Showing posts with label Baler. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Baler. Show all posts

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Aurora: Old Baler and the Quezon legacy

Baler and the Quezons - Pres. Manuel Quezon and Dona Aurora Aragon-Quezon - will always be synonymous with each other. The fact that they were both from Baler is very much evident. Aurora Province, for one, is named after the former first lady. Its mother province, the former Tayabas Province, was renamed in honor of President Quezon.

Aside from gearing itself to be an adventure tourism destination, Baler is poised to restore its historical heritage. As a sign of local pride, the Quezon and Aragon homes have been reconstructed and restored as well. A replica of the nipa hut where President Quezon was born now stands beside the Museo de Baler where a statue of the former president can also be found.

Only a few months ago, the reconstructed home of Dona Aurora Aragon-Quezon was completed. Beside it, the National Historical Institute has placed on display Quezon's presidential car.

I was told that there are plans to restore the Baler Church, a National Historical Landmark, bringing it back to its 1899 look, a reminder that it had been the site of the last stand of Spanish forces in the country. As the Siege of the Church of Baler marker mentions, a Spanish garrison of four officers and fifty men was besieged in the church by Filipino forces from June 27, 1898 to June 2, 1899. Check out a previous post on Baler heritage for more details.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Aurora: Surfing, kayaking, rappelling, mountain biking and more Aurora adventure activities

Rappelling down Digisit FallsAurora is poised to become a major adventure destination in the coming months. More than just the surfing in Baler, which is already very popular, the province of Aurora has even more activities to offer.

During our first day, we went rappelling at Ermita Hill courtesy of the Aurora Tourism Office. What's good about the rappelling activity is that you can contact them for whole-day or half-day rappelling set-ups anywhere in Baler and its environs. In fact, the Ermita Hill rope down turned out to be a preview of an even more exciting descent.

Before going back to Manila, we rappelled down Digisit Falls which is also in Baler. That was quite an adventure. In fact, it was more of a challenge climbing up than rappelling down. Again, I regret not bringing my trekking sandals since my shoes ended up dripping wet! But it was fun!

Kayaking in BalerAnother activity you might want to try in Aurora is kayaking. The river system is clean and the views picturesque which makes the ride all the more pleasant. The Aurora Adventure Center not only has kayaks for rent. You can opt for an adrenaline rush by jetskiing.

Take note that their core offering is scuba diving. Maybe it's the first time you've heard of diving in Aurora. But the Philippines' Pacific side, particularly Aurora, is fast becoming a popular dive destination, especially during the southwest monsoon.

Trekking to Ditumabo FallsAnd since it's located in the heart of the magnificent yet fragile Sierra Madre Mountains, the hiking and trekking possibilities are endless. We got to visit Ditumabo Falls which is an easy trek from the National Highway. But for those who want to take it to the next level, the lush forests of the Sierra Madre provide a refreshing backdrop to more challenging mountain trails.

In fact, the forest cover of Aurora is still at 78 percent (and I hope it remains that way) with a high concentration of plants and wildlife, and a lot of endemic species. So aside from hiking, nature lovers could go birdwatching or deer or wild boar tracking.

Surfing lessons in BalerOf course, when in Baler, make sure to take surfing lessons. Said to be the birthplace of surfing in the Philippines, Baler is a great place to learn surfing. You can easily arrange surfing lessons with your hotel or with the help of the tourism office.

But for the pros, Baler can offer more than just beginner waves. Which is why it's a popular destination even for foreign surfers.

Off-road driving is also becoming very popular. Traverse Aurora's rugged terrain and it's many off road trails which include Dibut, Dibutunan, Dicadi, Dikildit and Diteki. There's also mountain biking, caving and spelunking, rock climbing and orienteering. You can also go whale shark watching (it's closer to Metro Manila than Donsol, Sorsogon) or interacting with the sea cows. Also in the pipeline are white water tubing and a zip line. Indeed, Aurora is the next province to keep an eye on! One destination... endless adventure!

