Month: April 2014

BALER 2014 [Day 3]

It’s our last day in Baler. Our morning didn’t start as early as the past day. With no breakfast, we drove back to Sabang Beach for my buddies’ last surfing session.

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I was taking lots of random photos of people enjoying the waves…

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…and look at what my lens captured. I didn’t know that he’s there until after my work friend told me. Dennis Trillo is a local TV an movie personality known for period movie, Aishite Imasu.

DSC_0466Since we’re checking out at lunch, we had an early meal at the nearby Bayler View Hotel. At last, a very delicious meal with good service! As soon as we occupied our table, the waiter brought us glasses of water. They have extensive choices of food and the waiter helped us picked what’s best to order. In under 25 minutes, we’re enjoying our tasteful food. We spent a little more than a thousand pesos for this meal. But it was worth it – great food, good staff and a beautiful view. Just try and be at the place early as it gets packed during lunch and dinner. They do not accept reservations.

I recommend Bagoong Balayan rice, adobong pusit and calamares. πŸ™‚

We left the place happy (which has been very rare for the past few days) and drove back to Carlito’s Inn to prepare for check-out. It was already 11:30 in the morning. Surprisingly, no one called to remind us to check-out. So we took our time and finally left the place at around 1:30 in the afternoon.

Before finally leaving the province, we took a detour at the famous Millennium tree. It’s a century old Balete tree which is being flocked by a lot of tourists. We paid P10 for entrance fee. Only took a few photos and then we left.

DSC_0500DSC_0502DSC_0512DSC_0520DSC_0530It was Easter Sunday and we are anticipating heavy traffic in NLEX. We were monitoring the situation via Twitter and Waze. While we wait for the roads to clear up, we included a side tour to Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija. I will write a separate blog post for that. πŸ˜‰

To cap Baler 2014 off, it’s been a rough journey. Did I enjoy it? Sure. Baler is naturally beautiful. There are still some major improvements that need to be done so this can be a tourist-friendly spot. This series of blog posts about my vacation is not to bash and single out the things I found bad in Baler. It’s just an honest recollection of my experience. Hopefully it gets better soon.

To help those who plan to go to Baler, here’s something to read:

Accomodation – Unless you want to drive going to the beach or ride a tricycle, you can try the cheap accommodation at Carlito’s Inn. But if you want to hear the ocean’s waves first thing in the morning, book a room at Costa Pacifica.

Food – This is easy. I only have two restaurants to recommend – Gerry Shan’s and Bayler View Hotel’s restaurant! You can also try the Rolling Stores but it’s not very different from Manila’s carinderias. Don’t eat at Trencher’s and Pavilion Bar & Grill (though the live band is pretty good).

Surfing – Mahdox (along Sabang Beach) or Aliya

Places to Visit – Diguisit Rock Formations, Ditumabo Falls (you can skip the other smaller falls, they’re not as good as the Mother falls), Museo de Baler, Millennium Tree

Make sure to bring lots of extra patience with you when you travel to Baler! But more importantly, enjoy the waves!! πŸ™‚

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BALER 2014 [Day 2 – Part 3]

We left Gerry Shan’s happy and capped it off with chocolate ice cream from Alfonso’s which is just on the other side of the road. At last, a decent meal with a not-so-bad service for a cheap price. We drove to Ermita Hill to see the province from atop. The extensive shore line and the unobstructed view of the Pacific Ocean. Photos would’ve been better with fluffy clouds. But during the course of our trip, the sun has been shying away which in a way, is a good thing.

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From the viewing deck, we went down to look for the Tromba Marina statue. This commemorates the family of survivors of the tsunami which hit Aurora in the early 19th century. It was on the way to Diguisit Rock Formations so a quick stop has been good. We didn’t stay long as we’re kind of in a rush. We need to finish off our itinerary and wash up before 7PM for our dinner reservation.

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Another ten minutes drive to Diguisit Rock Formation. It’s a long stretch. We initially stopped somewhere near a first aid tent. Three from our group have climbed up to the near falls. Actually, I’ve seen at least three falls in Diguisit. One is all dried up. The water flows under the paved road and to the rock formations on the other side. We drove a few meters to see the large stones which has been the highlight for me. We paid P20 for the entrance fee. These rock formations are indeed wonders of nature. I cannot describe enough how much I was in awe of them.

