The 10 Things You Missed When You Went to Baler

The 10 Things You Missed When You Went to Baler

  1. Charlie’s Point

Charlie's Point, Baler, Aurora

You missed Charlie’s Point dude! Look at that photo above. That’s Robert Duvall as Col. Kilgore in the great Vietnam epic movie Apocalypse Now. It’s part of the Ride of the Valkyrie village attack scene, one of the best  movie battle scenes of all time! It’s also where Kilgore uttered the lines “I Love the Smell of Napalm in the Morning” one of the greatest movie quotes of all time. If you’re a film buff and visited Baler but didn’t go there, then you missed big time dude. Get back.

Now, if you went to  Baler to surf the waves, but didn’t go there to pay your respects, then you’re trip was never complete. Get back! This place is the veritable Birthplace of Philippine Surfing. If Baler is the town where Philippine surfing was born, this is the hospital where the mother of Pinoy surfing gave birth, or where the komadrona performed her hilot. And I’m not even talking about Apocalypse Now, of which 99% of internet sources would tell you was the reason why surfing started in this small town by the Pacific. That’s totally wrong.  Surfing did not arrive in Baler because of Apocalypse Now, it was the other way around. Foreigners, mostly G.I.s on break from the Vietnam War, have been surfing the waves of Baler years before Coppola arrived. Check out this picture:

Baler Surfing 1970s

That’s a screencap from a youtube documentary about the Philippines. It shows a tricycle surfing trip to Kagewad, now best known as Charlie’s Point, in the early 70’s, before Apocalypse Now was filmed there in 1976.

Charlie’s Point is not the original name of the place located at the mouth of Aguang River, about two kilometers north of Sabang. It’s locally called Kagewad, a sitio of Brgy. Reserva. It earned the nickname because it’s the name of the place in the movie, a Vietnamese fishing village with a fantastic peak but kinda hairy because it’s Charlies’ Point. It’s nice to jog there from Sabang early in the morning or you can rent a tricycle and ask the driver to bring you there. There’s also an eco-friendly glamping site on location called The Conservatory at Charlie’s. Go Google.

2. The Watchtower at Sitio Castillo

Old Watchtower at Sitio Castillo

Sitio Castillo is a fishing village located at the mouth of Kinalapan River on the southern end of Sabang Beach. It’s the original settlement of Baler. It’s called Castillo because there’s really a castillo (castle or fortified building) located in the area. Let’s read some history:

In 1798, the pirates raided Baler, captured approximately 450 inhabitants and held three Franciscan priests for ransom of 250 pesos, which was paid for their freedom. Because of this unfortunate incident the Franciscans planned for two watchtowers to be built in Baler, one on top of the hill called Ermita where the Franciscan hermitage stood, while the other by the sea, near the Aguang River. In 1847, the parish priest of Baler Father Jose Urbina de Esparragosa, who arrived in 1840, supervised the construction of the two watchtowers with the aid of community labor. The bases of the Moro pirates were raided and destroyed by the Spanish armed forces, whose strength and capability increased with the use of native troops and the purchase of more modern weapons and armed steamboats in 1847. Thus, the watchtowers appeared never to have been used for the purpose that they were built. (source)

Statue of Sta. Isabel at CastilloToday, only the base of the watchtower on Ermita Hill remains. However, the one on Sitio Castillo survived. In one of the earliest example of adaptive reuse, a chapel was constructed beside the structure and the watchtower was used as the altar. For a long time it remained untouched with shrubs and balete plants covering its facade. However, in 2006 it was cleaned and restored – albeit haphazardly. It was restored like construction workers were doing a roadside riprap. One would wish that Escuella Taller already existed during the time of its restoration. The structure remains today but it’s not part of any day tour of Baler. To go there, after your selfie or photo op at the Tromba Marina statue at the foothill of Ermita, before you make your way to Digisit, make a left turn to Castillo and the road will end right at the watchtower. While you’re there, visit the Sta. Isabel chapel where her statue, one of the oldest in Baler, is enshrined.

