LaBoracay: Where one can truly live-work-play
“Are you open?”
Tourists, I learned, should get used to asking this whenever they visit restaurants and shops in Boracay Island, given how these establishments currently look in light of the strict health and safety protocols, and the unpredictable weather.
This is what I had found after having recently spent a self-appointed long weekend on the famed tourist spot—my first leisure travel since the lockdowns were first implemented (and a much-needed one at that).
On the island, it can be hard to discern which businesses are open for the day. As we waited to be billeted at Henann Palm Beach Resort, my friends and I chose to hang out at a place whose name appealed to me: The Real Coffee and Tea Café. This night owl badly needed a caffeine jolt after waking up early for the flight.
Our group briefly hesitated to go in, uncertain if the place was operational. The frontage of the café and most establishments had protective sheets that often made it seem like they were closed. Confusion will occur but you can easily solve it by asking the locals, the staff or the authorities—especially when you are hurrying to get to your room before the 10 p.m. curfew. We asked around and found that the place was open.
We got inside and saw only four people dining, small for what is apparently a must-try in Boracay. This scene at the café and other institutions like Jonah’s and Aria reflects the pandemic’s effect on the tourism industry. In bringing down arrivals, COVID-19 decreased footfall in shops, forced some to post notices like “See you after lockdown,” and shut down several others.
Thousands were in Boracay the weekend I was there, but the headcount is still low compared to before. The unpredictable, mostly harsh, weather was a downer. The view of shuttered stores makes the vibe bleak, especially when your last memory of the island was of LaBoracay.
As I reminisced on my 2016 trip while sipping coffee, work came to me via e-mail. I quickly whipped out my laptop and got going. I initially felt awkward working while everyone else around me just chilled. But I didn’t get judgmental leers, as if people were used to such a sight.
I would confirm later that this was not at all atypical. My group went back to Henann after the staff phoned us to say our room was ready. As we passed through the pool area, a friend from Manila smiled our way from the lounge chairs. He and his partner had flown to Boracay for a vacation. Both were stationed on the poolside not to chill but to work on their laptops.
On the balconies and common areas, you would see hard-driving young people on their laptops at different times of the day, even beyond midnight. From Boracay, they report to work, deliver outputs, attend meetings. Others have actually pushed further, “working from home” in Boracay and other tourism hubs like Siargao and San Juan. They have struck long-term rentals with establishments.
It’s not hard to see why this has become attractive. Rates are a fraction of what they were pre-pandemic, even lower for longer stays. These properties are also complete with amenities, besides being close to awesome sights, exciting activities and fresh prospects brought on by recovery. In my short stay, I got to work out at the gym, swim on pools and the beach, try local hits and explore new products without having to endure long queues. That happens for weeks in the case of long-term occupants.
Island living can be more challenging now that the wet season is here. If you don’t want to get cut off in the middle of a meeting during a brownout, keep your cell phone charged and loaded with data. You might need it for other purposes, like showing e-copies of documents to authorities.
It was difficult to gauge during my stay how the 2018 rehabilitation renewed Boracay given the unkind weather and the raging pandemic. However, the determination of the locals to rise again was just undeniable.
Outside the COVID-19 testing and documentary needs, it’s arguably easier to get to Boracay and cheaper to stay there these days. If you do reach the island, uplift the community. After all, you can take that getaway only because they are sharing their home with you.
First and foremost, follow the protocols and respect the environment. You can directly help the locals by supporting small businesses, not haggling too much, being generous with tips, and staying gracious even when repeated offers of buko or paluto begin to annoy you.
Here’s another question that you might as well learn to ask: “Kumusta po kayo?”
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