La Donya Aurora

La Dona Aurora

There’s nothing I love more than a destination that combines history and culture with the wonders of nature. The province of Aurora in northeastern Philippines did more than deliver. It body-slammed me with its sheer beauty and pile-drived me into a sense of wonder and amazement. Weird metaphor, but stay with me here. Point is, if you can – go visit. You will not regret it.

History and culture

Before 1979, Aurora was actually a part of the province of Quezon. It was named after Doña Aurora Aragon Quezon, the wife of President Manuel L. Quezon (for whom the province of Quezon was named). Doña Aurora certainly deserved the honor. She was a well-beloved First Lady, championing many humanitarian causes and even serving as the first chairperson of the Philippine Red Cross. She was also active in the campaign to give Filipino women the right of suffrage, as well as the movement for agrarian equality. When World War II arrived on Philippine shores, Doña Aurora and President Quezon escaped to Corregidor, where the First Lady was said to have maintained her dignity and composure, and thereafter to Australia and New York where President Quezon eventually passed away. Doña Aurora returned to the Philippines and resumed her humanitarian work, but she and her daughter were assassinated by Hukbalahap insurgents on their way to inaugurate a public hospital in Baler named after President Quezon.

Baler town proper

Baler, the capital of Aurora, is a tiny town. It’s not hard to find all its popular tourist spots, since they’re all situated in the center. For an entrance fee of thirty pesos, you can visit both the Museo de Baler and Aurora Home. Free entrance to the Quezon Memorial Park and the Baler Church, as well as photo-ops at the Baler Marker!

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Easily the most touristy photo I’ve ever taken, but hey, why not?
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In front of Museo de Baler
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The house Doña Aurora grew up in
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A painting of Doña Aurora and President Manuel Quezon
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A painting depicting key moments of Baler’s history, all the way to election of Senator Sonny Angara.

Ermita Hill

In 1735, a tsunami struck Baler with a force strong enough to completely wipe it from the map. What few survivors there were managed to outrun or outswim the tsunami by fleeing up Ermita Hill. Today, the site is marked by the Tromba Marina Statues depicting locals climbing the hill, as well as a white cross to commemorate the lives lost. There are also viewing platforms which offer magnificent views of the entire town, the beach, and the ocean.

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The view of Baler from the top of Ermita Hill

Baler Hanging Bridge

The hanging bridge in Brgy. Zabali crosses the Tibag-Sabang River and is used by locals to travel from one barangay to the other. Crossing that thing was no walk in the park, especially for the Queen of Clumsy – me. And because there were quite a number of assholes fuccbois fellow travelers purposefully shaking and jumping up and down the bridge, I basically crossed it as fast as I could while sending up a prayer to whatever god watches over girls that trip on flat surfaces, begging him/her to spare me and my phone an untimely plunge into the river.

Once we got to the other side, we let the aforementioned jerks dickwads fellow travelers go back first so that we could: a) take bomb ass pictures; and b) cross at a more sedate pace. (The prayer to said god who watches over girls that trip on flat surfaces was still firmly in place though.)

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Aurora’s natural beauty  

Balete Tree Park

In the town of Maria Aurora, there grows a balete tree that is over five stories high. Locals say it’s the biggest balete in Asia. I can believe that. The thing looks like it’d take a hundred people holding hands to encircle. It’s crazy huge.

I clambered up onto the tree and managed to climb up about five meters up before one of the tour guides yelled at me to get down. Apparently you can only climb the tree up to three meters. Whoops.

Balete trees are famous in Filipino folklore for being the homes of engkanto, kapre, tikbalang, and other such spirits. I will neither confirm nor deny any presences I felt – but better to be safe than sorry. Be respectful.

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The sign says you’re not supposed to climb higher than 3 meters 😦 I tried to disobey but was immediately caught – a troublemaker I will never be

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Ditumabo Mother Falls

WOW. No other words can describe the beauty of the Ditumabo Falls, also called the Mother Falls because it’s the largest waterfall in Aurora. I can’t even begin to describe the place. All I can say is that it’s one of those places you definitely have to see for yourself.

The trek is long and a tad arduous – 30 minutes of crossing water, clambering over rocks, and going uphill. But it’s worth it, I promise.

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140 feet of pure awesomeness!

Aniao Islets and Diguisit Beach rock formations

Opposite Sabang Beach is a long, empty stretch of coastline. This place is called Diguisit Beach, and from here you can see the Aniao Islets and the Diguisit rock formations.

