I don’t remember exactly when my special fascination with Baler started.
I certainly didn’t hear it from Kris Aquino, to whom the locals attribute their sudden rise to popularity.
But now on the 3rd time, it still has the same charm that initially captured me.
I fear, though, that this is slowly being diluted by endless constructions and urbanization happening beach side. It has to stop.
This 3rd time, I felt like I owned the ocean. I stood on it like I can summon the power to do so. I rode my longest rides. I felt I could finally manuever the boards. Sports confidence restored after having lost it years and years in a row of no physical practice or play.
I finally had frame-worthy photos of myself with Baler. Props to traveling with a skilled and really enthusiastic photographer of a boyfriend.
This time I wore the right shoes and didn’t struggle the trek to the Mother Falls.
Also this trip, I wore a proper wet suit to take the piercing cold pool from the mightily angry falls.
BONFIRE WITH THE LOCALS
Yet again, I had the privilege to mingle with the locals in a bonfire over cheap drinks and nonsensical and deep conversations. As always, I just work the chips while I listen to their stories.
This time, though, we’re lucky to have a guitar and 4 sets of skilled fingers to alternately strum for us while we all belt One Day thru a lyrics on a glaring lights of an iPhone.
I will never hear stories of a paroled ex-prisoner, a tattoo artist with a tattoo on his eyeballs(!!! right?!), or a wise quarter-aged guy who’s spilled wisdom on me in the first 5 minutes of our standing encounter, in the city.
Not that these stories do not exist in the city, without a doubt there’s a surplus of such gasp-inducing tales in Manila, but I will not have the opportunity to slow down and sit down with them while they drink.
The fast city life just isn’t conducive for that. And my mindset is totally different from when I shift to an absorbing-observing traveler’s mind.
Now, le generous bf was feeling the Baler vibe and indulged the locals with a boodle fight by the seashore. It was my first time to eat on surf board for sure.
In Baler, we had the privilege of sharing this boodle fight lunch with the locals, our surf instructors from Gandang Alon Surf School 😁. We also shared it with a solo Spanish traveler girl, a vacationing doctor, and a few other locals. Yes, we ate on a surf board! And food almost got swept away when one guy was drowning in front of us while we’re having lunch and the surfer rescuer needed a board! It still remains, people of Baler are one of the kindest, most hospitable ones in the Philippines. Fascinating how these surf boards can serve as a table, a bed, a drinking area, a rescue board, among many others.
What’s more amazing though is how everything panned out. No discussions, somebody just instantaneously volunteers to do one thing, another for the rest–the grilling, whipping the Pako Salad, cooking the rice– it all just came together effortlessly.
SCENE STEALER: THE RESCUE
Then in the middle of a really interesting meal, a little boy Moises just shouted at the top of his lungs, “may nalulunod!’ pointing to the vast sea.
Tensed energy started enveloping the shore. People extending necks and legs to see full view. Whistles howling endlessly. There I saw an isolated struggling body far away from the rest of the surfing crowd.
One of the highschool boys dining with us immediately grabbed a board and sprinted towards the angry waves. Presence of mind had him sparing our boodle fight from being swept away. He found another board.
We were fed with past experiences by the locals while waiting for how the rescue will turn out. They were explaining how the water current is making it difficult to move forward.
How nobody hesitates to risk their lives to save another.
It was an unwritten rule, an unspoken agreement that everyone in Baler is responsible for everyone who comes to them.
Or well, the municipal hall actually designated the surfing schools to man the sea and serve as life guards for moments like this. In exchange for operating their surfing business, on top of ensuring that the shore is clean, the president of Gandang Alon Surf School filled us in.
The guy was saved of course (no medical attention needed), his friends who were as helpless welcomed him back at the shore. We resumed our meal as I was consumed with amazement.
Boy, they are really great swimmers and really fast, at that! I can barely propel my self along the direction of the waves and the guy from our boodle fight had to paddle against the really mad humongous never ending waves!
We had a really chilled, laid back stay in Baler but in retrospect, so much epic moments went straight to the core memory!
Just 6 hours of nonstop bus ride and you get the small sleepy town vibe where people are still genuinely kind.
Funny how we were suddenly part of the surf school’s “tropa”. Chairs come flying in whenever we visit their little nook under the concrete walkway. They pat it clean and dry and all smiles.
We come walking Sabang beachfront raising hands, waving an acknowledging hello to a random “tropa” we come across. And there will always be at least a few seconds of small talk EVERY TIME.
We found a tribe, we felt like we belong, like I always felt in Baler.
It might be a little farther, a little more expensive bus fare-wise, but I’ll always choose Baler over La Union. Less attention-grabbing urbanites, less city people-pleasing amenities, more raw, more real.
More conducive for re-centering, recharging, for clearing of the mind.
And this whole random, unexpected travelthon story is why I keep coming back to Baler.
By the way, on a side note, Travel Tour Expo is happening this coming weekend! Details here!