In January, we got an invitation from Jards to a surfing trip in Baler. We gave a quick yes. It’s a vacation! Not a lot of people offer to arrange one for us. Also, we thought it could be a good time to catch up with our old teammates and friends. So we marked the date, filed a leave, and waited for the day.

The Day Before the Trip

February 18. We decided to work from home. Apart from our lack of sleep, we figured it would be more convenient if we do so knowing that we’d be traveling more than a hundred and fifty miles in the evening in pre-holiday traffic. Around six in the evening, we’re still in front of our laptop sorting out an issue with a third party javascript. (Yes, that’s web development jargon for you.) We were also feeling quite sick in the stomach and ready to throw up anytime. Nevertheless, come seven o’clock we took note of the things we need to get back to after our vacation, grabbed our traveling bag and left home. We also dropped by an ATM and bought some meds before finally boarding the bus to Manila.

At 21:45, we reached Makati. We were more than an hour ahead of call time for the traffic was surprisingly light. Shops were closing so we decided to take a late dinner of siopao and a hotdog on stick in an open Family Mart. We wanted to enjoy it. We did not. Our tummy felt weird the whole time. Our friends started coming a while later. At 23:45 just before we sprout wings and consider flying to Baler on our own, our van finally started moving.

The Night Ride

We sat behind the driver. We didn’t want to put our bag at the back of the van and we thought we could use the extra space. It was a long ride but we slept lightly. We had our bag occupying the space for our legs and so we couldn’t slouch. A couple of minutes in our sleep and we would feel that we were leaning way too forward into the driver’s seat and we had to settle back to ours. Leaning on the glass window was not an option unless we wanted some serious headache. We forgot to check if we could recline our seat. So much for comfort right?

The ride was not as long compared to our Ilocos and Calaguas trip but was still literally a pain in the ass. We appreciated the stops primarily for the moment to stretch our legs and walk a bit. And also to buy refreshments and additional snacks. For somebody experiencing tummy issues, we were eating like crazy.

Day 1

Millenium Tree at Maria Aurora

DSCF1350We reached the first location in our itinerary at about a quarter before seven in the morning the following day, the Millenium Tree at Maria Aurora. Maria Aurora is a municipality that comes before Baler which is the home of the 600-year old, over 200-feet tall Balete tree known as the Millenium Tree.

It was freezing when we stepped out of the van and for a moment we regretted wearing just a tank top under our hoodie. We were expecting summer weather but we were greeted by a cold and wet morning. No one else was in the place aside from our group and the tree was standing there quite in solitude surrounded by rotting foliage. We didn’t find it particularly majestic or overwhelming. What we felt was appreciable homeliness which is most probably because we grew up in a place surrounded by farms and countless trees; the things we missed when we moved to a place closer to the city.

With the slightest prodding we started climbing the tree. We never really climbed a tree before but we felt safe. There were plenty of roots to grab on and we believe that years of evolution did nothing to erase our ape skills. In a couple of minutes, we got to the highest platform of thick roots. We realized that despite the lack of sleep and aching back it was a beautiful morning after all. We took some pictures before we climbed down and left for Baler.

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Diguisit Beach

Our next stop was Diguisit beach which is a popular surf spot in the area. There was no one there when we came though which just emphasizes how early it had been. The tide was pretty high but it didn’t hide the beauty of the place from us. The islets protruding from the clear waters and the light brown sand resembling brown sugar was simply breathtaking. For a beach just beside the road, we couldn’t help but wonder how it managed to stay that beautiful.

We walked to the nearest islet accessible by walking and viewed the sea from there. It was like a setting from some well-funded film. We thought we should take more photos so we walked further into the next big rock watching our every step. Wearing a hoodie, short chinos, and a pair of sneakers, we were so not ready for a quick bath. It was a good thing that we have a pretty good sense of balance. We probably got it from our sixteen cats.

Ermita Hill

Just a very quick ride from Diguisit beach on the other side of the road is the entrance to Ermita Hill. According to local stories, this is where the Angara family took refuge when a tsunami hit the town of Baler and wiped out everything from properties to nearly the whole town population. When the water subsided, the Angaras then became the owner of the whole town. The hill was then turned into some kind of picnic spot. We dismissed the whole story as some poorly written fiction but we played around with some conspiracy theories as to why they were the only ones that survived. Did they throw a party for everyone to get them busy and not notice the coming tidal wave? Was there even a recognized town before the big wave?

Walking around the place we figured it now barely functions as a picnic place. Everything had a tinge of mud brown from the paved walking path to the wooden canopies to the walls of what must have been some sort of activity center. Clearly, the place is way past its glorious days and is now just like an item in an exhibit for tourists to look at.