We visited this place late Sunday afternoon, so there were no people at all. The view was magnificent, like something out of National Geographic. The rocks rising out of the water, the sky all pinky-gray because the sun was setting – it was magnificent.

I don’t have any photos of myself or my friends, just the scenery. After taking pictures of the beach and the rock formations, I shouldered my bag and proceeded to clamber all over the rocks. There weren’t any lifeguards or security guards around, so there was no one to stop me, unlike at the balete tree. (Yes, the Queen of Clumsy enjoys climbing things. The gods of irony shat themselves.) I managed to get all the way to the end of the rock formation jutting out into the water and had myself a “part of your world” Little Mermaid moment.

Unless you’ve got balls of steel or particularly good balance, do not go out there. Sitting on a tiny rock in the middle of the ocean and hearing waves crash all around you is scary as shit, not to mention climbing all over those rocks and not slipping into the water requires cockroach levels of crawling.

If you do decide to brave the climb though, you’ll be rewarded with an unparalleled view of the Pacific Ocean, the relaxing sound of waves and rushing water, and the knowledge that you and your problems are so miniscule when compared to the rest of the universe (or was that just me and my usual existential crisis?).

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Surfer’s paradise

What would a trip to Baler be without hitting the waves? Baler is known as the birthplace of Philippine surfing, thanks to the filming of the movie Apocalypse Now. The cast and crew left behind some surfboards when they left, which ignited a local passion for surfing.

The waves can get as high as eleven feet during prime surfing season, which I’m told is from September to February, but you can catch waves year-round. Since all of us were beginners, the baby waves were perfect.

So, you may ask, how did the Queen of Clumsy handle perching on a surfboard on top of water while sailing to shore?

I did just fine, surprisingly. It took a while until I managed to stand and ride all the way to shore though. Wipeouts were had aplenty, along with various bruises on my sides and my head from colliding with surfboards. My surfing instructor told me he’d never had such an accident-prone student, and told me to come back soon because I needed to work on that. Thanks, kuya.

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Where we ate after our surfing session – Baler Surfer Grill

Mad shout-out to the OG of Baler!!!

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The Supreme Overlord of Baler, way in the back, letting his hapless minions have the spotlight

A year ago, a friend of mine, Ruth, went to Baler on a whim during Holy Week. She and her boyfriend were unable to find lodging due to the sheer number of tourists flocking to the countryside to spend the long weekend, so their van driver took pity on them and introduced them to friends of his, who were renting out rooms in their house. Ruth gladly gave me the owners’ number, and I am so glad we decided to stay with them because holy shit. I – just – holy shit.

Kuya Jay Mapindan and his wife are both police officers, and their house, located in the middle of an empty field in Brgy. Reserva, was perfect. Reserva is some distance from the main town, so it’s nice and quiet. Kuya Jay rents out two bedrooms, both of which could easily fit five to ten people. He gave us both rooms for the measly sum of 4,000Php, which included coffee and snacks, wi-fi, and use of the TV, X-box, and PSP! (We stuck to using the wi-fi – the PSP and X-box were nice surprises, but we were in Baler for the beach, not gaming.)

Aside from the house and the knowledge that we were rooming with a couple of cops (useful for those worrying about safety issues), another perk of staying here came in the form of Kuya Jay himself, the OG of Baler. We jokingly called him Supreme Overlord because he knew everyone. We wanted a good but cheap place to go for lunch. He directed us to this carinderia owned by a fellow police officer – who, by the way, gave us free plates of pako salad and suman because “kasama niyo si parekoy”. Surfing lessons? He brought us to Dehins Surf Shop and sternly told the instructors to take care of us. The instructors took our noob-ness in stride and didn’t let up until all of us could stand properly on the board, never mind that we all only paid for one hour each. Inuman? He knew where to buy the best lambanog, let us store all our alcohol in the fridge, and gave us free ice. Souvenirs? He took us to this shop with quality shirts, magnets, keychains, etc., and bomb-ass discounts. When one of my friends and I passed by a water refilling station to fill our bottles, the owner asked us, “Si Jay ba ‘yan?” and we could only nod, dumbfounded.

Headed to Aurora and wanna stay with the legit Hari ng Baler? Hit him up at (0948) 766 6609. Our Baler experience wouldn’t have been as fun without him!

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