I first learned about Turner when I was doing research on how people are able to travel and live anywhere by doing unique jobs. At that time, I was doing something similar myself. I was helping out at a friend’s surf resort called Secret Spot in Baler, Philippines.
Little did I know that a few months later, Turner would be visiting my country to help out victims in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan. Unfortunately, I was already living in Chiang Mai, Thailand at the time of his trip. But I’m happy to do my little part to tell you about my favorite place in the Philippines and invite you to come visit soon.
I first came to Baler in 2010, an eager surfer in search of stoke and consistent waves. But I found much more than that.
Baler is the capital town of Aurora, situated between the lush forests of the Sierra Madres on the west and the temperate waters of the Pacific on the East. It is known to be the birthplace of surfing in the Philippines after Francis Ford Coppola chose this town to film most scenes from the cult classic Apocalypse Now. After filming, the crew had left surfboards which started the surfing culture in this town.
I’ve heard so much about the scenic beaches and the powerful waves during surf season. But nothing quite prepared me for the simplicity of life enriched by the surfing culture in this sleepy little town. It made me keep coming back for more.
I visited this town nearly every month in 3 years and spent at least a week each time just to enjoy the chill out vibe, befriend locals and of course, to surf my little heart out. I finally made the decision to live in Baler in February this year and it welcomed me like a prodigal daughter. Every day there was essentially the same, but I felt myself gradually changing. My city life layers peeled away to reveal what’s essential: doing what you love and sharing it with people you love.
Why should you go? Here’s why:
Paddle your little heart out
Sabang Beach is where most surfers go. It’s a long strip of beach where the resorts and surf shops are located. If you sit close to the sea wall, you can see advanced surfers including the surf legends catch waves all day long.
Charlie’s Point is the famous setting for the surf scenes in Francis Ford Coppola’s film Apocalypse Now. If you’re taking a vehicle, you can ask a local to take you to this little known spot so you can find it. Most tricycles can drive you there for about 300 PHP. But it’s really just a 45 minute walk from Sabang Beach, maybe more than an hour with a board in tow.
Semento Reef is where the suicidal surfers go. First timers may have to make a ‘donation’ in terms of blood and scraps of skin. It’s not for the fainthearted, I tell you. But if you dare try it, you may be rewarded with a fantastic view and get to surf some barreling waves at sunset.
There’s a lot of other places to surf in Baler but you’ll have to come discover them for yourself. The locals tend to want to keep some places for themselves. Not out of selfishness but also for safety reasons. If you do come and stay for a while, I’m pretty sure you will be an insider in no time.
Not a surfer? Not a problem.
Baler is not just for surfing. There are lots of places to explore in this not so widely explored town. When the wave conditions are not good, you can visit some places in Baler that will get your heart pumpin’ just the same.
The Ditumabo Waterfalls is a majestic sight to behold. It’s 30 minutes from the town proper plus a 30minute trek going through some boulders and rough terrain. But it’s absolutely worth the effort! There are rivers, ‘baby’ waterfalls, wooden bridges and mountain trails on the way to the ‘mother’ falls. Get ready though, the water’s freezing!
Not so far the Ditumabo Waterfalls is a 300 year old Balete Tree. The interesting part about this gigantic tree, besides its age, is that it has a hollow trunk where you could go through. It feels a bit creepy when you get in the middle of the trunk. You’d feel that the could practically swallow you whole. If you’re feeling adventurous, try to beat the local kids by speed climbing to the top!
Diving in Baler is also starting to get popular. It has many untouched reefs and coral-lined shores just waiting to be discovered. You can rent some gear from a shop right beside Charlie Does Shop on Buton St. You can also rent kayaks, ATVs, Hobie Cat sailboats and bikes.
Biking is a great way to explore the town. You can visit some nearby places like the Baler Museum, former president Manuel L. Quezon’s resthouse, Catholic Church and Quezon Memorial Park by bike or on foot.
And don’t forget to hang out at the boardwalk where most people congregate by sundown. Catch a glimpse of your favorite surfers doing what they do best. Have some “dirty” ice cream or local delicacies from street vendors. Watch a few kids do tricks on skateboards or do a few yourself.
I’ve seen Baler grow from a small, sleepy town into a thriving tourist destination in just 3 years. It’s starting to get noticed, for sure. During the holidays, you can find the beach resembling the coast of Boracay. But on weekdays, you can have the place to yourself.
No matter what everyone says about this place, I still think its best draw is the people. You would never meet the friendliest locals in the water or on land anywhere else. People are just genuinely nice here. They want to meet you. They greet you in the streets. They want to help out. They are curious about you with no motives or agenda.
I hope you get the chance to meet them too.
Help the Philippines
This is just one of many beautiful spots to see in the country. There’s so much more to discover. By visiting you also help the local economy. If you’re not visiting anytime soon but you want to help, you can donate and help raise funds to give Filipino kids a happy Christmas this year.