon of the same day.

I’ve been hearing a lot about how Boracay has been “transformed” after PRRD took the unprecedented step of closing it for six months in order to clean up the place of illegal structures and poor wastewater systems. And it was DENR Sec. Roy A. Cimatu who led the charge on behalf of the President. Now, I was going to see it for myself and separate the propaganda from the black propaganda.

The last time I remember being on Boracay island was sometime in 2009 or 2010 with the group I labeled the “Coca-Cola ambassadors” – PBA players not on the active lineup of the Tigers who attend events for our bottling plants. We had come from Bacolod and had taken the ferry to Iloilo and from there it was an easy five hours land trip to Malay, Aklan. Soon, we were on the island playing golf at Fairways and Bluewater, and one night we were at Station 2 drinking while watching our team play a PBA game via live TV coverage.

That’s why I was pleasantly surprised to see considerable progress in the cementing of the island’s main road that runs parallel to the beachfront, though progress (says one trike driver) is slow. The beachfront is also much less cramped and is dotted with waste receptacles – but as I pointed out in a FB post the receptacles should have been those with foot levers so that one didn’t have to use his hands to open the lids. The bins I saw were dirty, and I fear that less and less people will be enticed to use them for their trash.

E-trikes are beginning to outnumber the old style tricycles. The good news is that the e-trikes cause no pollution; the bad news is that because the e-trikes are expensive, “regular” trike drivers cannot afford to own them. The one I took from the D’Mall back to my hotel was one of 40 units owned by a Korean, and my driver had a daily boundary of P1,200. During this off season he says he pockets P700 daily, barely enough to cover his almost P500 daily cost of living. But he says he makes good during the peak months, from P1,200 net per day to a one-time high of P90,000 in a month. So, he sighs, he just goes with the flow. I guess there’s always two sides to every trike?

Yes, it was off season but the length of the beach from Station 1 to 3 still teemed with tourists – Chinese and Koreans and Italians and Russians and even Nas-the-blogger whose page Nas Daily has 6 million-plus followers. At Fairways and Bluewater, 500 rooms were occupied – out of the 1,500 that are open for peak season. I couldn’t imagine being at the resort with that many guests – I don’t really like crowds – so this was a good time for me to drop in on paradise.

Too bad sand castles and fire dancers on the beach are prohibited (the latter due to air pollution they cause, I am told) and so the beachfront is “less fun,” according to the therapists at French Nail where I had a 30-minute massage. They also lamented the fact that there are no more fireworks for New Year but admitted that in the past the trash from the fireworks always ended up in the sea.

Am not really a beach person; I usually hate walking in the heat because I perspire easily; and you rarely see me in shorts in public. But for this trip to paradise I suspended my usual “rules” in order to take in the island’s vibes. And I’m happy that what used to be “Burara-cay” is no longer – and while much is still to be completed (and can’t we get our construction workers wearing proper safety gear, including earmuffs for those doing the drilling?) I am hoping that even with attention shifting to the clean-up of El Nido and Manila Bay, the efforts to save paradise will continue with the same fervor as there was from the beginning.

And without the “usual” tricks of the trade that public works contractors engage in to maximize the profits while minimizing costs – at the expense of the quality of the work!

Don’t forget: this is the closest thing we’ve got to paradise, a “much better place” we wouldn’t mind visiting once in a while!