It is the place that we always think about while we slave away at our various jobs throughout the year. We want that place we can go to that will allow us to forget the worries always piled on us. In most people’s minds, it is the same kind of place. There is usually a beach involved where somebody can come out to serve you various kinds of fruit concoctions. The weather is always warm, and there is not a piece of responsibility to be found anywhere. It is the lifestyle that we wish we could subject ourselves to on a daily basis, but we are lucky enough to be able to enjoy it for one week a year. A short list of places come to mind when we think about paradise: Maui, Manuel Antonio, Cancun, and the place that I traveled to over my Spring Break, Boracay.
This sliver of an island is a part of the Philippines and is a huge tourist destination for many of the people living in Asia. Thousands of people flock daily to the sandy beach, sunny skies, and laid back attitude of this slice of paradise. It is hard not to lose yourself to the culture that this place has to offer as there are many fun activities to do during the day: swimming, paragliding, diving, paddle boarding, and sailing. And there are many ways to lose yourself to the nightlife: great restaurants, wonderful bars, strong drinks, and fire dancers. Instantly, when arriving here, you forget about the cares you have and indulge in the fantasy the place has to offer.
During our stay there, we weren’t able to stay on the beach itself, but that did not mean that we couldn’t find a place that had spectacular views. It required a little bit of a workout to get there. 224 steps up from the beach to the patio of the villa we rented made the hike worth it. This was what I had to wake up to every morning. It was great to have my morning coffee while watching the morning storms blow in to cleanse the island of all the dirt that had collected the night before. Also being so far away from the beach but still being able to enjoy its view forced me to ease into my day instead of attacking the relaxation that I believed possible at the place.
Too often when we go on vacation, the idea of squeezing all the fun out of the moment is all we think about. We try to pack our days with so much stuff to do that we forget that we had come to this place to relax. This is exactly what I did on this trip. Of course, I needed to plan a little bit before I left my villa every morning. If I forgot something back at home, I would have to trudge up those 224 steps to get it and that would have ruined the whole purpose of this trip. So after the morning rains turned into the afternoon sunshine, I would grab my beach gear and a good book and make my way down to the lounge chair that was waiting for me somewhere on the sandy landscape.
That left me time to enjoy the important things in life — drink and food. Even though when you think of the Philippines you don’t necessarily think about the cuisine, Boracay offers a wide selection of dishes. There are a couple of dishes that are from the area, and they usually come with fresh fruit, but if you don’t want to try this, there are many other restaurants there that serve any kind of dish. There was anything from Indian to Italian. Restaurants would serve burgers to baba ganoush. It just meant that I would never get bored with what I was eating.
And if I didn’t feel like partaking in what the restaurants had to offer, there was a market where I could pick up some freshly caught fish. There was a grill at our villa that we could use, and it was nice to be able to BBQ again. This is not a luxury that you can find if you live in an apartment in a big city, so it just added to the atmosphere that this small treat was made available to us. I did spend one night grilling a chicken that was probably killed and plucked that day, and we were going to do the same thing with some fish. This was until the maid that we had working in the villa came in and grilled the fish for us. It wasn’t the way I would have cooked it, but it did give us an opportunity to try it the more traditional Philippines cuisine.
The drinks in Boracay are also good. Beer is not what the country is know for, but on a hot day, a cold San Miguel is a welcomed refreshment. Most of their mixed drinks come with fruit juice that was squeezed that morning, and if the drink required coconut milk, the bartender could grab one that had fallen from one the nearby palm trees. I don’t know if it was invented on the island, but it was the first time I had ever encountered a drink called the weng weng. It had seven different types of spirits in it mixed with various juices. It reminded me of those drinks I used to be able to find at college parties usually mixed in a large trashcan. People at these parties would bring a bottle of something that would be poured into the mix followed by more juice. The juice would tone down the alcohol, so it made it feel like you weren’t drinking anything at all. The sad thing would be a hour later after sucking down a few of these drinks you would be reminded that you had been drinking all along. This was also the power of the weng weng. It could make an evening very interesting or shorten it up altogether.
