Dicasalarin Cove (San Luis, Aurora)

After lunch, the Sen. Angara invited us to explore the compound and climb the hill.  We were particularly impressed by and enjoyed exploring the compound’s Ifugao Village, a mini-complex of quaint Ifugao-inspired cottages.  

View of Dicasalarin Cove from Lighthouse Hill

Then, with some guides, we decided to explored the cove itself, its stunning beauty as rough as the continually crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean.  Its beauty remains so as there are no resorts and visitor facilities along the beach.  Instead, scattered along this cove are unique rock formations, each with a unique charm of its own.

Unique rock formations at Dicasalarin Cove
Exploring the cove

On the right side of a peninsula we discovered a sea-sculpted cave and did some swimming inside.  This short cave, seemingly accessible only during low tide, is well-lighted as it is open on both sides of the mountain.

Exploring the sea-sculpted cave

Nearby is Birhen Island, a rock formation sculpted by natural erosion to resemble the figure of the Blessed Virgin praying amidst the pounding waves. On our way back, we then climbed a steep imposing hill, the site of the senator’s future lighthouse.

The route up Lighthouse Hill
The gang’s all here

Steps, with ropes tied to wood posts as railings, were cut along the hill to provide access.  The 15-20 min. climb was exhausting but the rewards were great when we reached top as we had a panoramic and breathtaking, 360 degree view of the cove, the Sierra Madre Mountains, sheer cliffs and the pounding waves of the Pacific Ocean.  The way way down was easier but harder on the heels.  Back on the beach, we gave our tired bodies a break with a brief but welcome frolic at the sea.

Relaxing along the beach after a tiring trek

Returning to the resthouse, we met up with Ms. Alexandra “Alex” Angara, the London-educated daughter of the senator, and her boyfriend Joseph “Joe” Cole and her pet dog Huckleberry.  Alex invited us to stay the night and we were really tempted to accept the offer.

With Alex Angara (third from left)

However, we only planned our visit as a day trip and didn’t bring enough clothes.  Besides, we had to leave very early in the morning for our long-haul return trip to Manila.    Thus, it was with some difficulty that we declined the invitation.

The beauty that is Dicasalarin Cove

After washing up, Alex graciously accompanied us to the beach where our speedboat was waiting to bring us back to Cemento.   Truly, our visit to Dicasalarin Cove was the piece de resistance to our 4-day visit to the beautiful province of Aurora.

How to Get There: As the cove is privately-owned, you have to secure a gate pass (PhP300/pax) at Bahia de Baler Garden Resort before heading for the cove.  The cove is open for guests at the resort.  By land, you can get there in 30 mins. by car via a steep (too steep for a tricycle) and narrow  road with scenic views of the cove.  By sea, you can charter a motorized boat at Sabang.  The trip takes 45 mins.

An Audience with Sen. Edgardo J. Angara (San Luis, Aurora)

Once settled in at Carlito’s Inn, I got a call in the evening from Sen. Edgardo J. Angara’s secretary approving my request, made at the Provincial Tourism Office booth at Ermita Hill, for us to visit his resthouse at Dicasalarin Cove in nearby San Luis town.  Come morning and after breakfast at the inn, we proceeded to the Fish Port at Brgy. Cemento, our pickup point, and parked the Toyota Revo there.  From hereon, it was all sea travel as the road to the cove, previously attempted by us the previous day, was still unpassable.  Normally, scheduled boats (available up to 2 PM only) transport visitors to Dicasalarin Cove from Sabang in about 45 mins. and we were expecting to be picked up by an outrigger boat.  You can only imagine our surprise when the senator’s speedboat was, instead, waiting for us at the pier.  Thus, we got there in style and in less than half the time, all of us thoroughly enjoying this welcome and unexpected treat.

Traveling in style and speed

Upon nearing the cove, the boat slowly inched its way to a delta where a river met the sea.  The cove lies where the foothills of the Sierra Madre Mountains meet the Pacific Ocean.  Upon alighting, it was just a short hike from the secluded white sand beach to the resthouse’s simple log gateway.  Picnic huts and wooden tables, ideal for al fresco dining and all shaded from the hot sun by trees, plus interconnected log cottages, all covered with thatched roofing, are found all over the compound. We were billeted in one of the cottages where we freshened up for our meeting with the senator.

The Ifugao Village

Our gracious host, fresh from his working tour around his property, soon arrived and joined us all at an open-air cabana where a delicious seafood lunch was prepared.  The senator, who also happened to be U.P. president during my college days in the late 1970’s and early 1980s, narrated his plans for the place, providing a land route by clearing and paving the road we previously attempted, creating an Artists Village and also building a lighthouse atop the hill.

