From the very beginning of this trip, Jordan was waiting to visit picturesque beaches. She had read somewhere that Boracay was the 5th prettiest beach in the world and couldn’t wait to experience it. After extensive research, we booked a 4 day/ 3 night package at Boracay Beach Club ($399). The VIP treatment began the moment landed. We collected bags and boarded the Island Star Express bus for the 2 hour long journey to Caticlan. There, we were handed off to the lovable Franklin who escorted us onto a traditional Filipino ferry boat (we were the only foreigners) for the 10 minute crossing to Boracay. The last leg of the long journey was the bouncy car ride wading through puddles down the main drag.
Finally, at around 9pm on Monday, we arrived at Boracay Beach Club (BBC) and were greeted with smiling faces, energetic young staff and an impromptu birthday party for one of the flamboyant staff members. Felix led the gang in lifting him up on a chair and he happily obliged. Then, we entered our room to discover that we had been upgraded to the Admiral Suite. Vacation commence! By the time we were finally over the excitement of the VIP treatment, resort atmosphere and room amenities, it was getting pretty late. We ventured out in search of dinner, stopped to have some birthday cake that the staff in the lobby offered us, and for lack of options wound up having a veggie sandwich at Obama Grill ($6). It was dark out, so although we were on the beach, we wouldn’t be able to appreciate the beauty of this place until morning.
The scene that unfolded before us at breakfast was so beautiful, it was almost unreal. We were literally sitting in the middle of a postcard. Breakfast, which was included in our package, was served at Ariel’s House – a beachfront restaurant owned by BBC and located across the street from the main building. Felix had French toast and Jordan had eggs with pancakes, both served with fruit, and French press coffee which was actually really good. Good breakfast, delicious coffee and gorgeous beach – “life is good!”…that’s the motto of BBC.
The water was calling our names so we went back to our room, changed into bathing suits and waded into the warm crystal clear blue water. After enjoying our time in the water, we sipped on some fruit daiquiris (also included in our package) while lounging on beach chairs. It was fabulous. From the beach, we went and spent some time in the BBC pool – vacation mode was in full swing. After a light lunch of fruit and yogurt which we enjoyed in the living room of our suite, we reported for our 4pm banana boat ride (also included in our package). We were taken along with three other guests to the other side of the island where we hopped on board the banana for an exciting 20 minute tour of the bay. We spent the next couple hours walking along the beach, admiring the sunset, people watching, browsing shops and eventually, finding a place for dinner. Mesa, an upscale modern Filipino beachfront restaurant was an excellent choice. We had an overpriced and undersized pomelo salad ($5.50) and an oversized portion of two whole tilapias Filipino style ($6) along with steamed rice ($1) and a delicious coconut ($1.50). We enjoyed our relaxing and scrumptious dinner on the beach and felt worlds away from night trains and 24 hour bus rides. On the way back to BBC we ate a pair of Mochi ice cream treats ($1.50 each, Jordan had red velvet and Felix had chocolate potato chip) and watched the fire dancers on the beach.
The next morning, we once again enjoyed our breakfasts beachside where we both ordered eggs with pancakes. We took a long walk exploring White Beach all the way down to Station 3 and made our way back through the drizzle to BBC in time to eat some yogurts before our poolside one hour full body massages (you guessed it – included in our package). Our massage were incredible – just the right amount of pressure and so relaxing that we couldn’t move when they were over. So, we just stayed by the pool and sipped some cold beers (included) and snacked on some Cheetos.
Just before sunset, we reported for our paraw sailing experience. The local version of a sailboat, the body of the paraw is very narrow, but it has a wide supporting structure. We climbed up and sat on the plastic wire netting suspended over the “wings” of the boat. As it glided over the water the waves lapped at our feet, and occasionally at our bottoms. The views of the water and island at sunset were gorgeous, and even though we were soaked (not having expected to get so wet), it was a lot of fun and a very unique experience. Bathing suits already wet, we spent some time in the warm beautiful water. We strolled along the beach, purchased some souvenirs, priced the next morning’s activity, and headed back to Ariel’s House for dinner. We shared a seared tuna salad (way overcooked) and a yummy veggie burrito ($8) and shared a banana peanut butter chocolate shake (yep – also included in our package). Even though much of the day was overcast and rainy, the photo-finish sunset and fun activities made it another awesome vacation day.
