One of these days I’m going to find one of those Lonely Planet writers and I’m going to ask him, what’s so fucking lonely about the Ko Sanh Road? Alex Garland, The Beach.
After reading Garland’s wonderful book about a tourist-free retreat in Thailand, I started thinking about my own “beach” – on Bohol in the Philippines. My wife and I decided to break away from the beaten path on Panglao and escape to a place called Anda. We didn’t know too much about this small town on the island’s southeast edge, and figured it was worth a shot. I had no idea that I’d fall so hard for one tiny place.
This is my story about paradise and coming to terms with writing about it, and sharing its wonder with the world.
Anda and the Beach
We set off for Anda and a 2-½ hour car ride from a local and his wife. Without a clue about our destination, panoramic green trees and blue water surround us. The occasional chocolate hill peaks out in the background. Traveling early, we see all the towns along the way as they woke up for the day. Each one offers colorful variations and orders of church, school, market, and bus terminal. My eyes and mind would normally be in stimulation overdrive if not for the concern over our destination.
I’m worried that this might be a mistake, considering nobody had the slightest clue about Anda. Every Anda-related query would receive any variety of “I don’t know” and “nothing to do there” responses. We reach the halfway point somewhere around Valencia and I decide to give up on the worry and just enjoy the ride. The morning coffee does its work and wakes me up just as the sun makes it way out from behind some clouds. I figure that we’ll find out soon enough, and can always turn back if the place is a total disaster. I decide to focus more on our kind company who’s brought us all this way.
During the drive, conversation revolves around basketball and the 1990s-era NBA. Even though it’s the Filipino national sport, I expect to hear names like Lebron and Kobe but not Jordan, Ewing, and others from my childhood. Dimitri even mentions obscure ones that I have to think about for a minute. This is my kind of guy, and I’m almost sad when Dimitri drops us at our place. He floats me a business card in case we need a ride back to Panglao, remembering that I mentioned going there before leaving Bohol.
His wife makes him stick around to check out the view that we’ve yet to see. I wonder why and after following her to our hotel that overlooks the ocean, I’m not going back to Panglao floats through my head. This is paradise. People might think of luxury as something pretentious and inclusive but this place will make a good home until we leave. Named after the owners, I sense that J&R wasn’t originally intended for others to enjoy. A chat with Ralf proves me correct, as he explains this was simply his retirement home for he and his Cebuano wife Jilo.
“Welcome to my house,” he says after a firm handshake that’s stronger than my own. I can never win in those situations, against businessmen who’ve been perfecting the strong handshake for many generations. A European expat who worked and traveled throughout Asia, he and Jilo decided to settle here on Bohol’s southeast edge. They built the main house and an extra building for family to come and visit but passersby quickly took notice. People started to ask him if there was enough space for them too, and I can see why after walking down to the beach.
His houses stand over this gorgeous patch of sand and almost convince me that I should never be staying in such a wonderful place. It’s out of my league. We sit on that beach every day and some strange feelings develop. Maybe you know them. They’re the ones that form when you want to keep a secret? I want to keep this place to myself, even if it impedes J&R’s business. Days pass and aside from an afternoon out on a motorbike, we stick to that beach and our room above. There’s no point in leaving when I’ve got paradise to watch over.
After days of playing cards and watching Ralf’s dogs gallop through the water chasing something… or nothing, the morning of our departure arrives. I’d been anticipating it and even though stress was a feeling I’d long forgotten about, the nerves are forming around our return to the world. Our time at Anda and the beach is over, and it is time to say goodbye. Ralf and Jilo are there to say farewell and after our early morning drive later, we return to the world. We hurriedly run through Manila and almost miss our connecting flight, thanks to some “VIP’s arrival” shutting the airport down for four hours.
As our pilot informs us of the delay after an hour of waiting to exit the plane, I think that we should have just bought some property near Ralf and stuck to the beach. My culture shock back in Manila and eventually Korea doesn’t help, as former’s heat and hurry-hurry nature of the latter’s people aren’t the warm welcome back that I was anticipating. I forget about Anda altogether after about 24 hours back in Korea. Those memories fade away and the only thing left is the images and the feelings they evoke. It’s all distant and still something I never want to share with the world.
That changes after finishing Alex Garland’s The Beach while on a bus back from Busan. I come away from it almost angry at the characters and their ability to just disappear from society for months or years without informing family or friends. Furthermore, what’s the big deal about keeping the beach secret and why do they harbor such resentful feelings towards the rest of the world?
Then I remember. That was me. I was just like them, so desperate to protect my own version of The Beach. And now, I’m just as bad as those who’ve shared similar secrets before. Why should we keep such secrets though? Instead of holding it in and creating anxiety about your version of paradise, why not share it? Isn’t that the point of traveling, to share experiences and connect with others?
I ponder those thoughts while looking back to quotes I’ve highlighted throughout the book. There’s so much gold in The Beach but one moment in particular really sticks with me. It’s where the main character Richard and his “friend” Daffy are talking, and the latter says this. It’s a perfect way to end my thoughts on Anda and fitting for those who want to keep secrets of their favorite places.
“You have to see, with these places, with all these places, you can’t protect them.”
He is right on the mark, in my opinion. I imagine Daffy was an extension of the author, and honestly have to agree with him. Daffy was right.
What’s your version of The Beach? Can you relate to this story? I’d love to read your thoughts below 🙂
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