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.


  1. breath taking view!.... so beautiful... thanks for posting such beautiful scenery-- now i miss so much going back to pinas....
    hope you won't mind it but i added your blog in my link..and again congratulations! you deserved it!


  2. Thanks for the tag. May part 2 ba ito? :-)

  3. Anonymous22.4.07

    Hey Ivan, Happy I found your home in cyberspace and not too old to discover new internet phrases like dumb me, " dahhh what's a blog?" Now I know and will slowly read through all of your travel bogs. We share a love for budget travel and a love for the Philippines. I have added you to my website, Explore Philippines at; http://asiabill.pages.web.com on my Surfing and Filipino Links webpages. You're a adept writer so when you have the time I'd appreciate any feedback how to improve my website. Link Exchange?? it's up to you, Bill

  4. Hi Dom Lawrence, thanks for dropping by again.

    Yes Joseph, part II will be up in a while.

    Hi Bill, thanks for dropping by. Checked out your website. Just a correction... the crucifixions are in San Fernando and not in Guagua which is two towns away.

  5. I knew you wouldn't stay home!
    Too bad we didn't meet up in Masbate. Next time na lang! :-)

  6. Hi Sidney, this trip was a surprise to me as well. Masbate is still on my wish list. Looking forward to seeing your rodeo pics. :)

  7. Anonymous28.4.07

    I've been to Aurora a couple of times, and while up to now I'm so moved by the awesome scenery, I'm also worried by the fact that behind all those scenes... a chainsaw is hard at work. Aurora is a potential ecological disaster waiting to occur because beyond Baler is rampant, rampant logging, both illegal and "legal", wherein commercial loggers circumvent existing laws to denude entire mountains--in collaboration with conniving local politicians.

    Something has to be done about this...

  8. Anonymous28.4.07

    Oh, you missed something, Ivan, in your Aurora trip. There's actually a really rare local form of architecture with very, very, very few specimens left that's perhaps the only one of its kind remaining. In fact, you wouldn't notice it because the old structures remaining are incorporated with newer additions. I think even Toti Villalon and other conservationist don't know much about it, but it was pointed out to me by a true-blue Baler native.

    In the stony beaches up north there were primitive houses built entirely of shoreline stones that recalled the Gaulish stone domiciles made up of slabs of stones, of course on a smaller scale. They were almost half-submerged in the encompassing stone mounds of the coastline. We searched for one, but residents there couldn't recall any. Then it dawned on our group that the folks weren't really happy about it because it reminded them of a backward past. But traces remain in many places, such as stone foundations of wood houses and neatly-layered stone fences. I think the nearest relative would be the Ivatan Batanes houses.

    But right before we left, I finally spotted one house, and it really looked distinct. It was built using smooth round stones and had a small opening for a door, but with modern details like corrugated roofing. It almost looked like part of a hillock of stones because it was set against it.

    This thing should be documented before it goes the way of other kinds of native architecture that nowadays hardly exist.

  9. Wow, I never knew that Aurora had a lot too offer! I'll definitely try to go up there one of these days. Thanks for the heads up Ivan!


  10. Anonymous29.4.07

    [...] Ivan Henares of Ivan About Town, which recently won the 2007 Philippine Blog Awards for Best Travel Blog visited Baler with his friends last week. [...]

  11. Hi Benj, Aurora indeed has a lot to offer. And to think that was just an overnight trip. If you really want to see the best of nature without man's intrusions, you could go up north to Casiguran or journey to Quezon by land and sea via Dingalan.

  12. Anonymous25.6.07

    wow kewl...been there also last april sa bays inn din ako check in...sana nakita nio ung mga falls and the beach na white sand talaga it is around dipaculao about 2hrs drive from baler aurora

  13. Anonymous5.4.08

    Remember me Mr. Henares? Yung taong nagrereklamo sa naganap na banggan noong Biyernes Santo? Yung anonymous sa first post. Well, pareho lang tayo ng tanong. Paano naging city ang Palayan City? I am a native of Pampanga but my parents are from Nueva Ecija in Cabanatuan City. Nice to meet you again here anyway. Hope na magkita tayo next year sa Maleldo 2009. By the way, baka nakita mo ako, ako yung matabang tao na naka-pink na t-shirt na naka-salamin na teenager. thanks.

  14. Palayan City was a city from the minute it was carved out of older towns and created, just like Tagaytay, Trece Martires and Quezon City. Like Trece Martires, it was created to become capital of the province, But unlike the other cities, it never became urban.


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