Baler Town Proper

Baler looks like your typical Filipino town with the square at the center together with the church and local government buildings. Around it are a number of commercial establishments owned by locals which mostly offer food and souvenirs. We had our breakfast in one of those establishments, a carinderia near the square. At P50 you’d get a full meal and maybe even your salt fix. Add P15 more and you can have a soda. We found out it was also Aurora Day (February 19) and we witnessed a parade before heading to Pacific Waves Inn, our accommodation.

Just like the night before. We came a little too early and had to wait until our agreed check-in time. We used it to catch some sleep we desperately needed in the van while our friends chatted at the tables in front of the rooms as if the 6-hour long travel didn’t tire them at all. By lunch time we were so ready for bed we didn’t even have the energy to curse at the restaurant which made us wait an hour for our food. They could have served us pasta that may pass as good only we didn’t ask for any of it; they didn’t even have pasta in the menu. The food just tasted like spaghetti and carbonara sauce. It was a waste of money and precious sleeping time.

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When we got back to our room, we quickly took a bath, changed into clean clothes, ask our friends to bring the key with them if they were going out, and walked in dreamland even before we knew it. We woke up several hours later for a grilled seafood dinner at Yolly’s Ihaw-Ihaw and Seafood.

Day 2

Surfing Lesson at Mahdox

On our second day, we had a quick breakfast of longsilog and coffee and hit the beach for our surfing lesson. We didn’t want to go surfing at first. It was freezing and raining a bit we thought if we don’t drown we’d probably die of hypothermia. But we were reassured that it was not going to be cold once we start riding the waves [which sounds a bit presumptuous for us] so we found ourself signing on the waiver an hour later.

There were only three positions to remember and we couldn’t help but wonder if we were missing some vital detail in the trainer’s instructions. We did not. On our third attempt we found our inner ballerina and was able to stand. At that point we understood why our friends liked it despite being beginners. It was fun. Were we afraid to fall off the board? Nope. We’d have to get over the fact that we can’t swim first before we get there. Did we think we can actually stand on the board? Yes. Even without our balancing skills, we got an hour to try. Were they right about not feeling cold in the water? Kind of.

It’s just too bad that we weren’t able to get a photo with our instructor Ryan. He was good. If he wasn’t then at least he did a great job making us feel comfortable. Before the last wave we rode, he let us paddle to the waves on our own. A minute passed and we heard him screaming that we were getting a little too far. We thought we could get off the board and wade our way back to the shore. We were so wrong. We suddenly found ourself grabbing the board for our dear life. “Can you swim Sir?” he asked while swimming to us. “Nope,” we answered. We laughed at it and he helped me back to the board.

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Mike giving it a try on his own.

Ditumabo Mother Falls

After our surfing lesson, we prepped for a trip to the Ditumabo falls. After a lunch of grilled seafood from last night’s place of dinner, we paid a tricycle P200 to get us to the place. It was quite a long ride offering a view of rice paddies, coconut fields, and occasionally, cows crossing the road. Coming from the town proper at the main road, we turned left and followed the narrow and bumpy dirt road. Several minutes later, we arrived at a clearing with huts and a small store marking the opening of the hiking trail to Ditumabo falls.

It took us about 30 – 45 minutes to get to the falls. Getting one’s feet wet is unavoidable so a good pair of slippers, sandals, or open hiking shoes is advisable. Other than that and the strong river current that can rob one of their slippers, there was nothing much to worry about as the trail is pretty much easy and can be walked by children.

The river supplies drinking water to the nearby communities so it cannot really be considered virgin. The cleanliness however is remarkable which earns the volunteers maintaining the place our praise. The water was chest deep and ice cold when we got there and wading through it to get a good shot was a challenge. We managed to get near the falls nevertheless. We had to make our every shot quick though as the spray from the falling water was fogging our camera’s lens really fast. We had one of those cameras made for outdoor activities that is shockproof, freeze-proof, dustproof, and waterproof. They should invent one that has a spray-proof lens soon.

Brgy. Zabali Hanging Bridge

We thought we couldn’t make it to the bridge before dark as it was already quite late in the afternoon when we left Ditumabo falls. It was a good thing that our driver encouraged us to still go for it. Crossing it shouldn’t take long after all.

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It was by far the longest hanging, swaying bridge we crossed. It was not as thrilling as we thought it would be but it was still a great experience. It was fun watching the water below while the bridge sways with the wind and one gets shaken for every step their friends take while walking the bridge. Other people might find the experience more appalling than appealing but it’s definitely our kind of fun activity. We are sometimes either crazy-fearless or just plain dumb.

