“Boracay as it should be.” This was Sea Wind Resort’s tagline which I first spotted on the side of a parked white van identical to the one we had just boarded. Images of my first encounter with Boracay flashed in my mind: a large motorized boat dropping off people in Boracay’s three boat stations; resort after resort after resort–so close to one another they seemed to share the same beachfront; crowds and crowds of people either wading in the water, relaxing in the sand, chilling in a bar, or lined up at an ATM… These were followed by visions of a much older Boracay that I had only read about and heard of: dirt roads (if there were any), small paddled boats, gas lamps, bamboo huts with thatched roofing—a more genteel and quiet lifestyle that had long died. Alas, Boracay was now hopelessly too cosmopolitan.
An Expanse of Space
In this island getaway that has become notorious for crowded (and sometimes delayed) flights, transport, and accommodations, it was a privilege to have felt a lot of space, as the only passengers of the bus, boat, and van that our host, Sea Wind, had provided for our transfer from Caticlan to Boracay Island. There’s plenty of this kind of luxury and comfort once you step into Sea Wind—which is almost like stepping into a different island altogether.
Save for Boracay’s signature white powdery sand, this is definitely not your typical Boracay resort. Coconut palm trees and other greenery are abundant–they’re the only things that crowd and cluster, instead of people. You hardly notice any guests because there are few cottages here, and what you do notice is a lot of space. The cottages seem to have been constructed off the island’s natural gifts–with thatched roofing and bamboo. However, as more cottages were being built, more concrete and less bamboo were being used due to the latter’s tedious maintenance.
The Sea Wind property isn’t bound by the main road. It goes beyond, extending eastward and upwards. “Some guests aren’t even aware of this section,” says Monic Hechanova-Quioge, Functions & Events Coordinator for Sea Wind. She leads the way, climbing very–almost discouragingly–steep steps. But they’re worth it if you long for more privacy. This elevated portion is beach-less and sandless, compensated by two swimming pools (there’s one on the other side near the beachfront), linked by a natural-looking cascade, too natural there’s a sign warning one not to step in. Wild trees were left untouched, giving this shadier and cooler hideaway more of a mountain-forest feel. The shoreline is quite extensive, one of the most extensive resort shorelines in all of Boracay. Width-wise, the water is distant from the nearest beach front cottage, rendering it both eco-friendly and eyefriendly. Much can be done with so much space; it has been the venue for weddings, the nightly dinner buffet, live bands, and other performances. It is even ideal for active sports, but guests here, upon seeing the wide expanse of white, seem to be mesmerized into tranquility. Most, if not all, would give in and lie down on the soft bed of powder-fine sand.
A Truly Filipino Island
Each of Sea Wind’s sections offers two themes, but both Filipino: the Bahay Kubos (Tropical Huts) and the Villas on one side; and, near the beach area, the Bamboo House and the Habagat (Monsoon) Wings. The latter would be home away from home for my photographer, Sherwin, and me. These are the latest additions to Sea Wind’s lodgings and are appropriately decked with a mix of modern and classic Filipino pieces. There are only four rooms in the Bamboo House and the Cabanas, but these are in demand for their sawali (woven) walls and their tropical appeal. Renowned Filipino architect Bobby Mañosa had turned the bahay kubo from the humble Filipino abode into a more modern space, with huge and inviting receiving areas. The Villas, on the other hand, were adorned with antiques bought by the resort’s owners from roadside vintage shops. Inside these villas, the crocheted bed covers surrounded by bedposts evoke the old Filipino way of living.
The accommodations exude a warm and inviting feel, and Monic affirms this by saying that people come here for “just basically swimming and relaxation… Then if guests really want to do spa and water sports, we have some suppliers for that. They may inquire at the front office and we give them a zipline [package], and water sports like parasailing, banana boat, flying fish, and scuba diving.”
Roberto & Gloria Terol Park
While Sea Wind is proud of its island-y feel and its extensive beach front, it’s even prouder of its history. When you make a left from Boracay’s main road to Sea Wind’s entrance, an old rusty gate under a large sign that reads “Roberto & Gloria Tirol Park” greets you even before the cold towel and the fresh fruit drink.
Decades ago, Sea Wind’s owners, the late couple Roberto “Nono” Hontiveros Tirol and Gloria Jesena Lorca Tirol, used to personally welcome their guests to the property when their extremely busy schedules permitted it. Roberto, an agri-entrepreneur, managed the coconut plantation his parents owned in their hometown of Ibajay, Aklan, among many other successful agriculture ventures. The Tirols also owned around a hundred hectares of land in Boracay. Gloria, on the other hand, was a pharmacist by profession, and when she and Roberto married in 1936, the union opened a new business opportunity, the drug business Farmacia Socorro. The marriage also saw them continuing the bamboo craft business of Gloria’s family.
Once part of private property, the park is now open to the public, with a two-floor museum built in 1999 and dedicated by Roberto in Gloria’s memory, who had died in 1991. Roberto joined his beloved wife in 2002 at the age of 93, and now, the Museo de Roberto y Gloria Tirol also serves as a display house of the couple’s personal memorabilia, many historical relics and artifacts excavated from the island. A classic rags-to-riches story is revealed as the museum documents history as far back as Roberto’s grandparents, Tiburcio and Eusebia Señeres, who were poor peasants. Roberto’s father, Akoy Tirol, was born in Pulo, Ibajay, who in the 1870’s started as a nomadic merchant with capital of only one peso and a heavy sack on his back, and went about selling goods all over Aklan. By the time Akoy died in 1921, he had become one of the richest and most prominent men in Aklan and had established business connections with the biggest businessmen in Manila.
