It’s the shameless prostitution of paradise (but wait, what about my summer Instagram feed?)
Jose Manrique’s first love is the beach. To be exact, it’s surfing. “I learned how to surf in Baler in the summer of 2011. An ideal day would be to get up at 4:45AM and wait for the sun to come out. The best time of day to surf in Baler is before sunrise; you get to catch the biggest waves,” he shares. “And I’m fine with it being all business…to go to the beach just to surf. I was never one to go to the beach with the intention of meeting people, mingling or getting drunk anyway. You can do that in the city [laughs].”
Albeit laid-back and cracking jokes while he recounts his surfing trips, Jose admits that witnessing the abuse of our resources is a thorn in his side. “You know, you can travel far and wide and arrive at the same conclusion that Boracay is one of the most beautiful beaches in the world,” he says. “Unfortunately, even that, knowing that we have a piece of paradise right here at home, wasn’t big enough of a wakeup call to protect the island.” Though let’s not discount the efforts of the government to save one of the Philippines’ top tourist destinations: It’s worth noting that the government is stepping in to rehabilitate the entire island; the President himself wishes to declare a state of calamity in Boracay, calling to hasten cleanup initiatives. All this happens a week before Macau casino giant Galaxy Entertainment announces it’s building a $500-million resort on the island—something the President signed off on, too.
Better days: Boracay in the late 70’s and early 80’s. via Beachcomber Boracay Heritage on Facebook.
It's Always on to the Next One
Jose has found solitude over the years in his quick escapes from Manila. By day, he works as a Business Development Director at ZAP, a local tech startup; for downtime or long weekends, he heads straight to the coast for sand, sea, sun and surf. Today, it seems, a lot of people are taking up the same habit.
“It’s a paradox for surfers,” explains Jose. “You want to be able to share this joy and to have more people join the [surfing] community. It’s a good thing. But at the same time, the bigger surfing gets in specific areas, the more crowded the beach lineups get. Whenever a location gets commercialized and it isn’t done right, these efforts to develop the land just end up ruining it in the long run.”
Comparing his May 2017 visit to his latest in February, Jose says the crowd size has not doubled, but tripled: “With the traction places like Siargao are getting now, it’s scary. People are actually drawing correlations between Siargao and Boracay…it being the next ruined place,” he says. It’s as though people not only acknowledge, but accept this impending doom.
“It will make you wonder, because there’s a clear disconnect between the current state of the island and the way the locals live,” says Jose. “Usually, in the provinces, communities are segmented. There’s an invisible line that separates everyone: ‘Ah taga-Manila yung mga ‘to. Mayayaman mga ‘to, tapos tayo, ‘eto, taga-probinsiya.’ But when it comes to Siargao, things are different. People from Manila are somewhat the minority. There are more people coming in from Australia, from Europe, from America; it’s a very big mix of people and cultures. Everyone is treated the same regardless of where you’re from. As for the locals, they take pride in the way they live. They’re your hosts and you’re just a visitor. The community itself is very sensitive towards garbage, recycling and plastic. Locals will actually walk up and talk to you if they see you throwing garbage around or making a mess.”
Yet, garbage still makes its way to the shore. The volume of tourists makes it near impossible to manage what is supposedly just a budding tourism sector. “So many people are flying in, but the budget being spent is not going to the right places. Just last month, [locals] were already talking about the international airport being built. On my first visit (March 2017), I also found out that Skyjet already began providing direct flights. It used to be hard to get on the island: You’d have to route through Cebu or Tacloban or Davao. It’s surprising to see that for an island that’s underfunded, lacking in serviceable hospitals with no established waste management or process of waste segregation, we’re already looking at selling this place as a tourist destination.” Jose goes on to reveal a little known fact about the last movie filmed on the island: It was, in large part, funded by the Siargao government. “Little do people know that just 10 minutes away from those dreamy shoot locations featured in that movie, is a ginormous dump site,” he shares. “Instead of money going to laying foundations, they’re making airports and movies.”
The surfing (trash) capital of The Philippines. via Nature Kids of Siargao.
There is indeed nothing wrong with traveling for the gram. There’s absolutely no shame in wanting to see the beautiful places in well curated Instagram feeds for yourself. There just has to be more to flocking to the next big vacation spot or “it” summer destination than behaving like someone merely passing through: someone who gets his fill, takes his snaps and then moves on. Being an irresponsible, destructive tourist is not something to wear like a badge of honor—though surface-level may garner you likes and follows.
Art Alexandra Lara