Column #184 Boracay Island

June 1, 2005
Column 184
Boracay Island

The plane is rising, dropping, rattling, shaking it’s way through the storm as it descends towards Kalibo. My hands grip the sides of my seat in fear. The seaweed muffin and tomato juice the flight attendant gave me are churning in my stomach. I close my eyes. Somehow we land…

It’s taken two days to get to this point. In three more hours, two by bus and one by homemade Banca boat, I arrive at the tiny island of Boracay. The wooden outrigger slows about twenty yards from shore. A wiry boatman lugs my bags on his shoulder as I wade to the beach.

About 200 miles south of Manila, this dumbbell-shaped island — only four miles long and just a half mile wide at it’s narrowest point — has been named among the world’s best tropical resorts by numerous top travel publications, including Harper’s, the BMW Tropical Beach Handbook, England’s TV Quick, and Australia’s Sun Herald. But I’m not here to bake in the sun or snorkel among the reefs. I’m here to throw darts. I’m a sicko.

The place to go — the ONLY place that sports a board on all of Boracay — is called Pier One-Beachcomber. It’s one of six Pier One restaurants and bars in the Philippines. All of them are co-owned by a friend of mine here, Christopher “Duds” Cansana. He’s a big-wig at some computer company, which explains why he can afford to own seven bars. He’s a darts fanatic, which explains why he’s willing to take up money-making table space to put up boards in several of them. Duds is a sicko too.

It may be cliché but Boracay is an island paradise. The water is shallow, warm, and a crystal blue-green that glows orange at sunset. The coral sand is powdery white, like confection sugar, so it doesn’t send you tiptoeing from its scorch, since powder doesn’t retain the heat. Lush coconut palms lean toward the tide. Their fronds rustle in the soft breeze as small waves lap gently against the shore. I think of Survivor but am reminded more of the scene in Jurassic Park — the one where the little girl is attacked by baby raptures while playing in the sand (served the little British kid right!). Boracay is that beautiful, that remote, and that idyllic, except…

…framed in the middle of this exotic shoreline is an entirely different world. More than 350 beach resorts, restaurants and native fast-food stalls, bars, discos, dive shops, tattoo parlors, and curio stands cater from sunrise until the wee hours of the night to the whims of the half-million local and international tourists who somehow manage to survive their journey here each year. At nighttime, as throngs of tourists stroll in the sand along a narrow strip between the shoreline and the clubs, the pulsating light and sound shows mix oddly with the shine of the moon and the lapping of the waves. It’s a strange mixture, but an enticing one, sort of a cross between Makati’s Burgos Street at night and Cape Cod’s Provincetown in the summertime.

I settled in at a rustic thatched-roof beach resort called the Seawind, selected solely because of it’s proximity to Pier One. The bar is just a ten-minute shuffle through the sand. I made the shuffle three nights running to meet up with another friend, Ramon “Mon” Sabalboro, long-time member of the Philippine National Darts team (and a former professional dancer) and his friend, Noel Li, current Hong Kong number one among the ladies.

Duds’ partner, Paul Sanchez, and David Cervantes, his Operations Manager, greeted us upon our arrival. They had already taken great care to ensure that the darts set-up would be to our satisfaction. But as we walked in, no less than a half-dozen employees were still on ladders, putting the finishing touches on the lighting. From high in the ceiling jutted two bamboo poles. Cords were strung through the poles to power a bright light planted in the end of each that pointed from above at a perfect forty-five degree angle towards the double top. Small adjustable strings of some sort were affixed to the poles and then to the wall so the angle of light could be corrected, if necessary.

We ordered some food — milk fish smothered with tomatoes, garlic, and onions, which is a favorite of mine — the first of many rounds of San Miguel, and stepped to the line.

Suffice it to say I didn’t fare well. I can count the legs I won in three nights, at least those that really counted — three! Philadelphia’s Mike Lewis will understand why, as he stomped me just as soundly in another distant world — 7,000 miles from where I am writing this — three weeks ago at the Pennsylvania Open.

The reason is that I suck. I should write about golf but I’m even less capable at that, so I’ll leave that sort of reminiscing to John Lowe. He’s turning sixty this summer, which is borderline ancient, so he’s probably looking for another way to earn an income anyway.

The first game I won was against the hot-looking and equally hot-shooting Li with a 60-close, but that required a nineteen after my first dart landed errantly in the number one pie. Tops to close. Then I lost two straight and went back to my milk fish and San Miguel.

Next up: my buddy, the dancing Sabalboro. He smoked me in the first leg, leaving me with 244 points on the board. I fought back. I scored heavy and pulled a 109 finish out of my ass to even it up. But sadly, as expected, two minutes later Sabalboro completed his tap dance on my face. He pirouetted, curtseyed politely in his pink dress, and fluttered to the Men’s Room.

Later, Li and I teamed up to take on Sabalboro in cricket, two against one — an impossible match to lose. Sabalboro closed the twenties and chalked up forty points. From the same place I found the 109 earlier, I closed the twenty AND the nineteens and eighteens. Li and I took the first leg easily after that. But then somehow, some way, Sabalboro found the darts to out-power us in the second leg, demoralizing us, I suppose, because Li and I opted to call the match a tie, rather than risk the humiliation of a second defeat. Li’s Chinese so I suppose she lost face. I’m not Chinese. I lost my whole frickin’ head years ago.

We wound up the first night shooting pool and becoming personal friends with San Miguel. I headed back along the beach, weaving as opposed to shuffling, to the Seawind and crashed until four o’clock the next afternoon.

For the next two nights Pier One became my home in Boracay. I got to know the local hot-shot, a Filipino named Glenn Mariano, against whom I managed to hold my own. I learned to play a game native to the islands called sungka where you transfer dozens of little shells in and out of small pocket-like indentations in a long wooden board. I tried my hand at a card game called tongits. Presumably there is a way to actually win at both of these games. But all I mastered was the art of looking mystified and buying another round of drinks.

There are many places I have traveled to throw darts that I wouldn’t recommend. Knoxville, Tennessee, for example (where I searched for a day just a week ago for a bristle board) is an example of a town that I wouldn’t visit again if it were the last place on earth. I found dozens of pubs but every single one of them was a haven for the electronic game, which makes no more sense to me that sungka and tongits.

But Boracay is different. It’s a one-of-a-kind paradise, idyllic as a paradise can be and, at least, from the vantage point of an approaching Banka boat, every bit as pristine as this exotic part of the world was the day Ferdinand Magellan sailed in to claim the Spice Islands for Spain over half a century ago.

Sadly for Magellan, the natives killed him.

Thanks to the hospitality of Duds Cansana, a true friend, I survived — and had a wonderful time at the boards.

From the Field,

Dartoid

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Dartoid
Author of the column that since 1995 has been featured by Bull’s Eye News, the American Darts Organization’s (ADO) Double Eagle and numerous other darts publications and websites around the globe.

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