It was getting dark and the bridge was swaying. Getting a steady shot was a challenge.
It was getting dark and the bridge was swaying. Getting a steady shot was a challenge.

After the long day, we had a good bath, ate dinner at Yellow Fin Bar and Grill [which was by far the coolest restaurant we visited there despite the music being rather too loud], and took a well-deserved sleep.

Day 3

Morning

At the morning of the third day after breakfast, we spent some time walking along the shore partly for recreation and partly in search for our girlfriend who went surfing for the second time. The weather was way friendlier than the day before and the beach was filled with tourists swimming and/or learning to surf. It was an appreciable sight although we are not sure if we could have enjoyed our surfing lesson surrounded by that many people. After maybe an hour or so, we finally found our significant human. Her training session was just about to end. We took some quick shots, went back to our room and prepared to leave.

Going Home

On our last meal in Baler, we were convinced we’ll turn into a fish if we eat seafood once more. It was a good thing that the guys decided to go for Gerry Shan’s Place this time for the buffet. We were never good at buffets. By that we mean we don’t get to eat a lot as we become overwhelmed by the sight of too many food. We appreciated the menu nonetheless and went for the papaitan which we don’t get to eat often. P199 for a decent buffet? Not bad.

After walking around once more and a few more photos of the town, we decided it was time to go home. We dropped by a souvenir shop, grabbed some shirts for my sisters and parents and a key chain to add to my growing collection tokens from places I visited, and traveled a long way home.

The Tourists

And if you think we forgot about Meet 12++ while typing this, here are our buddies for the trip.

There were ten of us.

The Old Members of the List

The Newcomers

4Joan – Joan is a couple of years our senior but just started in mobile applications development at the same time with JL in 2011. She took up Geodetic Engineering in UP Diliman and was among the top students in the GE board exams. She was part of the Android sub-team and was among the developers of the mobile application called Binhi which won Best Farmer InfoTechnology App in the hackathon organized by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in 2012. She is simply adventurous and has always been one of the most insightful members of the team. She also enjoys listening to The Morning Rush, a radio show in RX 93.1. She currently works as an Android application developer in multinational IT firm in Makati.

6Jarder – A native of Bacolod, his name was actually pronounced har-der. This can be attributed to the Spanish influence in the Filipino language. The team has always called him Jarder or Jards though. A part of it can be blamed to that Maroon 5 song Moves Like Jagger. We met him in our first job. After spending some time doing mainframe projects, he stated his intentions to join the mobile team and our manager brought him in. He had been a part of the team as both an Android applications developer and the all-around user interface designer. He left the company after rendering three years just like us and is now moving to a third one like JL. He has an ear and a skill for music, an eye for the aesthetically valuable, and a drive for some cool sports. He’s the closest to getting a life among us.

7Kim – Kim is Jarder’s girlfriend who helped him in setting up the trip. Like Jarder, we met her in our first job. She was part of the Talent Management team which delivered all the fun stuff and useful information to employees. Later on we found out that she attended the same university as Raymond and us. She entered UP Manila in 2007 and took Behavioral Sciences. We don’t recall seeing her in campus despite being in the same college though. It probably has something to do with us having very little to do with subjects under the Behavioral Sciences department. Raymond and other members of the team spoke to her often during our stay in our first company. She had moved on like the others and is now part of a bigger IT company.

8Jobert – We are used to calling him Sir Jobert. He was our math and STS instructor that’s why. Apart from that, he was the one to get Biochemistry and Computer Science students into acting and shit stuff back in college with his idea of a digital film festival. We are not going into details with that to avoid recollection of cringe-inducing images but we could say that the idea was kind of a hit among students. Setting aside the fact that it meant extra work for us, it was actually a breath of fresh air from all the math, programming, and chemistry classes. It turned out that he wanted to learn surfing as well and Raymond invited him. They were part of the CAS-DPSM chorale which won an award in the intra-campus competition back then. They are also both into fitness activities.

Aeron
Aeron
Michael
Michael

Aeron and Michael – We never met them until the day of the trip. It was Kim who invited them. They turned out to be great company nonetheless. Being quite deceivingly introverted, despite our knowledge in human behavior, we are still quick to assume that it’s not easy to be the new guy/girl in a group. These two proved us wrong like the usual. We believe they enjoyed the activities as much as everybody did. Also, we’re looking forward to having them again in future adventures. – aB

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2 thoughts on “Meet 12++ February: Baler with Old Buddies

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