Casiguran, north of Baler

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Here I am !

I went to Casiguran, 120 kms north of Baler, without knowing where to stay. My internet search yielded nothing. A friend texted me somebody’s name, but the text message remained unanswered.

Yet,  the thrill of passing through rugged mountain roads made me go.

I got what I wanted. While the road is slowly being paved to connect Baler and Casiguran, it doesn’t look like the project will be completed in the next 6 years. No, not even during the term of the incoming president.

The trip started out on well paved roads from Baler to the next town called Dipaculao. Shortly thereafter, it was dirt road. And it remained like that for most of the trip, with some paved portions here and there, mostly within the town and sitio centers. Imagine the sharp curves of Eme or Bitukang Manok in Atimonan, Quezon. Make the roads narrower, and take away the concrete or the asphalt. You get a pretty good peg of the trip to Casiguran, with the Philippine Sea on your right as a big bonus.

Breathtaking views at Dipaculao

The next town was Dinalungan, where a most interesting advertising signage hit me. On a bend through the rocky roads was a huge boulder with the words “Lily’s Restaurant – 6 kms”. How ingenious. There is some form of civilization some 6 kilometers ahead? True enough, another short stretch of paved roads was ahead of us, and on our right was Lily’s Restaurant. I wasn’t hungry, and the thought of feasting on seafood in the coastal town of Casiguran made sure I skip Lily’s.

No one brings a sedan on this drive. Not only because the roads are unpaved, but also because there are portions of the road network that slide deep down to serve as water passageways, from the mountains to the sea. Imagine driving your sedan through a large basin.

Within these largely unpaved roads, you will find just-finished bridges. Apparently, the contractor is starting with the bridges,  and then the concreting of the road starts right after. Methinks it is also wise, because Casiguran is very isolated and help can not come when bridges are downed by typhoons.

I knew I was in Casiguran when I saw the welcome arko ahead of me. It was a small town so I asked around for Ronie Montes, the name given by a friend. As it turns out, Casiguran has been blacked out for a week because there have been no deliveries of fuel to the electric cooperative. Thus, batteries of their mobile phones have been drained, rendering their phones inutile.

Ronie asked around, checking for available accommodations. We finally went to a mayoral candidate’s private beach house which he rents out to visitors. It was supposed to be the best choice because they had a genset in the place.

Off we went to Kapaspasan, and a campaign poster of “Curitana for Mayor” greeted us. We checked out the rooms. I was told the rooms can be rented at P1,500 per day. OMG! I never imagined having to pay that much for a room in the boondocks. No aircon, just a fan. No fresh beddings, just the bed cover that seemed like it’s been there for years. Even the silk pillow case gave me visions of mushrooms sprouting anytime. There isn’t even an en suite toilet – –  there is one outside of the room , for common use. Oh yes, maybe because it was a private house, not a hotel. But they were renting at hotel rates, and they did not even provide towels or toiletries. Just as well I had everything, including my own beddings, pillow case, towel and toiletries.

On the plus side, they had a wide covered veranda on the side facing the beach. And the house is on an absolute waterfront. A videoke can be rented for P200 for the whole night, no tokens required. All things considered, this was still the best possible accommodation in this God-forsaken town.I negotiated to pay P2,500 for 2 rooms so I can have a room for myself, and another room for Ronie and my driver. The caretaker reluctantly agreed to my offer.

We had drinks with blue marlin for pulutan. And videoke, with the caretaker couple as our audience.

Breakfast was left-over blue marlin, tuyo, scrambled egg and rice. Plus instant coffee using hot water from a blue colored thermos bottle. It was raining.

The whole day was spent on hiking around virgin forests descending on coves for more beaches. Casiguran is so isolated and so unexplored one can feel like Indiana Jones. I was told we could even explore caves, but I wasn’t ready for that on this trip. Maybe on the next visit, when I stand as godfather to Ronie’s child, right now three months inside his wife’s  womb. Maybe then I would rather pitch a tent.

Baler, birthplace of Quezon (and it is not in Quezon)

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Baler is the capital town of Aurora Province, 230 kms northeast of Manila. I went there via the NLEX-SCTEX-La Paz-Zaragoza-Pantabangan route which took 6 hours because of farmers drying their palay on practically all roads within Nueva Ecija.

Pantabangan Dam is a nice overnight area for those traveling late and saving the trip crossing Sierra Madre for the morning. Uera Guest House allows guests a spectacular view of the lake-dam.

A minor annoyance is having to pass through an otherwise 2-way road that has been limited to one way travel, with concrete barriers on both sides allowing only one light vehicle, or a bus, to pass through. Trucks have to use the Bongabon-Aurora route through unpaved roads. I realize they had to limit the load within this road because the structure also serves as a dike for the small dam beside it.

Lunch was at a roadside cafeteria in the first town, Maria Aurora, named after the former president’s daughter. One pinakbet, one adobo, and 2 pcs of fried fish, plus a coke for my driver and a halo-halo for me was all of P118.00.

Decent Accommodations

Arriving in Baler, I was pleasantly surprised that accommodation(Bahia de Baler 1 (there is a Bahia de Baler 2, a taller structure) was good. For P1,500 I got a very clean air conditioned room with breakfast for 2, fresh linen, hot % cold water,soap, shampoo, and toothpaste. Plus  TV with cable channels, and a small veranda outside, overlooking the garden that leads to the beach on Baler Bay.  There are other inns and surfers’ lodges nearby, at even lower rates.

Bahia 1 has 10 rooms

My room at Bahia 1

Garden and the sea

I went to Baler to join former officemates who went there on a company outing. The group took surfing lessons at only P150 per hour, the cheapest on the planet. Another trip highlight was the visit to Ditumabo Falls, also known as “Mother Falls”.

Ditumabo Falls

I researched about Ditumabo and found a blog of the locals :

http://www.ditumabo.ph/

Baler is an excellent destination because you get an “away from it all” feeling. Yet, it is a fun place  –  – –  drinking in bars facing the beach. Bahia de Baler’s Bar & Grill is a nice place for meals and drinks. A local band plays at night, and their music is good.

Jungle Route vs Scenic Route

Returning to Manila, we decided to take the Bongabon Road from San Luis in Baler. Why? Because the map showed it to be a shorter route. From San Luis, it said 77kms to Bn (Bongabon). Wow, must be a really quick return trip! And the roads were paved. I figured we will be in Nueva Ecija in no time. But it wasn’t meant to be.

The Bongabon route is what I will now call the “Jungle Route”. If you are not on a 4×4 and not adventurous enough, stay with the Pantabangan “scenic route”.

The paved road from San Luis ended way before I could rejoice at the decision to do this shortcut. Soon enough, we were traversing a dirt road carved out of the Sierra Madre, with deep ravines on our right. There were several portions that were so narrow and we had to stop to give way to trucks going up the mountain trail. Most of all, we had to cross two rivers, one was deep and wide enough to make me re-think of the sanity of continuing. But then,this wasn’t the first time my 4×4 was crossing a river, so what the heck. In my mind, I was more worried about  the van that we passed early on. It is one of those second-hand vans you can buy for P150,000,  and I was sure they will have trouble with their decision to take this jungle route. They probably also had a map, and decided to take this “shortcut”. I was glad I took this route so I can advise non-adventurous friends to stay away, and challenge my daring friends to take this road either to or from Baler.

All told, Baler is a place I would want to go back to. Soon.