Baler is known as a surfing destination, but there’s more adventure waiting for you there!
My heart fluttered like a frantic bird’s wings. To say we were scared on our way back to Manila from baler is an understatement. Baler, the capital province of Aurora which is about 230 kilometers up North from Manila, is accessible through a mountain pass. And that’s exactly where we were: inside the car and on a mountain that ran out of paved road. Our journey was cut short by a three-storey landslide which pretty much signaled that we had to retrace our steps. As it turned out, we missed a turn that would have taken us to the correct mountain pass—one with enough road to get us safely back home. So now the question is: Was the trip to Baler worth traveling on wet, snakey roads with little-to-no barriers from steep cliff edges and relenting weather?
To get to the burgeoning municipality of Baler, you can travel by car or bus, and both have pros and cons. Using a car allows you to drive to other scenic locations in Baler without relying on your chosen inn’s shuttle service, should it offer such. However, the roads that resemble bituka ng manok or chicken intestines may be dangerous for an amateur driver. Taking the bus, on the other hand, allows a more comfortable trip with a driver that’s used to long drives and winding roads.
Where to hit the hay
After a six-hour trip, we arrived at Costa Pacifica hotel, managed by the Raintree Group. This newlybuilt hotel boasts 78 rooms where weekenders who wish to escape Manila’s congested cities and polluted thoroughfares can choose from rooms that have double or king-size beds. If these don’t tickle your fancy, there are two room categories outside the hotel (but still under the Costa Pacifica umbrella): Casa de Bahia, which has 12 standard rooms and 6 loft rooms; and the Casita de Bahia, where we stayed has 10 standard rooms.
The Casita has its own pool—the only pool in Baler, at least for now, with a small Jacuzzi. When the sun goes down, the pool lights switch on but only the Jacuzzi changes lighting colors for a unique dipping experience. Our room was clean, cool, cozy and contemporary. There were no fancy designs but the soft lighting provided an elegant feel. Everything you need to stay comfortably is provided, including pen lights in case you want to catch up on some reading.
Where to grab grub
For the adventurous, sampling local cuisine is a must. However, the long trip, and absence of any fast-food chains well into our second hour of traveling didn’t leave us time to explore. We just wanted to fill our bellies, and fill our bellies we did!
In the Pavilion, conveniently located in front of the Casita, we were served= a welcome drink of Buko Lychee Slush. As the name suggests, it is a delightfully interesting combination of calamansi, lychee and coconut flavors that dance in your mouth. Then, it was off to digging into local cuisine that used ingredients abundant in that corner of the Philippines. There was Spring Roll made with pako or fern and Baler’s longganisa, Chicken Binakol that used the freshest sayote which sweetened the soup and fresh Blue Marlin steak. For dessert, we had organic suman, served with local organic peanut butter and coco jam, and sticky rice (bilo-bilo) filled with coco jam and coconut flesh and served in peanut butter sauce. We ended with sipping robusta coffee. Also abundant in Baler, the coffee is best taken with muscovado sugar, milk and Barnut, another (and better, in my opinion) variant of Chocnut and Hany.
What to do
One doesn’t talk of Baler without mentioning surfing. After all, the municipality has made a splash (pun intended) because surfers from around the world flock to the waters from September to March to catch the waves. And the waters are perfect for lifestyle or beginner surfers since they average six feet. Surfers can expect cloud 9 waves, which Siargao, another surfing destination, boasts—but these types of waves are seldom in Baler. However, if you’re not a fan of watersports, there are other activities waiting.
Did you know? One of the five families who survived the 1735 tidal wave were the Angaras, who own Costa Pacifica
We rode the pasahero, Costa Pacifica’s non-airconditioned shuttle, to town. Together with a tour guide, we were shown the two-storey home of Manuel and Aurora Quezon, the first president and first lady of the Philippine commonwealth. It was the perfect juxtaposition: an old Filipino-style, dark wood home in the midst of a bustling and growing town. Then there was the San Luis Obispo de Tolosa church where the last of the Spanish garrison barricaded themselves for close to two years until they surrendered in the Siege of Baler.
The birthplace of president Quezon, Baler museum and Ermita hill were next on the list but the uncooperative weather prevented us from visiting the historic hill. Ermita hill is famous because a massive tidal wave called tromba marina devastated the original town settlement in Sabang in 1735. Only five families survived. They did so by swimming towards Ermita hill and temporarily settling there.
Baler’s edge over other beach hotspots is its nature scene. There’s the gargantuan balete tree that requires 60 people linked by hand to encircle it. The Ditumabo and Diguisit falls are also sights to behold. And if you want a slice of paradise in Baler, the Dicasalarin cove’s shores are covered in white sand. This is owned by the Angara family and was once private; now, it opens its shores to the public. Another one-of-a-kind spot to relish is the panoramic Lukso Lukso islets that showcases rock formations. There are huts available for rent so you can enjoy a picnic or lunch against the spectacular view.
Aside from Ermita hill’s historical significance, the mound also boasts views that rival Tagaytay’s picnic grove. After a 10-15 minute hike from the foot of the hill, there’s a plateau that overlooks the Pacific Ocean where you can also sit inside the huts for a peaceful picnic or lunch.
Was the trip worth the travel?
Despite a total of 11 hours of travel, being cramped in a car and enduring Mother Nature’s temper tantrum, the answer is a resounding yes. Baler offers more than just surfing. Whether you’re looking for quiet time on the sand, a trip back in time or an amazing nature scene, Baler is perfect for the weekender trying to escape city life’s daily grind.
Costa Pacifica is located at 80 Buton St., Sitio Labasin, Brgy. Sabang, Baler, Aurora: tel (2)576 4555; mobile (908)732 0672; visit www.costapacificaraintree.com.