After months of researching, more reading, and planning, I was finally ready to see Baler. Unlike Mr. Lopez, though, I went in April so I didn’t catch the festivities. But no worries; Aurora’s capital promises a fun, relaxing 3-day trip.
HOW TO GO THERE
We boarded Genesis Transport in Cubao at around 2:30am on a Friday. This bus liner is the sole provider of trips going to Baler, and the buses going to Baler only come from Cubao and not from their Pasay terminal. You can also take buses to Cabanatuan then board a second bus to Baler. But we didn’t want the hassle of taking multiple buses so we chose Genesis (even though we’ve heard that this transport service has had many accidents in the past). The trip almost felt like we were going to Baguio because we had to travel for 7 hours going north (although Aurora is beside Quezon, you’d have to take NLEX) and endure the headache-inducing zigzagging roads. If you are not as groggy as we were, you will not be able to sleep with that shaky journey we had.
When I called Bay's Inn in February, their Saturdays for April were already fully booked. They were that famous for accommodations in Baler. I was able to reserve for our Friday-Saturday stay. But then two weeks before our trip, we decided to add another day. Since Bay's Inn couldn't give us a room for Saturday-Sunday, I checked out other hotels and lodges. Finally, I scored a room on Surfer Girls Lodge (also known as Little Girls Surfer Lodge).
|Bay's Inn and Surfer Girls Lodge, both along Sabang Beach|
Bay's Inn had clean rooms, good food, and a prime view of Sabang Beach. But what I liked most was their good customer service. The staff were friendly and respectful. They let us check in erlier than scheduled and when it came to food, they gave us a choice on whether to eat it in our rooms or on their bar and grill. I know this is supposed to be any hotel's standard, but because the staff were very approachable, it made us feel more welcome.
Our room at Surfer Girls was cheaper because we didn't opt to use the air conditioner. Surfer Girls isn't as classy as Bay's Inn and we couldn't see the beach from our room. But the room was clean and brighter that the one we had at Bay's Inn, which had plain cream walls. Our room at Surfer Girls had red tiled floor and yellow walls and a painting of a huge wave engulfing the beach. It was homey. I liked the restroom best because of its rough floors. :) As far as I know, Baler also has homestay lodges, which you can get for lower prices. If you plan to be at the beach or on tour for the most part of your vacation, then I guess homestays are OK.
Besides the seafood being cooked fresh from the sea, there is no 'special' food in Baler. Well, except their local suman. While the name Sumang Baler seems bland, the sticky food is anything but simple. We had the violet variant made of local rice. It was so sweet (no need to dip in sugar!) but not overwhelming. It's sold at 5 pesos each (or 50 pesos per bundles of ten), you can buy it in the market, the terminal, or even at the beach if you're lucky to spot a vendor making rounds. I had to restrain myself from eating the ones I planned to brought home as pasalubong.
|Sumang Baler, the yummiest suman I've ever had in my entire life.|
At Bay's Inn, we had a good breakfast and lunch. Their tapa and garlic rice are so good. If you want home-cooked meals, try the rolling stores (karinderya) near Baler Church which sell viands for 30-40 pesos per order. Vendors at the beach also sell merienda like spaghetti and puto seko among others.
|Bay's Inn's tapsilog and fruit salad|
|Clockwise from upper left: Pansit Palabok from Ne's Bakeshop and Restaurant in the Central Market, Halo-Halo from the same place, Taho (with so much syrup!), dinner at one of the Rolling Stores|
Don't miss Gerry Shan's Place. It offers buffet for only 150 pesos per head! You get unlimited rice and viands, bottomless iced tea, and fruits and sweets for dessert. We couldn't resist it and it felt like I was in for a 'Man vs. Food' challenge. As with all buffets, it can get overwhelming. But the food was good. The biko's my favorite.
|Gerry Shan's Place, where you can eat all you can for 150 bucks!|
I loved Baler's taho, too. Well, taho is always yummy. But the manong was not afraid to give us generous servings of the syrup. At the market, we also got generous servings of chicharon bits on our pansit palabok and a milky halo-halo. Yum, yum! Like I said, food in Baler is good but not extraordinary. The best thing, however, is the price. You get good food for reasonable, if not cheap, prices. Especially at the rolling stores.
