I first came to Baler in 2010; back when Joybus was unheard of, and one can just pitch a tent beneath the coconut trees at what used to be Bahia ll’s parking lot. The road that winds through the Sierra Madre was still bumpy in a number of places, and everything else about Baler was, in a nutshell, way simpler.
Here’s a glimpse of that version of Baler, my favorite version.
Over the years, with every visit, I find it slightly changed – a newly built resort, another construction project in the works, and a general feeling that it’s a little more “crowded” than the last time. This year though, the changes felt more drastic. Last month’s trip had been the first for 2013, and coming from the longest gap in between visits since I started coming here, the shock is probably just inevitable.
In particular, it took time for me to digest the boardwalk and Costa Pacifica. These two definitely transformed Sabang beach’s scenery; rendering my favorite version of Baler, officially a thing of the past.
And that was kinda sad.
I guess I will always be nostalgic about the way things were. But then again, I’ll just have to leave it at that. For a place that has been so generous and welcoming to me, it’s not right to not wish for its progress, to not want to have more people love it. To cling to the past is futile. It’s never going to be dubbed as the next Boracay anyway. So yeah, it can’t be that bad. And while it might have undergone a face lift, I still can find solace in this place’s immutable constants. These are the things that I come back to, regardless of how many versions of Baler there might be.
Amongst the changes, there are the definites.
The customary “Good morning, Baler!” / “Haller, Baler!”
The first order of business, always, is to greet the Pacific Sun. With sleepy eyes and a numbed ass, I face the sea to say hello. There’s that unmistakable rock formation with a golden backdrop; the morning mist that hides the mountains, and the sound of waves breaking. Baler mornings are grand.
Bigay pugay at touchdown – I’m sure I’m not the only one who does this 99.9% of the time.
The Baler Laundromat
Waves here come in generous servings. There’s enough to satisfy everyone’s need for stoke. They say, “The ocean is my church, and I’ve come to pray.” I say, Baler’s got enough pews to sit those that seek cleansing.
Hungry surfer at Bay’s Inn…
This one, I say with fondness. It really is hilarious that when Bay’s Inn re-branded their restaurant, they called it Hungry Surfer. ‘Coz you know, they really do make surfers go hungry (or at times, HANGRY) waiting for food to be served. Ha! It’s been like that since I first came to Baler. So I guess, with the new name, they will stay committed to that no? It may now be sporting an American diner vibe and all, but it will still take them forever to serve you your milkshake. Haha, but I love them still.
… and the poor surfer at the Rolling Store
No matter how posh things get at the main beach area, there remains the promise of cheap home-cooked meals at the Rolling Store. When surfing becomes an addiction, one gravitates towards the simpler (and cheaper) things in life.
It wasn’t in Baler that I first tried out surfing, but it is in this place that I caught the surfing bug. Baler has this habit of adopting sons and daughters. It is this that anchored me here more than the quality of its beach break. Credit goes to the locals who took care of me since day one – my first instructors at Mahdox, the random locals coaching me at the line up (or getting me out of trouble at the impact zone), the owners and caretakers of the resorts and guesthouses I’ve stayed at, and more recently, the townspeople who helped evacuate my stuff as ginormous waves linger too close for comfort near my cottage at Secret Spot.
It was here that I got re-acquainted with the word “play”, as surfing became my adult life’s version of patintero. Here, the bonds with old friends were strengthened, while new ones were formed. Here, memories pile up and take root, like those of Baler’s famous balete tree. The inside stories for reminiscing are endless, and I’m sure that there’s plenty more to come.
Thinking about it now, I realize that Baler, to me, represents the start of subtle changes in my life. My mindset and lifestyle choices, the things (besides surfing) that currently occupy my mind – ideas and projects I’m passionate about, the people I meet and most of the people whom I remain close to – all of these are the way they are now partly because I started coming here three years ago.
To say that this place is special, is an understatement. Baler is home. To me, and to many others I know, this is the unspoken definite.