Boracay...continued, June 17
Having spent the first few days on the island swinging in hammocks and lounging on the beach, we figured it was time to get out and do something different. When walking down the beach path you are often approached by several vendors waving a laminated card in your face saying, "Sir, Mam...Jetski? Snorkel? Parasailing? ATV? Sailing?" Typically, one has to tell them several times that you're not interested, but it isn't more than a few more steps before another approaches.
We were intrigued by the sailing option, having seen many of the small wooden boats sailing up and down the beach at all hours of the day. We got what we felt was a pretty good deal (500 PHP = $12 CDN) for an hour long sunset cruise, and set sail with our young captain Andy and skipper John. Little did we know that showers were included! The boat was surprisingly fast, and with the heavy winds came some good sized waves. The boat would tip from side-to-side and splash massive waves of warm water on us, drenching us from head to toe within minutes. Quite the thrill!
It was great chatting with skipper John and learning about Boracay and the Philippines from his eyes. It's always interesting hearing a local's persective on the land and the changes that happpen when tourism is booming. Even though he was a younger fellow, he told us that 15 years earlier there were only a few motorized boats in operation. Now, the Caticlan area was home to hundreds of boats and large ferries, adding to the tremendous growth to the area.
It seems there are mixed feelings toward the boom in tourism. Obviously it helps create jobs and brings in money to the people, but it kills some of the charm and brings in new problems - mainly pollution and coruption. I get the feeling that the area is well on its way to becoming the new "Phuket" of the Philippines. Although we're heading into the monsoon season, the weather was actually very cooperative. It was windy most of the time and would rain periodically, but mostly the weather was hot and sunny. Cameron naturally got badly sunburnt after spending only 15 minutes in the high noon sun.
Our daily morning routine consisted of walking to the nearby bakery and purchasing a dozen freshy baked sweet mini buns for $0.50. We would then walk across the street to the makeshift fruit market to pick up a bunch of small bananas and green mangos for another $0.50, a great way to start the day for only one dollar! Our afternoons were much of the same. Strolling down the strip, relaxing on the white sandy beaches, snorkeling and swimming in the warm waters, and enjoying lunch under the shade of palm trees. Travelling can be a tough gig at times!
In the evenings we would watch the sunset at one of many beach restaurants, and with our bare feet buried in the sand we'd treat ourselves to freshly caught seafood grilled on the BBQ. One evening we had a full squid stuffed with tomato and onion, a fried whole Talapia fish, and a dozen jumbo clams cooked in an authentic Filipino broth. Add four beers and the final bill was $13 CDN...we contemplated never leaving!
One afternoon we hung out at a family run beachfront hotel/dive shop named the Blue Mango. We would actually recommend staying there to anyone contemplating the trip and not looking for a super budget hostel - it's a very nice place. After lunch we got to chatting with the owner, a older man from Boston who had been living in the Philipppines for years and now has his family operating the business with him. The conversation started because he noticed Nicole talking to a beach vendor about the pearls he was selling. "They're actually really good quality", the hotel owner said to me. "My wife sells them out of a store back in Boston and she's had them appraised. They not bad quality. It's a really good purchase." Well that's all we needed to hear! We made sure to scoop up a few pairs of earings from the vendor for a very reasonable price.
Afterwards, the owner (I can't seem to recall his name) explained why the pearls were so inexpensive. Apparantly about 15-20 years ago, a number of muslim rebels were relocated to some islands in the south. We were told that they were given government grants and funding to produce and maintain pearl farms, as a way to re-enter them back into society. In his opinion, the muslim rebels were only really 'rebels' because they got paid to be a rebel, and they simply had mouths to feed. So we're told this program, and pearl farming operation, was designed help reduce the amount of rebel activity. I'm not sure how well the program worked, or the validity of the information, but it was a very interesting story nevertheless.
So fast forward 20 years to present day Boracay. A group of muslim's have formed the 'Muslim Vendors Association' as a way to create jobs for the community and legitimize the street vending on the island. The product is sent up to Boracay and other tourist hotspots. With the increased supply of pearls, and the limited demand during this low season, we received good quality farmed pearls at incredible prices...so there you have it! We spent the good part of the evening chatting with the owner of the Blue Mango; he has lived in the Philippines for 30 years and has seen a lot of change. It was interesting hearing his views and learning about life in the Philippines from his eyes. But I think his stories are better left told by him...