Determined to make the most of our time in Boracay, we managed to get up a little earlier than the vacation standard and walked 15 minutes across the island to the water activities beach area. We signed up on the spot for parasailing ($20 each – special rate for low-season visitors in the know), an activity we had been looking forward to for a while, and hopped right into a speedboat. Superman parachute above and blue seas below, we floated peacefully in the quite morning air and appreciated this gorgeous place, which we were about to leave. The island looked small below us, and the water was so clear we could see the sea floor. We were sad to come down, but the quick dip (Jordan says they only dip people they like) was refreshing, and before we knew it we were back on the beach. It was a short tricycle ride back to BBC ($1) for our usual breakfast followed by showers and packing. As we were finishing our prep for travel, we called down (oh, how Felix misses hearing: “Yes, Sir Felix” on the other end of the line) for our last banana peanut butter chocolate shake for the road. The staff and even the owner gave us a nice send off, and our buddy Franklin drove us back to the ferry terminal. We said goodbye and got on board. Fifteen minutes later, we were on the Island Star Express bus in Caticlan headed to the Kalibo airport. Boracay was the epitome of vacationland, and the prettiest and nicest water we’ve ever seen. Many people, guidebooks and websites had warned us that Boracay was very built up and touristy, yet the island remains beautiful in its own right, and all of those touristy things that others find distracting were just what we were looking for. After months of travel and so many distant and rustic places, all we wanted was some pampering, English, and good service which is exactly what we got here. Boracay is a place to which we would definitely return.
The Kalibo airport was a joke. Security was laughable, they cared more about the 50 peso ($1.25) terminal fee than if you had a boarding pass or a highly-flammable object in your luggage. The waiting room was more like a bus station than an airport, and the staff handed us umbrellas as we walked across the tarmac to the plane in the pouring rain. But the Seaair flight ($36.50 each) eventually took off, and we circled in the air above Manila for an extra half hour (due to weather) before finally landing at NAIA’s domestic terminal. Finding a normal meter taxi was a daunting task, but eventually we got one and proceeded to sit in traffic jams for about an hour before reaching our hotel. Hotel Durban ($38/night) was new and clean, but the rooms were small and the service lacking. It was in the sketchy part of Makati, around the corner from many girlie bars, but also a 15 minute walk to the synagogue, which is why we chose it. Tired from a long day of travel, we grabbed dinner at Shakey’s across the street – salad with mandarin oranges and garlic lover’s pizza ($13) – and went to bed.
We had returned to Manila mostly because of our desire to spend Shabbat with the Jewish Community there once again. Friday was dedicated to errands – Jordan had to visit the Israeli Embassy to obtain an official document, and we sent a package home from the post office ($23). In between those two stops we went to the Market Market mall ($5 round trip in a taxi) where we picked up provisions at the supermarket ($27.50 for necessities and snacks that would last into the next country) and had lunch at Moshi Koshi Noodle ($6 for delicious soba noodles, agedashi tofu and miso soup). We hopped into a Jeepney to shorten our ride to the post office just as the skies were turning grey. By the time we were ready to head back to Durban, it was raining, and we got into a Jeepney for the ride back. By now it was a full-on downpour, but the traffic was inching along so slowly (5 light cycles without moving) we forced ourselves to get out and walk the last 10 minutes. 2 minutes in we were already soaked, having been caught unprepared for rain. The mad dash to the hotel was torture, especially for Felix who melts in the rain, but we eventually made it. By this time it was so close to Shabbat that we had little time to prepare, so quickly put on dry clothes and rain jackets and ran out the door towards the synagogue.
As had been our experience two weeks prior, once we walked into the sanctuary, everything changed. Our hectic afternoon was a distant memory, and we thoroughly enjoyed both the company and the lavish dinner. We sat next to a family, and it turned out that the husband was the twin brother of a friend of Jordan’s from LA – what a small world! We returned in the morning for more, and after a short afternoon nap returned a third time for an afternoon study session and light meal. We made friend with many Israelis, each with an interesting story, and Felix became the Rabbi’s helper. By now, even the security guards knew us by name, and it felt too soon to say goodbye. Later that night we returned to the Greenbelt mall, where we found a delicious falafel burger and Nutella-speculose milkshake (Jordan invented it by combining two existing shakes) at Burger Bar ($13.50).
After two full weeks in the Philippines, it was time to leave. We packed our bags and took a taxi to the airport ($4). The additional $13 (each) terminal fee reminded us of the parts we didn’t like, but the spectacular scenes of rice terraces and islands, friendly people from around the world, and an unforgettable experience overall assured us that the Philippines were worth the visit. Excited about our next destination, we boarded our China Southern Airlines flight.