beyond the waves

 (Author’s Note:  I wrote this article and took the accompanying pictures, for a certain publication about two years ago. And about a week ago, somehow I decided that this article about Aurora  Province where a tsunami had taken place in the 18th century would be posted for this blog around this week. Uncannily, in Japan, last Friday, a major earthquake and a tsunami happened. Subsequently on the same Friday, another tsunami, although relatively small, affected Aurora Province) 

“I am going to Aurora,” I stated.

 “Ah, in Quezon,” almost everyone chorused.

“No, it is Aurora Province,” I said emphatically.

 Apparently Aurora has not been a part of Quezon for some decades now. But no one seems to know about this important factoid except perhaps people from Quezon and Aurora provinces. Quezon province is named in honor of President Manuel Quezon, the second president of the Philippine Republic who was born though in Baler in 1878. While Aurora province is named after the wife of President Quezon, the former Aurora Aragon who was born in Baler too in 1888. And during the Spanish period Quezon and Aurora provinces constituted the whole province of Tayabas.  In 1946, it was President Roxas, the fifth President who had renamed Tayabas into Quezon  Province and it was the legislative branch, Batasan Pambansa which approved the independence of Aurora from Quezon in 1979.

 Aurora Province has eight municipalities – Casiguran, Dilasag, Dinalungan, Dingalan, Dipaculao, Maria Aurora, San Luis and Baler. Maria Aurora is the only non-coastal town of the province which is largely bordered by the Philippine Sea at the east. And the town is named after the only daughter of President and Mrs. Quezon. Baler is the capital of Aurora, and is most famous for its beaches having large waves, terrific for surfing (Read https://letsgopinas.wordpress.com/2009/09/29/dude-wheres-my-surfboard/). But definitely there is more to this town other than the huge water undulations.

 Museo and the Garrison Church. First stop should be the relatively new Museo de Baler, a repository of the artifacts and work of art, significant to the town of Baler and its people. Here one can readily see a short history and important moments of its town through the bronze mural sculpture by National Aritst Abdulmari Imao at the museum’s façade. Outside at its rotunda, there is a steel statue of President Quezon, sitting relaxly, yet still assuming an elegant posture, welcoming the patrons and guests of the museum. Outside too at one of the pocket gardens, there is a nip hut supposedly a replica of where Mrs. Quezon was born. At its steps toward the main door, a facsimile of a cannon during the Spanish era is carefully placed.

 Inside the airconditioned museum are mementos from the rich cultural heritage of Baler’s past decades. There are santos and religious articles, and a picture of its seeming old church. There was a number of swords displayed, showcasing the artillery during the Spanish period. At a corner are antique pieces of churchbells which are important to the history of Baler as they were used to warn people of impending bad weather and even possibly – calamities.  

 Just several streets away, one can find the austere architecture of the Baler Church. It is simple looking, with post Spanish period motif. Apparently there had been an old church, made out of coral stones in the same place where the present church is. It was smallish, compared perhaps to other antiquated churches during that era, but just the same it was a symbol of the Spanish supremacy in Baler. That former church structure had been solid witness to a striking historical drama that started in July, 1898 and finally ended in June, 1899.  

 During this time the 300 year Spanish regime was already about to close by surrendering the Philippine Islands to the Americans. Apparently there had been a breakdown in communicating the news about the Spanish Government withdrawing its troops and authority over the Philippines to the political stewards and military authorities in Baler thus the soldiers and cleric decided not to abandon their hold of Baler and held fort in its church. Filipinos and even Americans had tried to persuade and convince those who were holed up in the building to abandon their cause and surrender. But the Spanish military fought it out for eleven months. And in the end many of those unwilling to give up had died either of diseases or by gunfire. This historical narration is identified as the Siege of Baler.

And recently there has been a Filipino movie produced, inspired by this account, aptly titled as “Baler.” Although the movie set of the film was mostly done elsewhere, the producers of the film have donated props and replicas used during the making of the movie to Baler Province. These are the cannon, swords, and a picture of the reproduction of the old church of Baler. Some of these are now displayed in Museo de Baler.

