Archive for baler

beyond the waves

Posted in artifacts, culture, events, health, history, locales, nature, news, people, technology, tradition, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 15, 2011 by mijodo

 (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 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.


dude, where’s my (surf)board?!

Posted in artifacts, history, lifestyle, locales, nature, people, sports, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 29, 2009 by mijodo

de los santos family readies for the waves 

Well Dude, it might just be floating around at the beaches of Baler, Aurora.

Baler afterall is the Filipino surfers’ sacred ground. This is where the surfing action in the Philippines all started. If you are a movie trivia buff, you would know this was where some scenes of the graphic anti-war movie, Apocalypse Now of Francis Ford Coppola were taken in 1975. And apparently some people at the movie set had brought along their surfing boards and tested the waters of the Baler Bay which opens to the rest of the Pacific Ocean. After Coppola had packed up, the members of his team just left the boards to the appreciative local youths. Of course, the kids  just started to rock the waves since then.

From Genesis Bus terminal at Cubao, Quezon City, it is a grueling 8 hour bus ride that traverses northern provinces of Bulacan, Tarlac, Nueva Ecija then goes a little bit more up north to Nueva Vizcaya and finally ends up at the eastern province of Aurora. In this travel, much of the roads are concreted and paved, but it is upon reaching Nueva Ecija’s Pantabangan area and Nueva Vizcaya where roads are rough and turns are tight. So just before reaching the destination, you are all shaken and stirred up. The sceneries which are undeniably beautiful and lyrical make up for the tiring bus ride. Definitely, you need to leave the driving to those who know very well the roads. And one more tip from experienced passengers: try to avoid the last trip of the day since if anything untoward  happens, no rescuing bus from the same company would pick you up.

Upon reaching Baler, just hire a trike to take you to Sabang Beach, popular to most surfers. There you are greeted by the sound of the Pacific Ocean’s roaring waves, expressing its power and ferocity. The robust incessant undulation of water can intimidate first time goers even during the relatively calm months of March and April when waves can only go as high as two feet. In other months, waves can get a lot bigger which would be more ideal for experienced surfers.

The shore at Sabang may not have the preferred pristine white sands, and may not have the commercial establishments which create panache to many tourists. Still you come to Baler primarily for the tides and waves which provide character to its beaches.

There are plenty of room accommodations in the area, particularly along Sabang Beach. Hometels are around 600 pesos per night with electric fans to cool you. But if you want to splurge, then Bahia Hotel is the right one for you. Airconditioning, cable television and even a terrace in this hotel will provide you all your urban needs in a resort setting.  Most popular to the backpacking surfers is Bay’s Inn where you can still get cheap rates. Yet you need to make reservations ahead for rooming during summer months, particularly during holy week as there can be a serious shortage when people come in droves. You may want to settle though in other hotels which do not have frontage of the bay, perhaps near the Kapitolyo, still in Baler.

Summer months would be the perfect time to learn the sport of surfing as the waves are smaller. In fact one young Englishman, Alex, fell in love with the place and has stayed in Baler after learning how to surf two summers ago. There are cool schools which are actually shacks, offering one-on-one tutorials to those eager to paddle through the waves, and hopefully would be able to balance themselves successfully in their surfing boards back to the shore. Groups of young college people and yuppies start to get their basic knowledge from men as young as 18 at a rate of P300 per hour inclusive of the surf board rent.  But of course if you have a relative for teacher, then it is for free. Joseph de los Santos, a professional lifeguard at Sabang Beach and a father to three daughters, had an early morning breakfast right at the beach to start teaching his kids and even his wife how to surf. “Gusto nila talaga matuto (they really want to learn),” he proudly explains.

But not all young people from Baler know how to surf. “There is not much of a pressure for everyone to learn,” Henry, a lifeguard too, mentions in a huddle with other surfers at their tower. Yet it is in Baler where there is the biggest surfing community in the Philippines. There are about a hundred people who can surf in this area alone. Probably, not only because it has an older history in terms of surfing but because Baler has a longer shoreline compared to other surfing areas in the country.

Qualified surfers in Baler are many times invited to other surfing areas in the Philippines to participate in heavily sponsored competitions where the top prize is as much as P50,000.00.  Just like other professional athletes, many surfers have their own corporations and companies funding them and providing surfing suits and accessories just to promote their brands. In a way, there is considerable amount of money and prestige that one can get when one goes seriously into this sport.

 And in Baler, it is at Cemento, near the fishing port where professionals compete and play, particularly during the Aurora Surfing Cup. From September to February when the Amihan wind patterns are consistent, waves at Cemento are spectacular enough for the adventurous kind to conquer. There, waves are what you usually get to see in magazines and movies. But of course there are other surfing spots, each with its own surfing qualities such as Lindy’s Point and Charlie’s Point which name has remained after it had been called as such in a major action sequence from the movie Apocalypse Now.

One basic and prime tip for those surfing is that the leash of the board should always be attached to the leg when in the sea. The leash is the lifeline for survival. Without attaching the leash to the leg, life is in danger and the scenario can be fatal as the current can bring you to dangerous places.

So Dude, I presume you forgot to attach the leash to your leg, and lost your surfboard somewhere because of the strong wave. And you are one lucky guy to survive it. 

“Yes, thanks for the info. But I think I have a bigger problem – Dude, where’s my boardshort?”