Years ago I was sat on a beach in Koh Samui and it was around 30 degrees but a gentle wind swept along and kept things at the most perfect temperature. The kids played in the turquoise sea and tried to jump over waves. Every now and again a boat would sail past blasting out “The best Muay Thai, get tickets earlier” and things were as near to perfect as they could have been.
I proclaimed Koh Samui to be the best beach we had ever been to and I knew that it would take some beating.
A couple of years later we found ourselves on the southern coast of Sri Lanka looking out over the Indian Ocean. We were in a little hideaway called Unawatuna and it took my breath away. The beach was as picturesque as we had ever seen, little wood shacks complete with hammocks poked out from the palm fringed shoreline, the beautifully warm and ambient ocean licked the shore with such gentility and I knew this was the beach to beat. Koh Samui was a distant memory and despite the fact hashish kept wafting past my nose, the dance hall reggae pumped out and between us we agreed Unawatuna was the best beach in the world. Not least because it was relatively unknown, it was like our own slice of paradise, we felt privileged to have stumbled upon such a picturesque part of the world; It was perfect.
Fast forward a couple of years and we found ourselves travelling over half way across the world in search of a paradise renowned. Somewhere so gorgeous it tops global beach lists over and over again. Topping even the finest slices of sand the Caribbean has to offer, the tiny island of Boracay in the Philippines has been punching above its weight in the world rankings for some time. And naturally, the adventurers in us wanted to see what all the fuss was about and so after 22 hours on 3 flights, 8 hours on 3 buses and 7 hours on 3 boats we arrived in darkness and in style on the 4.5 mile Long Island of Baracy in the Visaya’s of the Philippines.
I had my swagger on instantly as I hunted down somewhere to stay which we had in no time and as exhausted as we were we wound down the late night arrival courtesy of the Discovery channel and looked forward to a whole 5 days ahead of us.
As I have already mentioned, the island itself is 4.5 miles long and shaped like a stretched violin. Down one side is bulabog beach And down the other a cool 3km long delectation shangri-la known as white beach. To the south of the island is where all the boats rock up and unless you are a rock star with a fat wallet you will enter Boracay at this port. Every now and again a helicopter scoots over the sky carrying someone with cash to spare and so if your budget allows you really can arrive in style.
The area of white beach is essentially broken into zones all joined together by either the main road where you can hop in a tricycle for just 20 pesos one way (30pence) or a sand walk way on the beach. It used to be that there was boat stations along white beach and so you have boat station 3 to the south, this essentially is where all the hippies hang out. Rooms are cheap and talk is cheaper. Conversations centre around how much better Boracay was in the days before tourists arrived en masse, where the only way to eat was via some barbecue on the beach sizzling up the days catch washed down with some local rum and a joint.
Zone 2 is where it all starts happening, most independent travellers hang around this part of the beach enjoying rooms from around 600 – 1200 php per night. (£9 – £18) and close enough to the beach to be able to greeny it from the window, but far enough from the ground breaking bass and parties to get a good nights sleep. Zone 1 is where all the package holidayers turn up expecting to eat food all day long and then get hammered at night. Cheap accommodation can still be found, but generally this is where most midrange hotels are centred. Given the amount of Chinese tourists here is is also like Beijing on the go. This in our opinion is also where the best of white beach is. There is also a plaza called D’mall where boutique shops and some good restaurants can be found. Prices for a buffet are around 300php per person (£4.50) and with most places serving up gorgeous steaks and seafood it is food heaven. I mean we have literally eaten anything and everything, its a safe place to pig out. Our favourite place for lunch is a local chain called Andoks, it serves up things like barbecued pork skewers and rice for just 65php (a quid) and really hits the spot.
North of zone 3 is where the islands takes a terrain change and becomes hilly, it is quieter and where all the $300 per night rooms are. For those looking for Boracay on the QT it is the place to be, but we love being amongst it all, the fake rolexes, hair braids, dodgy tattoos and cheap San Miguel is all along zone 2 and 3 and for us, its real paradise.
The first morning we got up and headed to a local bakery where a pan au chocolate costs just 5 pesos (7 pence) already the temperature had climbed to 30 degrees and it was just 9am. During the typhoon season (Jun – Oct) it rains most nights and so the humidity was at 90% which in real terms means it takes just 5 minutes to be drenched in sweat and wondering how you are going to cope. Anyway, we walked from our hotel and through a micro flea market selling ‘my gran went to Boracay and bought me this t shirt’ style clothes and was presented with an alley way. Lingered along that alley were were locals looking to offload Rolex and Brietling watches for the equivalent of a tenner, people selling mangos and a couple of shady looking tattoo artists. But at the end of the alley way was a couple of lush green coconut trees swaying in the gentle breeze and masking the beach behind them. Just a small portion of white sand was visible and I knew this could change everything. We had travelled so far and waited so long for this moment that perhaps I had built it up too much to the kids. Would it let us down? Was it overrated? I genuinely was a little anxious walking toward the beach, the kids in their swimming shorts holding their swimming rings excited from what I had told them. Happiness abound and whether we liked it or not we had 5 days in Boracay.