DSC_0353DSC_0356DSC_0371DSC_0368DSC_0372DSC_0383DSC_0397DSC_0375At around 5:45 PM, we retreated to our base to shower and prepare for our dinner. We arrived at the Pavilion Bar and Grill at 7:15PM. Given our short history with Baler’s service, I was quite nervous that we won’t get our reservation. I was glad to be escorted to our table as soon as we arrived. It hasn’t been a minute of joy when we saw a table for four. There’s five of us. I’ve been specific the past day about it. So we asked the waiter to add another table to fit us all. But he said that there’s no available one. I thought I know where this dinner is going.

When we asked him again as to what he can do to ensure we’re all accommodated in our dinner table, he just shrugged. Pavilion Bar and Grill is not a typical eatery in Quezon Street. It’s not like Bay’s Inn with buffet. It’s one of the, if not the only, fine dining restaurants we’ve seen in Baler. It actually reminded me of our hotel in Maafushi, Maldives. The outside dining experience with the sound of the waves and live reggae/indie band in the background. Add a bonfire to make the beach experience complete. So we never expected that kind of attitude from them. It’s a good place but has the worst service ever. I thought nothing could beat the previous day’s experience. This definitely bagged the prize! In the end, we squeezed ourselves in to a square table. Thank God for the live band which at least eased our disappointment and rage.

DSC_0406DSC_0411They have very few food choices. Waiting is not two hours πŸ˜‰ . Our food arrived after thirty minutes, as promised. We spent around P1,300 for food that’s good for five. We didn’t stay long after finishing our food. We called it a night early as our bodies are too tired for a long day’s adventure.

It has been a great day, in general. I’m just not sure what’s with Baler and their food service. It seems like everywhere we go, there’s an issue when it comes to them providing their tourists a hearty meal after a day’s full of activities.

BALER 2014 [Day 2 – Part 2]

After an hour of surfing, we headed back to our car to plan our next stop. Instead of driving, we chartered two tricycles to bring us to Ditumabo falls or what they call, Mother Falls. It’s a 30-minute drive in the paved highway, another 15 to the dirt road and another 30 minutes by foot.

DSC_0228DSC_0233DSC_0238DSC_0239You need to be extra careful while trekking to the falls. There were a few bamboo bridges and a lot of wet stones to walk into. There are two pit stops where they sell food and drinks. Common food you see are grilled/boiled corn, barbecue, hard-boiled egg, coconut juice, Gatorade and water. No alcoholic drinks and cigarettes allowed.

I always joked around that the place felt like the arena for the Hunger Games and that I’m probably one of the first tributes to be killed. πŸ˜‰

I lost track of time while treading the rocky uphill path to the falls. My feet hurt so bad I wanted to walk barefoot. Thank God for the cold water in the various streams we walked into.

DSC_0251DSC_0265DSC_0268DSC_0269DSC_0270DSC_0240DSC_0247I knew it would be worth the moment I heard the loud splash of water as it hit the pool below. Seeing the Mother Falls is magical. Mist is everywhere. I stayed in the middle of the stone bank while basking in the greatness of the place. Truly, Baler is a beautiful place!

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I was hesitant to swim at first because no one would look after our things. But I didn’t wanna miss the opportunity so I left our bags where I can still see it from a distance. It’s not as deep as I thought it would be.

We left the falls a few minutes before lunch. We stopped in one of the small stores at the foot of the mountain. We hailed a tricycle to drive us to the parking lot where our chartered vehicle is waiting for us. We paid P100 per tricycle. Before finally taking a lunch break, we stopped by another falls, Caunayan. We paid P20. It wasn’t as magical as Ditumabo and the caretakers of the private resort are rude. We only spend ten minutes there before asking our drivers to take us back to the town.

DSC_0324We had lunch at the famous Gerry Shan’s located near Museo de Baler. If you’re driving along Quezon Highway, you can easily spot this place. It’s usually packed with a lot of people waiting for their tables. I can’t blame them. For only P185, you are in for a buffet with choices from fish, chicken, pork and veggies. There are also local delicacies and fresh fruits! After a very disappointing experience for the first two meals we’ve had, Gerry Shan’s definitely brought our appetite back!