Aurora Tourism Office

Aurora Adventure Center

Part 1: Road trip to Baler and Ditumabo Falls in San Luis, Aurora

Related entries
Unspoiled nature in Aurora
More summer fun in Baler

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Aurora: Road trip to Baler and Ditumabo Falls in San Luis, Aurora

Aurora is a rough and wild adventure for now. While there are still several kilometers of rough unpaved road to get to this Pacific paradise, hopefully in the next two years, the roads will be fully-paved. But if you have a 4x4 or are fine with bus rides, then it's about time you pack your bags for Aurora!

Said to be the birthplace of surfing in the Philippines, Aurora is more than just surfing as we found out during our recent trip. But as soon as we arrived in Baler, we checked in at the Bahia de Baler 2 and dozed off for the rest of the morning. After some afternoon meetings, we went rappelling at Ermita Hill (I'll tell everyone more about the rappelling in Aurora in my next post) which was quite an activity.

The next day, we visited Ditumabo Falls in the town of San Luis. The jump-off point is right by the Ditumabo Bridge. The trekking time to the falls depends on how far your 4x4 can drive. If you're taking a jeep, you trek starts at the National Highway. Some vehicles can go as far as the first stream. We were able to go beyond the first stream and parked before reaching the second. From there, it's a 30 to 45-minute walk to the falls.

Make sure you were the proper hiking shoes. Trekking sandals would be best since there are several more river crossings before you actually get the the falls. There are also several smaller falls along the way. But the mother falls, which is another name they use for Ditumabo Falls, is nothing less than magnificent!

The water was really cold and very refreshing for a swim. I'm sure you could chill a can of beer or softdrinks there. Make sure to bring back your garbage with you and keep the waterfall area clean. You could also do our environment a great service by picking up any plastic wrapper you see along the way.

We had to rush back to Baler for a lunch meeting. But we first visited the centuries-old Balete Tree in Maria Aurora, one of the oldest trees in the entire country. You can climb up the tree both inside and out. Inside, the roots have created a hollow cavern all the way to the top. In fact, you can also rappel from there.

Related entries
Unspoiled nature in Aurora
More summer fun in Baler

Where to stay in Baler, Aurora
Bahia de Baler
Buton Street, Sitio Labasin
Brgy. Sabang, Baler
+63 916 7701980
+63 928 6875424

How to get to Baler, Aurora
Genesis Transport Bus is the only direct bus service to Baler from Metro Manila. Their terminal is along EDSA in Pasay City. You may call +632 5510842 or +632853-3115 for inquiries. Remember that their buses leave only in the morning. If you plan an afternoon trip you'll have to take a bus to Cabanatuan and hop on a van to Baler and vice versa. Last trip is between 4 to 6 p.m. so make sure you're at the terminal before 4 p.m.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Aurora: Learn to surf in Baler with two SEAIR tickets plus surfing lessons up for grabs!

You and a friend can fly to Baler, Aurora and go surfing with two SEAIR tickets up for grabs! Ivan About Town and the SEAIR Adventure Club is giving away round-trip tickets to Baler and free surfing lessons for two to one lucky person. All you have to do is leave a comment in Summer fun in Baler and tell us why surfing is fun and why Baler is such a great place by Sunday, 4 May 2008, at 8:00 p.m.

Like the previous raffle, make sure you place your full name in the name field since you will need a valid ID to claim the tickets if you win. The winner will be drawn at random and will be notified by e-mail so make sure you double check your e-mail address before submitting your comment. Finally, one entry per IP address so only the first entry from each IP address will be counted. Tickets will be valid from now until 15 October 2008. Good luck!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Top surfing areas in the Philippines

Unknown to many in the country, the Philippines has a long list of great surfing areas. Here are some of the more popular surfers' haunts where you could ride the waves or simply get lessons if you are a beginner. The Philippine Surfing Federation gave me the first eight and I added two more.

1. Siargao Island, Surigao del Norte (Cloud 9)
On top of the list is none other than the "Surfing Capital of the Philippines." The Cloud 9 wave can be found in the town of General Luna and has put the Philippines in the world surfing map. Other popular breaks in and around Siargao Island include Jacking Horse, Tuason Left, Rock Island, Stimpies and Pacifico. Check out the Sagana Resort website for detailed information. Thanks to Sagana Resort for the Siargao photos.

