Some locals in Aurora say that weather reports are not applicable to Baler. In the rainy season, while the rest of the country’s streets are being buffeted by strong winds and rains, it remains sunny in this Northern Luzon municipality. In pre-summer months, when most Filipinos would complain from scorching heat, typhoons are wreaking havoc on Baler’s coastal homes.
A trip to Baler early last year proved just how unpredictable it can be and how, despite itineraries and plans, nature has the last say. You either get lucky or you don’t.
We landed on Baler’s Sabang Beach – among the Philippines’ most coveted surf spots – just an hour before noon, following a six-hour drive through the rich northern countryside and Nueva Vizcaya’s mountainous terrain. I, along with husband-and-wife photo-video team Meg and Jane, were sent there to meet prospect hotels, take photos of their accommodations, and get a full experience of Baler’s scenery.
The sun hid behind dim clouds past Cabanatuan, making itself completely unknown. It was dark and windy as we checked in at Akkaw Hometel, with surfers enjoying the afternoon swell.
An hour later, as we indulged in Gerry Shan’s famous P200 buffet, things started to get wet.
The wind swooped in the eatery’s open expanses. Rainwater sputtered across tables and chairs. “Ah, it’s like this here in Baler. You’d have better luck for a good weather in August,” Akkaw manager, Karen, said when we got back. For the next two days, the pitter-patter of the rain would be our constant.
It was cold and damp elsewhere and our warm, snug beds felt too comfortable to get out of. We slept in between chasing work deadlines.
Occasionally, I stepped out to smoke, examining Sabang Beach three floors below. Filipinos have great preference for white beaches, and if one heads to Baler specifically for that, he will end up disappointed. The shoreline is no different from less-preferred gray beaches in the country like Matabungkay and Nasugbu.
Baler’s charm isn’t its sand, but the fact that even in gray weather, it stuns with its smorgasbord of attractions, both on land and off. There’s much to see a short tricycle ride away from Sabang Beach: there is a kid-friendly hill, a couple of waterfalls, and plenty of fascinating rock formations peeking out of the sea’s shallows. The ones in Diguisit – Aniao and Lusok-Lusok Islets- are the most famous. Carved by ages of pounding waves, rocks in these islets stand tall and mighty from out of the ocean, unfazed by Baler’s crazy temperament.
And then there’s the distinct appeal that only towns like Baler and its counterparts have.
As a surf town, Baler possesses a cool, laid-back, raised-middle-finger vibe. Art and freedom thrive well in this side of the hemisphere – a reminder that even in the dampest days, the heart triumphs. Whether you’re walking on the beach or sleeping in a hostel, you will find mermaids singing on walls as 2D men play the guitar. Here, straw hats and surfboards are hung as ornate pieces in homes and resorts. It’s this side of Baler that also makes it well-loved among the novelty-hungry.
It didn’t stop raining until nighttime. We forced ourselves out of bed and sought the warm goodness of grilled liempo in a nearby ihawan and The Circle Hostel’s homemade s’mores.
Hours seemed to drag on in repetitive motion: downpour, drizzle, momentary cease. More downpour, more drizzling, momentary cease. Rinse, repeat.
The next day proved to be friendlier. After breakfast, we headed to The Circle Hostel and North Shore to shoot more photos (which, by the way, the locals claimed as both being a “short, 5-minute walk from Akkaw”, but we ended up walking 30 minutes to North Shore alone. LOL.)
|S’mores so good|
Note to self: When locals tell you how many minutes/hours it takes to reach a destination, always multiply it by three.
As were road sections in other parts of Aurora, structures onward to the northern shore have been chipped off by a previous December typhoon. On our way to and from, light rainshower trickled down. Meg still can’t get the perfect blue sky he so desired. No clear skies, no sun, no “It’s a sunny holiday in Baler, so come book now!” photo to show to customers. This is our life as storytellers. We are always at the mercy of nature.
(But then, aren’t we all?)
By checkout time, we have resigned to the fact that we will never see Baler in a sunny state and that a revisit would probably be wiser.
We left at past four in the afternoon. Just as the car sped off, the skies began to open. Sunlight slivered through clouds and the horizon transformed into a beautiful cobalt blue. It was a sunny day again in Baler. People took out their surfboards and rode into the sunset.