We’re full and still eager to see more of Baler. It’s already around 2PM. We still have some places in our itinerary which we haven’t visited yet. So we drove away and look for Ermita Hill and Diguisit Rock Formations.

BALER 2014 [Day 2 – Part 1]

“This is gonna be a great day!” – That’s our motto for our Day 2 in Baler. Felt like we started off on the wrong foot with Baler so we tried so hard to keep our spirits up and attract good vibes as we move along with our adventure.

We started our day quite early and left our room around 6:30 AM. Finally, in-house restaurant is open for breakfast. We had the usual Filipino breakfast – fried rice, egg and a choice of tapa or longganisa. We have made it a habit of always asking, “How many minutes ’til we get our food?” because it seems like if you won’t push them, they’ll take their time to prepare it. Slack is very much mainstream in this town. After around 20-30 minutes, we have our food. It was not served. We got it from the counter. Another mainstream going on in this town is their literal take on self-service. No waiters roaming around the dining hall.

We left as soon as we finished eating. The food was fine. Just enough to fill your tummy for a very long day ahead. We drove to Sabang Beach for my work friends’ surfing lessons. While planning our itinerary, I had two options for their lessons, Aliya and Mahdox. The latter is easily seen in the beach front while the former has its own place near Costa Pacifica. For P350, they got an instructor who would teach them how to manuever their body in the surfboard. After ten minutes or so, they headed to the water to play with the waves.

DSC_0072DSC_0084DSC_0097Though I chose not to surf, I’ve enjoyed taking snapshots of my work friends doing awesome moves with the waves. Also, I got to play with my extra camera lens so it was fun for me! I’m quite new at this (as seen in some photos πŸ˜‰ )

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I also took photos of random people surfing. If you’re one of them, or know one of them, feel free to grab πŸ˜‰

DSC_0168DSC_0191 DSC_0184DSC_0124Majestic waves keep coming. Now I understand why this place is being visited by lots of surfing enthusiasts. The shore is a mix of fine black sand and round stones of different sizes and the water is neither cold nor warm. It was an early morning and the sun didn’t take a peak behind the clouds. I didn’t have much problem with staying by the shore.

Next stop — Ditumabo Falls

BALER 2014 [Day 1]

This trip has been planned less than a month ago while going through a gruesome week in the office. Putting into consideration that this adventure will happen on the Holy Week, we have considered different places which are relatively near the metro – an easy escapade. My work friends and I have exchanged ideas until we finally agreed on visiting the popular destination for surfers, Baler.Β Good Friday came and we drove to Aurora after work. We started our journey in Taguig City at around 3:30 AM. It took us more than six hours of travel – this included an extended stopover at Mexico, Pampanga. Thanks to the gas station attendant who made the condition of our wheels worse. We have entered Baler at around 9AM and searched through the zigzag road for our accommodation.

We stayed at Carlito’s Inn. We were told it was only 3-5 minutes away from Sabang Beach by foot. It turned out to be 5-10 minutes away from the beach via tricycle or car, depending on traffic. Since we arrived early (still on top of our itinerary πŸ˜‰ ), we did a softcore tour around town. We visited Museo de Baler which houses artifacts mostly coming from the Spanish regime. It also features a large portrait of the late president Manuel L. Quezon. Just beside the establishment is Quezon’s car. Across the street, we found Aurora Quezon’s house, the then-first lady. Beside it is the Baler Cathedral Church which surprisingly is closed on a Good Friday.

DSC_0030DSC_0012DSC_0017DSC_0033DSC_0035DSC_0042DSC_0044DSC_0046It was scorching hot and there are almost no restaurants with air conditioner. As part of the experience, we had lunch at the popular Rolling Stores. These are a series of stalls/eateries beside the museum. Food is very homey for a very cheap price. I had ginataang tuna (tuna in coconut milk), a bottle of Coke and a banana for only P70.

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We drove back to the inn, hoping to talk our way through an early check-in. At first, we thought that they’re just very strict about the time which we fully respect. Come 2PM, if we haven’t asked repeatedly, it seems like they won’t be escorting us to our room. We were awake for almost 24 hours and in serious need of a good rest. I was trying to keep myself calm as I don’t want to ruin the mood of this trip.