According to Sagana, the best months for surf in this area is from August up to the start of November when the area gets the most typhoon swells and the best winds. From May to July, the surf is generally smaller. From December to April the winds are often strong and cross shore. But they say that the swell is always pretty big and some surfers prefer this time of year.

2. Puraran Beach, Baras, Catanduanes (Majestics)
Puraran Bay in Baras, Catanduanes is home to the famous mighty Majestics reef break that produces awesome long-barrel waves. The waves are at their finest in August and September. The place itself is a picturesque backdrop of coconut trees and small hills. Although course, the white sand is clean and the water is crystal clear. But as they say, if you are a surfer, "Puraran equals Majestics period!"

3. Cemento Beach, Baler, Aurora
Most have heard about Sabang, a beach break 5 to 10 minutes away from the town proper where most of the tourism establishments are found. Cemento on the other hand is a reef break which is 30 minutes away from the town proper. But you can easily get lessons in Sabang Beach. Check out my Baler surf adventure: More summer fun in Aurora.

4. Calicoan Island, Guiuan, Eastern Samar
Calicoan Island is home to The Surf Camp. And the great news for surfers is that ABCD Beach has both left-hand and right-hand waves. The season runs from April to November, with the summer months perfect for beginners (with gentle 2 to 3 foot waves). Latter months offer bigger and more challenging waves.

5. Maira-Ira Beach, Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte
Few people know that way beyond the resorts of Pagudpud is a secret hideaway called Blue Lagoon, the best beach in that part of the country. Saud Beach may be great, but Maira-Ira is astounding! And what's great is that on a windy day, the beach is perfect for surfing!

6. San Juan, La Union
Home to the Billabong San Juan Surf School of Luke Landrigan, San Juan is a perfect place for longboarders. And it's very accessible too since you can take any bus to Ilocos and get off just a few meters from the San Fernando-San Juan boundary. This is another surfing haunt I got to try for myself.

7. Lanuza Bay, Surigao del Sur (Doot Poktoy)
According to the Surf Lanuza website, "Doot Poktoy is endowed with some of the best waves in the world. And when the waves are good, they can measure up to the world renowned waves of Siargao and Hawaii. Located on the southern edge of the Northwestern Pacific typhoon belt, the waves driven by the winds of the typhoons are unpredictable. If a strong typhoon passes close enough, surf can reach almost 15 feet, with 9, 11 or 14 waves per set and up to twice as many waves per hour as a long groundswell like affecting Indonesia and Hawaii.

The Surf Report Magazine describes Lanuza as "a place with a flawless river mouth. Its waves spin long perfect rights on a big swell at low tide. There is a hollow tube section at take-off and there are long section walls up to 200 meters."

8. Cabugao, Ilocos Sur (Kido's Point)
Kido's Point has been a popular site for surfing competitions in Ilocos Sur, attracting participants from surfing areas all over the country. The place got its name from Cabugao's local surfing hero Kido Cabasug.

9. San Narciso & San Antonio, Zambales
The Canoe Beach Resort in Pundaquit, San Antonio is where professional surfer Joseph "Joe" Villatora from Kauai, Hawai conducts his surfing lessons.

10. Bagasbas Beach, Daet, Camarines Norte
This is another great surfing area located on the Pacific coast of Luzon. When you're hungry, check out Alvino's Pizza, a popular surfers hangout.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Aurora: More summer fun in Baler

The waves were strong yesterday morning when we woke up. It was perfect for surfing! For breakfast, I ordered the Big Surf Special at the restaurant which was a choice of sausage, ham or hotdogs with hash browns, toasted bread and scrambled eggs. It came with coffee and juice as well. But I was expecting a bigger serving of meat though. Anyway, we left the hotel at 9 a.m. to go around Baler.

Our first stop was the Church of Baler, a national historical landmark, because it had been the site of the last stand of Spanish forces in the country. As the Siege of the Church of Baler marker mentions, a Spanish garrison of four officers and fifty men was besieged in the church by Filipino forces from June 27, 1898 to June 2, 1899. The had refused demands for surrender for nearly a year and only did so when an emissary of General Rios dropped a newspaper from Manila inside the court of the church to let them know that for many months the Spanish flag was no longer waving in Luzon except that of Baler Church. The fortitude of the garrison was praised by President Emilio Aguinaldo in a public document issued on June 20, 1899.

