Sunday, April 08, 2007

Revisiting Baler. Go East!

Revisiting Baler. Has Baler changed after 1998 and Yoyong/Reming in 2004?

What's has become of Baler after the 2004 typhoon cut it off from the rest of Luzon. Has it lost its appeal? Has the already inaccessible become more inaccessible? Two ways to get there, the original road via Bongabon at the slope of Sierra Madre (121 kms from Cabanatuan junction in about 4 hours) and the Canili-Pantabangan-Rizal Road that cuts through the Sierra Madre at the upper North (about 101 km in less than 4 hours). The Bongabon route is challenging to both the truck and the driver. The Canili gorge that must drop to over a thousand feet from the dam wall is awesome.

With strong cold winds and incessant wave sounds, it is like still Christmas on Holy Thursday in Sabang and Cemento. The Pacific Ocean sets up the playround for board surfing even during summer. These conditions in spite of the long and slowm bumpy and jumpy land travel has made Baler a destination to thrill seeking adventurers.

Pagasa is now manned by the team of Arthur, Jun and Elvie with an upgraded land tracking radar. Solar cells provide power supply to the low wattage equipment like computers and monitors but a generator runs the critical device, the tracking radar. Personnel rely more on cell phone technology which has taken over their exclusive band frequencies to secure data from national and international offices. Like the predecessor Mang Amado, they are gregarious even to unexpected visitors like us. The scenery from the radar roof deck gives one a panoramic landscape of the Eastern edge of the Philippines. Arthur recounts how magnificently the sunrise showed up at the Pagasa station at the turn on the millennium 31 December 1999 to the delight of the international sunray watchers.

Aurora is linked via cell and the internet. 1998 Go East article is posted at the website. Surfing now means board surfing and internet surfing whereas before linkage to Baler was only via Pagasa, the military and government offices. The residents narrate that Baler was the last bastion of the 1899 Filipino-Spanish war for the simple reason that the forty soldiers and 4 officers did not know the war has ended. End of war was announced January 1899. Report reached Baler on 2 June 1899, 6 months after the declaration.

A concrete fish port has been constructed. It serves as a central exchange for boat riding fishermen, a landmark doubling as a province' point of interest. At the edge you see the bay from another vantage point.

Sabang is the center of action late afternoon, centro the venue for devotion and contrition. On late afternoons during the Holy Week, two live actions are happening simultaneous within striking distance-the exhibition of surfers at the bay and the pagaspas and procession at the Centro. Their proximity allows the reluctant penitent and vacationer to cover both.

There is no tag price to nature. Bay Inn, our casually appointed clubhouse is a backpackers' paradise. Bay Inn personnel are service oriented, the food and facilities satisfying. The variety of food offered at superior value and courteous service makes keeps you coming back for the next meal. The staffs' handy info on the province' various points of interest makes even a transient feel that he has not left home.

There is an abundance of pristine natural resources in great magnitude. While rich in history, Baler to the uninitiated is an imagery of kilometers of coastline, hectares of tropical forests, series of mountain ranges, water falls and natural spring water, century old trees and high and forceful waves.

The Baler Boy is still helpful and accommodating. Everyone you meet gives the right direction to any destination. No one puts a value to their goods and services. At Mang Emilio De La Torres' resort in Barangay Pingit, we only paid for the price of a fast food value meal for camping and for the use of the entire facilities.

What makes one keep coming back to Baler? It remains to be the destination for recluse that offers courtesy and hospitality, basic and affordable amenities and power-packed action in a natural setting.

Thank you Baler.

8 April 2007

Surf and Trek in Baler Aurora
-Chito Razon

You’ve explored Sagada after reading Mabuhay Magazine. Set foot on the highest land in Luzon Mt. Pulag mainly out of curiosity seeing several backpackers in Session Road every Christmas. Snorkeled in Busuanga Palawan because your friends in adventure clubs rave about the corrals. Hiked the rugged terrain of Sabtang, Batanes enticed by the photo feature in Action Asia. Suspended time in Laoag and freed it in Pagudpud.

And you thought you’ve seen enough of Luzon?

Not until you visit Baler, Aurora, 6 ½ hours via 4WD from Manila or 7 1/2 hours by public.

The very minute you move out of Cabanatuan and Palayan cities, you know you are setting foot into something new and different. Especially when you zigzag through Sierra Madre at an elevation of 600 M ASL.