3. The Old Parola at Brgy. Sabang

Old Parola

There are two lighthouse destinations in Baler. One is a sci-fi looking one located at Dicasalarin Cove. You can go there from the Poblacion of Baler via a 45-minute boat ride or a land trip through a private resort that will charge you 300 pesos entrance fee. The other one is located at the top of Pokpok Hill (Pokpok na Bundok) at the headland of Digisit (yes, not Diguisit) about 30 minutes by land from the town center. Both are located on mountaintops so you need at least a level 1 skill in mountain climbing to reach them.

Digisit Lighthouse
The lighthouse at Pokpok Hill, Digisit.

One oft-ignored parola or lighthouse is the one at Sitio Tibag right at the beach front of Sabang. It’s not as picturesque or pre-nup friendly as the two other lighthouses but it’s very accessible, free, and provides a spectacular view of Baler Bay. The beach in this area of the bay has no seawall so it looks more natural. The only catch is you can’t go up the thing. There are no railings and there’s a makeshift gate blocking the steps up the tower. The local tourism office should do something about it and make the place a new tourist destination. To go there, just ask for directions to Tibag or ride a tricycle and ask to be taken to the parola at Sabang. Fare is 12 to 15 pesos. And while you’re there, do sample the delectable authentic Indian and Pinoy foods at The Shack restaurant right in front of the old parola.

4.  Badeyo from Tibag to Castillo and Back

View from Tibag Baler Aurora

Sitio Tibag in Bry. Sabang was so-called because the road going to that place used to end in a cliff that’s always being eroded by Kinalapan river. But many years ago the river bank moved further to Sitio Castillo and the cliff was levelled. But the name remained. The river dividing Tibag and Sitio Castillo still flows and since there’s no bridge over the river, one needs to ride a banca to cross the approximately 100-meter river. The fare for the short boat ride across the river is called badeyo, but today people now use the word for the boat ride itself. I think the current fare is 5 pesos.

Badeyo Baler Aurora

If you’re a boat ride virgin and already visited Baler but never tried the badeyo, then you missed a chance to lose your banca-innocence. It’s a short ride with a great view. Next time, If Ermita Hill is in your tour plan, you can skip the long route and opt to try the Badeyo. Just ask for directions to Tibag, do the badeyo for 5 pesos, walk through Sitio Castillo, stopping at the Sta. Isabel Chapel and the old watchtower, to the Tromba Marina sculpture at the foot of Ermita Hill and up the hill itself. If you only want the badeyo experience, you can easily take the boat ride at Tibag, don’t disembark at Castillo and take the return trip to Tibag. You can do this all day actually as long as you pay the 5 peso fare per trip.

5. The Original Aurora Memorial Hospital

Aurora A. Quezon Statue

The Provincial Hospital of Aurora is now located in Brgy. Reserva, far from the town center. And the old hospital located across Quezon Park and the famous “rolling” stores is now abandoned and falling in ruins. It’s a sad thing since it has an important place in Baler’s history. The building that now stands in the place is fugly, built in the 90s after the original was demolished.

Aurora Memorial Hospital

The original hospital, was one of the best  designed structures ever built in town. It was constructed through the initiative of Mrs. Aurora A. Quezon back in the 1940s. It was supposed to be inaugurated by Mrs. Quezon on April 28, 1948, along with the historical marker for President Quezon located across the hospital at the newly designated Quezon Park. But before she reached Baler, Mrs. Quezon, along with her daughter Maria Aurora, stepson Philip Buencamino, Quezon City Mayor Ponciano Bernardo and 8 others, were ambushed along the Baler-Bongabon road at Labi, Bongabon, Nueva Ecija. It was a sad day for the country and more devastating for Belereños.

Aurora A. Quezon Statue
Unveiling of the Aurora A. Quezon statue in front of the hospital, February 19, 1955.

The hospital was thereafter named as Aurora Memorial Hospital in her memory and a statue was unveiled in her honor on the plaza of the hospital in February 19, 1955, her 67th birthday. The hospital may not be there anymore but her statue still stands in the compound and the local government is maintaining the area and plans to include it in the historical tour itinerary of Baler.

6. Eating Katid

A trip to Baler without foods is not complete. So let’s take a break from the places and destinations and have a snack. Presenting the Katid!

