Astoria Boracay: In the middle of everything

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Standing as some kind of challenge to the sea and the ravages it threatens by way of crashing waves, surprise storms and the eroding by time is the gleaming white façade of Astoria Boracay. A young upstart not even a year old, and designed in modern chic, it’s like a teenager that’s always ready to go out for a night on the town, Mother Nature and Father Time be damned.

That’s the way I experienced the hotel, which is at the edge of Station 1,and only a few steps from Station 2, allowing for quick and easy walking access to the bars along either side of the beach. And the Astoria’s definitive look makes sure that you won’t ever miss it. The façade is so remarkable that at all times of the day there are people outside posing for pictures while murmuring, “Facebook, Facebook.”

The non-traditional, modern design aesthetics are a unifying theme throughout the resort, giving the Astoria a distinctive identity. It’s young and hip and uppity and cool.

The Astoria attracts a range of guests, foreign and local, couples, families, friends. All of them come to appreciate the quirky furnishings and the chic arrangements throughout the hotel. There’s the outdoor shower that could pass as modern art, the pod-like swings, the rooms’ interior designs, and the too cool pool. The pool at night is illuminated with different colored lights which, when those lights are on, bounce of the white walls of the rest of the hotel and cast a playful tinge on the whole area. Surrounding the pool is an arrangement of lights on the pool deck which PR man Jomar Racelis tells me is often referred to as “falling stars.”

While the Astoria’s façade is new, its rooms are a redesigning of the old resort. Resort Manager Danilo Molina explains that they kept the dimensions of the rooms the same, but were able to maximize the space through smart interior design. And while the rooms of Astoria Boracay aren’t great expanses of space, they are big and comfortable. The hotel has 39 rooms, varying in price depending on size (though the size differences in rooms isn’t too significant) access to pool, verandas, and other small touches. There’s also the Honeymoon Suite, which is really any newlywed’s dream, perched atop the resort’s main building with all the amenities one could want for. On its veranda are pod-swings and lounge beds. Inside are, among other things, a spacious bed and a jacuzzi. And on the same floor are Astoria Boracay’s top management’s rooms so that they are just a holler away.

Danilo Molina had worked in the hotel business for over two decades. He says that he had retired for a year or so when a call came from Astoria asking him to be the Resort Manager of the Astoria Boracay, which was still under construction at the time. Molina shares that one of the reasons he took the job was that he had never been to Boracay before. He, like everyone else who goes, was won over by White Beach. And Molina has guided the Astoria Boracay from its construction to opening, to the present operations where he comes up with different themes and gimmicks to draw people to the hotel. Talking to Molina, one gets that there’s a good sense of fun as well as pride that he takes in his work, and he likes to make sure that there are fun times to be had by guests.

The Astoria offers a number of activities that it can arrange (more on those later) but as Molina and Racelis both say, one of the great things is that Astoria is in the middle of all the action. The Astoria is near everything, and you have easy access to all that Boracay has to offer. And the Astoria just received its Triple A rating (the equivalent of five stars for a hotel) so you can be assured of the quality. Talking to Molina, you can hear the satisfaction when he tells you this, as you know how hard we worked at getting the hotel from the stages of redesign and the pool just being dug to the great place that it is now. It lives up to those standards he has set, as well as the standards expected of all Astoria establishments.

What Molina’s been pushing are festivities based on season and holiday. The Astoria has regularly attracted people to attend the parties and buffets that they have thrown in accordance with, say, Halloween. And that means big Christmas and New Year’s parties.

The buffets aren’t just for occasions however. All of the meals that I had at the Astoria were buffet style. Particularly pleasing was the breakfast buffet with waffle station (I’m crazy for waffles) and a good selection of local and international dishes. More popular among guests and beachgoers alike are the dinner buffets which feature a variety of grilled seafood. The night I was there, there was marlin and tuna, loads of clams and oysters, and shrimp skewers. The seafood served varies on availability, but I am assured that it’s always good. It’s hard to argue with that assurance as I chow down. The grilled seafood is so good that I wind up ignoring the rest of the buffet, a variety of rice and viands and soup which I would surely eat if I had space for. But I failed to notice the rest of it all as I stayed in line and then watched the seafood cooked up on the grill.

I leave the hotel’s beach dining area smelling of grilled seafood and sweat tinged with beer, and wonder if I have the smell of Boracay about me, or if I just really smell like barbecued seafood. After having had my fill of what’s in the resort, I head to my room to change my shirt and have another beer, and then plan to head out on the town. If a large part of the Astoria experience is getting out on the beach and hitting the different bars, then it must be my journalistic responsibility to go clubbing.

