Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Aurora: Unspoiled nature in Aurora

No amount of rough road discouraged us from visiting Baler. We left Manila at about 2 a.m. today for the long trip to Aurora, one of the Luzon provinces which form part of our Pacific coastline. Access to that side of Luzon is quite difficult due to a lot of natural obstacles such as the Sierra Madre mountains.

The only time other time I got to see the Pacific side of Luzon was during a jeepney trip from Tiwi, Albay to Sagnay, Camarines Sur in the Caramoan Peninsula of Bicol. I didn't get to swim though; just savored the view.

At 5 a.m., we arrived in Cabanatuan where we had a quick breakfast. From there we made a right towards Bongabon. We passed by Palayan City, the capital of Nueva Ecija. I wonder how this can be considered a city since it was mostly rural! But it was among six cities whose creations were specifically planned. And like Trece Martires City in Cavite, it was carved out of existing municipalities in 1965 to serve as the new capital of the province.

We entered Bongabon, and from a distance, the Sierra Madre beckoned as the sun rose from behind them. We finally made it to the foothills driving up a zigzag road. But after just a few meters on the mountain road, the paved part ended and we were faced with a seemingly endless stretch of rough road, about 45 kilometers of it if I remember it right. To add to our anxiety, we completely forgot to gas up in Cabanatuan and we had just one-fourth of the tank left for the over 60 kilometers to San Luis, Aurora. On the way, we were already thinking of what to do just in case we ran out of gas. But to make the long story short, we made it to Baler.

This is why I wasn't able to take a lot of photos during what should have been a scenic drive across the Sierra Madre mountains. The forests were green and lush and there seemed to be no signs of human habitation as far as the eyes could see save for a few houses scattered along the way. Right before leaving the territorial jurisdiction of Bongabon, I was surprised to see an NHI marker in the middle of nowhere and realized later that it was the site where Aurora Aragon Quezon and her companions were ambushed and killed by renegade members of the Hukbalahap in 1949.

After we got gas, we went straight to Bay's Inn in Sabang Beach where we booked air-conditioned twin-sharing rooms at PHP750 a night and PHP100 for an extra bed. And it was good we booked since it was full despite the fact it was a week day. Our plan was to go straight to a beach about an hour away by pump boat. But then it started to rain so we decided to have lunch first and wait for the rain to stop. All of our meals during the trip were at Bay's Inn. As I waited for the carbonara I ordered, the group noticed several locals hauling a rope which turned out to be a fishnet. There was a unique rhythm to this activity as they walked backwards in small synchronized steps.

Anyway, it did stop raining after lunch and we were off. The Baler Fishing Port is about nine kilometers from the poblacion. From there, we took a 45-minute pump boat to Dikasalarin Cove. We spent PHP1000 for the boat. On the way, we were afforded stunning views of wave-battered rock formations and islets, lush forests and majestic cliffs that formed the spectacular Baler coastline. From the boat, we saw Digisit Falls as we passed by and the PAGASA Relay Station high up on a hill.

Then it greeted us. The entrance to Dikasalarin Cove was stunning. The beach was nearly deserted since there were just a few residents. We were the only visitors, and the white sand beach was all ours for the afternoon.

I just stayed in the water the whole time. The Aurora Tourism Office brought Lemuel and his classmates to a small cave in the next cove but I was too lazy to walk and decided to stay in the beach.

At 4 p.m., we made our way back to the town proper. By the time we arrived in Baler Bay, Sabang Beach was teeming with surfers since the high tide brought in stronger waves. We realized that we hadn't had any sleep yet so after freshening up, we had an early dinner and went straight to bed.

Before dinner, Joseph Gonzales of Batang Baler went to Bay's Inn to meet up with me. More photos in Multiply.
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