With Sen. Edgardo Angara

Carlito’s Inn (Baler, Aurora)

Travelling back to Baler town proper, we now resumed our search for a suitable hotel or inn where we can stay in relative comfort.  Our first night in Aurora was spent camping along Sabang Beach, Baler’s hotels, resorts and inns being full during this Holy Week break.  Luck smiled on us as, asking around at the seemingly new, 3-storey Carlito’s Inn, we found that a recently-vacated airconditioned family room, at the ground floor, was available for our use (PhP1,000).  We took it.

Carlito’s Inn

The room, with two double beds, could accommodate all five of us.  It had a wall-mounted cable TV and  electric fan and that all-important bathroom.  The hotel also has airconditioned, 2-3-pax standard rooms (with 1 double or 1 single bed, PhP700), with the same amenities, and dorm rooms (PhP1,800) good for 10 persons.   

Our family room

The hotel also has its own in-house restaurant (open 6 AM to 12 midnight) where we can order food or a bottle of beer (they also have room delivery service via intercom).  The inn is located at the eastern edge of the town, about 2 kms. from Sabang Beach. A no frill but comfortable and affordable inn with ample parking space. 

Carlito’s Inn: P.T. Ong St., Brgy. Suklayin, Baler, Aurora. Mobile number: (0908) 872-0816 (Ms. Aida Viron).  

Exploring Baler’s Environs (Aurora)

Dimadilangat Island

After surfing lessons at Sabang Beach, we packed up our tent and belongings, loaded it at the Toyota Revo and decided to spend the rest of the afternoon doing some sightseeing.  First on our itinerary was the Ermita Park in Brgy. Zabal, the highest point in the town.  According to the locals, many of the town’s inhabitants sought refuge here when a tidal wave struck and completely engulfed Baler on December 1735.  Today, it has a huge white cross (which is lighted at night), picnic huts, a chapel and a mini-zoo.  To get to the cross, we had to climb over a hundred steps but the effort was well worth it as it has, from its concrete view deck, an excellent view of the town, the Sierra Madre Mountains, Cemento and Sabang Beaches, Lukso-Lukso rock formation and the offshore islands of Dimadilangat and Aniao. 

The cross at Ermita Hill

Having seen the the latter islands from Ermita Hill, we next drove down the hill to visit Dimadimalangat Island.  Located off the reef shore, it serves as a point identifying the southernmost tip of Baler Bay.  This rock formation is approachable during low tide and, during the calm months of April to June, the place becomes a haven for wall divers.   It is also a good dive and snorkeling site.

Aniao Islands

We next drove further south to the Aniao Islands, just off the coast of Brgy. Zabali.  These two small but imposing, shrub-covered islands are a habitat for kingfishers, gulls and even hawks and its peaks are a challenge for rock climbers.   Towering waves adamantly pound the island’s base. The islands are a 20-min. boat ride from Sabang.

Diguisit Falls

I wanted to continue on to the Radar/Weather Station at Cape Encanto and, beyond, to Dicasalarin Cove in neighboring San Luis town but boulders were blocking the already bad road so I decided to turn the Revo around and return to the town.  On our way back to the town proper, we also made a stopover at roadside Diguisit Falls (a.k.a. Natulo Falls).  Located 10 kms. from the town proper, it was said to be the first potable water source  for the people of Baler, made so through the efforts of Dona Aurora Quezon.  

Camping and Surfing at Sabang Beach (Baler, Aurora)

Cheska on her surfboard

Baler Tourism Coordinator Riza del Rosario sadly informed us that there wasn’t any accommodation available whatsoever for us, at least for this day.  I wasn’t surprised as it was the holidays and Baler was packed with tourists.  Anticipating this, I brought along my new Coleman 5-pax tent which I received last Christmas.  It measures 3 m. by 3 m. and has a 1.83 m. head clearance, convenient if you need to stand up while dressing.  From the town proper, I first drove to the Hanging Bridge at Brgy. Zabali where my 4 companions gamely crossed to the other side.  Motion sickness, caused by the swaying bridge, made me stop midway during my crossing and forced me to turn back.  After this adrenalin-filled crossing, we returned to the Revo and drove on to the gray sand Sabang Beach in Brgy. Sabang.  Most of the accommodations in Baler are located along this beach but, since all were fully booked, I just rented a picnic hut and pitched my tent on the grassy ground beside it.     

