There was a time when Boracay was a simple island with an empty white sand beach. It had one unpaved road that ran across the island and thousands of coconut trees. The only decent hotel was a mom and pop operation called Friday’s, which was then the best place to stay in Boracay because it had its own generator.
Everyone else who couldn’t afford Friday’s stayed in private guest houses with no electricity. This meant dining by candlelight and dancing in the dark.
CRASHLANDING ON BORACAY
Boracay then was just so wonderful. And I would never have found myself on this most idyllic of islands if not for a New Yorker friend. He’d done graduate studies in Kyoto. Then, as part of a year-long trek around the world, he decided to spend three months in Boracay just swimming and surfing.
One day, over one of many dinners on his two-week stopover in Manila, he invited me to come along to Boracay for a few days.
“Boracay?” I said to him. I’d never heard of the place. There was no Internet then, you see, so news of this little paradise was simply passed around a network of adventurers and beach lovers who relished the rough and tumble side of life.
DRAMATIC DECISION. JUST LIKE IN THE MOVIES.
Five days was all I had, as I needed to return to school in Tokyo, and the trip to Boracay was literally a last-minute decision.
When he asked me to come along, I’d initially said no. But on the day I was set to fly to Japan, I had a change of heart at the international airport. My driver brought me to NAIA 1 to catch my flight back to Japan on Japan Airlines. Yes, I literally grew up with this airline and it feels like home.
As soon as I got off at the NAIA 1 airport driveway, I remembered this invitation to Boracay. Suddenly I was taking the escalator down to the arrivals terminal and hailing a taxi to the domestic airport. Call it serendipity. And, yes, it was exactly like in the TV tele-novelas.
And that holiday was just as innocent, sweet and fun as that Korean television series “Crashlanding on You,” too. Maybe that’s why I like Crashlanding on You so much.
HOW TO GET TO BORACAY
I’ve had many perfect holidays in my life, including many to the most luxurious places on the planet. Interestingly, this spontaneous little no frills holiday is still among the most perfect. We rode the second tiniest airplane I’d ever seen from Manila to the Caticlan airstrip. The airstrip was really just cleared dirt at that time and there were no large planes landing here. And from Caticlan, we got on a wooden boat to the island.
As my friend was a free spirit, advance planning was not in his DNA. Of course we had no hotel reservations at Friday’s. So we walked around for the first few hours looking for a guest house that would pass my squeamish standards.
Eventually we hit upon a modest property that rented out little cottages. The owners served a breakfast of fish and rice under a makeshift canvas tent that doubled as a dance floor at night. It was in a quiet part of a quiet island and the sea was just a few meters away.
REMEMBERING THE ORIGINAL BORACAY
Boracay of old was completely untouched by commercialism. It was really a village where everyone knew everyone. My friend was Mr. Congeniality so he quickly made friends with the locals and soon we were visiting homes and joining get-togethers. That is, when we weren’t running around this amazing beach with warm waters and no one else around.
There was absolutely nothing in Boracay then. So everyone spent their days by the beach, and the little dance floor under a canvas tent in front of our guest house was the place to be on any night. In the evenings, I taught my friend how to dance the swing. He had two left feet but lots of enthusiasm, and the whole village would come out to watch this happy spectacle.
WINTER IN TOKYO
Finally I had to reluctantly fly back to Manila and onwards to Tokyo. School was waiting. I can’t even remember how I got my return ticket then. However, I ended up with one and for some reason, a priest was flying my plane back to Manila.
It was the smallest plane I had ever seen — it was a one-engine contraption with just two seats. I can’t ever forget this because the priest and I talked the whole way back to Manila as he piloted the plane. And I recall thinking that at least I had a priest for company if the plane crashed.
A TIME FOR EVERYTHING
There were no tears, regrets or elaborate goodbyes at the end of my Boracay holiday. Upon returning to Tokyo, I immediately plunged headlong into schoolwork and winter activities. Meanwhile my friend continued with the peaceful village life on Boracay. Interestingly, I never saw him again. Nor did I expect to.
And I never saw that original Boracay again either. Not long after we both left Boracay, he three months after me, the island changed quicker than I would ever imagine.
LETTER FROM BORACAY
But one day in late spring in Tokyo, I returned to my school dormitory to find a letter waiting for me. Yes, just like in the movies. It was postmarked from the island. When I opened it, it was six pages long, written on scrap school paper in a messy scrawl, and folded haphazardly like a bad origami. I smiled to myself. It was so like him to send something like this.
I imagine he’d written it one night by the beach after finishing a bottle of the local rum. In this letter, he’d written a dozen stories that now seemed so far away to me, as I was back to my regular life in Tokyo. But one story in particular stood out. He told me about a German we’d become casual friends with, who ran a small resort inland. Apparently, he’d been shot dead in revenge of a dispute.
Then my friend ended his letter with this line that still brings tears to my eyes even now: “And everyone still asks about you here. They want to know when you’re coming back.”
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