Road to Baler
When I learned that we were going to spend the Holy Week on the beach, the destination that came to my mind was Baler.
I have been captivated by romantic images of big waves crashing against limestone islets, of surfers paddling into humongous loops of waves, and of kids swimming in the sea while the sun rises.
Perhaps it was the Source Energy that dwells within me that had manifested the dream to go to Baler; for at the last minute, the confirmation to travel to this surfer’s paradise arrived.
Trust Your Instincts and Enjoy the Ride
Meeting a huge crowd of Filipino holidaymakers in the country’s popular destinations on Holy Week is much expected.
These travelers, mostly composed of the working class and their families disperse themselves in Boracay, Baguio, Zambales, Tagaytay, Palawan, Pagudpud, La Union, and Baler, among others.
That’s why it came as no surprise when we discovered at the Genesis Cubao Terminal – the bus company that goes directly to Baler – that the last bus trip of 7:30 was moved an hour earlier due to the fast filling number of travelers to Baler.
Then the suggestion of taking a bus to Cabanatuan City on board 5-Star, and another vehicle to Baler, either a van or a bus, was given to us by the helpful security guard at Genesis.
Since the 5-Star Bus Terminal was situated before Genesis on the Northbound road of EDSA, we had to take another drive around through the rush-hour’s traffic.
At the 5-Star Terminal, we found the bus going to Cabanatuan City via Bulacan. I asked the driver of the bus, operated by CISCO, how long would the trip take and if the trip via SCTEX is shorter.
In his sly candor, the driver replied, that in the case of the road repair along SCTEX, the trip via Bulacan would end up faster, which would total to 3 hours, and 3 ½ hours with traffic.
I pondered a bit on whether to wait for the bus via SCTEX, which would take another 30 minutes or so, or to get on the bus even though the driver gave me an uncanny feeling.
We loaded our bags and picked our seats inside the bus, then went to the ladies’ restroom in the terminal to freshen up before our impending departure.
In less than half an hour, we were on the road, cruising northward to Cabanatuan City.
While I paid the conductor 185 php each for my family and I, I noticed a sign at the entrance of Bulacan. It stated that there was ongoing repair at Sta. Rita and could slow down traffic.
Surely, the driver was well aware of the road repair. He just avoided mentioning it to me, as he wanted to tell me what was more pleasant to hear.
Might as well enjoy the ride and envision the vibrant beach of Baler then.
Travelling with Home Packed Food is Eating Better
Two and a half hours later, amid the slow moving traffic along Bulacan, the conductor announced that we were halfway on our trip and was making a stop at the town of San Miguel.
The food at the San Miguel Bus Terminal was an assortment of Filipino All-Day Breakfast, Dumplings, native delicacies and sweets from Bulacan and carinderia specialties like Adobo, Menudo, and Chopsuey with white rice.
Some passengers bought take-out of Hotdog Sandwich, Tapsilog (marinated beef, garlic rice and fried egg), Pork Asado Siopao, others bought packs of Pastillas de Leche and Otap for their families at home, while a few sat and ate at the carinderia.
Meanwhile, inside the van, we ate bananas and the Vegetable Omelet that I cooked a few hours prior, and reserved boiled eggs and soda crackers for later.
I was glad to have brought food along, as it allowed us to save more money and ensure the right food for our taste.
Around 15 minutes after we made our stop, we were back on the road again. From the entry arch of Nueva Ecija, we passed a revolving sequence of small towns, corn and rice fields, factories, and a few malls until we finally reached Cabanatuan City and its sought-after bus terminal.
Street vendors flocked at the bus’ door, eager to provide assistance to the passengers. They were calling out for Baler, as it was the route taken by most.
So when the street vendors saw and heard my Caucasian husband say “Baler”, at least three of those vendors stayed around him, incessantly prodding him to either take a van or a bus, likewise anticipating to provide more assistance.
Between the Genesis Bus that was yet to arrive and a new and almost full van, we chose the van to take us to Baler.
One street vendor politely requested for us to buy a pack of his hopia for 35 php as a tip for escorting us to the van. We bought one pack of monggo hopia and it made his smile bigger.
I, on the other hand, went to the 24-hour convenience store across the street to grab a warm cup of freshly brewed coffee and bring with me on the next leg of our trip.
Just Breathe in the Winding Road
Like our Cisco Bus driver, our van driver was also equipped with an endearing quality of pleasing the ears of his passengers; when asked about the travel time from Cabanatuan City, he paused to think and assured me that the trip would take 2 ½ hours only.
I simply smiled at the comedy of our driver’s response, took my seat inside the van, and paid the conductor 230 php each for our seat. Though our 4-year old daughter could squeeze in between us for free, we still paid for her seat so she felt more comfortable.
On the smooth ride through Talavera City to the border of Nueva Ecija and Nueva Vizcaya, a well-deserved drink of coffee and a catnap were imminent. Almost two hours later, a routine stop was made.
We stopped at Pearl’s Sizzling Hauz, a rustic restaurant beside a reconstructed portion of the highway. There, I welcomed the refreshing toilet break and a good full body stretch. We left after 15 minutes and resumed our journey.
There was a surmounting air of awe and respect for the breathtaking surrounding, as we approached the longest mountain range in the Philippines that is Sierra Madre.
Such beautiful scenes of green valleys, tree-covered slopes and deep drops, naturally sustained along a long and winding path, that is best appreciated with steady breaths on an empty stomach.
However, in between the mountain’s random nooks are saddening images of trees damaged from illegal logging and charcoal making.
The winding path gradually transitioned to normal, as we arrived at Aurora Province’s Maria Aurora City where stalls displaying the province’s wonderful hand-crafted baskets and other items were paraded.
After a total of four hours, we were already in Baler; a city thriving with energy, promising enterprises, and surfing dreams.
Thus, the quest for the best accommodation in Baler awaits.