I spent my last few hours in Baler exploring a fragment of film history. This was where portions of Francis Ford Coppola‘s Apocalypse Now (1979) were filmed. And while majority of the film’s sequences were shot in Pagsanjan, it was in this very town where they did this iconic scene with Robert Duvall:
Production was marred by several delays: The set was ravaged by a typhoon, Martin Sheen suffered a heart attack, and Marlon Brando‘s eccentric behavior drove Coppola nuts, just to cite a few unfortunate incidents. Fortunately, the film did go on racking up several accolades, including Oscars for Cinematography and Sound Editing. More importantly, it’s now considered as one of the quintessential Vietnam War movies. But for the then-untapped town of Baler, Apocalypse Now‘s legacy transcends the realm of cinema.
According to popular belief, it was the Lt. Kilgore sequences that ignited local interest in surfing. The crew left behind the surfboards used in the scene, leaving the locals to use them to their hearts’ content. The filming spot – specifically, where the Aguang River timidly crosses paths with the Philippine Sea – eventually adopted its name from the film. These days, Charlie’s Point is already considered one of Baler’s most popular and most challenging surf spots.
The spot is approximately a 45-minute walk from where we stayed in Sabang. The stroll wasn’t exactly smooth. The pavements soon reached dead-ends and the tides rose rapidly. I was left with no recourse but to walk on the thick sand amidst the crashing waves. I didn’t reach the exact spot. But walking in that barangay – with its damaged roads, isolated bridges, thick coconut forests, and murky surrounding waters – did evoke the feel of being in a war-torn wilderness, as seen in the film.
All that was missing was the smell of napalm.