Prior to Holy Week this year, I never imagined myself getting this fixated with Baler. I mean, I’m no surfer. I don’t think I’ll develop the coordination and balance for that activity anytime soon (LOL). Luckily, it took an out-of-whim trip for me to realize that it’s more than a surfing Mecca.
Located on the eastern tip of Central Luzon, Baler is ideally a six-hour drive from Manila. But because of the cataclysmic traffic situation and a few other short stopovers, our total travel time nearly doubled. We arrived in Aurora just before noon.
We chanced upon some stalls while zig-zagging through the municipality of Maria Aurora. Apart from the vast selection of woven products, Aurora seems to echo the Cordilleras’ inclination towards certain products. Most of the stores sell strawberry concoctions, multi-colored brooms, and – dare I say it – wooden penis sculptures. We ended up hauling assorted chips for the remainder of our journey.
After 10 nauseating hours on the road, we finally arrived. Locating our resort was a bit laborious thanks to the Holy Week crowds congesting the narrow streets. Nevertheless, the atmosphere felt quaint and relaxed. We checked in at the Amihan Aplayan Lodge a little past lunch. It’s the latest adjunct to the plethora of resorts lining Sabang Beach. Since the place is relatively new, there’s still a lot of room for improvement in terms of facilities (one building is still being constructed). At this stage, the inconveniences were noticeable but forgivable.
Come siesta hours, I took a hasty dip on the Philippine Sea, which is an extension of the Pacific. The tide was low, but that didn’t diminish the strength of the current. Now I know why surfers dig this place: the waves come crashing at every turn and with such debilitating force. It’s really not for the less-than-able swimmer. Needless to say, it was a physically-challenging lounging session.
Later that afternoon, I tagged along for a quick stroll at the town. The vicinity of the San Luis Obispo Parish Church, or simply known as the Baler Church, was packed with Lenten visitors and, curiously, honeybee vendors. Since it was a Maundy Thursday, we lingered in the area.
The church served as one the many backdrops in the transition from Spanish to American colonial rule. It was on that site where Filipino insurgents attacked a Spanish garrison of four officers and 50 men on June 27, 1898, eventually paving the way for the Philippine Revolution. The siege lasted until June 2, 1899 and sounded a final death knell for Spain’s three-century chokehold. Today, the church is a distant cry from its first nipa incarnation, which dates back to 1611.
Across the church is a sturdy hut known as the Doña Aurora House, the humble ancestral home of Doña Aurora Aragon-Quezon – from whom the province got its name. She was the wife of President Manuel L. Quezon and was first lady of the Commonwealth of the Philippines from 1935-1944. In 1949, Aurora the first lady passed away. 30 years after, Aurora the province was born. While the house went through heavy refurbishing over the past decades, it still retains its original nipa structure.
These days, the house functions as a mini-museum, which contains historical artwork and remnants, including Manuel Quezon’s presidential car.
Just a few blocks away from the church is the Quezon Memorial Park, which marks the birthplace of President Manuel L. Quezon. Just to show how peculiar our geographical naming conventions can get: Manuel’s birthplace is now the capital of the province named after his wife, which, in turn, used to be part of the province named after him. The sprawling compound houses a hard-to-miss statue of Manuel, as well as a replica of his childhood home. At the center is the impressive Museo de Baler, with its intricate facade of grimy bricks and elaborate metal artwork. Unfortunately, we arrived past visiting hours.
Evening came and dinner was decidedly unremarkable. Upon making it back to the hub, we were treated to Baler’s bustling nightlife. The Baler Monument, erected in 2011 to commemorate the town’s 400th anniversary, seemingly glowed under the moonlight. Meanwhile, the vicinity of the church began teeming with night stalls selling souvenirs, local products, and other oddities. Premature drowsiness soon caught up, reminding us of our 10-hour journey hours back. After spending the entire afternoon in town, we decided to call it a night.
NEXT: A sampler of Baler’s natural wonders