“Can you believe this?” Meg said in disbelief. “Maybe we should stay an hour more to shoot?”
They were supposed to shoot a wedding early the next day. “We need to be back in Manila,” Jane replied. “Maybe some other time.”
All that traveling and rain-conquering only for the sun to bail on us and for us to end up with too few presentable photos. “We’re so unlucky,” said Meg.
We all heaved sighs. Work was done for the day.
Coconut trees, rice paddies, and the big swells became smaller as the sun-kissed mountains of Nueva Vizcaya drew closer in the horizon. There is not a trace of water as we made our way back home. Outside and beyond Baler, everything was a strong blue or verdant color. The roads were peaceful and quiet. The trees drooped and swayed as if humming, “It’s a beautiful day. Come out and play.”
I looked outside the window and thought, maybe we weren’t too unlucky. After all, how many people get to see this view at work?
How to get to and from Baler
- Via public transport
Genesis bus have several trips daily from the Cubao bus terminal. Travel time is around 6-7 hours and fare is P550. If you prefer a more comfortable, faster ride, book their Joybus. This non-stop bus service runs for only 5 hours and comes with snacks, blankets, pillows, and a bus stewardess that’s dedicated to serving your whims. (Tuhruy!)
View Baler bus schedules for Genesis and Joybus here. You can also reserve tickets in advance on that website.
If you are doing a Cabanatuan – Baler trip, simply board either a Baliwag Transit bus or a Victory Liner Bus from Manila going to Cabanatuan. From Cabanatuan, you can ride a Genesis bus or a van going to Baler.
From Baler going to Manila, there are hourly Baler-Manila trips until 3 pm at the Genesis bus terminal. You can also take a Baler- Cabanatuan, then Cabanatuan – Manila bus.
Where to stay
There are plenty of resorts along Sabang Beach. We stayed at Akkaw Hometel, which is located right on the beach. This 4-storey hometel features clean, well-furnished rooms with wall fan, air conditioning, LCD TV, toiletries, towels, cabinets, and en suite bathroom with hot and cold shower.
It’s a new outfit, built only in late 2015, so the facilities are still fresh and the AC is working great. Another thing I like about Akkaw is that it is conveniently located right where the beach action is but also near the road where you can easily hail a tricycle for a tour. There are shops and a sari-sari store nearby. It’s also very peaceful, and you get a good view of Sabang Beach and Diguisit from your veranda. There is no pool, but why opt for a pool when the beach is only 20 meters away?
There is a common area downstairs to play sungka or lounge around. There’s also a dining area, should you decide to get your breakfast from them (P75/ silog meal). As of last year, they weren’t serving meals yet except for breakfast (some snacks are available at the reception counter too). However, we had no trouble securing food since there are sari-sari stores, eateries, and restaurants within walking distance.
Discount tip: Akkaw Hometel offers discounted weekend and weekday rates if you get a voucher and book via The Deal Project website. Rate starts at P1,674 for 2 guests, including welcome drinks. Extra bed can be requested at no charge. Check in time is at 2 pm, and check out time is 12 noon.
Note: Rooms are non-smoking, but there are designated smoking areas in the compound.
Things to see
You can do a half-day tour (P500) or whole-day tricycle tour of Baler for P800 (8 am to 5 pm). Both are good for 3 people. The prices are standardized, so you are sure that you will not be ripped off (and you also can’t haggle your way out of it). Almost all, if not, all tricycles are accredited by the DOT to do tours.
Among the attractions in the tour are:
- Baler Church and Plaza
- Museo de Baler and Dona Aurora Aragon Quezon Ancestral House
- Century-old balete tree
- Mother Falls (Ditumabo Falls) – boasts a 140-feet cascade coming from the Sierra Madre Mountain Range
- Ermita Hill
- Dicasalarin Cove
- Lukso-lukso islets – Brgy. Zabali, Diguisit
- Aniao Islets – near Lukso-Lukso; features two distinct rock formations
- Diguisit Falls
- Cemento Beach – popular with surfers
If you are staying for long in Baler, you can also arrange a tricycle ride to Ampere Beach in Dipaculao for around P500/ tricycle.