We visited Boracay Island over the weekend to check out venues where we will hold our training for incoming presidents and assistant governors for Rotary International District 3850 this coming month.
Since our district is spread apart, covering 12 provinces, including Negros Occidental, the whole of Panay and Western Mindanao, we usually hold training dates a day or two before our annual District Convention, which will be in Boracay for this year.
Along with my Incoming District Secretary, Juan “Ja” Villaluz and Past President Lito Sion, we left Bacolod very early so we could make some headway in negotiating for the best possible venue for our training.
Taking the Ro-Ro is still the cheapest mode of transportation to reach the island but the long drive can be quite tiring, making you wish they will someday offer a direct flight or boat ride to Boracay to make it more convenient.
The numerous “by-pass” roads that Panay has opened certainly helped as it directed vehicles to pass through the outskirts of towns and cities instead of juggling through traffic in interior roads.
What is a disappointment though is that despite the many fees they collect in boat terminals, from Bredco, all the way to Caticlan, the system warrants some improvement.
At Bredco, you pay an entry fee for the vehicle that will board the Ro-Ro. The vehicle fee comes with the driver plus one passenger free. Since there were three of us, one has to buy an extra passenger ticket which you have to purchase from a ticketing booth, a good distance from the ferry. The morning we left, it was raining and it was a good thing that Lito had umbrellas ready. But I saw elderly people and very young children dodging the rain as they proceeded to board, which can be dangerous since the pavement is slippery, since there were no umbrellas or vehicles that can transport them from the terminal to the ferry.
It was worse in Caticlan. As soon as you enter, there was not an organized queue where you can pay directly the fees. You have to wield your way in to one of the many booths to pay the terminal fee of P150 per person. Then you have to go to another booth to pay another P150 for the environmental fee and on to another booth to pay your P50 boat ticket. In all of these booths, they ask for your IDs.
We thought that was it and proceeded to one of the boats where we saw people queuing to board, only to be turned away as we apparently missed one table where we need to fill out our information, get a seat number and be assigned to a boat.
I wonder if the Department of Tourism is aware of how chaotic their system is considering it’s a top tourist destination in the country and over the weekend, delegates for the ASEAN summit which will take place this week, were already starting to come in.
I think DOT has to send someone incognito to carefully assess and improve the system. An announced visit will not help since LGUs will always roll out the red carpet if they know a government representative is coming. With that much money circulating, they can certainly do a lot and make the process convenient for visitors.
I must admit though, that the improvement made by former President Rodrigo Duterte that led to the closure of Boracay then, has resulted to a cleaner beachfront. There are still some eyesores as some establishments by the shore failed to reopen and were just covered by wooden planks or plastic wrappings and some solicitations from ambulant vendors, but it certainly is much better than I recalled from my last visit eons ago.
We rode the e-trike from the port to a drop-off point and we had to navigate through interior alleys where a lot of small inns have sprouted at a much lower cost. We stayed in one of those, paying P2,000 per night without breakfast and that price comes with a room without a view (well, there was a view of clothes hanging by the balcony of the opposite inn which you can actually fish from if you have a small pole with you), a walk up through a small staircase that is difficult to manage if you have a suitcase, and suffer the noise of people passing through even past midnight.
But it was okay since we spent the rest of the time looking at training venues, had dinner by the beach, dessert at to-die for Ice Flakes and finally rest our heads after a long, long day.
We accomplished much of our tasks in one afternoon and inked an agreement with Henann Lagoon for our seminar then headed back home after breakfast the following day, going through the same chaotic port systems again. We got stuck in traffic as one of the towns in Aklan had an ongoing Ati-atihan festival still, but it wasn’t all bad as it gave us a chance to see the tribes do their “sadsad” dance covered in black soot and costumes.
We met up with fellow Rotarians, including good friend, Dr. Pip Acepcion, for a late lunch in the home of businessman and Past District Governor Ramon “Toto” Cua Locsin in Iloilo. Toto’s house boasts of a newly built pavilion with ponds of gigantic kois, his Starbucks cup collection from all over the world, and his new acquisition, a white Justin Beiber vespa that one can only envy.
We passed through S & R which we will someday bypass when we have our own branch here or that of Landers, before driving to Dumangas where we finally boarded a ferry to bring us home. That was a long wait of two hours to fill up the boat and by the time we reached home, it was almost midnight.
Next month, I think it will be a much better 5-day stay in Boracay and I am definitely looking forward to our District Convention, the trainings, the fellowships, and hopefully, a chance to take a dip in its pristine waters.*