Whether by design or fortune, the descent from the clouds on a flight to Boracay from Manila will bring you suddenly out of the majestic tropical cloudscapes generated by the fluctuations of heated water and cool land and out over the blazing cobalt of the Sibuyan Sea. It is a breathtaking sight, an awesome view; a view which will suddenly be interrupted by a flash of white and brown and then a narrow stretch of green palms and jungle-covered hills before you burst out over the sea again. Then the coup des grace: The plane will bank hard to the left, and the port side of the plane, who all have their faces glued to the portholes like Augustus Gloop at the fudge shop, will have a brief, face-melting sight of White Beach, Boracay: the legendary Pearl of the Pacific. I will admit that it briefly blew my mind.
Then, my intrepid traveler, my backpacking impostor, before your grin can fade, the plane will level out, drop like a stone, and you’ll watch that soup of deep blue, sea foam, and jagged limestone teeth rise up to kiss you hello, and you may very well be a little frightened as you slam into the asphalt and gravel runway that is the dusty business end of the Caticlan airport.
Also known as the Paliparang Godfredo P. Ramos after a former congressman and native Malay (which is one of the numerous and baffling cornucopia of ethnic groups that form the population of the Philippine archipelago), this airport is something to behold. In fact, it’s not so much an airport as it is an airstrip. A very short airstrip. An airstrip which, according to my calculations and vast personal experience, is exactly long enough to avert certain disaster while landing a plane in ideal conditions.
This was not merely a case of a rough landing; the pilot was skilled and had probably made the run several hundred times. No, this was simply a case of the runway being too goddamned short for any sort of sensible use by any plane that weighed even one stowaway more than whatever it was we were toting that day. The plane stopped 20 yards from the jungle at the end of the strip and began the long (200 yard) taxi back to the “terminal.” Arrival.
The Philippines are not, by any standard, a wealthy nation. They do, however, like most tropical destinations throughout the world, attract a large number of foreign fatcats who want to soak up their sun, drink up their booze, and sex up their women (or men: Boracay has one of the largest populations of transvestites per capita in the world). It stands to reason, then, that someone somewhere would think to themselves, “Taxes. We need some fucking taxes,” and so they have.
Upon leaving Manila I was charged 250 pesos as an airport terminal fee. Upon attempting to leave the island of Panay for the nearby island of Boracay, I was charged 25 pesos for a terminal fee, 75 pesos as an environmental fee, and finally 100 pesos as my fare to actually take the banca across the channel. I paid the same terminal fees on the way back to Manila, plus another 750 pesos airport fee to leave the country. You must quickly become accustomed to the role of “rich tourist,” even if you are absolutely not, by any conceivable stretch of the imagination, rich. It’s just business baby, and you’re going to pay, somehow, some way.
Let’s be realistic though: all of that amounts to a paltry sum when you consider that similar accommodations in the Caribbean, the Med, or even Brazil will cost you a far greater chunk of cheddar. Boracay is a steal, pure and simple. 50 pesos for a cold San Miguel? Gracias, mahalo, kansahamnida. It’s all relative, and relatively speaking, it does not get better than this Pinoy wonderland. Boots on the ground.