Monday, May 30, 2016


I recently got to visit another place in the Philippines for the first time - Baler. It started out as a conversation over drinks with my friends and we started planning for it and before we knew it, we were on our way!

Baler is known for being one of the most popular surfing destinations in the country, catering to both experienced surfers and to beginners. As luck would have it, I ended up visiting this beautiful capital of Aurora province without getting on a surfboard (all my other companions did).

My friends and I decided to just make the long drive from Manila to Baler and that meant I had to do driver duty. The problem was that the night before our trip, I couldn't sleep. I was in bed for a few hours trying to get some shut-eye with no success and before I knew it, it was almost time to get ready. I ended up making the 5 1/2 hour drive with no sleep at all. When we got there, everyone wanted to go surfing and I was just too tired.

In fact, I was so tired that I decided to skip the 5:30 AM assembly time to visit the Ditumabo Mother Falls one our second day. This, I heard, proved to be a great place to see as it turned out to be a very exciting outdoors activity. It involved a long trek before getting to the beautiful falls. Thankfully, after that, my friends went back to the place we were staying to pick me up, along with two other people who decided to sleep in that morning as well. First on the itinerary in the afternoon was a trip to Ermita Hill.

This hill has historic significance because in 1735, Baler was hit by a tsunami. Many of the families who lived on the coast survived the tsunami by going up the hill. Visitors can actually head up to the Healing Cross by climbing the 282 steps to the top, but since we were on a bit of a tight schedule, we decided to skip this.

Instead of surfing, the highlight of my Baler trip ended up being my visit to Diguisit Beach. Friends of mine went there before and they took some pretty interesting photos. When I got to the beach, I decided immediately that I wanted to go up the peak of one of the big rock formations (I think only one of them can be climbed). I asked our guide if people could go up and she said we could.

The challenge was that there was no clear path going up. And in parts, it felt like a rock climb without any safety equipment. I made it halfway up before I started to worry how I would get down so I stopped.

Thankfully, two of my more adventurous companions decided they wanted to go up as well. I still didn't know how I was going to get down but I figured if other people have done it before, then I should be able to figure out a way to do it as well. Thankfully, I pushed myself because getting to the top was very exhilarating!

My climb to the top of the rock formation left me a bit exhausted so I decided to skip the surfing afternoon again. However, when I think about it, I am still very happy that I joined because even if I didn't get to surf myself, I ended up being the unofficial photographer for my friends who went surfing. I actually got great photos of all my friends while they were up on their boards. My 20x zoom proved to be exceptionally useful. It did require a lot of patience since there were so many of them so I had to really be on the watch-out in case one of them would manage to get up on their board and ride the waves. The effort paid off and my friends were happy that each of them had at least one good picture.

Our initial itinerary was supposed to include only one afternoon of surfing but since my friends decided to surf twice, it was agreed that we would skip the historic tour of Baler. I would have wanted to visit the Baler Church, the Museo de Baler (we got to see this only from the outside and have a photo op), and Dona Aurora Aragon Quezon's house, a replica of the house where the Manuel L. Quezon and his wife Dona Aurora lived. Nevertheless, before heading home, we did get to pass by the Balete Tree in Maria Aurora, which is supposedly the largest Balete tree in the whole of Asia.

Visitors can actually go through the tree, but I think you need to have a guide with you to do so.

I have to say, the guides here are pretty awesome and very experienced with camera using the vertical panoramic shot of the iPhone, which allows them to take photos of the tree from top to bottom. They also know a whole lot of tricks to do with these panoramic shots, and we ended up with a variety of really cool and fun shots.

Some final thoughts:

  • We stayed at Baler Safe Haven, which is ideal for a big group of about a dozen people. The cool thing about this place is that the owner actually allows guests to enjoy alcoholic beverages and there's a really chill area where people can just lay back and hang out. It's also pretty cheap.
  • I got to ride on the back of a pick-up for the first time since I was a kid. My friend brought a pick-up and we used that to get around Baler once we were there. It was the best option since people who were wet could just sit at the back and not worry about getting the car seats drenched.
  • I also go to drive along TPLEx (Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway) for the first time, albeit for only about one exit. We missed a left turn somewhere and for a while, even Waze got confused. Waze eventually recommended a route but it was telling us to go through TPLEx. Since none of us knew any better, we decided to follow that. :) Our drive home ended up being longer - it must have been 6 1/2 hours in total - but at least we got home safely.
  • Based on our experience, two of the best places to eat in Baler are Yellow Fin Bar and Grill and Isa Virginia 2 (both serve great food and are pretty affordable).

Given that I missed out on surfing, the trip to the Ditumabo falls, and the historic tour, I would love to visit Baler again. But maybe this time, I will make it a bit longer so I don't have to worry about being too tired. :)

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