Baler on a budget is a lot less tricky than say Palawan, Cebu or even Baguio on a budget. The beautiful coastline province of Aurora welcomes everyone – including your tight purses – with open suntanned arms. All you really need to bring are your trusty walking shoes, your water gear, an appetite for seafood and adventure, and a whole lot of sunblock.
- Wake up early. Or better yet, don’t bother sleeping. Baler is 5 hours travel on land, and that is if you leave in the dead of dawn. Call time for our trip was 2 am at the friendly neighborhood 24-hour McDonald’s and not a minute later. My trip buddies and I all made the decision to just wait the night out (my sister and I watched the last full show of Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends, went home for our bags and some night cream, then headed straight to the van), for fear of trashing the alarm. It is a looooooong trip, and the way back home is even longer because we’re battling with traffic. Expect sore butts and lazy knees. Load up your iTunes and take time to stretch at the rest stop. Don’t worry, all the pain is worth it.
- Discover artifacts and monuments. Touch down, Baler at 7 am on the dot. We loaded up on some silog (the breakfast of champions), yawned a lot then it’s straight to the tour. We’ve arranged for everything prior to the trip – from the accommodation to the van that was going to take us from point A to Z. We met up with the local tour guide, and Baler 2014 is on. The first leg had the Baler Church, Dona Aurora Quezon’s house, Quezon Memorial Park and Museo de Baler, historical stops all within meters of each other, each with their own rich stories to tell of the Spanish occupation and Filipino rebellion.
- The hills are alive. Next thing on our list was exploring the terrain. Located in the eastern coast of Luzon some 200 kilometers of Manila, Baler boasts of both mountains and blue water. We drove up then took a short leisurely hike up Ermita Hill, into one of the viewing decks to see none other than a breathtaking view of the Pacific Ocean. I’ve never seen something so beautiful and so imposing at the same time. Going around and down the hill, we saw the 5-people Tromba Statue, commemorating in stone the escape of townsfolk from the Tromba Marina tsunami of 1735, wherein they climbed up the hill seeking refuge. A few minutes away by van were the Diguisit Rock formations, curious-looking clusters of dark rocks strewn across the blue water like islands on a map. We kept our slippers on as we tread lightly across the fine sand and crushed corals, wandering as close to the Pacific as we’ve ever been.
- Go chasing water falls. After a hearty lunch and a quick check in (more on that later), we were instructed to put on our swimming gear and get ready for a quick little trek. Sounds confusing? Later on I realized this was one of those things that you have to do without knowing exactly what you were about to do. The van took us to neighboring San Luis to a tricycle parking lot. We hopped on a tricycle, 2 to 3 folks at a time, and were told to grab on. That was our fair warning. What came after was about 30 minutes of the most extreme tricycle ride we’ve ever had, the cab and tires roaring against the huge rocks that made up the road. So many times during that trip it felt like at least 2 tires would bust as we rocked like beans inside a rattle, but the trike made it. After the bumpy ride, it was time for a little stretch. Our trike drivers transformed into trekking guides and led us through stream, hill and slippery stone, up down and sideways across narrow bamboo bridges for another good 30 minutes. Soon we heard the loud rushing of water, and there it was, the Mother Falls. Time to take off that sweaty shirt and jump in.
- Surf and turf. After that refreshing dip, we went back the way we came (trek and trike both) and traveled back to Aliya Surf Camp, our home in Baler. From the name, I was expecting something a little more rugged, and was pleasantly surprised I was wrong. The “camp” was a good stretch of concrete buildings, 3 floors and several rooms that led to a bar and restaurant complete with a pool table and koi pond at the ground floor. There is even a souvenir and surfer’s shop next to the ice cream refrigerator. The bar chairs continue outside under wide beach umbrellas, adorning an impressive infinity pool, from which you have the never ending surf and sands of Sabang Beach. It was a glorious thing of beauty, even for someone like me who is not the biggest fan of sun and sand. Surfers and swimmers alike are scattered in the water, a sparse and friendlier crowd you won’t find in commercialized Boracay. My friends availed the 1-hour surf lessons for only P350, inclusive of board rental, and were proud to say they were able to ride a small wave or two. When hunger pangs set in, the restaurant in Aliya was a clear winner (their tofu sisig and kinilaw hit the spot). But before that, we had a P199 buffet at the famous Gerry Shan’s Place and coconut milk-based ice cream at Puno’s (I still dream of Langka Cheese and Cashew) for only P15 a cup and P80 a pint.
- Balete driving. The next day, it was time to pack up and say adieu to the lovely Aliya. En route to Manila we stopped by Puno’s for more Langka Cheese and Cashew, then off to Maria Aurora for the Millenium Tree. The park’s gem is the towering, over 200-foot tall, 600-year old Balete Tree. I’ve never felt so tiny in my life, like an ant to a boot. We took our time circling the giant, then braved the opening in its roots to explore what was inside. It was magical and a tiny bit creepy, thanks to Manila horror stories about balete trees. This one is so huge and spacious inside you can even climb to the top (which we were not brave enough to do), it was so easy to believe that creatures truly live inside.
Total damage, Baler 2014
|Aliya Surf camp, 1 breakfast,
transportation via van, tours and tour guide
|Food (silog, Gerry’s buffet, Puno’s Ice Cream x 2,
Aliya’s resto, Yolanda’s Grill)
|Souvenir (shirt, ref magnet, suman)||285.00|
|Donations, trike ride, etc||120.00|
|Total cost, Baler 2014||3,384.00|
All pictures are mine.