Baler, the provincial capital of Aurora, is a badly kept secret. It used to be a hush-hush ‘happy place’ among the surfer community and stingy backpackers, but it is not anymore. Yet despite the throngs of people who have been, and continued to be captivated by its wind-swept shores, the birthplace of Philippine surfing has amazingly stayed laid-back and charming through the years.
This is a Baler travel guide of some sort that Mike (michaellibby.blogspot.com) and I have decided to come up with. The honest reason for this collaboration is that we’d like to force each other to blog more frequently than we want to. It’s not as exhaustive as a Lonely Planet guidebook, but I still hope that this would be of some help to those who would plan to go to Baler in the future.
Here is Baler then in 7 questions.
Why go to Baler?
[Mike] Honestly, the reasons why I visited Baler were lame and personal. I wanted to reach that eastern outskirt of Luzon, because of the following reasons:
- I wanted my Lakbayan score to go up.
- My friends have great pictures of them surf-riding Baler waves. I wanted one, too.
- I knew that a movie was shot at the location (Baler, starred by Anne Curtis and Jericho Rosales).
- Plus, a travel article mentioned that it can give me a good view of Sierra Madre, one mountain name I have almost gotten tired hearing back in my high school days. I thought it was time I get up close and personal with it.
- Also, I heard it was the hometown of the then, president, Manuel L. Quezon, and
- Lastly, I am on a trip with my two original travel buddies.
[Bren] Those are actually not lame reasons Mike. In fact, you have enumerated most of Baler’s strongest points, except for the last one of course. For me though, it was primarily for surfing, or at least at the onset. It is said that Sabang Beach is the ideal place for beginners to try out getting ‘stoked.’ The waves there are relatively manageable and its sandy seabed provides an excellent cushion especially during a wipeout.
How do you get there, and how do you get around the town?
[Bren] For now, only Genesis Transport provides direct bus trips to Baler. Although their schedules are published online, it is advisable that you call their Cubao office (+632 7090545 or +632 4416834) just to be sure. It is also best that you book your tickets in advance, especially during summer and long holidays.
The regular AC bus fare costs around Php 350. We rode however on a Joy Bus, Genesis’ non-stop executive sleeper bus line. For a few pesos more, you would have “lazy-boy” seats which means you can sleep more comfortably during the roughly 5 hour trip. You also have Wi-Fi, a stewardess, a morning kit, a blanket and an onboard restroom – all these conveniences for just Php 700.
[Mike] Such is the case if you begin the trip from Manila. However, if you come from places near Cabanatuan City, you may opt to ride on their public utility vans or chance on a public bus (Genesis, 5Stars, etc.) that can take you to Baler for roughly between Php 200-250 in 4 hours. Although batangbaler recommends the Canili-Pantabangan Route, I prefer Baler-Bongabon as per experience. Both routes have unforgiving winding roads and curbs, but I felt my stomach twist more on our way back through the former.
Going around the town of Baler isn’t really expensive if you have no plaints about riding on a tricycle. They collect fares at Php 12-15 depending on the distance. However, you can hire it for the entire day at the minimum of Php 500 (as mandated by the City Tourism Office). If the driver is kind as was the case of Kuya Bernard (+63 9089802956) who took us everywhere we said we’ll go, you won’t have qualms giving an extra Php 300.
What can you do there?
[Mike] Contrary to what others say about the place being just a simple surfing destination, I realized that it can indeed stoke patriotism especially when you pay Museo de Baler and the house of Manuel and Aurora Quezon a visit. Here are some of the exciting activities we did in the place in summary:
- Surf, surf, surf!! (Php 250/hr beginners session with trainer)
- Food trips.
- Sole busting trek to Dicasalarin Cove.
- Historical Tour (museums and Ermita Hill)
- Beach gallivanting (more like beach sighting, Sabang, Cemento Beach, Lukso-Lukso Islets, etc.)
- Swimming in cold water (Diguisit and Ditumabo Falls)
- Root-climbing the Country’s Oldest Balete Tree.