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The room was bigger than what I expected. There’s five of us so we have one double-deck and three single beds. The rate for the room is only P1,500/night. The room is without toiletries. It has air conditioner and a ceiling fan. We only have one pillow per bed without extra bed sheet. Cable TV is available but acted weird at first. We just laughed it off. We couldn’t be asking for more since we basically only paid P300/head/night. Also, we were looking forward to spending most of our time outdoors. We just needed a decent place to sleep.

Our room was not cleaned yet after we arrived. There’s a very big space in front of the units, so we had no problems with parking. Still, in the spirit of keeping this trip as peacefully and happy as possible, I gently spoke with the lady cleaners to prioritize our room. It’s half past two in the afternoon and we wanted to be back in the road by four. We just wanted to steal an hour or so of sleep.

But the short escape turned out to be a full-on sleep. After taking a long bath and sleeping like a baby, I opened my eyes and the sun was already setting. Our supposed-to-be trip will be postponed until Sunday morning. The itinerary I have prepared (which I’ll share in Day 3) has an ample free time so we can easily adjust to these kind of situations.

We went out at 6PM to grab dinner at the in-house restaurant. But it’s already closed. And the reason that they gave to us? They’re tired.

Yes, they are tired. So their guests would need to look some place else to eat. In their defense, meals are not included in the accommodation. But an advise/heads up wouldn’t hurt, would it?

So we drove back to Sabang Beach. I have read a few blogs/reviews about the service they have here. In one of the posts I’ve stumbled upon, their food didn’t arrive until after an hour and a half. Days before our trip, I told my friends to bring extra patience together with their clothes, money and food. Looks like it’s already been exhausted and we’re only on our first day!

We walked around Costa Pacifica, Bayler’s Inn and Bayler’s View Hotel. GIven that it’s Holy Week and the middle of summer vacation, lots of tourists flocked the nearby beaches and resthouses. Every restaurant we walked by is full until finally we found a vacant table for five at Bayler’s Inn. We didn’t waste any more time as our tummies are already screaming at us. Initially, the waiter asked for 30-45 minutes for our food to arrive. We didn’t complain. After a few minutes, he told us that it would take them two hours to prepare our food. It’s already past seven in the evening and most tourists are done eating (seeing the buffet table almost empty of food). Honestly, we don’t understand why it would take that long. But we didn’t say anything. We just canceled the order and scouted another place.

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The next place we went into is Bahia de Baler’s Pavilion Bar and Grill. They’re fully booked already so we stood no chance. What I did though is reserve us a table for tomorrow because I don’t want this to happen again (wait for my next post!) We drove away from the beach and went back to town. We even tried going back to the Rolling Stores but there are hardly any food available. We saw two rolling stores for Jollibee and Chowking but to keep our trip as pure as possible, we wanted to try local food (though it didn’t differ much from what’s in Manila).

We drove around the museum and see this little store called Treacher’s Kitchenette. They offer eat-all-you can dinner for only P165. Quite cheap, right? Food isn’t bad. It really isn’t. But the service is worst. We didn’t expect even a three-star level of service since it’s basically an eatery with home-cooked meals. They still offered the buffet at past eight in the evening. But they do not have rice yet when we came inside. Since we’ve already lost all our options, we chose to stay and wait. The owner mentioned in a very discomforting tone while we’re checking out the food available that they’re supposed to be closed down by that time. But since there are lots of people coming in, they’re still open. What? Not sure why this should be told to a tourist.

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That made me feel bad. Baler is one of the tourist destinations and we are proud of their surf-worthy waves. But the hospitality and the way locals interact with tourists are just so bad. We ended up having a very quick dinner because we can’t wait to be back to our accommodation and chill. The night has been rough. And we were really caught off guard.

All in all, day 1 has not been anywhere near good. Though we haven’t spent much of our budget yet, the frustrations keep building up. On a brighter note, I appreciate the presence of tourist assistance tents and policemen in almost every other block leading up to Sabang Beach and every street in the beach itself.

I’d like to give Baler the benefit of the doubt. The influx of tourists might have doubled today given the long weekend, but they seriously need to work out their relationship with their tourists if they want local tourism to flourish.