After the long road trip, the checking in, and the sheer enjoyment in giving Sabang beach’s huge waves a test ride, I made sure I got to see the countryside. My friends, Aimee, Kath, Kaye, and Mars aren’t first-timers in Baler, so I was amazed they haven’t seen the province’s hidden secrets. The tour is a definite must. But before leaving, morning peeps Kaye and Aimee had the chance to play with Aliya’s mascot, Roy Angara’s 7-month old black Labrador Hendrix, who’s the cutest and most playful dog ever!
Luckily, Mars and Kath had the mind to get their trike driver’s cellphone number, so we managed to arrange the tour without any hassle. Since there were 5 of us we had to get 2 tricycles for the tour. Each tricycle cost P500 (note that this is the STANDARD fee for Baler’s tours. If trike drivers ask for more, you may report them to the Tourism Office). At P500 you’d be surprised at the how far we went.
We got Kuya Brando and Kuya Rolly to drive us around the province. So right after brunch at the rolling store, we embarked on our getting-to-know-Baler trip. Our first stop was the Quezon Park, directly behind the rolling store. You’d see the replica of the first Commonwealth president, Manuel L. Quezon’s, birthplace, the actual 1937 Chevrolet Cabriolet specifically made for President Quezon, and the Museo de Baler.
Inside the 2-storey Museo de Baler, you’d see a map of the entire Aurora province. Aurora used to be part of Quezon province, however in 1979, Aurora gained its autonomy from Quezon, with Baler being the capital of the province.
The museum also houses several jars discovered from many diving expeditions. Being close to the sea, Quezon used to be a port of the Spanish galleons which carried assorted items for trading. Many of the galleons were lost at sea and only now are they being discovered by diving aficionados.
The props for the 2008 Metro Manila Film Fest film Baler is also found in the museum’s 2nd floor. The trophies the cast and crew received are now proudly on display. I was particularly star struck with Anne Curtis’ Best Actress trophy.
Moving along, we went to replica of the home of Aurora Aragon Quezon, wife of President Manuel Quezon, and whom the province is named after. The 1936 Chrysler Airflow Limousine of the late President is also found here. It took Dan Irish, a noted car collector, 18 months to restore the car. Sadly, the car was encased in glass so I couldn’t take a good photo of it.
Right across, Doña Aurora’s house is the Church of Baler. Originally built by Franciscan friar Francisco de San Antonio in 1611, is dedicated to San Luis Obispo de Tolosa. Rich in history, the church is the site of 1898-1899 siege where 50 Spanish soldiers and 4 officers took refuge in fear of the Filipino army. This is where the movie Baler was based on. The current church was built in 1939, led by Doña Aurora Quezon.
According to our trusty trike driver, Kuya Rolly, who has now turned into our official tour guide, the walls of the church are thick, around 5-6 feet. He also says that when the church bell, La Campana de Baler, tolls it could be heard all over the town. He also tells us that there the remains of some Franciscan priests lie in state inside the church, just like in San Agustin Church in Intramuros.
Right beside the church is the oldest college in the province, Mount Carmel College.
On the other side of the church is the town square. A huge area where Kuya Rolly says events and other town functions are held. You’d also find a marker here that shares tidbits of Baler’s history. Make sure you read it, it will be valuable to the next itinerary on the tour!
While walking around the Church and the Municipal Hall, we noticed footprints just like Jose Rizal’s footprints in Intramuros:
Kuya Rolly says that the footprints help those who decide to go on a tour by themselves. It shows them where to go and how to get there. GENIUS! :)
We then got on a road trip to get to our next destination. We passed by Baler’s center of town where the bus terminal and the wet market is found.
The road trip was my favorite part of the tour because it just showed you the beauty of the valley province. And you wouldn’t be scared to get mouthfuls of air because the air is just so fresh and clean.
On the way to Ermita Hill, we passed by the Aurora State College of Technology (ASCOT), the college Senator Edgardo Angara put up. Just look at the campus, I’d want to study there! Right at the foot of the mountains and just below is the sea already. So MALIBU! :)
After a 20 minute trike ride, we arrived at Ermita Hill. This hill is very important to the people of Baler because it is here where the families took refuge in during the December 1735 tsunami which destroyed the town. A memorial was built by the side of the hill to remember that sad event.