[Bren] Mike, I think you’ve covered pretty much the entire spectrum of Baler activities. Add to that checklist: participate with the locals in their early morning fishing tradition called pukot.
Where can you spend the night?
[Bren] We stayed at KL Javers Homestay(contact Vincent Gonzales +63 9083418527) in Brgy. Suklayin. It is near the market and just a few minutes away from Sabang. For a typical backpacker accommodation (i.e., shared bathrooms), their rooms are clean and their rates are very reasonable (Php 1200 for 3). There is also a gallery of some sort at the second floor where you could see some of Mr. Vincent’s artworks.
But if you’d like an accommodation near the beach, there are a lot to choose from depending on your budget and preference. You may view some of the options here.
[Mike] Bren, homestays are definitely fun when on tight budget and more fun when you are with people who’d play UNO using the tiny cards even late at night because it makes you forget that you ran out of water for bathing. However, given the chance to be in Baler again with more “moolah”, I’d stay in Aliyah, and when richer, Bahia de Baler (wishful thinking me).
What food stops should you not miss?
[Mike] Three food items I would certainly recommend in my 3 day stay in Baler.
- Paksiw (The Rolling Store) – pork chops boiled until tender in a marinade of soy sauce, bay leaf and seeds, black beans, sugar, and vinegar. What makes this different is the use of fried pork (lechon kawali) instead of the regular roasted pork (lechon baboy). Spending: Less than Php 50
- Tortang Talong (The Rolling Store) – grilled eggplant mashed with spices (onions, bell pepper, garlic, etc), seasoning, and egg. Spending: Less than Php 50
- Steamed Fish (Gerry Shan’s Buffet) – steamed fish seasoned with salt, garlic, onion leaves, and butter (maybe). It was the most fulfilling dish of the many options laid on the buffet table. Perhaps, because it was the only dish served hot. Spending: Php 185 All-You-Can-Eat buffet
[Bren] My three:
- Anything being offered at Baler Surfer Grill. We had grilled pork chops with a sizeable portion of rice (Php 60.00). It is the typical ‘surfer’ meal – filling and affordable. But wait, there’s more. It came with caramelized onions and mushrooms. This gourmet touch just made me smile, more than the fact that it was actually grilled on a charming red Beetle.
- Ensaladang Pako – Fiddlehead Fern Salad tossed with salted eggs, tomatoes, red onions and a drizzle of bagoong (fermented fish sauce). Get it at Bay’s Inn or go unlimited at Gerry Shan’s Buffet.
- Sinantol – finely chopped santol meat and cooked in coconut milk. This is my first time to come across this appetizer at LVB Fastfood, one of the food stalls inside the Baler public market.
What would you do differently, next time?
[Bren] Here are the things that I wished we could have done:
- Find Charlie’s Point. Locally known as “kagewad,” this is said to be the spot where one of the famous battle scenes of Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola’s classic, was filmed. And yes, that movie is now on my bucketlist, along with that Anne Curtis-Jericho Rosales starrer.
- Squeeze Casiguran or even Dilasag, the two northernmost municipalities in the province of Aurora, in the itinerary. These are off-the-beaten destinations and I could only imagine how the ‘super secret beach cove’ that a friend has been to, look like.
[Mike] Those are interesting! These, however, are how I will address your question:
- I won’t go back to Dicasalarin Cove on foot.
- I won’t offer you and Ate Lala Bay’s Inn’s pancakes.
- I’ll surf again minus the trainer.
- I’ll let you hang-out with my camera for longer hours but not my lens cover.
- We will stop at the spot where part of Nueva Vizcaya intercepted the Canili-Pantabangan route.
- I’ll pretend that the lighthouse at the tip of Dicasalarin Cove did not exist. (LOL)
Rate your Baler experience.
[Mike] For a range of 1-10, with the latter being the highest, I am giving it a remarkable 7.
[Bren] It’s also a 7 for me.
So there, we have covered the basics questions on Baler. You may also view Mike’s take here. For those who have been there already, please sound in your tips and other suggestions in the comments section below.