Katid

The sight of those things might gross you out but I know some Balereños in New Jersey now salivating at that photo and suddenly thinking of having a quick hometown vacation just for the taste of it. Katid is a sort of naked clam called shipworm, “a bivalve molluscs notorious for boring into wood immersed in seawater” (thanks wikipedia). It’s also notorious for its wonderful taste, if you’re into oysters and clams. They have the same taste, some say better. The challenge in eating it is how to supress your gag reflex knowing that you’re downing a worm.

Katid

Katid is always served raw, with a squeeze of kidya (calamansi) juice, some salt and siling labuyo. It’s a gourmet pulutan partnered with tuba or gin. There’s a phrase in Baler, “pwera katid”, which originally means to pass on an invitation to drink (alcohol) unless the pulutan is katid. That’s how special the thing is. The catch is it’s a rare delicacy even for locals, so you really need to have connections to score these crawlers. Ask around. Because you’ve never really been to Baler until you’re a certified Katid-eater.

7. Baler’s Kilometer Zero

There are tourists who actively look for the KM 0 marker in every town they visit. They collect these photos and and serve as their evidence of sorts to prove that they have been to the place. Others just want to be at the heart or center of the town.

Kilometer Zero Baler
The new Kilometer Zero marker of Baler with Eben’s tricycle.

The “Heart of Baler” is located just a few meters away from the municipal plaza and the popular Baler marker sign where you probably queued to have your picture taken when you last visited. It’s along T.  Molina street, the road going to Sabang beach, in front of the AVP house. See the Google Earth picture below, it’s facing west to the Municipal hall, plaza and Baler church. That two-story orangey house on the left is the APV house and that yellow thing beside Ka Eben’s tricycle is Baler’s Kilometer Zero. Don’t miss it the next time you visit.

Baler Kilometer Zero
Baler Kilometer Zero (Google Street View photo)
Baler Kilometer Zero
The original KM0 marker

The original marker was already buried halfway under the ground due to several road concreting projects and the zero sign is just above road level but it was replaced by a new one a few months ago. You can learn a few things by reading kilometer post signs. They usually show the distance from Manila Kilometer Zero in Luneta where the distance of all towns in the country is reckoned. Baler is 231 KM from Manila as shown in the KM 0 marker. That is if you take the old Baler-Bongabong road. Taking the Baler-Pantabangan route is longer than 231 kilometers but easier. When it’s not the zero marker it also shows the distance from the nearest town or port.

8. The View from ASCOT

ASCOT Zabali

The Aurora State College of Technology (ASCOT) Main Campus is located in an almost 200 hectare portion of the Dibudalan mountain range in Brgy. Zabali, Baler, Aurora and includes Ermita Hill where most tourists go for a panoramic view of the town and the Baler bay. But unknown to many but few bikers who consider it as one of the three hilltop rides in Baler, are the wonderful views from the upper levels of the College – where the Colleges of Engineering and Industrial Technology and the HRM buildings are located.

ASCOT Baler

The vistas may not be as “dramatic” as in Ermita Hill but it offers views from much higher vantage points and a much serene environment despite being located inside a College campus. The above photo shows the view of the town of Baler from the HRM building in what the ASCOT people call the third level or the campus.

ASCOT Baler

Here’s another view facing north with the Baler bay on the background. ASCOT is located along the tourist route (eco-trail) to Digisit but you probably missed this when you went to Ermita Hill to pose with the evacuees of the Tromba Marina statue and to Digisit to take pictures of rocks. Take a short detour to ASCOT on your next visit. Here’s a shot from Google Street View to show you where to take the right turn upstairs. That gate is usually open.

Turn right to the upper levels of the College for the views.
Turn right to the upper levels of the College for the views.

9. UP Baler

UP-SHS Baler

Yep, there’s a UP in Baler. As in University of the Philippines. More accurately, the full name is UP School of Health Sciences Extension Campus Baler Aurora. It was established in 2008 as an Extension of UP-SHS in Palo, Leyte supervised by UP Manila. That’s a lot of UP in one paragraph.

