Boracay Island – Philippines

(This was written while I was on assignment in the Philippines in 1994)

I was seated next to an older woman, who for the entire forty-five minute flight from Manila to Kalibo, nervously fumbled with her rosary beads.

There are some better than standard restaurants around the airport that look over rice fields to the distant cloud veiled mountains. I chose a restaurant called Coco, for no other reason than it was convenient, ordered a crispy, barbecued chicken and fresh, white pork or prawns served with fried rice. All this food was accompanied by a pint of Tanduay rum with soda and lime and I paid three hundred
pesos for everything, which converted into twelve dollars at the time.

It takes two hours by van from the airport driving mainly through lush jungles that alternate with cleared agricultural areas and the occasional village to arrive at the boat station for Boracay. A few large outrigger boats are waiting, their bows plowed into the stony beach. To board the craft you must remove your shoes, hike up your pants as far as you can and wade through the breaking surf and climb barefoot up the narrow and wet plank that pitches precariously while balancing your luggage and holding your
shoes as best you can. Once in sight of Boracay, which is not far off the main island, it is a relief to see a flat sandy beach that makes for an easy landing. Wading through the calm water is not nearly so bothersome as teetering on the large stones while boarding the boat on Panay Island. After landing on the beach you are greeted by friendly boys who carry your luggage a short distance to your accommodations as all the bungalows are mostly strung out along the edge of the beach or just slightly inland. Cold, clear spring water pours from the shower tap at the bungalow. A low wattage bulb gives minimum light to the small room that has a rotating electric fan that moves the hot air as it completes its arc. The furnishings are quite drab although in keeping with the casual demeanor of the island. A small
bathroom contains a bath and toilet.
The following morning I walked down to the sea where the dazzling white sand is so bright it hurts the eyes and sunglasses do little to relieve the glare. Long stretches of beach stretch out to the left and right for a long way before disappearing around the rocky points. The beach is only habitable during the early morning or later in the afternoon, during the midday the reflection of the sun on the sand is too great. It is too hot to walk barefoot and only the locals can stand to walk on it. The clear water is
cool and refreshing, a patchwork or various hues of green and blue. The wind constantly blows and tames the tropical heat reflected from the white sand. Diving is said to be good here and attracts many international diving enthusiasts including many Swedes who remain inebriated throughout the

There were two French restaurants at the time, “La Reserve” and “Restaurant de Paris”. The former has an attractive setting although this is canceled out by the expensive food that ranges from poor to dreadful. “Restaurant de Paris”, on the other hand, is lively and the food is not too bad. A few standard eaux de vie are available as well as a good selection of wines by the bottle or the glass. The front bar is just off the main sandy footpath along the beach. Walking along this path you pass by restaurants, one next to the other, each with a garden prettier than the previous one, abundant green
foliage with splashes of colorful flowers, tables with twinkling candlelight and kerosene lamps, all adding a very romantic feeling to the balmy starlit night. The look of the fish displayed next to the open grills in front of most of these restaurants varies from fresh to tired looking, so take an overview before making a choice.

You can rent a boat on the beach with four boatmen for 600 pesos for a full day. In the village behind the beach you can buy some fish, crab, fruit, potatoes and rice and travel up the coast to Balinghai beach nestled in a small cove on a clean beach. It offers a grill hollowed out of lava rock in a cave that provides shade from the intense heat and the boatmen will do the cooking if you wish, or you may climb the steep trail to the restaurant and bar perched on the edge of the cliff above. Strung out on long bamboo poles a basket dangles on an anchor line that is pulled up and down from the restaurant to the beach below. With the ring of a bell the basket is drawn up, by means of a pulley, the two hundred feet or so with your order written on a piece of paper—a primitive dumb waiter.

Unfortunately, this island, as is the case with all areas of the Philippines, is plagued with an undercurrent of violence that upsets the natural peace and tranquility. One night at about 10:30 I was having a nightcap at the Restaurant de Paris when blood-curdling shrieks calling “Help us! Help us!” reverberated through the still night, for an instant almost unreal in the pleasant, quiet surroundings. I was hastily brought back to reality when two white girls appeared from the footpath covered in blood. One of the young women was hemorrhaging badly from two deep gashes, one on the upper arm just below the shoulder and the other near the wrist, both were spurting out blood at an alarmingly rapid pace. She was screaming, “I don’t want to lose my arm. Please!” The other young women had a mean
slice on her calf and another on her arm but they were not as critical her companion’s. I ran to the back of the restaurant to get anything to use as a tourniquet and found only a napkin. When I came back up front, one of the French customers had already wrapped a napkin around the arm of the most serious wounds and he was trying to calm her down saying, “Don’t worry, everything is going to be alright. You won’t lose your arm!” I proceeded to wrap the leg of the other girl but her calf was so large I was only able to tie one small knot and I was concerned that it might slip off. I asked, “Who did this to you?” “A Filipino man in the dark”, was all that she was able to blurt out before the French group whisked them away
to the first-aid station. Obviously, they had put up quite a fight, in what appeared to be a mugging. Neither one had a bag or purse. It also appeared from the one woman’s wound on her leg that she had tried to defend herself with karate kicks.

The story unfolded later, as I received information from the restaurant and a small boy who had been a witness. It appeared that the two young women were walking along the footpath; only one woman was carrying a bag, but what they did not realize until it was too late that they were being followed. When they arrived at a dark stretch, with an absence of lights and restaurants, the assailant made his move and tried to grab
the bag. What he did not know was, the young women had just graduated from a military academy in the States and were on a holiday in the Philippines. They both fought him off with karate kicks and jabs and knocked him to the ground. Being knocked to the ground by two young women shattered his Filipino macho-man image and at this point he took out a knife and slashed the bag off the one woman’s shoulder at the same time leaving a deep gash in her arm. The other woman returned a karate kick and she sustained a deep cut to her leg. After leaving the French restaurant the two women were rushed to the local first aid station where they were stabilized. The doctor could not stop the bleeding entirely mainly in the large gash on the one girl’s upper arm. They were then taken by boat to Kalibo to the Hospital there, where a doctor presumably stitched the wounds. It is frightening to
think that there is no Medivac helicopter to transport emergency cases off the island. The only way is by boat and then by car to Kalibo, a long way when you have a medical emergency. The police in Boracay eventually arrested a suspect, but the two women were in a Hospital in Manila preparing to leave for the United States where one of them was to undergo re-constructive surgery. The suspect will go free if the women do not return to testify, which it seems is doubtful.

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