The gray sand Sabang Beach

Long before the movie Baler, the town was known as one of the country’s top 5 surfing areas. The waters of the Pacific formed strong, sharp break waves that provide an exhilarating high among experienced surfers. The best waves come in from October to March when the northeast monsoon blows down from China but surfing waves are present all year round, even during our visit.  Glassy right and left waves occur in the early mornings. They are not usually big, except during typhoons.   Thus, Sabang Beach is a good site for beginners and novice surfers.  Jandy and Cheska, as well as Lulu, all beginners, opted to take some surfing lessons (PhP350/pax for 1 hr.) while Vi, an avid photographer, just took pictures.  I stayed behind to watch the tent and our belongings. 

Fish catch being hauled in
Sabang Beach has three surfing sites: Cobra Reef, Charlie’s Point and Secret Spot.  Charlie’s Point, located north of Sabang Beach, within walking distance from the town proper, was where the surfing scene of Francis Ford Cuppola‘s 1979 Apocalypse Now was filmed.  It is known for its medium-quality, right and left breakwaves on sand and gravel bottom. The waves are best from December to January. Secret Spot is located at the mouth of the Cemento River. Further north of Sabang Beach is the newly discovered surfing spot called Lindy’s Point, a 15-min. hike from Bay’s Inn.

Church of San Luis Obispo de Tolosa (Baler, Aurora)

From the Baler Museum, we walked a short distance to the small but venerable San Luis Obispo de Tolosa Church, the site of the siege depicted in the movie.  Commonwealth Pres. and native son Manuel L. Quezon was also baptized here.  However, the present masonry church is nowhere near  the appearance of the wooden church depicted in the movie Baler which deteriorated later and was rebuilt in brick and stone in 1939.

Church of San Luis Obispo de Tolosa
The church was declared as a National Historical Landmark on February 29, 2000.  On the left side of the church is a marker, installed in 1931, to commemorate the capture of Lt.-Cmdr. James C. Gilmore and 16 American marines of the U.S. gunboat Yorktown who attempted to relieve the Spanish garrison.

Museo de Baler (Aurora)

Museo de Baler

We arrived in Baler by 3 PM, Holy Thursday, and we were met at the quaint, 2-storey Museo de Baler by Baler Tourism Coordinator Ms. Riza del Rosario who tried to secure accommodations for us (there weren’t any).   While waiting, we took time to explore the museum both  inside and out.   At the building’s facade is “The Baler Historical Mural” done by sculptor Toym Imao (son of National Artist Abdulmari Imao) and unveiled on June 30, 2008.  It depicts 400 years of Spanish rule in the Philippines, from their arrival until the Siege of Baler, plus images depicting progress and development in Baler and in other towns of Aurora.

Museum exhibits

Opened on June 30, 2003 (Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day), the museum exhibits historical records dating back to the Spanish period; splendid photographs covering the images of Baler and the rest of the province; centuries-old Chinese ceramics; memorabilia of Lt.-Gov. Pedro Guerrero; old bells of Baler Church; sabutan weaving products;  art works, costumes, etc. One notable exhibition is devoted to the life and career of Commonwealth Pres. Manuel L. Quezon, Baler’s foremost son (born here on August 19, 1878), while another highlights Aurora’s indigenous peoples, preserving Ilongot as well as Dumagat artifacts.  The museum’s wall is decorated with a mural commissioned by local son Sen. Edgardo Angara to remind the locals about the heroism of their ancestors.

Quezon Memorial Park

Standing beside the museum, at Quezon Memorial Park, is a replica of the bahay kubo where Pres. Quezon’s was born and grew up (Casa de Maestro Lucio Quezon) plus a Spanish-era cannon, mini-lagoon and a sitting bronze statue of Quezon, set on a circular platform, designed by Julie Lluch and installed in 2006.  Baler is also the birthplace of Quezon’s wife Doña Aurora Aragon Quezon (February 19, 1888), after whom the province was named.  As First Lady, she initiated the rebuilding of Baler’s old church.  marker for her is located a block away.

Millennium Tree (Maria Aurora, Aurora)

The Millennium Tree of Maria Aurora

The eerie and somewhat creepy Millennium Tree, a  massive, 49-m. high, 10-15 m. wide balete or weeping fig tree (scientific name: Ficus balete Merr.) amidst papaya plantations, is the star attraction in Maria Aurora town. Southeast Asia’s (others say in Asia) largest banyan tree, it has been carbon dated to be between 400 – 600 years old (not quite millennial) and is one of the oldest in the country,

Aerial roots

A cave-like opening among the roots

They say it takes 40 to 60 people to encircle the gigantic trunk. The incredible tree’s thick aerial roots have grown above the ground, forming “caves,” and one can also enter the hollow interior of the tree which was once another tree clung to and killed by the balete tree.  Its 60 m wide crown has survived numerous extreme typhoons. The trunk occupies around 190 sq. m..

