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Island Escape: Miss Universe in Boracay

The weather that morning was far from ideal. The ground was drenched from the previous night’s downpour, the winds had chill, and don't even get us started on the waves. Well, it’s a good thing the sun finally did show up, although it still hid behind clouds on occasion. 

Besides, it was the Miss Universe® candidates who brought in the sunshine – metaphorically, at least.

16 girls arrived that day; four were from returning countries. The first “comeback queen” to disembark from the Southwest bus was Malta's Martha Fenech. She is her Mediterranean island nation's first MU candidate since 2001. Following suit were Belize's Rebecca Rath (first since 2007), Namibia's Lizelle Esterhuizen (first since 2013), and the U.S. Virgin Islands' Carolyn Whitney Carter (first since 2011). 

Two of the girls already joined last month's kick-off. They were Myanmar's Htet Htet Htun and Australia's Caris Tiivel, who was determined to make up for skipping the latter half of the kick-off due to flu. Poland’s Izabella Krzan was the lone Eastern European in the group; Turkey’s Tansu Sila Cakir was the sole Eurasian.

The candidates were received in Godofredo P. Ramos Airport by hysterical cheers and a vibrant Ati-Atihan number. Despite the drizzles, the energy was high.

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Upon reaching Shangri-La Boracay, the girls were immediately treated to a hearty brunch. The midday affair was hosted by MU 2011 3rd Runner-Up Shamcey Supsup and streamed by Smart via Facebook Live.

Since most of the girls just met, they initially grouped themselves according to spoken language. Seated in one table were the Latin Americans, which included Chile’s Catalina Caceres and Mexico’s Kristal Silva. That group became tightknit so quickly; they would even freshen up together! The non-Spanish speakers occupied the other table.

After a few words from Malay Mayor Ciceron Cawaling and Shangri-La Boracay General Manager Ester Marcaida, it was time for the afternoon activities.

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After a quick change, the girls began assembling at the foyer in Yamamay beachwear. The pieces were playful. Guyana’s Soyini Fraser stood out in a provocative silver lamé piece, while HondurasSirey Moran wore a powder blue statement suit with the words “No Pictures Please” printed on the bodice. Ironically, she did pose for a lot of pictures later on.

Assembly took longer than expected. So, Ecuador’s Connie Jimenez used the time to practice her catwalk.

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Conveniently enough, the sun finally shone in its full glory by the time the girls hit Punta Bunga Beach. For the first time that day, there was semblance of summer.

The girls were split into two groups for Shangri-La Boracay’s CSR activities. The first group was given a crash course in basket-weaving by an island local.

The second group was introduced to Project C.O.R.A.L. (Conserving, Overseeing, Restoring, Admiring, and Loving Nature), Shangri-La Boracay’s environmental conservation effort. The girls were assigned to build “fish houses”, or cement enclosures that resemble corals. The enclosures help increase live coral coverage and provide shelter for the marine fauna in Punta Bunga and Banyugan’s Marine Protected Area.

Local production crew enjoyed filming outtakes. Nicaragua’s Marina Jacoby was surprised when a cameraman challenged her to touch the lens. “Are you sure? I will get your lens dirty!” she said with apprehension. It was Miss U.S. Virgin Islands who first took the dare.

The groups then merged for the Dragon Boat tutorial. The girls were first instructed to board the canoe while still on land and were taught the proper way to row in unison. Official pictorials happened in between. By-standing shutterbugs went trigger-happy when Argentina’s Estefania Bernal posed seductively by the canoe’s dragon masthead. Soon, the girls reloaded the boat and were set adrift. 

Photo shoots and IG stories resumed after the quick rowing course. Despite the frenzy, the delegates still managed to admire the island’s natural beauty. “This place is amazing. I just want to stay all day and run around!” Costa Rica’s Carolina Rodriguez said, gazing in teary-eyed wonder. Miss Namibia nodded in agreement. They couldn’t believe that they were only there for one day. Moreover, they wanted to return.

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The candidates soon changed into their afternoon party dresses for early dinner. There, they were called onstage to introduce themselves alphabetically. Miss U.S. Virgin Islands went last and she punctuated that portion beautifully. A third-time visitor, Carolyn phonetically introduced herself in Tagalog, saying “Ikinagagalak ko kayong makilala”(I am so pleased to meet you!). Of course, the crowd went wild.

As a parting shot, the girls were presented with stuffed fruits bats as tokens and were served customized desserts inspired by each of their countries. Capping off the program were performances by poi dancers, local acoustic artist Ferns Tosco, and rap duo Yheen and Yuki.

The candidates left with lots of goodie bags, but more importantly, lots of wonderful memories in tow. Their trip was short, but with the hectic schedule that awaits, who can blame them? It’s sad that they had to witness the iconic Boracay sunset from the airport. But then again, we have this inkling that we’ll be seeing some of them back soon.

Check out more photos from their Boracay adventure! 

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