Boracay from Above!
Text and Photos by Jojie Alcantara
Rainy season can be a letdown for those who want to soak in the brilliant sun, powdery white sand, blue skies and sea of this famous landmark in the Philippines. But it doesn't have to be peak season to enjoy the uniqueness of Boracay Island.
I stayed in Bora for five straight days of rainfall. It gives an otherwise new perspective of life in the most popular party place. It allows you to creatively explore beyond sun basking and sailing. So I set out to do something new in Bora other than the usual snorkeling, food binge, parasailing, massage-craving, island hopping, partying, celebrity watching and fire dancing.
It was raining heavily as we landed in Caticlan, where only small aircrafts courageously touch down, but not before dropping into thick, white mist of heavy clouds to land on one of the trickiest, shortest runways of the country. They spotted me right away at the arrival area- a bedraggled, shivering lone woman grasping an umbrella, luggage and camera bag, with an expression on the face that said, "Why am I here at this time of year?"
First off, the best way to enjoy Boracay at a 360-degree vista is not to stay in familiar coastal resorts but to aim for higher grounds. Hotel Soffia Boracay (www.hotelsoffia.com) was the perfect host to my exploration, situated in the elevated Barangay Yapak.
Fetched by the hotel's amiable manager, Tony, I was whisked off to a ferryboat, to a vehicle going uphill, where a white-washed set of casitas and Mediterranean-inspired hotel stood in dreamy splendor, overlooking the island. I felt like singing on a set of "Mama Mia", transported in Greece. Hotel Soffia's quiet beauty took my breath away immediately; the seascape view of White Beach from my balcony; the cool breeze that earned its moniker, "Tagaytay of Boracay"; to the glorious infinity pool that offers golden sky, sunset and blue horizon while sipping on sweet, lemongrass drink. F&B Manager Art sweetly fusses over you from breakfast to dinner, so be assured of fresh garden salad on your plate, thanks to a vegetable garden in the backyard. At twilight, fruit bats and endangered flying foxes come out of caves in Barangay Yapak, soar overhead in thousands, covering crimson skies. A free 10-minute shuttle service to the beach is offered every hour, but party noises down the stations don't reach the hilltop. It was exquisite silence, as wifi allowed me to blog and write stories from the porch, even when it was raining.
What made up for my wet vacation, however, topped my list of exciting adventures. Hotel Soffia's owner, Archie Po (a pilot who owns Boracay Helicopter Adventures) and sister Millet Po Artillaga (recently retired banker), treated me to a one-of-a-kind experience, an aerial view of the island. (Sir Archie and I first met during the maiden flight of Asian Spirit from Davao to Palau back in 2006. This cool, low-keyed guy used to own Asian Spirit, and now LionAir, owning a huge number of choppers and jets).
A young pilot in his 30s, Captain Dennis Figueroa (a Mindanaoan too), was the best air guide a photographer could ever ask for. Given the circumstances (gray skies, drizzle, windy atmosphere), he was cheerful and accommodating and made sure I was able to capture shots I was looking for. If not, he would head back to the same angle so I wouldn't miss a great composition. He would go lower for me to shoot the famed Willy's Rock, or catch the sailboats, and even landed on the quieter Puka Beach with fewer guests around. The 4-seater Robinson 44 Raven II was like a purring cat in his skilled hands.
In the next few days, sunrise or sunset didn't show up, as the downpour never let up. Navigating the streets of Bora with good friend Rubi de Vera was like invading flooded alleys of any rain-soaked city, except that you don't really expect torrents in a world class tourist destination. It was seeing the other side of Bora for the first time -- stormy, dark, uncooperative. Yet, when I headed for a seaside diner down Station 2, the shoreline teemed with perspiring Asians, Americans, Europeans and Pinoys, determined to enjoy wet climate in the tropics. Make sure you head for the remote Tree House Resort at the far quiet end of Station 3 for after dinner drinks and round of delicious pizza and sisig!
Unfazed by the weather, Dennis and I scaled heights over Bora, having fun identifying landmarks from above (check out other fine islets beside Bora). I have discovered amazing scenes otherwise unnoticed on land. Boracay Helicopter Adventures (owned by Lionair in Pasay City) is situated in Sitio Cagban Helipad, Barangay Manoc-Manoc. They offer varied tours from airport transfers, beach and island tours, VIP/Sunset tours to charter flights. The rates vary but to give you an idea, a beach tour for 10-minutes cost Php3,500.00 per person for 2-3 in a flight.
I still hope to fly the skies for a good aerial sunset. Hotel Soffia remains a winner in my undiscovered hideaway list, as I have already missed the warm staff I have grown fond of in my stay. Imagine having slept so soundly alone, even while knowing that I was the only guest in the 59 rooms the first night I came in! In my last day, I was boarding the small plane flying out to Manila, when Capt. Dennis texted: "The sun is finally out!" I vowed to come back for it soon.
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(Jojie Alcantara is a travel photographer and lifestyle columnist in Davao City, and explores off-the-beaten paths that she loves to share through her stories and images. Her fascination for aerial photography started a few years back when she kept getting invitations to fly and shoot. Prior to her Boracay adventure, she has taken images of Taal's tiny Volcano Island inside the crater, and the spewing mouth of Mount Mayon in Legazpi from a chopper too. View them in www.pbase.com/jojie_alcantara)