Finding beauty amidst destruction in Baler
Torrential rain and nonstop winds blowing at 202 km/hr
20 feet high tumultuous waves raising the Tsunami alarm
Bridges standing tall for decades came down in seconds
Toppled trees, ripped off rooftops, collapsed walls
Signboards and billboards gone with the wind
Severely damaged crops and plantations
This was the scene I saw when I landed in Baler, the Super Typhoon ‘Lando’ hit area, in October 2015. Philippines, the pearl of Oriental Seas, was once again hammered, whacked, bruised and tattered but it’s not the type that surrenders. And that is what makes it so unique. Filipinos are like the Phoenix, which rise from the ashes. They are strong and resilient people who never surrender to their adversary, even though they are regularly hit by natural disasters. They’ll rock a smile, even if their entire life’s hard work is gone in seconds. I was shocked to see their optimism and never-say-die attitude when I visited Baler just few days after a Grade 4 Super Typhoon hit Baler. In midst of destruction Baler was still beautiful and warm.
It took me a long time to pen down this story because I wasn’t sure how to describe beauty and beast in the same breath. Finally I have summoned courage. Here is my experience of visiting Baler during crisis hour – Super Typhoon. A time perfect for finding beauty amidst destruction. Confused? Do read below to find more:
DAY 1, FRIDAY NIGHT - Escaping Manila
Being just six hours away from Metro Manila I was enticed to visit the surfing capital of Philippines - BALER. So I booked myself for a weekend trip to Baler with a friend. Getting out of Manila is a nightmare, especially on a Friday night. It took me four hours to just get out of Manila. The van journey was neither bad nor good. A sleeper bus might have been a better deal.
I reached Baler early morning. I was supposed to camp on the Sabang beach but because of the Typhoon, camping wasn’t allowed. So I took shelter in a local's house to perch my tent.
DAY 2, SATURDAY - Exploring the FUN-TASTIC Baler
Diguisit Beach and Rock Formations
My first pit stop was Diguisit Beach, which is 15 minutes tricycle ride away from the town centre. Giant waves were crashing into the rocks, forming an emerald green starfish like design flanked by dark chocolaty sand and rocks. Hopping from one rock to another, I was literally living on the edge. One slip could have given wings to my hospital dreams. But my local guide was around so I could afford to fool around. Thanks to last week’s Typhoon, the beach had transformed into a marshland, roofless Nipa huts were longingly looking for their saviour, tree branches and seaweed had encroached the beach area. I was dumbfounded with the "Good cop/bad cop" routine of the nature.
After wandering around the Diguisit Beach, I made way to the Dicasalarin cove, one of the best kept secrets of Baler. A stunning white sand beach bordered by rock formations on both sides. To get a panoramic view from a vantage point, I climbed up to the lighthouse. The lighthouse wasn’t far off but the steep mountain ascent with 1050 watts /m2 sunlight bulb made it harder. It took me a while to get to the lighthouse. But my tiredness vanished as soon as I reached the summit and looked around. The Pacific was looking majestic with the Aniao Islets in the backdrop. The Aniao Islets are huge rock formations that look like twin islands in the sea.
When everything fails, God makes its presence felt. Ermita hill is a testament of that fact. Baler has been God’s favourite child. He loves to dismantle Baler every now and then. On December 27, 1735, a great Tsunami had swept away Baler. At that time, people had taken refuge at Ermita Hill. That incidence had carved Ermeta Hill’s place in history books forever. After climbing the 250+ steps hike under shady trees I reached the top of the hill. The view wasn’t as great as at the start of the stairs. I was drinking in the magnificent view of the bay below, including the Baler fish port from the Baler view deck at the hill. There were hardly any tourists at that time. I spoke to a group of locals about the recent typhoon. They said, “Natural disasters are a part of our life. You really can’t control them. But you can control how you respond to them. Whining about them will not do any good. Best is to move on with a smile.” Isn’t that gem of an advice?