We stepped through the coconut trees and stopped. It was a forced stop, like when you see something that knocks you back for a second whilst you muster up the brain power to figure out the situation. The kids were making some kind of muffled noise and when I finally got to my senses I saw them running into the sea. I was mesmerised by what I saw and had a personal moment.
Charlie asked me recently what I dreamt of when I was a kid. And I wanted to give a cliche answer of “an astronaut” or maybe “a pilot” but the reality is i didn’t really dream big as a child. I was never pushed to achieve big things and found myself on a social conveyer belt where you finished school and then fell into some factory work for the rest of your life. A highlight might be a day out at the coast, or winning £20 on the horses. My background is still very much like that, my friends post things on facebook and are happy by the most banal situations and its hard to find a line between appreciating their happiness and wondering if such excitements would excite me. They would have years ago I guess, but I taught myself to dream big and now I genuinely have kingsize dreams. Most completely unachievable but some perfectly within the realms of achievement.
I remember as a child my brother and I would be pretty much left to our own devices, I often joke that I brought myself up and I don’t think it is unfair that I say that. We rarely holidayed, but every year my mum, dad and siblings would pile in the car and head to Scarborough for the day. Once I hit about 13 years old i was eating as much as an adult and taking up space in a cramped car. Always the outcast I knew my days to Scarborough were numbered. What would happen is that my mum would find bull shit reason that I hadn’t behaved and so would be left at home. I remember one afternoon when it had been announced that we were all going to Scarborough the following weekend. I spoke with my brother and said “Look, we are going to be under a microscope this week, you know they aren’t going to want to take us so lets be on our best behaviour” That week we were impeccable, genuinely. Then come Saturday morning my mum blew something completely out of proportion and that was it “you’re not going to f*****g Scarborough” she screamed as she kicked and punched me. The reality is, we were never going anyway, but she had found her excuse.
Every now and again I have moments that remind me of just how far I have come, from a young kid dragging himself up in a world where what mattered was not mattering. To seeing through my eyes not hatred and punishment anymore, but amazing things. The first time I ever felt such a euphoric feeling was in Florida. My first trip with the kids there was just me, Charlie and Abi (who was just 2 or 3 years old) and in the distance I saw the sign spread across the road for Disney. I counted the kids down to scream as we drove under it and as they screamed tears ran down my face. In my mind I had achieved a dream, something so insignificant to most but life changing for me.
I am a simple guy and its the simple things that I love the most in life. As I write this it is Tuesday 30th July 2013 and 10pm. (here is a photo taken right now)
I am listening to ‘Ho Hey’ by the Lumineers, a song which reminds me of my favourite movie of 2012 – Silver linings playbook. And I am trying to reflect in a way which will encompass everything I felt when I looked before us at white beach.
The sea is an emerald style green mixed with the most beautiful turquoise you can imagine. The sand is soft and white, the shoreline is fringed with coconut trees and old style wooden pump boats are dotted along the horizon in no particular uniformity. It was as though stepping through the palm trees was like entering the garden of Eden. Life had slowed down to a mere crawl an everything was blissful and complete. It is completely unmatched in how picturesque it is.
Close your eyes, and let your mind wander to perfection, imagine paradise . Think of coconut filled palm trees swaying in a light breeze. Think of a white sand beach disturbed only by tender trodden footprints. Imagine a turquoise ocean gently lapping up on the shore and then place yourself in a hammock swinging to the sound of reggae. A perfection only interrupted occasionally by someone offering you a straw from a coconut, or a finely sliced mango.
When I sat down to write this entry I intended to write about how we had walked to Pukka Beach on the north of the island, how we had found privacy in Diniwad Beach and how we had loved every second of Boracay.
But we have found ourselves in paradise, a utopia of perfection that exceeded every expectation we had and personifies beatitude in a sublime and exaggerated manner and my words will not do it the justice it commands and deserves.
And so I will leave the rest to the imagination of the reader, it has proven everywhere else we have been to be mere impostors in a global domination of perfection. The most perfect and picturesque beach we have ever visited I know we will never beat this. It is on a level I did not know existed and we have cherished our time on the most beautiful island with the best beach in the world. We will cherish the memories and privacy and we all agree that the exhaustion and time spent getting here was worth it.
But for now I have an ice cold San Miguel, one more day in paradise and some excited kids to attend to.