The Philippines’ tourism industry rests on the small island of Boracay, off the northwest tip of Panay Island in the Visayas, which has become the number-one getaway of the country, luring thousands of visitors every year. It also lures developers and entrepreneurs, and developments have been rapid over the last twenty years. The once-desolate island, inhabited by small groups of indigenous Ati and occasionally visited by backpackers, now pulsates with resorts, bars and restaurants, especially along White Beach at the western side of the island, where the waters are warm, clear and inviting and the sand along the five-kilometer stretch is like sugar, perhaps the finest in the world.
There are about 300 resorts in the island, ranging from the grand like the Shangri-la to the modest, which can be a shack, most of them jostling for space along White Beach. Among them is Jony’s, a homey family-run resort at Station 1, northern part of White Beach, in the barangay of Balabag. Its owner, 52-year-old Dionisio Salme, who currently heads the Boracay Foundation, an organization of resort and restaurant owners, is a pioneer and has seen how the island developed. The genial Salme never dreamt of owning a resort.
“Who would have thought…?” he says in Filipino. “I never dreamt of owning a resort. I was happy just owning a car. I thought that was it. But things happened.”
Salme just found himself in Boracay by circumstances but went on to make a home here and raise a family. “I thought it was just a temporary assignment, but I got married here and came to raise a family. I even had grandchildren here. I thought maybe it was a blessing, being here in Boracay,” he says.
Salme actually grew up in Pontevedra, Negros Occidental, and went to Manila to continue his studies. He was in third-year high school. He then enrolled in a business administration course at the University of the East and at same time worked for the Elizalde Group of Companies, owned by a prominent family.
“I worked at the research department,” he recalls. “I was a working student; life was hard. Then I was assigned by my company to Boracay. There were a bit of a problem then. It was Marcos time, and there were land-grabbing issues. So I was sent by my boss to administer his property here in Boracay.”
The property of the Elizaldes, who own D’Mall and a local radio station in Boracay, still stands today, resisting development, a patch of restricted open space near Jony’s Beach Resort.
Salme first stepped in Boracay on March 2, 1975, and remembers the island to be “empty.”
“It was lonely at first because there were not much people,” he recalls. “Thankfully, we had a group with the Elizalde—eight security guards, some maintenance personnel. We were happy when there is dance in the barrio during fiesta. That was the only enjoyment. Then tuba (coconut wine). There weren’t much beer, just tuba and Tanduay (local brandy brand). Later on, election came. I was asked to be councilor. I said, ‘Why did I get involved here.’ They said, ‘It’s needed.’ I said okay, until it went on. I became a councilor here for a long time. You know, it was Marcos time, and terms got extended.”
Salme also brought his girlfriend Josefina, who hails from Asingan, Pangasinan. They met when they were still in college; she was taking up nursing and chemistry at the Far Eastern University. When he was assigned to Boracay, they decided to live together. In the early 1980s, they decided to put up a fruit shake stand. By that time, there were tourists trickling in, mostly Swiss and German backpackers, most likely enticed by what German writer Jens Peters had written about Boracay in his guidebook. They came via Puerto Galera in Mindoro, then Tablas or Romblon, then to Boracay. The more affluent then chartered a small plane, which would land in a grassy patch of land in Caticlan.
These tourists would look for refreshing drinks, which were not offered in the island. Salme got into the fruit shake business when a young Austrian backpacker broached the idea to him. He brought his own blender, powered by a battery, but he had nowhere to recharge his battery. So he packed up and sold the blender to Salme. Salme recalls there was no electricity at that time, and ice was a rarity and even the fruits. One had to go to Kalibo, which would take a whole day. Fortunately, a co-worker gave him a refrigerator, powered by kerosene. They were the only one in the island with a refrigerator and doing shakes. Soon, tourists were lining up for his banana, papaya, mango and pineapple shakes. They also began serving Mexican food—mostly burritos and tacos, which they thought foreigners would like—on tables with umbrellas set up along the beach.
In 1979, Salme and a friend, a barangay captain, put up two huts near the plaza, which they rented out to tourists. In 1985, he acquired the land, about 800 square meters, where the present resort now stands. The following year, he built four cottages made out of coconut and nipa. Over the years, he built three more. In 1996, they were able to get bank loan to improve the structures and build more rooms. Now, Jony’s Beach Resort consists of one two-storey building and one three-storey building with a total of twenty-one rooms. Across the maid road, close to the beach, is the restaurant, which can accommodate eighty diners, constructed five years ago.
The resort has an intimate and homey feel to it. The design is a medley of ideas Salme inspired by other resorts. He maintains the veneers of bamboo to affect a tropical island feel. The name is a misspelling of Salme’s nickname, Diony. He retained it because he thought it is also a combination his and his wife’s nicknames.
The rooms at Jony’s have the de-riguere amenities of any decent resort—air-conditioning, hot and cold showers, cable TVs, telephones, mini-bars and Internet access. Five Superior Rooms are located on the ground floor and have double beds, while the six Deluxe Rooms have queen-size and single beds, bath tubs and verandas. The seven Super Deluxe Rooms have king-size beds, while the Family Room can accommodate four guests. They have two suites. The La Perla Suite is designed for honeymooners with a living area and a small kitchen, while the La Concha Suite, which is the biggest room in the resort with two floors, can accommodate four guests, also with a living area and a small kitchen. Both are at the penthouse level with a spacious terrace, which affords guest a view of the sea.
