I got to the Genesis Terminal at 1:00am with no Joy Bus reservation (what's new) but we still managed to snag a Deluxe one that was leaving at 1:30am. This is the 2nd time this has happened and I swear, sometimes I feel like the surfing gods are too kind (thank you!). We always seem to have perfect timing and encounter accommodating people.
This time we checked in at Kahea's Lodge which had a beachfront view. Bonus: I could get a good glimpse of the ocean every morning (wave check!), I didn't have to walk too far while carrying the board, and the splashes of the waves lulled us to sleep every night. I'll spare you the mishaps and I'll cut to the chase, here are some of the things you can do in Baler:
Finally I had the opportunity to bike around town and visit some tourist spots. I haven't biked in decades and impressively once I got on, all the reflexes kicked in. It's true: just like driving or roller-blading, you never forget how to ride a bike.
VISIT HISTORIC SPOTS
First stop is Museo de Baler, entrance here is Php 30/pax and this includes entry to the Dona Aurora House which is just across the park. The beautiful cold cast that covers the façade was created by sculptor Toym Imao, son of National Artist for the Visual Arts Abdulmari Imao.
Newly installed pieces called "Portraits of Solitude" painted by local artist Sherwin Paul Gonzales are displayed on the second floor. These portraits depict the survivors and participants of the Siege of Baler.
Take a quick ice cream break after, there's a sorbetero outside who sells "dirty ice cream" (aka homemade ice cream) for Php 15-20.
Across the museum is Dona Aurora Aragon-Quezon's ancestral house. Wife to President Manuel L. Quezon, the house is grand and although it has been restored, great care was made to ensure that the overall "bahay kubo" look was maintained. Look at the gorgeous hardwood walls and nipa (Palmer's grass) roof.
The Presidential car was also kept in mint condition:
In front of the municipal hall is the Church of Baler. Originally constructed in 1611, the church is dedicated to San Luis Obispo de Tolosa and is known as the site of the Siege of Baler, which took place from 1898-1899 shortly following the end of the Spanish colonization of the Philippines (source).
TREK TO DITUMABO FALLS
The province of Aurora is so rich you'll never run out of things to do and places to explore. In Bgy. Ditumabo, town of of San Luis, there is what the locals call the Mother Falls which is the largest falls in the province. We've been advised that the tricycle ride is 45 minutes, and the trekking itself could take 30 minutes (depending on how fast you can walk uphill, cross over rocks, boulders, and brooks, etc.). We were accompanied by 2 locals Torio and Armon, and let me tell you that the whole trip was a total body workout!
You can get by with flip flops but in hindsight, I think trekking sandals would have fared better. I almost slipped on the way back, thank God I was able to hold on to the makeshift handrail made of rope.
The falls is about 1.3km from the hydroelectric plant, the weather was cool but we were still sweating nonstop. Us city folk need more exercise, I reckon.
This is the "baby falls" and after a couple of meters, I present to you the "mother", haha:
Gera dove right in, but I did it the slow way (dipped a foot first before plunging) because the water was icy cold!
Another spot that's slowly gaining popularity is the Hanging Bridge in Bgy. Zabali. We were not allowed to cross since it's under preventive maintenance.
Of course, you have to try surfing at least once when in Baler! Let me just get this out of the way: the waves that weekend were P-E-R-F-E-C-T. They were 2-3 feet high and they gave enough push for me to ride them. I initially used the Kahea's boards which were so heavy, and then moved on to the Dalluyon boards which were more streamlined and lighter on the third day. I was able to ride the waves with both, so that in itself was pretty awesome.
In my last post, I mentioned that Rafa and Glenn noticed that I get taranta when a big wave is coming, so I wanted to resolve that this time: I focused on paddling and looked forward while waiting for the wave. And it worked! So I am forever grateful to the two of them for their guidance. The locals also gave some pointers and mentioned that my paddling (though still weak) is now faster. So, yay!
TRY NEW FOOD PLACES
What's great about Baler is that you have a lot of choices when it comes to food. Whether you're craving for grilled liempo, paco salad, buffet, or restaurant-type places, Baler will always have something for you. You can check my previous post for a more thorough list of food places, and let me add 2 more that I highly recommend next time you come visit.
Everyone has been telling me to try this one out, and it's so funny it's so near Kahea's but I never got around to visiting the last time. So this time, I made sure that it was first on our list. Luntian offers freshly grilled food, service is a little slow since we had to wait 15 minutes for our food, but the clincher is: you have to eat with your hands!
Press Start Cafe
Probably one of the more elusive cafes, it's situated along a small alley near Kahea's. I accidentally just passed this place while walking to Uhuru, took a quick look at the menu and saw that they served pasta! This was during dinnertime and I was already craving for Manila food (i.e. something that isn't grilled). So I made a mental note and visited the next day.
I ordered freshly brewed coffee and requested an iced version and the staff gladly obliged.
The Chicken Malunggay Pesto (Php 190) was so good! Everything you see on this plate is handmade by the owners of Press Start Cafe or grown locally in Baler.
Another treat: Gera introduced me to Kuya Mako, a pro surfer featured in Archipelago, the first ever Filipino surfing film. He is also part-owner of Press Start Cafe and he was nice enough to join us for an early dinner. Admittedly I am still a newbie in the world of surfing and I am amazed whenever I meet these icons, well, I actually admire anyone who's surfed longer than me. It was truly a pleasure to have met you, Kuya Mako!
Sidenote: Yes, I know I am dark. Kids, please listen to your parents when they tell you to wear sunblock. To make the long story short, on the first day we were too excited (for our own good) to surf, that we went out to sea without a smidgen of sunscreen. In Gera's defense (because it was she who dragged me out of bed at 8am to surf), it rained and so she thought it was going to be gloomy for a while. But what happened was, we paddled out then once we got to the lineup, the clouds parted and here came the sun. Uh-oh. By this time we were too pre-occupied with catching waves that we never bothered to go back to shore and apply sunscreen. Never will this happen again -- I am literally, toast.
Before you head home, pass by the Pasalubong Center which is just beside the Genesis bus terminal. Baler is known for their creamy peanut butter and coco jam (about Php 130 and above) so stock up on those before you leave, your friends and family will definitely appreciate them.
Another funny story that Gera insisted I add to this post:
While on the way home aboard the Joy Bus, I woke up around 3pm and couldn't feel my flip flops. Now normally I wear sandals so they're attached to my feet all the time, but I got lazy and didn't change footwear. Well, the funny thing was because the ride back to Manila was not smooth, my flip flops scattered inside the bus (I was being dramatic about it and said, "Lahat na lang iniiwan ako, pati tsinelas ko") and I had to pester the [female] conductor to look for them. How in the world can I use the toilet in the bus without flip flops?! I was not about to walk barefoot on the bus.
Anyway, I eventually found them naman but I had to wait for all the passengers to disembark and I had to use my phone flashlight to locate them. Hay so hassle and so funny! Next time I'll wear sneakers.
So there you have it! There are more spots and activities in Baler that I hope to cover on my next visit :)
For more Baler adventures, visit http://bit.ly/BalerChronicles.