I text friends, asking them which bars I should hit, as I walk out onto the beach. I get a number of replies and wind up wandering, looking for these bars. I land at Coco Bar because they have supposedly one of the strongest drinks on the beach. The Brain Drain, according to the menu, is vodka, tequila, rum, gin, whisky, Jagermeister, Red Bull, Triple Sec, Sprite, Blue Curacao, and hallucinations. Don’t think there were hallucinations early in the night, but there certainly were exquisite visions, all these beautiful women striding past in their beach attire, the sarongs hiding and at the same time highlighting their figures, their backs slender and smooth in the moonlight as I sat back, melting into the beach chair as they receded from my vision. I could have stayed in that spot all night, but journalistic duties called, and after downing the Brain Drain I was off to scope out the other bars.

I had heard of the places where one could dance at Station One. Apart from learning to waltz in junior high and then some steps in high school PE, I cannot dance to save my life. But I went to those bars to see what was happening. There were people dancing, and it looked just like the kinds of places you’d find in Metro Manila, where I’m from. If anything, the bars in Boracay might be even more packed and energetic than those in the Metro. Which means that they scared me more than the bars in the Metro. After fulfilling what I perceived was my journalistic duty of scoping out the bars of Station One, I made my way back to Station Two and thought to head over and down to Station Three, keep walking until I found a place that was more attuned to my tastes.

I tried another bar that a friend had suggested. It was crowded with foreigners, mostly Caucasian. It was raucous and there was a lot of screaming. I saw a girl who was mostly naked off to one side of the bar and people were clapping and getting someone else to climb atop the bar and strip. I stopped, thinking to get a beer and catch one of these things that I’d only heard about but had never been to. Then a dude climbed on the bar and took his shirt off and I was gone with just a wake of kicked up sand behind me to show that I was even there.

Most of the bars along White Beach, by the time I was traversing it with a head hanging from Brain Drain, a Mojito slushie, and a few beers, and the trauma of watching some dude start stripping, had Firedancers or Acoustic Bands. Or both. Sometimes at the same time.

Finally I found a bar that I felt I could get a beer at. First song playing from their speakers was “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and then some Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains. Exit Bar’s a small place on the sand, just off the strip. Inside it is a tattoo parlor, but for its modest means it was the place that I had the most fun. Its clientele is made up mostly of locals (with good taste in music, it has to be stressed). I had stumbled upon an iPod party, a free for all, whoever wanted to plug their iPod into the speakers and keep the fun going. The people in the crowd would be dancing or clamor for something and a few spins of the clickwheel got the energy renewed. I sat alone at the bar for a while, downed about half a beer when I was asked to join the party. And in no time I found myself pulled onto the makeshift dancing area and swaying to The Doors downing more beers than I could bother to count. There were assurances of a return to the bar (I made my way back the following night but it was so packed and I had to be at another place, that I wasn’t able to stay) and I was certain that in an alternate universe I had quit my job and decided to live the rest of my life on Boracay, spending my nights drinking beer at Exit Bar.

I ambled down the path back to Astoria. Astoria has the most distinctive beachfront, and it’s a good thing because I don’t think I could have found my way back if it didn’t pronounced itself so loudly, I was so sloshed and could barely get one foot in front of the other. When I got to my room I found that I had left my key in that shirt smelling of seafood barbecue. The hotel staff recognized me, and without so much as a question, got the door open and let me in.

The following day, thankfully hangover free, was given over to the activities that cool PR guy Jomar Racelis had set up for me. I told him I’d do anything he threw at me. First up was a banana boat ride. Though the banana boats are now banned from making sharp turns that throw you off, they are still very fast and it’s an exhilarating thing to have the water splashing up at you at that speed. The banana boat took us across the expanse of White Beach to the somewhere around the Shangrila side. I wasn’t too sure as I had to take my glasses off, but there was a great thrill in that. I was riding with Racelis and a TV team from TFC (The Filipino Channel) and we were all giddy and giggling like children as the banana boat whipped us around and sped across the water.

From the banana boats we were brought to the zipline. It’s not as high as those boasted in other places, but the hundred foot drop was sufficient to have the TFC host I was supposed to zip down with saying his prayers and wondering about his career choices. The speed’s supposed to be around 30-40 KM, unless you’re overweight. And well, the TFC host and I could use to lose some weight. As a result we were racing down that zipline and I flew up to the end of the line, slamming violently against its brakes and kicking against a tree that was attached to the jutting rock face. It was a rush that I was ready to climb back to the top for and do again. But we were headed then to another pinnacle. Mt. Luho. From Mt. Luho you get a clear view of the different sides of Boracay.

I headed back to the Astoria and its comfortable rooms, ready to rest away the adrenaline rushes of the day. Seemed the perfect place to go, and the bed was so comfortable and inviting. But after a couple of hours I felt the sea and the sand and the bars calling again. I walked back out and started to think of a new place that I could go. The lights went out. They flickered on. Then off again. I stood in the dark, everything around me gone but the shining white façade of Astoria Boracay. And then the night came alive.

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