The author with Cheska and Jandy

Millennium Tree: Balete Park, Brgy. Quirino, Maria Aurora, Aurora. Admission: PhP10/pax.

How to Get There: Balete Park is located 3.5 kms. from Maria Aurora. From Baler, hire a tricycle to get there (30-min. travel time).  Coordinates: 15.7698N 121.4770E.

Canili-Diayo Dam and Reservoir (Aurora and Nueva Vizcaya)

Canili-Diayo Dam

The Canili-Diayo Dam and Reservoir, a tributary of the  Pantabangan Dam, is probably the most picturesque irrigation dam in the country.  Situated on the border of Nueva Vizcaya and Aurora provinces, the Canili River Reservoir, on the left coming from Manila,  is part of the town of Alfonso Castaneda (Nueva Vizcaya) while the Diayo River Reservoir is part of Maria Aurora (Aurora).

Great view of the mountains from the dam

The dam reservoir

Built in the 1970s, the dam’s earth dike is part of the Pantabangan-Canili-Basal-Baler Road.  This bypass road was originally a two-lane road but now access is restricted to one vehicle at a time to minimize vibration on the earth fill dam walls and protect the dam from deterioration. The direction of flow depends on who approached the other end on the road first.

The Pantabangan-Canili-Basal-Baler Road

To prevent speeding, a number of humps were also placed on the road.  There is also a 10-ton vehicle weight limit being imposed. Trailers and large trucks are banned. Big trucks pass through the old route – Nueva Ecija-Aurora Road passing through Bongabon town (Nueva Ecija) and San Luis town (Aurora).

On the Road to Baler

Canili-Diayo Dam (Alfonso Castaneda)

Baler, the provincial capital and center for trade and industry of Aurora province, recently hit it big when its namesake movie Baler won Best Picture and a host of other awards in last year’s Metro Manila Filmfest, its plot based on the 337-day (June 27, 1898-June 2, 1899) siege of its Spanish garrison by Filipino rebels.  When it finally surrendered (the last to do so in the country), Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, in admiration, declared, on June 30 (now Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day), that the remaining 33 Spanish soldiers were not be imprisoned but honored as friends.  Me and my family watched it and, being actually filmed on location, I was also impressed by its rugged scenery and decided to visit it, doing so on Holy Week.  Joining me were my two kids, Jandy and Cheska, plus lady friends Ms. Lourdes “Lulu” Siguenza and Ms. Rosevie “Vi” Sevilla, an avid photographer.

As we left Manila late afternoon of April 8, Wednesday.  Traffic was relatively light considering it was the eve of the Holy Week break but, once out at the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX), I took the wrong exit and was, instead, on our way to Zambales before I realized my mistake and backtracked, losing valuable time (not to mention the gasoline) in the process.  Dinner was at a Chowking outlet at a rest station along NLEX.  Late evening caught us in San Leonardo, Nueva Ecija, and tired from all these misadventures, decided to call it a night, pulling into a roadside drive-in motel.  I was speechless when Cheska inquired as to the strange furniture as well as the bathroom with the see-through glass in our room.

Camp Pangatian

Come morning, we continued on our way and made a short stopover, along the Cabanatuan-Palayan Rd., at Camp Pangatian, 8 kms. from Cabanatuan City.

Check out “Pangatian War Memorial

Provincial Capitol (Palayan City)

There are 2 routes to Baler – the Baler-Bongabon (Nueva Ecija) Road and the longer Pantabangan-Canili Road. As the former was impassable during the rainy season, we opted for the latter.  Just the same, at least 20 kms. of the trip was along gravel roads at Alfonso Castaneda (Nueva Vizcaya), the last town before entering Aurora province.  Here, we made photo op stopovers at Pantabangan Lake (a man-made lake resulting from the construction of the Pantabangan Dam) and its tributary, the Canili-Diayo Dam and Reservoir, probably the most picturesque irrigation dam in the country.

Check out “Canili-Diayo Dam and Reservoir


Millennium Tree

We entered Aurora province at Maria Aurora town (the province’s biggest).  Here, we made another stopover at  Balete Park and its star attraction – the Millennium Tree, a  massive, 49-m. high, 10-15 m. wide balete tree.

Check out “Millennium Tree