 To the Hill. Baler, together with the whole of Aurora, is a typhoon stricken area as the storms and tropical cyclones originate from the eastern section of the Philippines, most specially from the Pacific Ocean. Many times this part of the country will be the first ones to experience such howlers.

But there are other misfortunes that Baler has experienced through the centuries – and these are tsunami waves. Apparently there was a huge tsunami in 1735 devastating much of Baler, then known as Kinagunasan. Only seven families survived. It is told that these families ran up the Ermita Hill and escaped the floods. Among those who luckily had gotten out of the lowlands on time was the Angara family which lineage produced political luminaries such as Aurora Governor Bella Angara Castillo and Senator Edgardo J. Angara, and their father Juan Angara, three-time mayor of Baler.

Sadly, there was a recent one too – in 1970. And the waves along its coastline created extensive damage and deaths to the province as well. And the marker at Sabang Beach memorializes the event. In that same marker, Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) warns that another occurrence of this disaster can just happen. Possibly, but not hopefully, the churchbells of Baler Church will ring again to warn its residents to flee their residential homes and run toward Ermita Hill.

Today, Ermita Hill is used as a vantage point for a panoramic view of the expanse of Baler Bay and the Philippine Sea. One can trek on foot or use a tricycle toward its viewing decks to appreciate the coastlines and be entranced with the moving tides of the ocean.

In the area, there are spanking new structures that the local government has built. With red bricks as main construction finish, similarly used in Museo de Baler, a platform stage is created as a focal point for the open-air arena. Now Ermita Hill can be a site for performances and large gatherings. At the back of the stage, a mini-zoo is being completed, with monkeys and sea eagle as initial collection.

The Indigenous and the Natural Setting. Baler is home to two groups of indigenous people – the Dumagats and Ilongots. The Dumagats are sea-farers while the Ilongots are head-hunters. Both tribes have been scarce to the streets of Baler as they have hied off to the remote outskirts, mostly in the mountains of Sierra Madre. Many of their indigenous colorful art and artifacts are being exhibited at Museo de Baler. And when there are festivals and fiestas in Baler, the Dumagats graciously attend, and even showcase their cultural dance to an appreciative audience.

Once in Aurora, you cannot run out of places to go to and not get mesmerized with its natural setting offering. In Baler, aside from the waves of Sabang Beach and Cemento, one can travel to Digisit at Barangay Zabali, just several kilometers away from Cemento, and be enthralled with large boulder rock and coral formations sitting on shallow waters of the beach. It is a dramatic seascape where considerably large waves are broken by these protective barriers. In some parts of the shoreline, sea shells  and pebbles delicately scatter around. In other portions, dark smooth stones with sharp edges abound, making the place menacing and foreboding.

But of course, this fearful sensation dissipates as you drink a couple of cold bottles of beer in one of the shacks being rented out. Some of these charming huts are just positioned to have a good view of the waves crashing into the stones.

Necessities. For food, Gerry Shan Restaurant at the main thoroughfare of Quezon Avenue is just the  place to be in – good food, ample servings, easy on the budget. As you check out the menu, there is a wide array of Filipino and Chinese entrees in this amiable place. Try their garlic chicken with buttered vegetables and mango shake – all for only 100 pesos. Of course another alternative is Bay’s Inn restobar at Sabang Beach, right in front of those surfing waters. Just stone’s throw away, there is Corrie’s for some baked goods.  Sample its carrot cake; it is moist and chewy. There is even wi-fi for those lugging their laptops.

Just in case, you are  low in cash, there are two ATM machines – at Development Bank of the Philippines and Land Bank right across the Kapitolyo.

So if you are not fit, not qualified or just not interested to surf at Sabang Beach, there is still much more to Baler,  Aurora and its waves. By the way, remember that Aurora is not in Quezon.

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