Kuya Rolly told us to go up the stairs to get to the butterfly sanctuary. Even while climbing the stairs, the butterflies were all over the place! It was beautiful, they flew around us flaunting their bright colors!
At this point we were all huffing and puffing and the brunch we had, had already disappeared. Thankfully Kuya Rolly told us to buy water when we had the chance. When we got up we saw that they had put up sheds and several people were hanging out in them.
Another reason to the importance of Ermita Hill is that it serves as the town’s “Holy Hill”. Here they have a shrine facing the sea, Kuya Rolly says that they have put it up to ask for protection from the storms that come their way.
Just when I thought the climbing was over, I had to stop and think again. Apparently, we had to climb another set of stairs to get to the cross at the top. Kuya Rolly says that they were already preparing the hill for next year’s Holy Week. He says that they were going to hold the Stations of the Cross here, ending at the cross at the top.
But before getting tortured, we passed by these cutie pies:
So up and up we went. To rest we just ogled at the breathtaking view of the ocean. We finally reached our destination, and saw the cross. There were devotees praying when we got there.
The stair master drained our energy, but we were just starting to see Baler’s beauty. We got back on our trikes and headed for the falls!
Kuya Rolly says that the falls NEVER retain its strength even during the dry months of summer. We immediately forgot we went up those stairs in Ermita Hill the moment we saw the gushing water. We climbed the slippery rocks to get to the huge pool in the center.
The water was so cold, refreshing and clean. I think it was Mars who took a swig from it. It was really obvious we enjoyed this part of the tour! Just look at our energy! :)
After that dip in the falls, we heard a familiar sound: ICE CREAM FROM MAGNOLIA! Like kids we swarmed the ice cream…uuhhh…bike and got ourselves a snack and a much-needed sugar rush for the next part of our tour.
Being a beach bum, I fall in love with the beach easily. I am most particularly fond of a beach that’s not sandy, but coral-y. And when Kuya Rolly and Kuya Brando brought us to Aniao Beach, it was love at first sight.
Most of my friends dislike a coral-y beach, but to me it’s just PLAIN PERFECTION. Unlike the beach in Sabang, Aniao Beach is more for the people who actually want to get to swim. Since it’s a cove, it’s more peaceful. But what draws the people to Aniao Beach are the rock formations found in the cove, jutting out of the water in an odd, but cool way.
It was here that we got a taste of how fortunate the people of Baler really are. The beach is literally a stone’s throw from their backyard, and when we were there in the whole stretch of Baler’s coastline, families in trikes just like us were all having a picnic. It was just so laidback, I was envious!
This kid was so game. He was so cute, posing and smiling for the camera as Mars took pictures of him. So adorable! Kids can really have their way with adults! :)
It was also in Aniao that we decided to diss the other side of the beach. Kuya Rolly said he would have taken us to a much-higher part, probably offering a nicer view of the ocean. But we wanted to see the Centennial Tree or the huge-ass Balete Tree.
Since Aimee, Kaye and Mars wanted to surf that afternoon, we all got into our trikes in a hurry and traveled for about 20 minutes to the town of Maria Aurora.
After a short bumpy ride, we finally got to see the tree. And OH MY GOD when they say big, it doesn’t even get close to describing the size of that tree. And since Filipinos have this long-time myth about Balete trees being the “home” for spirits and other “beings”, I just had to ask if there were mysterious happenings in the area. Kuya Brando who lives near the area says they haven’t experienced anything spooky.
Imagine P500 for that tour! We went all over Baler plus an extra town for just P500. And I totally realized that this province, no matter how quiet it is, has so much potential for tourism. The surfing has gotten the province known, the movie gave everybody an idea on how rich its history is, but it’s the places that should really attract people to it. Plus it’s going to help a whole bunch of people in Baler. There are no jeepneys in the place, so the tricycle drivers will earn big time from this.
I really hope I could have gone through more places because I’m sure there’s more! So come on over to Baler, for those who enjoy a very SIMPLE vacation, this is the definitely the place for you.
Now I’m missing Baler all over again! Separation anxiety can take some time to totally get over!
If you guys need assistance regarding your tour the Tourism Office is in the center of town near the Provincial Capitol of Aurora.
For more information on Baler and the province of Aurora visit their official website: http://www.aurora.ph