Baler in Aurora is long way off from Manila, about six to seven-hour drive, depending on what time one leaves, where he comes from, and how slow or fast he drives.
But definitely, a provincial destination that is caught between the mountains of Sierra Madre and the waters of the Pacific Ocean is a good place to visit, more so when one’s family is complete for a two-night three-day staycation there right at the start of the new year. Plus celebrating a birthday, too.
Exactly what we did, the missus, the three kids who are no longer kids, my children’s partners, and my only grandchild Livi who turned six on Jan. 1, staying at the Costa Pacifica, owned by the Angara family.
We left Pasig early morning in my son’s Everest, and in five hours’ time, we were at the PNP checkpoint in Canili, one hour away from Baler town proper, a reminder though, if from Manila, take the Pantabangan route and not Bongabon in Nueva Ecija.
Also, Baler has several requirements for visiting tourists including a pass, vaccination cards, I.D. cards, and unfortunately visitors from areas under Level 3 covid alert, including NCR, will not be allowed entry, for the time being, meaning we just did the trip on time.
After lunch at the hotel’s coffee shop, which fortunately allows pet dogs (my daughter Janis brought three French bulldogs with her), we all went for a rest. Then, later in the afternoon, while our apo was having her swim at the hotel pool, Janis brought us to the famous hanging bridge of Baler along Zabali Road, just a few minutes away from the town plaza. This is a must-experience for first-time visitors, particularly for the more adventurous ones.
And Baler visitors are predominantly looking for adrenaline rush action, surfing adventures that is, as the roaring waves of the ocean continuously hitting the beaches have made the place a major surfing destination, same as Siargao and La Union. This is why in the morning of the second day of the family staycation, everyone, except me and the missus, headed to the beach right across the hotel and tried their hands anew in riding the waves, though from their stories afterward, it was more of the waves riding them.
But yes, all of them did manage to stay upright on their boards, maybe for a few seconds, enough to make them happy and thrill over their P500 hour-long efforts.
For me, at my age, it was worth just watching them try and fall again and again, and it certainly was more worth it to see the more seasoned surfers really riding the waves.
On our last morning, it was off to the mountains this time but only again for the younger ones as my two daughters Janis and Jemi, the latter with her daughter Livi and partner Toby, took a trike then did a one hour walk to reach the tallest waterfalls in Aurora, the Ditumabo Falls, also known as the Mother Waterfalls.
I asked my apo how was her experience in the waterfalls, she said it was pretty but the waters were very very cold, and that she did not like walking in the muddy parts of the trail, but yes, for Baler visitors, waterfalls adventure would complete the sea and mountain adventure parts of the trip.
For the more senior ones, that is us, a visit to the historic town plaza where former President Manuel L. Quezon was born and his sitting down statue reigns over the park, is good enough. We enjoyed the cool night air and haggling for souvenir items with the stalls still open on the last day of the great tiangge Christmas festival, with family pictures too to show.
It was the following and our last morning though that we were able to visit both the Baler Museum, the centerpiece of the town plaza, and the restored to near original condition nipa house of Dona Aurora Quezon. Plus the last-minute shopping of course.
Dining in Baler is a good experience too with a lot of options all over the town though we preferred the hotel coffee shops at Costa Pacifica and the adjoining Bay’s Inn that provided spectacular views of the beaches aside from the food.
The nearby Yellow Fin grill resto with name-it-you-have-it seafood turned out to be a very popular and good dining place too but bring a lot of patience to wait for your food to come.
Then it was time to pack up for the long trip back home after a late lunch at Bay’s Inn, and the truth is, the biggest happiness for the trip was just being together as a family, Baler simply provided a very good excuse.