MANILA, JULY 31, 2007
(STAR) TEXT AND PHOTOS By Claude Tayag - It had all the ingredients for a perfect weekend. Living in Angeles City, we are practically a stoneís throw away from the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA) in Clark. With no traffic to contend with, all it takes is some 20 minutes from our house to the airport, which would have set back our timetable by at least two hours if we were to fly via Manila Domestic Airport.

The Seair flight from Clark to Caticlan takes only about 45 minutes with its state-of the art 35-seater Dornier 328 plane, one of the fastest and most advanced twin engine turboprop aircraft in the world (according to Patrick Tan, Seair VP for commercial affairs, Seair currently offers the fastest flight to Boracay at 35 minutes coming from Manila. During summer season, it offers up to 28 flights daily to Caticlan from Manila at 30-minute intervals.)

And since the Saturday flight from Clark leaves at 1:30 p.m., my Darleng Mary Ann and I still had time for an early leisurely lunch at home. (We both hate waking up at an ungodly hour just to catch a morning flight in Manila.) We got to DMIA in no time at all, dropping her off at the terminal, deposited our car in the parking lot (Park and Fly at P90 per day), passed through security (check-in was a breeze since there were no long queues to go through), and before I knew it, I was seated comfortably in the plane dozing off before it could even take off (I must confess Iím an habitual siesta napper around this time of day). I was on Cloud Nine the whole flight only to be awakened by a sudden pull as the plane touched down at Caticlan airport. Didnít even have time to touch any of the reading materials we brought with us. But as the saying goes, no news means good news. We had a safe journey and a perfect landing.

We had our luggage in about 15 minutes, and our hotelís driver met us promptly just outside the terminal. He drove us to a private beach where a boat was waiting to ferry us to Boracay, just some 10 minutes away. Once we set foot on the Boracay docking area, we were driven off in a mini-van to our home for the next two nights ó Boracay Tropics Resort Hotel. It was a smooth, seamless journey all the way to paradise.

Once settled in at our second floor room, one of six Mediterranean Cabana suites with a balcony overlooking a bean-shaped swimming pool, we lost no time changing into swimwear while enjoying the very refreshing welcome drink ó the resortís signature cucumber shake. We headed to the beach, passing down narrow Alice in Wonderland Street (honest, thatís the name!) and found ourselves at Boat Station 2 of the four-kilometer stretch of powdery White Beach. And it was just a little past 4 p.m. We still had plenty of time to frolic in the crystal clear azure water, with the sun no longer as harsh. I did my laps, and then we explored the different establishments in DíMall area. By sunset, my Darleng and I were seated in a bar by the beachfront for a round of beer, watching an Amorsolo-like tangerine setting sun (the bancas are replaced by parasails on the horizon, though). What more could anyone ask for?

Having worked up an appetite, we walked back to our hotel where an al fresco dinner awaited us at the TropiCafť prepared by its general manager, Ramon Pacificar. We were seated facing the swimming pool. For starters we had baked Oysters Tropicale, fish sinigang with fresh kamias, Binakol na manok (native chicken with lemongrass and ginger served in bamboo; this version had no coconut, though), Inubarang manok sa gata (an original Aklanon dish of native chicken with banana pith cooked in coconut cream), steamed lapu-lapu in soy sauce, and banana turon for dessert. It was a wonderful home-cooked style Aklanon meal, to say the least.

The following morning, we headed back to the beach after a hefty buffet breakfast at the TropiCafť. While I did my morning laps, my Darleng settled comfortably into a lounging chair at the Zuzuni Restaurant, reading her magazines while sipping a cup of Lavazza coffee. After swimming, we again explored DíMall and other hotels within the area. We both observed that, since our last visit to Boracay in 2001, this island paradise has grown by leaps and bound, perhaps too much for its own good. The hotels, restaurants and shops that have mushroomed leave one to imagine the horrific volume of tourists during peak season, though we were told the discrepancy between peak and low seasons doesnít vary that much any more. Being there at the onset of rainy season, there was still a sizable crowd during the previous night we explored the beach and DíMall.

Itís just so amazing, the choices of accommodations and cuisines available on the island, catering to all nationalities and budgets ó and thank God, the ubiquitous hamburger chains are nowhere to be seen and we hope it remains that way. Nakakataranta the choices! I remember the time on my first visit here in the early 1980s: accommodations were very rudimentary ó nipa huts with bamboo floors sleeping inside a mosquito net (you were lucky if it had an electric fan and if the resort had a generator), otherwise it was the old-fashioned hand fan and kerosene lamp to illuminate oneís room. Ice-cold beer was unheard of. It was always served at room temperature and with separate ice (from Kalibo, I imagine). Only instant coffee was available. Food choices then didnít vary much either ó any grilled stuff or cold pre-cooked karinderia fare. And during those years, Pinoy tourists were outnumbered by foreigners 100 to one. Nowadays, itís heartening to see local tourists enjoying the sun and sand in Boracay in droves as well. After all, itís still our island.

