The crystal clear water and white sand have recovered their splendor in the paradisiacal island of Boracay, a tourist destination banned from the public for six months to stop the uncontrolled hotel expansion, pollution and spills to the sea.
Known for its endless parties, the massification of this island climbed until last year surpassed two million tourists in just over a thousand hectares of territory, which led President Rodrigo Duterte to order last April 26 the closure of the which he called "cloaca".
After months in which it was a desert island, without tourists and with closed businesses, this week has begun a pilot opening with the arrival of more than a thousand Filipino visitors to rehearse before the official opening of the new Boracay next October 26th.
"The president was very angry about the condition of the water, now it is clean and transparent, and we have also worked to make people aware of the importance of taking care of the environment," Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Environment, Benny Antiporda, told Efe.
The idea is to transform Boracay into an example of sustainable tourism for other "fashionable" destinations in the Philippines, such as El Nido, on the island of Palawan, or Panglao in Bohol, and for "the rest of the world," says Antiporda.
The situation was especially serious at the Bulabog beach – famous for its nightly parties and daytime water sports – where several hotels built illegal pipelines to directly pour their wastewater into the sea.
The new rules are strict: forbid smoking or drinking alcohol on the beach or placing hammocks and umbrellas. Neither is street vending nor massages allowed and water sports may only be practiced beyond one hundred meters from the shore.
For some the measures are excessive, although the authorities assure that they will be implacable at the time of applying them, for which they have even created a group of civilian vigilantes who will supervise the cleaning of the beaches and will reprimand the offenders.
Littering will be punished even with imprisonment in the new Boracay, where the capacity of tourists has also been limited to 19,200 per day.
"We are happy that the island has finally been rehabilitated, we have sacrificed a lot but I think it is better to sacrifice now for six months than to do it forever," says Junthir Flores, who now trains with his frisbee team on the beach without having to remove garbage or fear to cut with a glass.
According to Flores, a native of Boracay who has participated as a volunteer in cleaning tasks during the closure, the beaches "have recovered their appearance in the nineties", when he was a child before the tourist invasion.
Despite being out of work these six months because she worked as a receptionist in a hotel, Angela Rodriguez is convinced that measures had to be taken against mass tourism: "they ate and drank in the sea and threw beer cans into the water".
"Now it's cleaner and the beach is even wider", formerly colonized by hammocks, boats and umbrellas, says Rodríguez, who received the compensation of 15,000 pesos (270 dollars) granted by the government to those affected by the temporary loss of job.
The hotels have already begun to accept reservations, but only those who have already obtained permission from the authorities can do so because they comply with the new environmental requirements, such as an adequate drainage and waste treatment system.
Of the more than 600 hotel establishments that operated in Boracay in April, now they only have about a hundred permits, although from the Department of Tourism they assure that by the 26th all the hotels that comply with the new norms will be in operation.
However, the authorities warn that it will be a "soft opening" since the rehabilitation of the island is not complete and have asked the hotels to "moderate the expectations" of their guests because the reconstruction of Boracay will not be complete until the year coming.
And it is impossible to take a walk beyond the beaches: the works to widen the only road that crosses the island are backward and the traffic is almost impossible, the sidewalks are up and most of the establishments are still engaged in reconstruction tasks .
The hotels and restaurants on the beachfront have had to cut their dimensions because the new regulations only allow building beyond 30 meters from the shore to respect the natural vegetation that decorates that landscape.
"If in the end the reconstruction works are going to continue after the opening, was it necessary to close the island for six months?" Laments the owner of a hotel that preferred not to reveal her name.