In front of the church stands the Aragon House, the birthplace of Doña Aurora Aragon Quezon, wife of President Manuel L. Quezon. It's not the bahay na bato type but the small wooden ones that you would expect from a remote fishing town. If travel is difficult today, imagine how it was then. I never knew that Doña Aurora and President Quezon were first cousins since their Molina mothers were sisters! Also don't forget that Aurora province was named in her honor which is why it's very important to preserve this house.

We then drove to the park a few meters away which was the birthplace of Quezon. Aside from an NHI marker and a statue, they had erected a replica of the nipa hut of the Quezon family. Also in the park was a museum but we didn't enter since we had to rush to San Luis, our next stop, to visit Kaunayan (Cunayan) Falls in Brgy. L. Pimentel.

Our original plan was to visit Ditumabo Falls but it was closed due to a government project which I hope maintains the beauty of the falls and its surroundings. Anyway, the trip from Baler to Kaunayan Falls was about 30 minutes. As we exited the national highway, it was rough road again but not that far. Since we had to pass through private property to get to the falls, there was a PHP20 "toll" collected close to the falls. At the falls, each person is charged a PHP10 entrance fee.

Kaunayan was not that high. But the clear water was so enticing for a swim. After exploring the streams around it, I decided to go for a dip. The water was cool, close to cold in fact, and perfect for the hot summer day. And the water wasn't deep so you could stand directly below the falls with ease. After a little over an hour, we decided to make our way back since we wanted to try out one last thing.

There are a few just a few popular surfing areas in Luzon. And Baler is one of them! So we tried out surfing. We had arranged for an instructor to give us lessons at 7 a.m. but he didn't show up which was a pity since it was already low tide by the time we got back. But despite the fact that the waves weren't strong, we still asked the tourism staff to arrange tutorials for us even just for an hour so we could give it a try. The rate was PHP300 per hour inclusive of board rentals. They have daily rates too which would be cheaper if you planned to learn surfing the whole day.

Well, it wasn't easy. Balancing on the board was quite difficult at first. And given that we only had an hour, we didn't get to stand. The waves also didn't have enough force to push the board up. But it was still fun! And we plan to come back for longer tutorials.

We had to rush since our plan was to depart Baler by 2 p.m. So after freshening up, we had lunch again at Bay's Inn, which was pizza and breaded garlic chicken this time. We took a different route back to Manila, the one via Pantabangan which was suggested to us since the buses pass by there. But we felt that the road we took the other day was a bit better. Ever since the typhoon which damaged newly-concreted parts of the Bongabon route, the government had stopped concreting that road and focused on this other route. So maybe in a few more months, the drive via the Pantabagan would be a bit faster and more comfortable since the road was wider. But for now, it was longer!

From Baler, we passed through Maria Aurora which is the only Aurora municipality without a coastline. We passed through a lot of rice fields. But the longer drive was as we went up and down the Sierra Madre mountains, again on rough road. On this side, the mountains seemed higher and it was refreshing looking at the picturesque views of lush forests. But this route had more signs of human habitation than the other one and if measures are not undertaken to protect the forests in this area, we might lose it in the next few years. It was sad looking at patches of mountains charred by "slash and burn" farmers. In fact, some parts were still smoking. If the DENR is really doing its job, it should educate these people and implement the law by prosecuting violators since this practice is rampant all over the country.

At the provincial boundary, we were greeted by a lake which seemed to be created by a dam. We actually thought this was part of the Pantabangan Dam but Pantabangan was still far away. The next town after Maria Aurora was Alfonso Castañeda which is already part of Nueva Vizcaya. We wanted to make it to Pantabangan before sundown so that we could check out the Pantabangan Dam. And we got there just in time to take photos of the picturesque lake created by the dam. By the time we exited the dam area, the sun was gone.

We had a late dinner in Cabanatuan City and arrived in Manila at 11 p.m. More photos in Multiply.

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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