So you never know what the weather will bring, and while we were in Boracay in 2013, we were hit by the Philippine’s strongest landfalling tropical cyclone on record. How did we get through it? Please read on…
We had arrived for Mark’s brother’s wedding to an idyllic paradise – Boracay, as small island in the Philippines. Regularly rated as one of top beaches in the world, we were excited to see the stunning clear water and white as white sand of White Beach. Aptly named.
We’d flown via Manila and while there, visited Kirsten’s father and step family, and stayed with them a few days before boarding the little dual engine plane to Cataclan airport, just a short boat ride to Boracay island. We met with other family members ready to holiday together and join in the wedding festivities. Most, or maybe all, of the others had chosen to fly on larger planes from Manila, which meant they arrived at Kalibo airport, about an hour’s drive on sometimes rough roads before taking the short boat trip to Boracay.
Our days were spent lazing on sunbeds in the shade of palms that dotted White Beach, sipping cocktails, and wandering around the little shopping area. It’s not a very big island, and one of our days we walked quite a lot of it along hot dirt roads where the locals lived. This contrasted dramatically to the big and glamorous tourist accommodation along the beachfront. The beach on the other side from us was filled with sea sports, and was pretty windy. We hired a tuktuk with some of our family for a blast around. Here’s the video of us:
So about that storm. We had been there for 2 days when news came that a typhoon was on its way. News reports became more and more urgent, and the typhoon (named Typhoon Haiyan or Super Typhoon Yolanda) was mapped as coming directly through the tiny island we were on. Online the storm-chasing community was saying things like, “heaven help the people in her path – no-one can survive this”. It had us a little unnerved, some more than others. We didn’t really know what to expect.
The island went into lockdown. The airways had been closed, and the waterways too. Every time we passed a hotel reception, there was someone frantically trying to demand or beg their way off the island. But no one could leave.
Our brother and sister-in-law’s wedding went ahead on the beach. It was the perfect setting. Light, bright, and dreamy as the bride walked down the beach to the delicate flowered arch, with music softly playing. The families were all there, far away from home, witnessing their loved ones come together in a promise of forever. We felt connected, and honoured.
The sky darkened a little, and the wind started to pick up at the end of the ceremony, bringing a few drops of rain, so the reception and dinner was moved under cover, at the hotel. The food was fantastic and the alcohol flowed. A few stumbles up the beach at the end of the night and we were safe in our hotel room.
It was the next day that the typhoon was to hit. Everyone was confined to their rooms for quite a few hours. Prior to that people were buying supplies from the shops – a lot of water was bought. We bought some chips, a small bottle of water each and chocolate bars. I’m pretty sure neither of us were boy scouts.
Some guests put their mattresses up against the windows or sliding doors. We pulled ours off a little just enough to create a ‘cubby’ space in case we needed it. And we waited.
Mark was also on the phone to News Ltd in Australia reporting on the current preparations on Borocay. Then suddenly all communication was lost.
Read Mark’s News Post here
The wind picked up and got loud. We’d peak a look out the window and see the palm trees bent right over. But it was hard to say if we were in the middle of the storm or if this was just a taste of what was to come.
Eventually the wind died down and everything was eerily quiet. It must have been the eye-of-the-storm as it picked up again and blew hard for another couple of hours, with plenty of rain.
By 8pm that night, it was still raining, but the wind wasn’t so strong – and we were hungry! So we left our room, and dodged puddles as much as possible, arriving at the hotel’s semi-outdoor restaurant on the beach. Tarps had been pulled over, and water leaked in many places, but we were actually shown to a table and told of the few dishes they were doing that evening. A wonderful thing about the Philippines – OH&S standards are not terribly high, if they can do it, they will. And we got fed.
The days that followed were messy but the residents had clearly done this before, and went about clearing the beaches and roads of trees and debris. As it turned out, the typhoon had changed directions and it’s full force did not come to Boracay. A whopping 6,340 people died in the Philippines. Some reports say the number was more like 10,000 that lost their lives and it left over 50,000 people homeless. Tacloban took the brunt of the storm, around 500 klms from us.
Power was down, but generators were running, so generally Boracay was still able to function. We heard that roads were blocked by fallen trees on the mainland, and the airports were closed, leading people to line up for hours at ATM machines to try to extract some money before they dried up. Credit cards couldn’t be used because phone lines were down. Our cash was very limited and we needed to get off the island.
It took 2 days of taking the boat to the airport and sitting in long queues outside in the heat, to get on a plane to Manila. But we had just survived the biggest storm recorded, and so many hadn’t. We’ve never wanted to leave paradise as desperately as we did then.