With the expansion of the resort, Salme and his family live in another property near the resort. All members are involved in running the resort. His eldest son, Frederick, being an engineer, is in charge of maintenance, while his daughter Jingjing takes care of the marketing and reservations. His youngest son, Dionisio, Jr., or Junjun, is a consultant at the restaurant.
Jony’s restaurant is the most notable and promising aspect of the resort. Salme still offers his original fruit shakes, now having thirty to forty flavors and blends. They have become a tourist stop, included in many packaged tours. Also, the Mexican items are retained. Salme remembers the time when the Mexican ambassador dine din his restaurant incognito. The ambassador was impressed that he had his own cook teach Salme how to improve the dishes. Now, the Mexican menu got updated and a different treatment with Junjun, who is a culinary arts graduate.
Junjun was born in Boracay but grew up in Bacolod City, the capital of Salme’s home province, where he went to seminary during high school and studied commerce at the University of St. La Salle. He decided to follow his heart and enrolled at the Center for Culinary Arts Manila. He is currently working at the upscale resort Discovery Shores to gain experience and likely to take over the restaurant. Junjun dreams of putting up his own restaurant in Bacolod City. For Jony’s, he wants the restaurant to have its own identity apart from the resort. He started with naming the restaurant and is experimenting with Maya, which he thinks would unify the Mexican-Filipino offerings of the restaurant—being the name of the Central American group of people as well as the Eurasian tree sparrow, which is ubiquitous in the Philippines.
For the Mexican part, Junjun introduced several innovative taco varieties. One is the suckling pig taco, which inspired by the pritchon. The suckling pig, marinated in orange juice and lemongrass, is pit-roasted and served with lettuce and pico de gallo. The braised short ribs taco is short ribs braised until tender and served with caramelized onion. Fish lovers can order his beer-battered fish taco. On the other hand, the chorizo taco is inspired by a popular Boracay “street food,” the chori-burger, grilled Aklanon chorizo inside a grilled bun with spicy banana ketchup, which is surprisingly yummy. Aside from tacos, the restaurant also serves chimichangas, fajitas, burritos and quesadillas.
For the Filipino part, Junjun want to focus more the regional cooking, particularly Aklan and the Visayas. Thus, there are the Aklanon favorites inuburan na manok, which is chicken and banana tree pith cooked in lemongrass and coconut milk, and ginataang tilapia, tilapia fillet poached in coconut cream with lemongrass and ginger. Also in the menu are the chicken binakol, a chicken soup with young coconut water and lemongrass, and chicken inasal, barbecued chicken drenched in annatto seed-infused oil. The sinigang of milkfish belly uses the sour fruit batwan, common in the region.
A must-try Filipino dish is the pinakbet from his mother’s side. The quintessential Ilocano dish of vegetables and shrimp or fish paste served here came from the recipe her aunt, thus it is called Pinakbet ni Bebe. They use fermented fish sauce from Asingan instead of shrimp paste; lots of tomato, giving the dish a reddish color; and sweet potato for a hint of sweetness. It is topped with crunchy fried pork belly, instead of bagnet, which is hard to source around here.
For the popular Filipino stewed beef dish caldereta, Junjun uses lots of paprika, inspired by the Austrian goulash, and topped with pieces of feta cheese and slices of black olives.
He also included a few of his own creations in the menu—the Shrimp Pil Pil, a Spanish-inspired appetizer of spicy seared shrimps with pumpkin seeds; the Oysters and Pearls, Aklan oysters poached in buerre blanc and topped with lumpfish cavaiar; steamed mussels in coconut juice, lemongrass and ginger; and chicken wings and salted mango, fried chicken wings in sweet and spicy sauce and served with salted green mango.
The restaurant also serves breakfast items, soups, salads, pasta dishes, burgers and sandwiches, pizzas, salads and desserts.The look is also being upgraded to keep up with the casual to fine dining projection. Some parts of resort are likewise undergoing upgrade or renovation to keep us with the ever-changing development of Boracay, all according to the children’s decision. For Salme, he is satisfied with the blessings that keep coming in.
Boracay Island is at the northwest tip of Panay Island. There are several flights from Manila to Caticlan, a barangay in Malay, Aklan. From Caticlan, one can ride a tricycle, or walk to the jetty port. From Caticlan, there is a short boat ride to Boracay. Flights can be as fast as 36 minutes. Some planes such as Zest Air, land in Kalibo, the capital of Aklan. From there, there is a two-hour ride to Caticlan. From Iloilo City, Boracay can be reached by bus or van with travel time of four to five hours.
Jony’s Beach Resort can be contacted through telephone number (+63 36) 288-6119, fax number (+63 36) 288-3119, mobile numbers +63920-9267679 and +63922-8443648 and emails email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. Log on to Web site www.jonysboracay.com.