Despite the cultural experience that could be found in a weng weng, around certain corners, you could find little gems of the culture that is offered on this island. Statues of lions, and other cultural icons could be found everywhere.
The sight of these statues made me wonder more about the culture of the area. I feel that something has been lacking in my education when I travel in the Pacific and Asian countries. The American-centric view of the world makes me wonder how a whole culture can ignore such a large population of the world. The history here and the culture is just as rich and probably even older than anything that Europe has to offer the world. But the only way that I can experience it or learn anything about it is by visiting these countries because this little corner of the world is ignored in the history text books back home.
It is not the only thing that is ignored out here. Even though there is slice of paradise out on this island, there is another aspect of it that is not often talked about. It requires people to look through the cracks to find it.
Even though the sun might always be in the sky, and the sandy beach seems to stretch on forever, the people who live here aren’t always given the opportunity to enjoy it the same way the people visit it do. In 2014, one out of every four people in the Philippines lived below the poverty line which was slightly higher than it was the previous year. Things are not getting better, but in fact they are getting worse. There are always signs of this problem wherever you go. Children on the beach yell at you to give them some money because they are hungry. Mothers with their newborns wrapped in their arms sit outside stores with a cup to collect unwanted coins. In fact, if I looked out the back window of the villa we stayed in, I was welcomed by a different sight than when I looked out my front patio.
The reality of the situation is more people live like this, but the tourist industry does not want you to think about this when they create a picture of the paradise you can visit out here. They don’t want you to think about the people who have made shelters out of any scrap that they find lying around and then call it a home. They don’t want you to think about the hungry mouths and unclothed people. They do want you to think about the great time you will have by visiting this paradise. And there is the fact, that when you do come out here to visit you pump a lot of foreign currency into their economy. But if tourism was the solution to this problem then the poverty rate would be declining instead of rising.
It has to be even worse for the people that do live here. Every day a new shipment of visitors come in with huge wallets ready to ignore the poverty all around them. They sit on the beach, consume the food, sip on fruity concoctions and go back to their first world problems to quickly forget about the struggles that other people in this world are experiencing. The people who live here are reminded every day what it is they will never be able to have.
Does that mean that I am a contributor to this problem by being one of these tourists that comes and enjoys their time while ignoring the plight of the Philippines’ people? What could I do? Throwing money at the problem won’t solve anything because it will only end up in the hands of the people who don’t really need or it will just continue to serve the poverty by giving the ones who live there a meal without showing them the way out of it. How can I make the world a better place and eliminate this debilitating social disease?
Well, it can always start at home. An honest person would look at their own community and admit that poverty exists there as well. We can not solve all of the problems of a country half a world away, but we can make a dent into the problems that we have at home. The only chance that these kids have of rising themselves out of the lot they found themselves born into is by becoming a productive part of the work force, and this can only be obtained by a good education.
During my days on the island, I saw lots of children playing in the cool water and on the beach when they should have been in school. They were getting a personal education when they were rewarded for their begging, and even though this was an easy solution to their problem, it would never help bring them and their country out of poverty. They need to be in that classroom, and the classroom needs to be well supplied and have a great teacher at the helm. There they will learn about the truth of their situation and gain the tools needed to fix it.
This same solution works for the children struggling with poverty in your corner of the world. If they are given the tools to succeed, then most of them will. You will always have the ones that fight against the charity given to them, and there is not a lot you can do about it except to not encourage the damaging attitude. For the most part, most children want to make something of themselves and are grateful for the opportunity.
This is where you come in. Support public education in your community, and country. Respect the professional attitude of the teachers, and understand that they are doing their work for the right reasons. Fight against the standardized tests because there is no job in this world where filling in the appropriate bubble on a piece of paper is considered productive. If you do this then every child who works their way out of poverty will make the whole place a better one to live in. This way when you make it out to paradise, you won’t feel guilty because of the poverty that is hidden behind the beauty that you came to see in the first place. The trickle effect of your contribution to the world will make all places into true paradises.