Lakbay Norte 8 | Baler without the Surf Board

Thrice in the past spread over a decade, I found myself in Baler always tugging a surf board. Despite failing to achieve consistent long rides over the waves, I recognized the cherished vibe reigning in this sea-side town. There is this inexplicable vibrant sub-culture that continue to attract an expanding list of friends and acquaintances of mine, into re-rooting themselves amongst the surfing community here.  

Celine Murillo stands on a boat in Baler

Many decades removed from the aftermath of the laborious shooting of “Apocalypse Now”, which gave birth to the country’s arguably first surfing location when the film crew left their surf boards behind, Baler has become synonymous to the sport of surfing. While the film’s menacing character Colonel Kilgore referred to the Viet Congs as “Charlie don’t surf”, in real-world Baler, everybody surfs.

Easily, one can conclude that one cannot enjoy Baler without surfing. That’s what I thought too. I can never be more wrong. Because on my fourth time in Baler as part of this year’s Lakbay Norte, I got to experience Baler sans a surfboard (almost) and had a wonderful time doing it.

Baler Heritage Walk

Before Francis Ford Coppola took his film’s Captain Willard into the soil of Baler to shoot scenes for his iconic Vietnam War film, Baler has been the setting of a real-life battle in what is known as the “Siege of Baler”. The standoff lasted 337 days after Filipino revolutionaries first surrounded and laid siege to Spanish troops holed up inside San Luis Obispo de Tolosa Church. It only culminated when Spain relinquished the Philippines to the United States in December 1898.

Baler Museum

Today, this church situated where the exact 17th century original church was built, serves as the town’s heritage centerpiece. A few paces outside and you can reach the Dona Aurora Aragon Quezon House. It was named after the former Philippine first lady and wife of President Manuel L. Quezon who was assassinated by rebels in 1949. Despite being a replica of the original house where the young Aurora Aragon grew up, it stores valuable and historic items such as old photographs and the couple’s book collection.

A few steps away is the Museo de Baler. Highlighted by a steel statue of Manuel L. Quezon in a sitting posture - said to be the only one in the Philippines, the museum houses more notable items such as: World War II newspaper clippings, old photographs, art works, archaeological finds and historical documents.

Wonderful Nature Rush

Various river tributaries ebbs from the lush Sierra Madre Mountains leading to the Pacific Ocean. This orderly process of nature gave birth to stunning cascades and quaint rivers perfect for nature lovers and solitude seeking travelers.

One such nature attraction is the 50-meter high Ditumabo Falls or otherwise called as “Mother Falls”. It requires a half hour hike over an easy trail knifing through the mountain parallel to the massive pipes of a hydraulic plant. The waterfalls’ wide basin surrounded by massive boulders is perfect for a refreshing dip – especially after a surfing session.

Following the highway towards the east shall lead you to the stunning rock formations of Lukso-lukso islets seen at the coast of Diguisit beach. The swell-chiseled tips of the rock formations also serves as wonderful foreground to the sunrise rising at the edge of the Pacific Ocean. Just behind one of the islet is a natural pool that appears during low-tide. Other places you can visit along the way are Diguisit Falls, Ermita Hill - where you can view the whole Sabang beach of Baler, and a century old Balete Tree.

Isolated Beach Coves

A number of sea voyage outfitters like Seasta Beach Resort and Lodging offers boat excursion further to the southeastern part of Baler, where numerous remote bays can be found. Picturesque panorama views of the Dimadimalangat Rock Formations and the Anyao Islets will serve as beautiful precursor to the almost secluded Discalarin Cove. Regale at the sight of the azure colored waters blending magnificently with the lush green peaks tipped with an old lighthouse and a weather station.  

On the northern east side from Baler, the distant coves of Dipaculao and Casiguran provides a more off-the-beaten path options for travelers desiring a more sheltered beach destination.

Thrilling Inflatable Rides

If you are missing the body movement generated by surfing and yearning of some tumble-down water splash action, then you shouldn’t miss the ocean-based activities offered by Buoyancy Water Sports. This company provides speedboat-towed inflatable rides starting from the chill Banana Boat, to the mildly wild UFO Couch - which can sit up to 8 people, and the thrilling Flying Fish.

Surf’s up, finally!

But of course, almost nobody leaves Baler without picking up a board. After our Lakbay Norte group's euphoric high from immersing at the many great outdoors gift of Baler settles down, the lure of the waves and the feeling of getting stoked still remains too hard to pass up. There is no better way to bookend one’s trip to Baler than riding the waves and to let Apocalypse’ Colonel Kilgore know that unlike the Charlies, “every Juan can surf”. 

Another must-do in Baler is to go on a food tour, but that's for another article.

This article was written after the author participated in the Lakbay Norte 8, a media tour organized by North PhilippinesVisitors Bureau (NPVB), a non-stock, non-profit organization spearheaded by the NLEX Corporation, builder and concessionaire of the North Luzon Expressway.All photos courtesy of Mac Dillera