Saturday, May 9, 2015

Baler Photodiary: Curing my Seapanx

Alex and I had long planned to chase more waves by heading to Baler shortly after our memorable surfing experience in La Union last month. Probably not the best idea but we decided on the Labor Day weekend to maximize our vacation leaves from work. But a few days before our departure date, I had the jitters (this happens to me often prior to any trip whether local or foreign) because:

a) the place will be teeming with people on vacation
b) we weren't responsible enough to book a luxury bus to Baler in advance
c) no one else wanted to drive 6 hours and take us there on such short notice
d) if ever we did find someone who could drive us, we only booked for 2 people and the hostels were full

We were definitely in a pickle.

How to get to Baler

So the plan was to leave Thursday (April 30) and stay until May 3 to beat the crowd. Despite not having a reservation, we decided to take a chance and head to Genesis Terminal (along Cubao, Edsa) at 1am of Thursday and wait it out. I was hoping for the best but was also prepared to wait for hours as a chance passenger. The moment I arrived, a barker approached me and asked where I was headed. I told him I was going to Baler for the weekend and call it luck or what-have-you but the barker said he had 2 remaining Joy Bus tickets and the bus was leaving in 5 minutes! I paid and called Alex (who was on her way) and we happily boarded the bus beaming with delight. 

Joy Bus is the only luxury bus by Genesis that travels nonstop to Baler from Cubao (and vise versa), passing through Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, and Cabanatuan. Ticket prices range from Php 635-700. If you think the price is steep, well you really get what you pay for: clean, comfy, air-conditioned bus, plush seats, lots of leg room, a blanket, a mineral water bottle, snacks, and a built-in restroom. Since there are no stopovers the travel time was approximately 4-5.5 hours (typically it could take 6-7 hours). The bus left a little past 1am, we arrived in the Baler Genesis terminal at around 6:30am and took the tricycle to Circle Hostel. Tricycle fare was Php 12 per pax and the ride maybe took 10 minutes.

Circle Hostel - Baler


Take note that this was our first visit to Baler, we still considered ourselves as tourists so it was understandable that we stuck with the familiar: Circle Hostel. The branch here is an upgraded version of the one in La Union, aside from the usual hammocks and co-ed bunk beds, the Circle Hostel Baler boasts of buddy/couple rooms that can house 2-4 pax. Alex and I stayed in the Dahican Room (Php 1300/night) with a bunk bed and an extra mattress. Sorry I forgot to take a photo of the inside, we immediately unpacked the moment we arrived and ate breakfast because we were famished after the long ride. 


The Circle Hostel in Baler is more spacious than its La Union counterpart with more amenities: 


  • Hammocks - comfy ergonomic hammocks with built-in mosquito nets 
  • Buddy Room - comes with a bunk bed for 2 with mosquito net and privacy curtains (this is where we stayed)
  • Cuddle Room - comes with a queen-sized bed with mosquito net

Whichever strikes your fancy, you also get a free surfer breakfast of hot pandesal with bananas and peanut butter every morning. You can also order arabica coffee freshly pressed by the staff for only Php 60. Yum!

I'm happy to report that the shower rooms for male and female in Baler are now separate, each installed with a water heater and a posh Rainshower head shower. What joy, as I regard warm showers as non-negotiables when I travel, plus it helps ward off the sniffles post-surf.


Side story: Make sure to pay attention to the signs! One of the guests kept going to the female showers, even impatiently tapping his foot while waiting for his turn -- and he was not drunk! You could say he became the topic of everyone's conversation that weekend :P


There is also a simple kitchen set-up which is great if you want to cook your own food (there's a wet market you can go to via trike).

notice the Skate Bowl?
Because the place is significantly bigger, there are 2 common areas and plenty of sockets here for charging. Remember, there are no sockets in the rooms or near the bunk beds so put your game face on, head to the common areas, talk to other guests, and be nice :)


This is the second common area where there are more bean bags and hammocks. I highly recommend chilling here in the afternoons and after dinner. The sea breeze will lull you to sleep! I told Alex that I would just take a quick catnap in the evening, but ended up waking at 2am!


