I think when I first wrote about Baler, it was for the most part still a sleepy little town near the Pacific where the surfers come and go with the swells. I remember also when I used to go there for work to talk to the locals and everything basically shuts down by 6 p.m. That was just 2 years ago.
In the last couple of years, Baler has transformed into a bustling tourist destination, both for recreational activities and cultural immersion.
Sabang is now the tourist hub. Nestled comfortably between the sea and the mountains, this formerly sleepy town is now bustling with all kinds of people. Today, the biggest and priciest hotel there would be Costa Pacifica. Ranging from Php 4000 ++ to Php 7000 per room, you get a view of either the beach or the gardens and pools. You can get a massage beside the L-shaped pool, or have at the spectacular pizza made by the in-house restaurant called Beach House. And they have fantastic tropical cocktails that you can sip while taking in the scenery.
Another place that really piqued my interest was the new Tareptepan Music and Arts Festival . They serve peanut-butter and salted-caramel flavored coffee. And they even sell a specially brewed beer made by Katipunan Craft Beers. To quote my brother G when he saw what I was downing, “Ang sarap nyaaan!” Nuf. said. The Charlie Does Beer is a little pricey though, at 200 bucks, but they do sell SMB products at the very reasonable price of Php50/bottle. The surf shop carries most of the mid to high end surf merch, but also sells some customized Charlie Does shirts which helps to raise funds for CARA. Owners Joe and Alex are big on animal welfare. If you happen to share their advocacy you should definitely visit their shop too. Be sure to get a Justice shirt — Justice is the name of their blind Labrador, who is the model for some of the prints on those shirts.
Katipunan Craft Beer by Katipunan Brew in Charlie Does surf shop
For those tourists who like trying out the “authentic” local flavors and mingling with the community, I would say Yellow Fin Bar is the go-to place. Fine, maybe I’m a little biased because it was the only bar in the whole of Sabang that was showing the futbol games, but I promise you will get what I mean when you see it. It’s a tiny 2 story wooden bar that apparently specializes in grilled food – seafood, pork, beef, chicken… I think the only thing they don’t grill are veggies… The downstairs have a tiny counter-top bar where you can gobble-up the grub, elbow to elbow with tricycle drivers, or tourists, or visiting dignitaries. The upstairs has a few tables and the tiny bar, and the TV. And did I mention it’s cheap? Like Php40/beer cheap, and sugba foods around Php-150-200 per serving, which is usually good for 3 to 4 people.
They were holding the first Tareptepan Music and Arts Festival when I was there last weekend. It was good effort by the organizers, who were able to bring in quite a number of local musicians to Baler, and also stage an Art Gallery. The stage was right by the new board walk and by the beach. A lot of the tourists who were enjoying the concert were actually not aware there was a free concert going on that weekend, so that was definitely a welcome treat for all of them. I especially had immense fun listening to the Flippin Soul Stomppers, who were the final act of the 2-day festival.
“Tareptep” is the local word for ripples that you make at the slightest touch on water. I believe it was conceptualized with the leadership of Maestro Ryan Cayabyab, who was there for the festival to organize the art workshops. I think one of the highlights of my trip was getting to listen to the Maestro give a little concert at Costa Pacifica, where the Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day delegates were hosted. He had his singers perform classic medleys a bit after dinner, with him at the keyboards of course. But the most amazing thing for me was when he just started asking people to come up and sing. He did attempt to get DOT Secretary Ramon Jimenez, Jr. to come up and sing with him, but the SOT got a little shy… So the Spanish military attaché stood up to sing a Spanish song then got a kiss from his wife. The ball started rolling then, and even Ms. Earth finalists did a little performance.
Ryan Cayabyab’s singers and him on the keyboards.
Photo of us during the dinner/concert
Here with Princess of Ms. Earth International Inc., and the Director of the National Museum, Mr. Jeremy Barnes, at the Philippine Spanish Friendship Day Gala Dinner in Costa Pacifica, Baler Aurora (Photo by Luis Garcia, Jr.)
I could not have gone back to Baler and not visit Dicasalarin. Something about the cove calls you back to it. Every time I go there and step into the beach I just involuntarily open up my arms, look up to the sky and just say a silent thanks — there are still a lot of beautiful things in the world. But Dicasalarin also has more to offer these days. The fully functional Artists Village is another architectural masterpiece. Situated well within the forest, this transients’ accommodations specially cater to all kinds of artists who need to get away and be one with nature. Anyone can visit Dicasalarin, you just need to get a gate-pass from the counter at Costa Pacifica (yes, even if you are not a guest of the hotel). I think there is a minimal fee. And you will need to rent a van to go there. The roads are pretty steep and expert drivers must be engaged for the journey.
For those who still haven’t been to Baler, my recommendation is to take the Joy Bus at either 12 mn or 1 am. You ride the Joy Bus from the Genesis Terminal along EDSA-Cubao. A one-way ticket costs Php780 (if they haven’t hiked it up yet). The bus has pilot seats that recline almost all the way down, they provide you will a blanket and a little pillow, and even serve you snacks. It takes about 5 hours to get from Cubao to Baler if you take the Joy Bus. There are no stops, but not to worry as there is a comfort room in the bus. You will get dropped off by the plaza/market. You can take a tricycle from there to Sabang or wherever you reserved for your accommodations. — there are some hostels in the town-proper that I hear are pretty decent.
Baler is a definite must-go-to if you’re touring the islands. Whether you’re a local or a foreign tourist, there is something for you to do and enjoy there. Say Haller Baler!!!!