The rugged features of Aurora was handcrafted by the Pacific Ocean. This coastal province have seen the different temperament of the mighty ocean located east of the country. It experienced its bounty and its fury. Named after the wife of President Quezon, Aurora was once a sub-province of Quezon and it was only in 1978 that a law was enacted making it independent province.
At the heart of the province, Baler is its centerpiece. The capital is a tourism icon for its natural beauty and its surfing activity. It has become one of the country’s prominent surf spots after the filming of some sequences of “Apocalypse Now” in the 70’s. This led to the introduction of surfing on this side of the Philippines. Presently, Baler has grown beyond being just a surfing spot as its rugged beauty is capturing the hearts of many weekend travelers.
Museo de Baler
Inaugurated in 2002, the Museo de Baler is a good spot to start off your Baler exploration. It serves as repository of the province’s artifacts and memorabilia associated to its rich history. On display are porcelain pieces from the Galleon trade, Spanish-period religious artifacts, and the personal effects of its homegrown hero, President Manuel Quezon.
The museum will give you a brief from the humble beginnings of province to its development to what it is now. It highlights important events in the region including the infamous Baler Church Siege and the “Tromba Marina” in 1935 that wiped out the town. The museum’s cold cast sculpture on its facade details the significant and historical events of Baler and Aurora.
A huge part of its collection honors Manuel L. Quezon as the municipality is his birthplace. You will find personal memorabilia of the late President and his family prominently displayed in one its galleries. The museum also has on display the Presidential car of Quezon.
Right in front of the Museo de Baler is an open-park dedicated to Baler’s esteemed statesman. At the heart of the park is a bronze statue of President Quezon silently gazing at his hometown. The installed historical marker highlights that the municipality is the birthplace of the President Quezon and that is the reason why he is highly respected and honored by its local.
The open park has been developed and it is a great place to watch a typical day in Baler. Interestingly, the park is also the location where the ancestral house of Quezon once stood.
Baler 400 Years Monument
Adjacent to the Quezon Park is the Baler 400 Years Monument. It easily stands out because of the spelled out name of the municipality that attracts tourists for a quick photoshoot. However, the monument is more than just a background for photos. It stands as a reminder to 4 strong centuries of Baler since it was founded.
Founded in 1609 by Franciscan missionaries, Baler is a mute witness to our country’s rich history. One could actually say that Baler was the last stronghold of the Spanish forces in the country during its final days of occupation. It has seen the birth of a new government through the eyes of it homegrown hero, Manuel L. Quezon.
The monument was designed by THE revolutionary artist, Junyee, who is also the man behind the “Open Door” sculpture honoring President Quezon in the Holocaust Memorial Park in Israel. The 40-foot structure has 4 pillars connected by 100 stainless bars representing Baler’s 400 years.
Church of Baler
This unassuming stone church in Baler is a spot that holds a lot of history. If its walls and grounds could only speak, it would share centuries worth of stories that are heartwarming, heartbreaking, and heart wrenching. It saw the birth of Baler, the transition from colonizer to another, and the development of Baler as a tourism and business center that it is today.
The church served as the last stand of the Spaniards in the country known as the “Baler Siege” in 1898 to 1899. As the Philippine Revolution was heating up, the Spanish forces in Baler seized the church, which was the only stone structure in town, fortified it and served as its base. They marooned themselves inside the church for months, even if the Spaniards have long surrendered the Philippines to the Americans. Locals tried to convince the forces in different ways to surrender. At one point, they even had young “sensual” ladies attempt to lure the Spaniards out of their “fortress”. Only 30 Spaniards made it through the 11 months of isolation and were called “Los Ultimos de Filipinas” or the Last Ones of the Philippines.
Today, the Baler Church stands as the center of the Catholic faith in Baler. Its simple and plain facade and interiors stand out as it is void of the usual fancy of the usual architecture of Spanish-period churches in the country. But despite its simplicity, it is one church that stands out in Philippine history as the last fortress of the Spanish colonizers.
Dona Aurora Quezon’s Ancestral Home
The restored house of Dona Aurora Quezon serves as a shrine to a lady to whom the province owes it name to. The house, a typical “bahay-na-bato” design, is where the former Philippine first lady spent her childhood. It gives you a glimpse of her life as a child, a young lady, and a mother to her hometown.
A quick stop will give you a glimpse of her humble beginnings. While most of the personal effects are on display at the Museo de Baler, there are a few memorabilia on display at her ancestral home. A historical marker honoring her life and contributions to nation building was also installed at her old residence.
Century-old Balete Tree
About thirty minutes away from the poblacion, the town of Maria Aurora has its own way of attracting tourists. It prides itself to having one of the largest balete trees in the country, and possibly in Asia. The 600-year old balete tree is approximately 5 stories high and would take about 60 people holding hand-to-hand to cover the total diameter of its base.
