There’s nothing like being with your closest friends at the best of times and the worst of times.

This June 16th I joined my friends Jopet, Ryan, Chinne, Jovic, their son Raffi on our 4th trip to Boracay since October 2006. Long ago we made a pact that we deserved a vacation in a beautiful place for more than three whole days that 1) didn’t have to involve us doing every possible touristy action, 2) had a wide selection of cuisine choices, and 3) would satisfy our need for R&R and make us think fondly of home. Why did we wait for June 16? That’s when the off-peak season begins — rates go down, rooms are more available, there’s still lots of sunny days to go around despite the occasional monsoon showers.

We left Manila on the earliest Cebu Pacific flight, arriving in Kalibo at 0915am. Our suki van driver Ralph was there to meet us. He’s driven us on almost all our Kalibo-Caticlan trips since 2006. [For those who’ve never visited Boracay before, the 1.5-hr trip is a scenic drive, with newly planted rice fields giving way to the mountains and a view of the sea. Drivers like Ralph are DOT-accredited, and meet passengers directly at Kalibo airport. Single passengers may join any airconditioned van leaving earliest, paying about P200 per head for the one-way trip. The destination is Caticlan jetty, and the P200 includes the ferry ride to Boracay. Visitors to Boracay pay a one-time fee of P50 worth of local environmental taxes before boarding. The ferry ride is short, about 10 minutes in fair weather. Upon disembarking, we usually take a P100 tricycle ride to Budget Mart which is near the resort where we usually book. OR you may take the slightly pricier Manila-Caticlan direct flights on either Cebu Pacific, PAL, Seair, or Air Philippines to save vacation time.]

We were greeted by a sunny day, then a bit of sunshiny shower as we checked into Crystal Sand resort. And also by Jerry, the Bora-cat. He hangs out with the security guard on a white plastic chair on the entrance to D’Mall, and is a sort of mascot to the employees of Cafe del Sol and Aria restaurant. Dig the white shell necklace and laid-back attitude! That’s the precise vacation mood we wanted for ourselves on this trip. It developed with the sunny days, and we had FOUR straight sunny days.

Between the lot of us we had 2 video cameras, 1 digital camera, 1 Nokia N95, and 2 other camera phones. Needless to say, it was a photo-fest. At the airport, at the beach, at the restaurants, at the karaoke, at D’Mall.

I’m writing separately about the food and entertainment, since the side stories there are pretty funny.

The gang is planning to return in October. I’m not so sure I’ll be with them, since I have to be in Boracay Dec. 19 for my kinakapatid Jun’s wedding to the lovely Heidi.

If, like me, you love the sea, the sun and the sand, Boracay is Paradise. There are budget, comfort and luxury options of enjoying this trip, and if you can afford to declare to the Universe that you deserve it, it’s one of the best gifts you can give to yourself. But go with someone you love, or go with friends who love you. You need someone to make sure you’re evenly applied with spf 50 sunblock. As in all things, love is in the details.

Up next — Boracay: Food Tripping; Boracay: Lemon Cheesecake, Crispy Pata and Karaoke Overload; and Boracay: Surviving Frankenstorm.

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