PLACES IN BALER
The Central Market is just a few steps away from the Central Terminal. This was where we had our 'first taste' of Baler while waiting for our tricycle driver-slash-tour guide. We had pansit palabok (P45) and halo-halo (P40) at Ne's Bakeshop and Restaurant. Then we were dropped off at Bay's Inn, just one of the several lodges and hotels along Sabang Beach.
Sabang Beach, unlike other popular beaches, has gray sand. But it doesn't make it less of a beautiful beach. During the early morning and late afternoon until evening, Sabang throws in huge and strong waves, basically because it's in the Pacific Ocean. This is also why Baler is famous for being favorite surfing destination. I especially love the majestic view of the sunrise in Sabang (it faces east).
|Huge wave coming!|
|Sunrise in Sabang Beach is just... amazing!|
For our tricycle tour, we had the P500 package (it was customized though). You may contact Aurora's Tourism Office on Facebook to ask for a list of accredited tricycle drivers-slash-tour guides.
|Kuya To, our tricycle driver/tour guide|
Ermita Hill is famous for the Tromba Marina (tidal wave) memorial. In December 1735, a huge tidal wave destroyed Baler. Seven families survived by climbing towards Ermita Hill. The climb to the top was not easy and even harder when you want to see the big cross at the top of the hill. But it was all worth it. The best view of Sabang Beach and the different waters of Baler can be seen from Ermita Hill.
|Tromba Marina and the stairway to the top of Ermita Hill|
|The view of Sabang Beach from Ermita Hill|
|Huge cross on top of Ermita Hill|
Diguisit Beach, unlike Sabang, has white coarse sand. The tide was low when we went there and we saw different fishes and a kind of lobster. It was kinda hard to walk around because of the rocks which are slippery and edgy. You have to be extra careful when approaching the huge rock formations because the rocks crumble and fall down the beach.
There were small waterfalls along the roads in Diguisit area. The highest one was the most visited and there were several people bathing in its cold waters.
Also one of the famous spots in Aurora is the Balete Park where you can see (and climb) the Balete Tree (also called the Millennium Tree). It is 600+ years old and is claimed to be the largest in Asia, so big that you can easily squeeze yourself in to the center of the roots.
|Outside and inside the Balete Tree|
The History Trail (which is always a part of any tour package in Baler) includes Museo de Baler, Quezon Park, Baler Church, and Doña Aurora Quezon House.
Museo de Baler is interesting because it not only discusses Baler's history but also the Philippines'. You'd find relics, artifacts, preserved insects in glass jars, old pieces of clothing, and posters showing the ancestors of Baler. It is a good stop if you want to know more about Baler. And it doesn't charge an entrance fee.
|Butterfly collection; bells from the old Baler Church; costume used by Baron Geisler in the movie "Baler"; The Ilongot, Baler people's ancestors; McArthur's 1937 Cadillac Cabriolet|
Quezon Park is just outside the museum. It is just that -- a park with trees and all -- but you can see Manuel Luis Quezon's (who was born in Baler, not in Quezon) monument in the center. And oh, there's a vintage car on one side of the park. It's Gen. Douglas McArthur's 1937 Cadillac Cabriolet.
|Hello, Mr. MLQ!|
In Doña Aurora Quezon's House, there was the same car. We were told this was Manuel Quezon's presidential car. But the house was already closed when we came. :(
Baler Church did not look like anything we imagined because we knew that it was historical (and therefore assumed that it would be old-looking). It was obviously reconstructed.
Also interesting to note is the pukot, Baler's traditional way of fishing. Fishermen drop the net in the farther part of the sea and they will go back to the beach and pull the net's rope. It didn't look easy at all.
Baler, with its beautiful beaches, and good food and nice people, is a paradise. Part of me wants to help promote the place (and I think I'm doing my share through this blog) but another part of me doesn't to spoil Baler's beauty. Popularity has a tendency to ruin a place's old charm and spoil its beauty. Baler, for one, is so hard to reach because of transportation reasons and remains to be somehow undiscovered by a lot of Filipinos, despite being a surfer's mecca. But I guess, that's also why it's so beautiful and untainted. I do hope that even when it gets its tourism boost, it will still remain to be the peaceful, charming, fun Baler that I love.