You know you’ve exited Nueva Ecija and entered the Province of Aurora when the bald mountain scenery turns fully forested and green. (Who cut all the trees of Nueva Ecija? Who fought hard to preserve the forests of Aurora?)

You are midway between Cabanatuan and Baler when you reach the stopover at the Aurora Memorial National Park base. There is a DENR office serving as the gateway to the national park. (The staff says a guide and a permit are required to proceed to the peak. The officer in the office if he is around issues the permit. Otherwise, you’ll have to secure it in Baler.)

You are nearing Baler when the rugged bumpy ride shifts to a smooth and fast glide, elevation drops to 45 M ASL and instead of riding on the mountain ridge, there is a mountain wall facing you.

Unlike in Real, Quezon after traversing Sierra Madre, there is window opening to the Pacific Ocean visible from the highway. In Baler, you arrive at the Central Terminal asking in disbelief “Is this it?” No view, no sea, no open space?

Centro just serves as your gateway to the real wonder beyond the town and replenishment for necessities. Townfolks are friendly and helpful, you’ll feel immediately at home even if you’re a stranger. Everyone is more than willing to give leads-the tricycle driver, tindera, policeman, the grocery owner of Moreno’s grocery, the student you’re sharing the top load with and especially so the village folks. Bia sells for P 20.0 per kilo (8 pieces), meat at P 80.0.

A 5-minute tricycle ride leads you to Sabang, the East edge of the island. Sabang is the site of the 1st Aurora Surfing Cup held last February 1998 sponsored by an international adventure magazine Action Asia. This is the place to surf, stay, dine, dance and get drunk. Waves run up to 6 meters high intermittently making it ideal for the sport.

Move further South and you’re in a lost world of Cemento. You no longer think Luzon when you’re here. Trek for 2 hours in a rugged road with the sight and sound of the Pacific Ocean at your left and a steep 600-meter slope of dense forest at your right. So thick and so full is the forest that in the entire 2-hour trek, there is no way to trek up except through the erosion. To scale to the top you don’t hike, you rock climb.

Every moment of the trek is an ideal stopover. Who wouldn’t stop for the 3 to 6 meter high waves, coves, clean and windy air, the open sea, rock formations and sandy shores and on the other side, the mountain wall, waterfalls, "flowing" mineral water?

Every mountaineer knows there is more to see at the top. The last 45 minutes brought us to the PAGASA radar station. Location at 150 M ASL gave us a vista from an elevated plain-a paradise like cove at the right almost uninhabited. Incessantly, we were refreshed with the flow of wind fresh from the ocean that is free from contaminants and pollutants and showered with pure distilled rainwater. Viewing sunrise from the edge, it was as if we were the first to see light in the entire Philippine Island.

While we were at the remote, isolated island outdoors, indoors, we had access to a laboratory. Mang Amado of the Atmospheric Servicing Administration welcomed us as visitors. With an impending Typhoon Loleng coming, we observed in a manner of hours how to track a storm, read barometric changes, measure rainfall, temperature, wind velocity and trace wind directions. Reporting to the national office for everyone else to know completed the cycle.

We woke up early Sunday morning aware that Loleng was no longer stationary and veering towards the Visayas, a first hand info assuring us we can safely go back home.

Before leaving Baler, we imposed upon ourselves that we must at least surf at Baler Bay in Sabang and eat lunch at Bay Inn. Surfing and trekking in Baler in a day and a half, we asked ourselves, “Were we really in Luzon?”

For sure, it’s a place where we want to come back and stay longer. Catch it before the unspoilt, almost pristine, natural and unpretentious" wonder with minimum of man-made amenities as described by modern chronicler Amadis Ma. Guerrero goes the way of the Infanta and Real Quezon, progressing and commercializing.

Surfing and trekking Baler Aurora with CBR and the Solidtrekkers Mitch Soria, Bernard Cruz, Jay Garino, Glenn Ong, Rose Salundaguit 17-18 October 1998. 22 Oct 1998
-revisit with Jonnell and Marc April 2007

1 comment:

  1. Baler 10 years after. In April 2007 I wrote, "What makes one keep on coming back to Baler? It remains to be the destination for recluse that offers courtesy and hospitality, basic and affordable amenities and power-packed action in a natural setting." This May 2017, the natural landscape is still there but the skyline has changed. Arrive early so you can get a parking space. Sleep early so you won't be disturbed by the amplified karaoke singing. It is the price to pay for accessibility, internet access and good roads.