By 11:30 a.m., we headed back to the hotel for an arranged picnic lunch with four other hotel guests. We were motored off to Baling Hai Resort located on the other side of the island. The hotel sits on a promontory, with six different ruggedly designed houses (named Hut, Hill, Bat, Rock, Tree and Garden) scattered around the property. It is a former cassava farm, balinghoy in Ilonggo, hence the name of the resort. The houses blend naturally with the rugged terrain, connected to each other by a zigzag stone path leading down to the beach. If exclusivity and privacy is your cup of tea, this resort is the ideal place, far removed from the madding crowd, yet near enough by tricycle if you want a night out for some action.

Awaiting us below at the private beach cove was a beautifully set picnic table laden with prawns, tanguigue, pork chop and chicken, all freshly grilled in situ by the TropiCafť staff. Two tureens of tinolang manok and rice accompanied the grilled stuff. Thereís something about a sea breeze and the sound of breaking water that whets oneís appetite and/or lulls one to sleep. Well, thatís exactly what I did and more ó swam a little, ate a lot with gusto and with my hands, slept a little, swam again a little, until it was time for us to leave.

Once we got back at the hotel, my Darleng and I had a two-hour massage (her fave part) at the Nature Spa, located on the second floor open balcony. By this time I felt like a Wagyu cattle being pampered with all the feeding, beer drinking and massaging, as my muscles melted in the hands of the masseuse, becoming oblivious to all the cares in the world. (Luckily, I was not to be slaughtered.) It was complete bliss!

By 7:30 p.m., we headed to the beach for a Greek dinner at Zuzuni Resort and Restaurant. For starters we had its signature Mati Salata (arugula and romaine lettuce with parmesan shavings, walnuts and sun-dried tomatoes in balsamic vinaigrette); lamb meatballs in pomodoro sauce; fried squid with tzatziki (yogurt, cucumber and garlic dips); baked filo pastry triangles filled with spinach and feta cheese; Greek clam pasta; and grilled lamb Souvlaki. A to-die-for dessert called Mati Chocolate Sin (a warm, flourless Valrhona chocolate cake served with vanilla ice cream) and Lavazza coffee capped our meal. We walked back to our hotel through the beach barefooted. It was a much-needed walk after a satisfying meal.

The following morning, we walked back to Zuzuni for breakfast, after having perused its interesting breakfast menu the previous night. We shared a Zuzuni Breakfast (two eggs any style, toast, home fries, choice of crispy bacon or country ham and Lavazza coffee) and a Zuzuni Special Omelet (filled with sautťed onions, tomatoes, crisp bacon and cream cheese) served with home fries. The latter are worth coming back for ó fried potato cubes with skin on browned to perfection. An order of Banana Pancakes topped off our breakfast perfectly.

Walking back to the hotel, I did my morning laps in its swimming pool before going up to our room. We took our leisurely time packing before our checkout at 11:30 a.m. Our flight back to Clark was still at 1:35 p.m. It was smooth flying back home and we canít wait for the next trip to paradise island to explore the other establishments. Boracay has become a culinary destination all its own.Postscript:

Once we landed at Caticlan airport, my Darleng had an urgent need to use the toilet. The first ladiesí room she entered had no running water and she was directed to another one. The other one had water all right, but once she closed the door it was pitch dark and the light wasnít functioning. And it had no trashcan.

While weíre at it, why do our government officials keep renaming streets and public landmarks? It seems street renaming is the favorite pastime of Congress. Caticlan airport is now called Godofredo P. Ramos Airport. Whoís he?, one might ask. Well, according to the plaque fastened on the wall in the departure lounge, signed by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in 2002, the former Congressman Ramos merited the renaming of the airport ďin recognition for the dedication to public service of the ĎFather of Aklaní and for his unwavering devotion to his commitment to the development of the province of Aklan.Ē But isnít that what public officials are expected to do in the first place? We deserve and expect no less. Anyway, it will take more than a generation for the name to sink into peopleís consciousness, especially with such a long name for foreigners to remember. Sen. Gil J. Puyat Ave. is still Buendia to most people. And so is Arnaiz St, still known as Pasay Road. Gandara St. is now called Sabino Padilla St. (a former justice, I am told). It took more than half a century before Dewey Blvd. (Roxas Blvd., named not after Sen. Mar but his grandfather Manuel A. Roxas, the first president of the Philippine Republic in 1946) was relegated to oblivion (Well, it was a mock battle in Manila Bay in the first place, that). If we make martyrdom alone be the criterion for renaming streets, the politicians wouldnít be as trigger happy (pun intended.)

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Take advantage of the low-season promo packages till October 15 of this year. A three-day/two-night stay including airfare via Seair (from Manila, Clark or Cebu to Caticlan and back) package starts at P6,500 per person for quadruple sharing. Price depends on the number of persons and hotel category. Call Seair Reservations for inquiries at 849-0100 or visit www.flyseair.com.

Boracay Tropics Resort Hotel, Boat Station 2. Six Suites and 44 Deluxe rooms. Manila reservations office: 667-3974, 667-3942; Boracay Island: (036) 288-4034, 288-4035.

Zuzuni Resort and Restaurant, Boat Station 1. Tel: (036) 288-4477.

Baling Hai Beach Resort: (036) 288-3646.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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