Our [mis]adventures

First order of business was to surf and swim, Alex and I didn't waste a moment and walked towards the beach (a mere 2-minute walk) after nesting. The expanse of Baler's shoreline is insane, much longer than La Union's, with clear waters, fine sand, and perfectly breaking waves.


I normally travel during off-peak months and this was my first time to travel during a long weekend, so you could imagine how I worried I was about the crowds: Would we be able to swim at all with the tourists? Would I be forced to socialize with everyone else at the hostel? How can I ever relax with groups of noisy and nosy people within earshot? 

But thanks to Sabang Beach's distinct long stretch of sandy shoreline, it can easily accommodate a multitude of people all at the same time. Although there were people on the lineup all grouped together, you will easily find pockets of empty areas to surf. 


Alex and I swam and baked under the sun for a bit (albeit super kulit instructors who were bugging us to surf) then headed back to Circle to rest.

The next day, we met this interesting group of people comprised of seasoned surfers who -- we got lucky again -- were excellent cooks! This instantly solved our food problem, haha! This is Jenn who lovingly went to the wet market and cooked food for us every day -- thanks, Jenn, we are truly grateful. #feedingprogram

Day 1: Pork Sinigang and rice
Errole of Dalluyon Surf and Jenn
Clockwise: Alex, May, Vlad, Jenn, Errole, Rafa, Glenn, Me, Gera
Local kids Cyrus and Den-Den, cutie pies that we played with during downtime
Where to eat

Fortunate to have new friends who knew their way around Sabang Beach, we just had to take their word for it and walk around scouting for food in either small restaurant-type shacks, mom & pop stores, or hotels. I wasn't able to take a lot of photos since places were crowded, waiting time was 1-2 hours (!), but whatever you're craving for you'll definitely find along the long Sabang Baywalk. Here are a few snapshots: 

#KirAlex2015
May highly recommends this place where they serve creamy buco shakes in tropical flavors of pandan, ube, buco, and mango. Their shake is deliciously cream because their shaved ice is made of buco water, each shake is only Php 90 and is good for two. 


For local fare, head to Rolling Stores (about 7 minutes away via trike) for isaw, La Paz Batchoy, Chicken Inasal and the like. My meal of chicken adobo, isaw, rice was only less than Php 100.


Good news for milk tea fans: Moonleaf is everywhere in Baler! 


Charlie Does is famous for their Peanut Butter Coffee and Salted Caramel Coffee, expect Manila prices (about Php 120 and above) here. The establishment's full name is supposedly "Charlie Does Surf" and is based on Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, a war classic where parts of the film were shot in Baler. Charlie Does also sells surf merchandise, natural skin care products, and art at the café.


Another must-try in Sabang is the Choc-nut Turon Ice Cream at Bayler View. The crunchy texture of the warm lumpia-coated bananas complements the ice-cold and creamy vanilla ice cream sprinkled with crushed Choc-nut on top. Serves 2-3 people. 

Surfing

Sabang Beach is a 2-kilometer strip of grey sand, facing the Pacific Ocean it's known for frequently strong waves and is considered as the birthplace of surfing in the Philippines. If La Union is famous for their sunsets, then Baler is known for their gorgeous sunrise.

the beautiful sunrise taken at 5:20am
The great thing about being with seasoned surfers is you can make do without a surfing instructor and save more money. Renting a board is only Php 200 but you can haggle it down to Php 150. We chose to rent at Surfer Girls Lodge (you can rent Dalluyon surfboards here), everyone else took the regular boards while I stuck it out with the soft top (because I'm chicken like that -- I don't want to risk hitting myself with my own board and getting injured). I'll probably graduate from this in a few more sessions, when I'm ready.