The School of Health Sciences was seen as the solution to the lack and the inequitable distribution of health professionals serving rural communities in the Philippines.   (thanks wikipedia)

For some time the school operated inside the ASCOT Campus in Zabali but later transferred to its present location at Brgy. Reserva. The school is different from other UP Campuses since students are not required to take the UPCAT and their studies are sponsored by the local LGUs where they are required to render services after they graduate. The school offers ladderized courses in Midwifery, Nursing and Medicine. In the short time since the extension campus was opened in Baler, it had established itself as one of the top midwifery and nursing schools in the country with mostly 100% licensure exam passing rates. In the November 2014 board exams for midwifery the top 3 passers were from UP-SHS Baler.

UP-SHS Baler

Now I myself is guilty of being a UP tourist. Meaning, when there’s a chance and a UP campus is along the way of a tour of some place in the country, I take the opportunity to visit the place, at least to have a picture taken with the naked oblation guy. There’s usually no competition with the students since there’s this kasabihan that you will be cursed and not graduate when you take a picture with the statue while still enrolled at UP. Well, there’s an oblation statue at UP Baler and you can have a selfie with the guy the next time you visit Baler.

The campus is located at Brgy. Reserva beside the Aurora Memorial Hospital.

10. Putok sa Dikaloyungan Marker

Putok sa Dikaloyungan marker (Google Earth)
Putok sa Dikaloyungan marker (Google Earth)

From the looks of the site, it seems that you’re not the only one who missed the Putok sa Dikaloyungan historical marker. The local peeps in charge of cleaning the place or the DPWH Oyster guys also missed it. Notwithstanding its usual state, that small marker commemorates an important event in Baler’s history. You probably heard about the Siege of Baler when your local traysi tour guide brought you to Baler Church or by way of the Jericho Rosales and Anne Curtis movie Baler which is historically accurate by about 45%. But that’s another story. In a nutshell, the Siege of Baler was the event during the Philippine Revolution when Filipino soldiers laid siege to a garrison of Spanish soldiers who held fort inside the Baler Church for almost a year, long after the Spanish-Filipino war ended and well into the Philippine-American war. They were celebrated as heroes after their surrender and called “Los Ultimos de Filipinas”, the last of the Philippines. Their heroism is still remembered in this town every June 30, the Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day. The local heroes who kept them corralled for almost a year were sadfully forgotten.

Putok sa Dikaloyungan Historical Marker
Putok sa Dikaloyungan Historical Marker

The siege is always told and remembered to have started from July 1, 1898 to June 2, 1899. But the story really started a year before, in Dicaloyungan, a sitio in the outskirts of the town. It’ where a group of local insurgents led by Teodorico Novicio held meetings and did their Baler version of the Cry of Pugadlawin. It’s called Putok sa Dicaloyungan but the late historian and genealogist Benny Sindac once told me that most possibly, actual gunshots were not fired during that fateful day. Bullets are expensive, he said. In October 4, 1897, Novicio and his men attacked the Spanish headquarters around the town plaza. They managed to kill most of the Spanish infantrymen but lost twelve (12) persons from their side, 11 Baler locals and 1 from Infanta. Eight months later, they again laid siege to a bigger and much prepared Spanish garrison in the church of Baler and they managed to hold the soldiers inside the church for a year. The heroism of those local insurgents is what’s being recognized and remembered in the Putok sa Dikaloyungan historical marker. In Baler every 4th of October, nothing happens. There’s no wreath-laying or even a small program to commemorate the important historical event where local heroes died fighting for the nation’s independence. I. don’t. know. why.

Putok sa Dikaloyungan Historical Marker
This was how the historical marker site looked like when it was inaugurated.

The Putok sa Dikaloyungan marker is one of the six (6) NHI markers in Baler and the only one located outside the periphery of the church and municipal plaza. It’s about 100 meters from the unfinished Dicaloyungan bridge on the left side of the road. It’s easy to miss since it’s mostly covered with grasses so keep your eyes open.

And there it is, the ten things you missed when you visited Baler. Another 10 reasons to return to Baler. I can list a few more but 10 looks like a perfect number for now. And don’t miss picking up your trash on your next visit.

About kidlat

Joseph T. Gonzales, aka Kidlat is the creator of Batangbaler, the website and online community of all the scattered Balereños and Aurorans on Earth. He is based in Baler.

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