In Aurora, a coastal province east of Luzon island that is roughly seven hours away from Manila, everything is beautiful where the sun rises.
Growing up a city guy, it always feels exciting going to a place that boasts natural wonders, and Baler and its nearby towns are surely a tick off the bucket list.
When in Baler, the province’s capital, one must not miss the sun rise from the hills (I guess those include the Ermita Hill). Make sure to secure a spot at the beach to witness this breathtaking spectacle. The strong blow of the easterly winds, the rough sound of the waves, the vast Philippine Sea right before your eyes can surely refresh and energize you to get ready for a wonderful and fun-filled date with nature.
A faw walks away from the beach can be found Dialyn’s Bakeshop, perhaps the most popular bakeshop in Baler.Among the bread varieties the bakeshop offers are tuna bread and buttered egg bread; perhaps the most popular bread here is the one with cream and almonds on top, but unfortunately they were not available as the bakeshop is still about to buy supply of almonds from Manila. One may no longer wonder why this bakeshop is popular as their bread is so fluffy yet made with such craft you can already feel full by just looking at and smelling them. By the way, this bakeshop supplies bread for a luxury resort in Baler.
30 minutes onboard a tricycle from Baler can be found a private park in Maria Aurora town that features a tree so big that around 40 people can hug the entire trunk. Called the “Millennium Tree,” it is estimated to be around 600 years old. We were told that being airborne, the balete branches just spread, crept at the branches of the original tree (too bad we did not ask what it was) and grew up to this scale so monumental.
One gets amazed by entering the tree and wondering how the balete roots grew so big yet gave space enough for humans. No worries, no need to excuse yourselves from mythical creatures like dwarves, fairies and horse-headed humans.
The tree might have also been a silent witness to some episodes of Philippine history. Locals said that with such height, military forces onboard planes could easily identify Aurora by looking for this tree during the war. And yes, time passed so long but this tree was spared from bombs, storms, anything that can destroy it.
The tree can also be climbed, but up to 3 meters only for safety reasons.
Another neighboring town of Baler, San Luis, takes great pride in what locals call the “Mother Falls,” locally known as Ditumabo Falls. A 30-minute trek going to the falls will be paid off as soon as you reach it. Better be ready to get wet; do not underestimate the power of water drops coming from the falls, as the splash of water from the mountains down the pool is so strong, hehe. Sulitin mo na, never ever miss even taking a dip at the really cool water of the Ditumabo Falls.
Not only does the Mother Falls give wonder and refreshment to tourists. Water coming from the falls is used to generate electricity supplied to the whole town.
Is there such a thing as “Father Falls” or “Baby Falls?” Go ask your tour guide. ;)
Of all things, guess what we did not do in Baler? The activity that made the provincial capital so famous: surf, surf, surf, surf, surf, SURF. Too bad I did not get the chance to feel the thrill of surfing (even though I do not know how to swim which is I think a prerequisite for surfing), but that is a good reason to come back. :) Also, am not fond of beaches because saltwater is not my thing, so am contented by dipping my feet on the sea.
Baler also saw the dawn of the town’s significance in Philippine history.
Nearly 300 years ago, tidal waves swept and almost erased this coastal town. However, only seven families were able to climb up what is currently called Ermita Hill and seek refuge there. (Until now, the place can be used for evacuation in events of tsunamis or storm surges.) From Ermita Hill, one can marvel at the blend of natural and urban features that Baler now possesses.
Also, a blog I read told that from the the seven families sprung the prominent families of Baler, and perhaps of Aurora, as one of them still holds a seat in the Senate… Guess who.
Baler also served as both cradle and haven of two of its most prominent, and perhaps most well-loved, children: Manuel Luis Quezon, the first president of the Philippine Commonwealth, and his wife Aurora Aragon, said to be the Baler’s prettiest lass at the time to which the province was later named.
While Baler has seen thousands of sunrises, the Spanish colonial power saw its sun set here in this town over a hundred years ago. Over fifty Spanish officers refused to back down when Filipino insurgents sieged Baler Church, the only spot where the Spanish flag was still waving when the rest of the country had been lost to Hispanic crown. Their courage amid such loss was later rewarded by the Spanish monarchy.
Aurora offers more than this blog post served. Go see the beauty of Aurora, where everything is definitely beautiful and where the sun always rises.
Now, here are tips to ensure a wonderful experience in Aurora:
1. Plan a week-long stay in Aurora. Two or three days of stay will never be enough because most of the time is allotted for only travel.
2. Prepare at least P6,000 for the Aurora stay, which will include budget for ‘pasalubong.’ (This is based on experience; I almost ran short.) To give you an idea, the cheapest aircon room can cost as much as P1,000 per night; rental of surfboards cost P200 an hour, while surfing lessons cost P300; you might pay up to P800 for a rent of tricycle which will tour you to Baler’s tourist spots; payment for the tour guide at Ditumabo Falls costs P200; food, especially seafood, can cost as much as P200 per serving; entrance fee for both Museo de Baler and Aurora Quezon house is P30; and so on and so forth…
3. Look for a budget-friendly lodge right away. Some lodges offer fan rooms for P500 a night, which is perfect if you want to detach yourself from the stress of the city and feel the cold wind from the beach instead of the aircon. When you have found one, make sure to demand for receipts or at least sign in the lodge’s log book when paying.
4. The last morning trip to Baler offered by buses in Cubao, Quezon City is as early as 4 am, while the next trip will be late afternoon. If you do not want to wake up early or stay up the whole night for the trip, ride a bus bound for Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija which is 4 hours away from the bus terminal. Upon arrival at the city’s terminal, ride another bus bound for Baler, which is over three hours and thirty minutes.
5. If you are not sure about your itinerary, make arrangements with Baler’s local tourism office. It offers tourist tricycle services, which costs P800 per tricycle for the entire trip no matter how long you will stay in Baler. You can rely on them, as aside from providing information about Baler’s tourist spots, they will be held accountable if ever (I hope not) something happens during the trip.
6. Make sure to visit the Ditumabo Falls first, as it would eat up your time. A tricycle trip will take up to thirty minutes while trekking towards the falls will take another thirty minutes. Combine them, then double the time (going to Ditumabo Falls and going back to Baler), the trip will take two hours. Also, exercise utmost care at all times as the rocks are both slippery and have rough surfaces, and make sure to bring first-aid kit.
7. Food is really great in Baler, but make sure to ask for the price first, if you do not want to get the biggest surprise of your life when you ask for the bill!
8. Go talk to the locals! You will gain a lot. :)