Despite many tempting offers for purchases at a high price, the Tirols’ vast Boracay properties remain within the family to this day. Aside from Sea Wind, the family also owns Boracay Shores and Pearl of the Pacific.
The Best Treat of All
“It’s the dinner buffet that guests look forward to,” explains Monic. “They find it [reasonably priced], and the many selections and then the grilled items are so fresh–especially the prawns–that if you were to buy them in Manila, they’d be slightly expensive. The prawns here? [Guests] can eat as much as they want.”
The dinner buffet is set at the beachfront, lit with bamboo pieces shaped liked trees bearing capiz lights for fruit. Though not as extensive as the beach-front, the spread is good value for money (Php650.00) attracts walk-ins from other resorts. The first table presents fresh oysters in a giant clam, already steamed, but with the option of being grilled. Next to this is a large cooler keeping beef, pork barbecue, pork chops, chicken, cream dory, blue marlin, squid, and prawn, fresh and ready for grilling.
Food themes change daily, and our theme for the night was pasta, with one table dedicated to its various forms (there’s even a tray of “fun” pasta that comes in many shapes and colors, which by default goes with the kiddie sauce). Here, you can have your combined choice of pasta, sauce, and other ingredients heated or sautéed in a skillet. And then of course there’s the salad and dessert tables. “For the dessert,” says Monic, “Sea Wind is quite famous for the banana turon (fritter); a lot of our return guests have really been looking forward to this.” Listed on the menu as Turonsitos because they were only about half the size of the usual turons, these deep-fried goodies are given a different texture, adding to the crunchiness of the deepfried spring-roll, and also added flavor with the addition of sesame seeds, with sliced oranges and a maraschino cherry on the side.
The night was still young, and I could have gone bar-hopping in Station Two if I wanted to–or retreated to my comfy Habagat room with airconditioning and cable TV and all its amenities. But I was more than content to lie down on the beachfront, under the stars, with not too many people around. My body was resting on flourlike sand, listening to the natural beat of the waves, with my belly full, and I was just whiling away, experiencing Boracay as it should be.
Interview with Sea Wind’s owner and General Manager, Joebert Cocjin
Sea Wind General Manager, Joebert Cocjin, comes from a family with a long history— and love affair—with Boracay. Here, he shares some insights into running one of the best spots in the famed island getaway, and bits of the history that have helped to define Boracay, and the Tirols, as we know them.
Has Sea Wind always been the name of the resort? Who came up with the name?
There’s a story behind Sea Wind’s name. We owned the property a long time ago with my greatgrandfather and my grandfather…Then one time, when my parents started the resort, nagdagdag na kami (we also became involved). We decided to turn the property into a resort.
When I was in my 20s and 30s, I related jazz and the beach. I was driving in Makati and then I heard this one beautiful song in the car and asked a friend of mine who the band was. He said the band was Sea Wind. I said I liked that name; that’s how it started. I want jazz–imagine yourself on the beach, lying down with your iPod and then what you’re listening to is jazz–’di ba parang ang gaan (Doesn’t it make you feel light)? That’s how we wanted to run Sea Wind, like you’re really on vacation.
Describe your grandfather, Roberto Tirol.
My grandfather was a very good man, but aside from teaching us fairness he taught us that there’s no substitute for hard work… He really believed [that] nobody is smart if he doesn’t know how to do his job, and he really took care of us. He really loved my mom and, of course, my grandmother also. He taught us honesty. He was the only agriculturalist in the family. He said [ang] lungkot daw nung una ‘yung Boracay (Boracay was such a sad place). They never thought it was going to be a resort area eventually. Every time he had to go there, it [used to be] like a punishment because ang lungkot daw nung una (he said it used to be a very lonely place). Well, it’s different now.”
What were your experiences of the property and of Boracay while growing up?
At first, we were selfish about Boracay; we did not want it to be [commercialized]. But, of course, it being very beautiful, everything was overtaken by events… At the time, there were no electric lights [here] so when you lay down in the beach at night, the stars would be really beautiful, and then in the beach during noontime it was really pristine. That’s why if you look at [Sea Wind’s] tagline, it is “Boracay as it should be.”
What is it like being part of the family business?
It has its responsibilities ‘di pwedeng babuyin yung (we cannot neglect the) property because we’re one family. For my grandfather, with ownership comes responsibilities. It doesn’t end with us; it should benefit the employees and the community.
In what way is Sea Wind eco-friendly?
Number one, you can see by the trees… that [the space is] not crowded, that our buildings are flushed back so that we don’t pollute the beach. [As far as population density is concerned], the ratio is very [light.]
What is it about your management style that keeps your employees happy?
Number one, we’re a flat organization meaning… I want business to be family. We take care of each other. I think our rate of turnover for employees is very, very low because we’re like a family. Most of our employees marry each other, that’s why… Isn’t there this song, “I’m in love with my best friend”? We house all our employees so [there’s a] feeling that we take care of each other, that Sea Wind is a family thing. That’s why if you notice, even the way they treat you, it’s like family, right?… That is what Sea Wind is all about so think about it: from the time you are [fetched] at the airport, it’s seamless, all the way back from the fetching to the stay… it should be a total experience.