After a sleepless night and a busy sightseeing day I wanted to relax a bit so I retreated to my hole. There was no electricity since all the Electricity poles were uprooted in Baler. And no internet. I was happy to be in nature’s lap without any distractions. A tented accommodation in a lush green garden with coconut trees was my abode tonight. Gulping the freshly plucked coconut water I indulged in a small talk with the caretakers of the property. I did not want to miss the Golden Hour so I headed to the beach. The entire beach was covered in the golden paint. Kids and their pets were enjoying their play time. Couples were walking hand in hand. It was hard to believe the waves which looked so calm at that moment were 20 feet high just few days back. But that’s how unpredictable nature can be.
Baler is not Baler without the swells and breaks of Sabang Bay. Surfing is the main reason why tourists flock to the town. I was already too tired so I did not try my hand at surfing. Instead I walked capturing the sights and sounds of Baler. Besides glorious sunrise and sunsets Baler is famous for its nightlife and astounding variety of food. Being a vegetarian I opted for a safe option – Costa Pacifica, a high end Beach resort. The food was yummy but the best part was the fire dance performance.
DAY 3, SUNDAY - Adventure and History packed Day
Surfing @ Sabang:
The day started with me sacrificing my sleep to witness the sunrise. And trust me when I say sacrificing my sleep I truly mean it. It’s the most difficult thing for me to do. But the pacific sunrise was totally worth it. So after spending some time at the beach relishing the morning mist and observing the young surfers taming the waves I was ready to explore the historical side of the town.
I don’t want to contaminate my travel experience with preconceived notions therefore I usually take impromptu trips without asking Google. This time was no different. With the help of locals I ended up taking the Historical Walk of Baler through San Luis Obispo Church, the Baler Park, the house of Doña Aurora, the wife of former president Manuel L. Quezon, and the Museo de Baler. Literally there were footstep-shaped markers on the street to find your way from one place to the other. A walk in the downtown was like a walk in a museum and gave a good crash course into Baler’s history and the lifestyle of the former President of Philippines.
I had been to lot of hanging bridges earlier so this wasn’t something unique to me. However, what I liked about it was that it wasn’t for tourists. This rickety bridge patched together from rusty wire, weathered planks of wood and fragile bamboo railings is used by locals. On both sides of the river lay decapitated Nipa plants. Nipa plants are used to make Nipa huts. I failed miserably in learning the art of weaving the Nipa leaves. But it’s better to fail then give up.
The Millennium Tree:
The last pit stop on my weekend wanderlust was the “Millennium Tree”. Popularly referred as the Balete tree (relative of Banyan tree) it is said to be 600-years old and considered to be the largest Balete tree in Asia. I channelised the ‘Mogli’ inside me to climb up and down, walk inside and outside through the hollow openings and massive roots of the tree. Like Banyan Tree in India, Balete Tree is infamous for jaadu-tona (witchcraft) in Philippines. Superstitions are a common currency across the world that feeds on people’s fear of the unknown.
So this was my experience of visiting Baler at the wrong time – Super Typhoon time. A time perfect for finding beauty amidst destruction.
SOME TRAVEL TIPS FOR YOU:
- How to go: Every week there are 2D1N weekend trip vans going from Manila. Usually they charge around P2.2-2.8K for your food, travel and stay. You can opt for them or take the Genesis Transport Bus from Cubao bus terminal. Leaves at midnight and arrives at 7am at Baler
- Where to stay: There are ample stay options at Baler. You can perch your tent for few hundreds or stay at a fancy hotel like Costa Pacifica starting at P5.5k per night.
- What to do: You can go surfing, trekking, cycling, motor biking, scuba diving, food tripping, sightseeing and island hoping
- Passes: You need to secure a Dicasalarin Cove guest pass from Bahia De Baler. It costs P300 per person but if you’re an in-house guest or checked-in in any of their hotels, they charge only P100 per person for the gate pass.
- Surfing cost: P350 per hour with surfing lesson and P200 for renting the board for an hour, P400 for half day and P800 for the whole day