The Balete Tree is often associated with mysticism and mystery in Philippine folklore. It is often said that it is the dwelling place of spirits and fairies that we are told to keep our distance. But this is not the case for this famous tree in Maria Aurora. You would often see locals and tourists climbing up and exploring its maze of vines and roots. Having a picture taken while tucked in one of its crevices is something that it is not frowned upon but actually encouraged.
Time does really change things. Local folklores that creep us out when we were younger become a thing of our childhood memories. We learn to face our fears as we get older and discover that fear is only a product of our minds.
Ditumabo Falls is probably the most popular tourist spot in Baler. It is often referred to as the Mother Falls because of its grand cascade that drops from a height of 140 feet into a rocky basin. Locals and tourists can take a plunge in its cold waters that come from the mountains of the Sierra Madre.
The trek to the Mother Falls let’s one immerse and enjoy nature. The lush vegetations along the trail is relaxing to the eyes as you see sunlight break through the forest canopies while the sound of water flowing in the nearby stream is relaxing for the mind. The trail is an easy trek and you are assured that you get to fascinated with nature’s beauty along the way.
Ermita Hill and the Tromba Marina Memorial
This small plateau offers a panoramic view of Baler’s coastline and the Pacific Ocean. From its view deck, one can admire the beauty of the province Aurora from a bird’s eye view with Sabang Beach at the foreground and the Sierra Madre on the background. But more than just a park, Ermita Hill is a sanctuary for the early settlers of Baler.
In 1735, a series of large waves engulfed the town of Baler that the town was completely washed out. According to the stories of those who survived, the waves came in with no warning in the early morning that locals were all taken by surprise. Only 7 families survived the tragedy by swimming and climbing up Ermita Hill. A small memorial was installed at the bottom of Ermita Hill as a reminder of that fateful night.
Ermita Hill also served as a refuge by locals from Moro raids during earlier times. These attacks became a frequent occurrence that local history have recorded it as 50 years of terror. It was because of these attacks that Ermita Hill was developed as a “watchtower” against these raids because of its commanding view.
Diguisit Falls is another popular quick stop when you go around Baler. Unlike Ditumabo Falls, this waterfall does not have a grand cascade and the lush greens surrounding it. It prides itself with a subtle cascade and a rugged terrain that overlooks the sea.
Diguisit Falls is located along the main highway making it very accessible to travelers. One does not need to take an hour-long hike to get to admire its cascade. A five-minute uphill hike through unmarked trails is all you need for that face-to-face encounter with this lesser known waterfall in Baler.
Diguisit Beach and Aniao Islet
Diguisit Beach offers a dramatic seascape in Baler. The mix of white sand and crushed corals blends perfectly well with the rocky features of the beach. The Aniao islet adds up to the drama of the sea and the sand.
This is probably one of the most photographed locations in Baler. It perfectly matches the subtlety of its provincial life and the ruggedness of its terrain. One can have a grand time capturing a perfect shot or to just simply enjoying the view. The drama that the beach spot evokes is very appealing.
Diguisit Beach is also the closest white sand beach spot in Baler. If you are the type who loves a white sand beach spot that does not draw too much crowd then this spot is perfect for you.
Sabang Beach is the most popular beach spot in Baler. This is where you will find most of the accommodations, restaurants, and beach activities. It is Baler’s prime surfing spot so you can expect the waters to be filled with swimmers and surfers.
This 2-kilometer gray sand beach spot is where Philippine surfing was born. Its waves and sandy shorelines make ideal for all levels of surfers. It is also a perfect spot for sunrise catchers because it offers a perfect view of the rising sun. It has often been referred to as the sunrise beach of Aurora.
Whether you are looking to start learning how to surf, getting a beach tan, or simply having a nice lunch or dinner by the beach, Sabang Beach is the go to spot in Baler. It has the widest selection of restaurants and activities that will definitely make your Baler trip a fun and memorable one.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
Baler is a great example of a local community that has grown in strides in its tourism front. It may not have the pristine white sand beach spots or the amazing natural attractions but it banked on its strength as the birthplace of surfing in the country. They invested on their unique selling point through the years that they have made a distinct mark in Philippine tourism. Baler did not try to emulate or try to be another alternative choice, it made its own and it is hollering up for tourists to check Baler out.
The community quarantine may have locked us up inside our homes but one thing that I really enjoyed doing while on ECQ was going back to my previous travels. It was fun remembering my past trips and re-living the amazing feeling of exploring and seeing beautiful places in the country. I was kinda surprised to find out that I still have a number of destinations that I still need to write about, Baler included. It’s great to re-live the same emotions while blogging about it.
As we slowly ease out of the quarantine, I am excited to get back on the road again. This would be a great time to encourage local travel to help local communities get back on their feet. Again, I ask you to explore the Philippines first and I assure you that our country’s beauty will not disappoint.
Getting There: One can take a bus that travels direct from Manila to Baler. Genesis Bus have regular bus trips to Baler. The trip takes about 6-7 hours depending on traffic and time of travel.
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Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.