By Jerome Gomez
Boracay Sun News editor-in-chief Freida Dario-Santiago asks her former colleague at ABS-CBN Publishing Inc. to write a no holds barred essay on his Boracay Island experience of-late, and if the magic still lingers on its rehabilitated shores. Jerome Gomez is the editor-in-chief of ABS-CBN’S ANCX and a devoted returning Boracay visitor since the early 90s.
Everyone has their own Boracay. Just my luck that the one they went for was the party place one, the crawl-to-your-hotel-after-lots-of-shots one — which was my Boracay. Seductive and free and decadent. Where the last of the Manila gay icons would once retire to for that one final whirl of party action. Where the D-list artistas would walwal till they drop—and by the weekend turn their shenanigans into some precious airtime over at “The Buzz.” There was a time when, if they can’t find me in the office, everyone already knows what to tell the boss: Jerome is in Boracay.
Boracay put two of my favorite things in one island: the beach and the parties. Where every hour was happy hour, it just depends where you’re having it. The day officially started with pre-sunset drinks at the sunbeds of Friday’s (beer and a burger) or Hey Jude (beer and the Margherita pizza) or the hotel of choice on Station 1 (vodka tonic with a copy of Vogue on the side under a striped umbrella). And then it’s back to the room for a power nap before going out for another round of drinks, this time Jude’s again (early 2000s) and then Paraw (late 2000s) and then Cocomangas (when you get to dance with the locals in wild abandon) — but always, always starting with Bombom for pre-game beers and “No Woman No Cry.” And always, always ending with an early morning drunken soak in the beach where I lost not one but three cell phones overtime because I was too wasted to remember I had a gadget in my pocket.
But times change and age catches up with us. Shit happens and so does hypertension and maintenance meds. And as for the island, previous bad behavior caught up with it. Things got so bad it had to be closed down. Like every intrepid party animal of the 90s, it had to calm down and detoxify, rehabilitate, find its purpose and reclaim its true self.
The last time I was on Boracay pre-closure was Laboracay 2015, and my 42-year old self partied for five straight days, said yes to every shot that came my way, and moved to the collective sway of bodies squeezed into the outdoor Epic party, our skins glistening with rain and sweat and spilled alcohol. That May, it was like the entire island was in full swing — even random houses in eskinitas had drinking sessions — but there was also this feeling in the air that something was escalating, and on the brink of bursting. And in 2018 it kind of did.
Later that year, I was lucky enough to visit the island a few weeks before its much ballyhooed reopening. What a privilege, I thought, to see the rehabilitated Boracay just before tourists come swarming in. And it was like seeing an old friend whose been out of circulation. It was a little strange. It felt like I was in some paradise newly discovered: You could count on two hands the people milling about and the locals in their wet t-shirts and bikini-clad bodies taking a dip. The sand was white and soft. Whiter than I last saw it, softer than the last time it touched my feet. The water was so clear I made a mental note I could use a pedi; the last I saw it this clear was the first time I was there and gleaned stars on the water. I wasn’t drunk that time. It was 1993.
I’ve been back on the island a couple of times since. What has changed? Apart from the ones I mentioned above, a lot. The number of Chinese restaurants is astounding, as are the buses in front of them spilling out tourists eager for a whiff of the Philippine paradise. D’Talipapa, the best deal when it comes to dining on the island, has moved to a new location (and their “buttered” prawns now use margarine). The sunbeds are nowhere in sight and the hotel staff are never too busy to remind you what is allowed and not allowed on the sand. It now takes double the time to go from your hotel to D’mall and back because of the unfinished roads — they’re taking a while to complete but it looks like it’s getting there.
People say there’s no more night life on Boracay but I beg to disagree.
I was back dancing at Exit in September and enjoying the cheapest rum cokes in the country (50 pesos!) while dancing to the beat of native drums. In July, I was drinking something that involved a stack of glasses that was set on fire at Epic. But I had a shot of that and was on my way back to the hotel room after a few songs — not even tipsy, just really sleepy. My 46-year old body never more excited to get in bed and get some shuteye.
So yeah, it wasn’t only Boracay that changed; I changed too. What confirmed it is my new favorite Boracay memory of late: me and my family waking up earlier than usual to catch the sunrise on Bulabog Beach. We were late, of course, but we stayed and took it all in, in all our pantulog glory: the quiet beach, the coconut trees, the random island dog, the cold morning wind on our faces — even the sound of a group of Chinese tourists arguing over a starfish was amusing. I’ve never done anything like it on Boracay. I don’t know if it beats all that gung-ho partying of my 30s — but at least I no longer swim with my phone in my pocket.
On one of my non-negotiable pilgrimages to Mandala Spa for some unadulterated pampering, and to visit my friend Freida and the handsome resort & spa owner Jove, of course!