Armed with the basics and prior surfing experience (naks!), Alex and I paddled out to deep water with Errol, May, Gera, and Jenn and listened closely to their pointers. We were taught to spot waves from afar, to paddle faster as the waves approached, and to pop-up in time. I was not in my best form as I kept wiping out and slipping off the board, but after several attempts, I was able to stand up and even do a cross-step (o-ha! LOL).


The waves were coming in sets much to Alex's delight. She can easily spot waves now and alert everyone (especially me, who's a little slow in steering). This was probably Alex's best performance yet as she was riding waves in succession. Unfortunately, I still looked like an overeager Chihuahua puppy in water when I paddle, haha.


Baler, you took my breath away

Oh Baler, I was not expecting to love you as much as I loved La Union but you're starting to grow on me. The beach was so conducive for sunbathing, the waters were warm and welcoming, and I favored the Circle branch here than La Union's by virtue of everything being so clean, spacious, and more organized. The only deterrent for me were the rough roads up the mountain, I would not attempt to bring a car here and will probably just board the Joy Bus from now on.


On the way back to Manila, there are vans that can accommodate 14 people for only Php 650 each. Last stop is Cubao but since it travels north-bound, I requested to be dropped off at the Trinoma MRT station for convenience. Book this if you're left with no options but be warned that the 6-hour ride is not smooth and will give you a headache. Alex and I were plagued with motion sickness and we had to take an Advil an hour after boarding.

So what's next? 


My next Baler trip is scheduled for end of this month, I'm crossing my fingers that everything goes well and all my client meetings finish on time so I can swim and surf again. Are you headed to Baler soon, too? Don't forget to drop by and say hi! :)

Contacts: 

Circle Hostel - 0917-5010235
Genesis Joy Bus - http://www.phbus.com/genesis-bus/
Vans to Manila - John Estemada 0935-4115217

7 Comments:

  1. I asked Glenn and he said their road home wasn't the one we took--their roads were paved and easy to drive. Nio said next time we can all ride his Innova and just hire a driver. Will calculate if that's cheaper cos per day pa bayad ng driver per day out of town and of course food pa niya. But the Innova can seat around 7 so pwedeng paghatian ang cost ❤

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  2. That's great! Let's all do that in August. Can't Baler on June because I'm headed to Batanes. Would love to surf with John and Nio. I think sila Errole will be hiring a driver for their trip next week, and I also know someone who can drive us. For Sagada his rate was P10k for 10 people :)

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  3. Hi, Heide! Thanks for dropping by the blog :) I think you should try surfing at least once, I'm pretty sure you'll enjoy it! Baler is perfect for newbies as the shoreline is so long, but LU wins because the locals are warmer (based on my experience) :)

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  4. I just got back from BALER! I completely forgot there was a Cirle hostel there! Super kaadik ng surfing pero wala na talagang waves this time of the year. Small and inconsistent pa. Di ko din gets how people spot "good waves" to ride. Super clueless ako hahaha pati sa part na you can actually haggle for the price of the boards... Can you also haggle sa surfing lessons? lol.

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  5. Ako I'm headed back this weekend naman, I checked the forecast and it says 2-3 feet which is pretty decent for newbies like us. I think the spotting of good waves come with experience, I can spot but I can't tell if they're ok for riding or not, but sometimes I get battered by them -- which is pretty much part and parcel of the surfing experience :)


    As for haggling, use your charms lang haha. We usually rent half a day and they give discounts :) Hope to run into you one of these days!

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  6. Will definitely try it. But his year, I've already made plans with friends to go to Splash Island and then to Tuguegarao. I am totally up for YOLO moments and surfing is on my list. Hopefully, I won't drown though because I'm not such a great swimmer, I only know dog paddle. Haha!

    Stay Wonderful Always,
    Heide
    Kintsugi of Life

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  7. Don't worry, there's lots of time to learn how to surf :)

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