Channeling Ursula.

would be Ursula Andress, she of the white bikini in the
James Bond classic Dr. No, who was also channeled by Halle Berry in Die Another
Day. (Ah, film’s great fashion moments.) Not Ursula the nemesis of the Little
Mermaid, although by the time my brief vacation drew to a close, I was getting
rather testy at all the Smart merchandising materials cluttering my peaceful
beach view, and would not have hesitated to work a bit of bad juju on the

I was last in Boracay in
1999. Things have certainly changed. There are atrocities masquerading as
amenities, and taking a walk at two in the morning is scary, not because of lack
of lighting, but because someone in a bar is singing “Take me home, country
road, to the place, I belong, West Virginia…” off-key at high volume.

My first trip to the island now being
marketed as “irresistible” by Ruffa Mae Quinto in the Wow Philippines campaign
happened in 1990, and back then, it was a real retreat. This time out, my eyes
were assaulted by tasteless cement blocks pretending to be hotels and

If you can ignore the
architectural and aural massacre, however, Boracay can still be a balm for the

The water is pristine, the sand is fine and
white and warm, the horizon is

Tirol and Tirol cottages is a
good place to stay, if you’re not too picky about service (you must beg for
toilet paper rolls, pay extra for more than two towels, and getting the water
heater to actually heat water is an act of faith). On the upside, the girls at
the reception hut are friendly, the airconditioning works and the beds are
comfortable. The porch of cottage T, where we stayed, looks out onto the main
road and affords many opportunities for beach people-watching, either from
bamboo chair or rattan hammock.

We ate,
shopped and lingered over meals. True Food bowled me over. Literally. I had too
much potato, i.e. carbohydrate, i.e. sleep-inducing food. Spicy heaven, as I
remembered – we ordered rogan josh, dosai, chapatti and hummus, aloo ghobi
masala, and fruit and gulab jamun (fried bread balls in sweet syrup) for
dessert. I staggered home and was snoring before my head hit the pillow. Gasthof
is a must for fans of seafood. Their grilled wild lobster, though expensive, is
delicious, as is their steamed crab with sweet-and-spicy sauce and grilled squid
stuffed with tomatoes and onions. Simple fare, well-executed. Banza, a
Portuguese restaurant on the way to the wet market, had many interesting dishes
on the menu but few available. We had the Portuguese salad, fried pork with
potatoes and mussels and crab.

is my chosen sport, and there were lots of beach-lifestyle stores and stalls to
make each expedition a marathon. What makes me sad, though, is the severe lack
of pride we have in selling souvenirs that aren’t even made here. What’s the
point? The sarongs were all Indonesian textiles, ethnic goods came from Bali or
Thailand, trinkets were made with cheap Chinese glass or acrylic beads. Oh, the
usual culprits were there: puka shell chandeliers made in Cebu, horn and shell
beads and pendants also from Cebu, with only the labor coming from the Boracay
area. I am no purist. I believe in free markets, and that people will sell what
other people want. But I also want to be proud of what we create and craft. I
want to see more of Heritage’s sinuksok handwoven silk scarves, paper notebooks
handmade in Kalibo, Usweg’s lime-green raffia portfolios. I want to see less
baskets with leatherette handles and painted wooden fish refrigerator

I also want to see less
advertising. (Gasp.) Yes, I want to see less of my life’s work. More on this

The best part of my vacation was
being able to look at, and hear, and feel the sea. Whenever I was near the water
the noise, the junk, the drunk Japanese tourists disappeared, and there was only
me, and the shore, and the sky.