More than a Surfer’s Haven, Baler is where one can Travel, Breathe and Dive

Many decades after the painstaking filming of "Apocalypse Now" gave rise to the country's perhaps first surfing destination when the film crew left their surf boards behind, the name Baler has become associated with surfing. While Colonel Kilgore in the film referred to the Viet Congs as "Charlie(s) (who) don't surf," in real-life Baler, everybody surfs.

Kara Basamayor
Sunny skies greeted us upon arrival in Baler's long beach

More than just a Surfing Paradise

However, as a surfing culture formed in the ensuing years, Baler increasingly became a destination of choice for individuals seeking a brief escape from the major metropolis. Surfers and other nature and adventure enthusiasts were subsequently joined by travelers who came with a variety of interests ranging from local cuisine, meditation, self-care, spirituality, and to some, a digital nomad stop. Soon after, the once exclusively surfing paradise was converted into a holistic utopia serving as melting pot of diverse curiosities.

Kate Alvarez
Yoga and Freediving essentials from DOT Region 3 and Aurora Tourism Office

Tapping on this expanding allure of Baler to travelers, the Department of Tourism Region III, organized a “Travel, Breathe and Dive” event to showcase a couple of activities that fit ideally in the town’s setting: Yoga and Freediving.   

Yoga and Meditation Sessions

When I signed up as a media participant for the event, I was most excited about the freediving classes since I had always wanted to experience this underwater sport. The other components of the program, which included various yoga practices, were just secondary highlights for me.

Kara Basamayor
Our first Yoga spot for the day

Yet, after only a few minutes of our first meditation practice, the activity we're performing immediately aroused my attention. I immediately felt a connection to the environment around me as we laid on our yoga mats stretched out on the lawn grounds of Baler Beach Club, overlooking the Pacific Ocean and beneath a canopy of trees and the blue afternoon sky.

Sound Bathing in Baler
Teacher Sound Bath as we call her, Kara sounds off her healing sound instruments she bought in Nepal

Under the guidance of our session teacher Kara Basamayor, we were asked to soak in sound waves created by various therapeutic sound instruments such as Tibetan singing bowls, chimes, gongs, percussion, spinning forks, and even Kara's soothing and harmonic voice.

Lorelee Sicat
Yoga and Freediving actually goes hand in hand since practicing stretches all your body parts which helps avoid cramping underwater

I realized I was wrong to dismiss the wellness part of the program. I was completely dazzled by the entire experience that lasted more than an hour. We concluded the practice with a breathing exercise and a tea meditation attracting positive energies.

Yoga in the Philippines
Baler's nature gifts allows Yogis to practice against gorgeous scenery for added Zen. 

The next couple of days saw us attending different Yoga classes covering Vinyasa, Hatha and even Beer Yoga with Yoga teachers Lorelee Sicat and Camille Ramos.

My Introduction to Freediving

I've been wanting to try freediving for the longest time. Since meeting Valerie Bautista at an event campaigning against the spread of fake news in 2017, I've wanted to give it a go. Valerie, the founder of Azul Freediving, encouraged me to join a freediving lesson a few times but couldn't fit my schedule with her teaching sessions. Fortunately, Azul Freediving was part of the collaboration with DOT Region 3 to map out freediving spots in Baler.

Valerie Bautista
100 meters ahead hides one of the budding freediving sites in Baler. We had our intro here

Together with her fellow instructors from different freediving schools from Batangas and Panglao, Bohol, the team identified a few promising dive sites — one of which served as location for us newbies’ introduction to freediving.

Kate Alvarez
One of the freediving participants about to emerge from the water

The next day, we traveled to Dipaculao beach, where we began with an hour-long lesson on the fundamentals of freediving. It was followed by actual pool practice, where I clocked 1 minute, and 48 seconds of breath hold on my second attempt. It was an excellent time for a beginner, according to my assigned instructor.

Kara Basamayor
Us newbies felt safe under the watchful eyes of our freediving instructors

We proceeded to the dive location after the pool session to finally attempt the techniques of entering the water from above. From there, we are to apply a normal swimming motion underwater for as long as we could hold our breath. Despite failing to stay underwater for more than 30-seconds owing to my inability to properly kick myself under the water, I got a taste of what it's like to overcome my fear of the wide ocean.

Pia Cortez
Seasoned Freediver and Influencer Pia Cortez weaves her way underwater

Crediting this new experience, I now see myself making plans to go on freediving trips soon.

Travel, Breathe and Dive

More yoga sessions are sandwiched between our freediving activities. This includes one session of gentle flow at Baler Fish Port where we were surrounded by the gleaming glitter of the turquoise seas against the bright sunlight. The whole four days were filled with yoga, meditation, sound baths, food trips, coffee hunting, free diving, and, of course, a little surfing.

Lorelee Sicat
Before we go to our next freediving spot, we had a Gentle Flow session at Baler Fish Port

Thanks to DOT Region 3 in collaboration with the Provincial Government of Aurora and LGU units Baler and Dipaculao, a new campaign is put to motion showcasing Aurora Province's untapped potential as an underwater and wellness attractions.

Lorelee Sicat
Our Gentle Flow yoga teacher Lorelee made our Baler experience more memorable with this fun Beer Yoga session

"The #TravelBreatheDive program of DOT Region III envisions the unique combination of dive and wellness to create a holistic, sustainable, and inclusive tourism product offering for Central Luzon." said Chriselle May Yambao, Supervising Tourism Officer at DOT Region III.

Say Tioco
Can't leave Baler without a bit of surfing

Yambao’s colleague Christian Ray Lingat also pointed out that the waves that helped Baler become a surfer’s haven are also responsible for the promise of other diving locations. "Strong waves generate underwater treasures including sea caves, tunnels, and fissures that serve as a marine refuge and a shelter for divers alike."

While the DOT Region 3 and the Baler LGU are currently ironing out the freediving locations in hopes of making them available to general visitors soon, the wellness tourism is now set to take off.

Kara Basamayor
With fellow participants of Baler's "Travel, Breathe and Dive" event

Echoing the town’s new tourism campaign, one can easily travel wide, breathe good vibes and dive into a wonderful community in Baler.

This article also appeared in the print pages and online version of BusinessMirror