The Branches of the Millenium Tree

I thought that the Millenium Tree stands on grounds that are furnished with a lot of park benches and nice green patches of grass. I was wrong. I forgot that we are just in a very simple province that doesn’t do much for excessive beautification. They just placed metal fences around the tree to make it look like it’s in the center.

I am at awe with how big the tree is. I don’t know why they named it Millenium Tree when it’s clearly not 1000 years old. It is just so big that a house could fit inside. It had a lot of dangling branches and you cannot identify the original trunk.

There’s nothing to do but climb the tree. Having enrolled in a sports climbing class in college, I didn’t have a hard time making my way up. Actually, it wasn’t that hard to climb because the branches are so stable that you won’t have to worry about falling. And, if ever you fall, there are a lot of branches that will catch you whichever way possible. Only, you’d have a lot of scratches and would probably hurt in some places.

When I arrived at the top, the group before us was taking a long time to go down. They were taking pictures and laughing. I didn’t have the time or energy or patience to wait for them so I descended the way I climbed. The thing with the tree is, you can go up on one side and go down the other. The others, who had the patience, did that. But, I wasn’t in such a good mood then that I sat by the tricycles looking miserable.

I liked the climb to the top and it would have been nicer if I was able to descend on the other side of the tree.

 

The Trek to Ditumabo Falls

The last thing on the tour around Baler is a trip to Ditumabo Falls or what we fondly called Mother F(alls). Well, the locals call it Mother Falls too but we just shortened the Falls to F to make it sound much more appealing and scary.

The road to the foot of the mountain is as bumpy as hell. It isn’t paved at all and it is made of really big rocks. It wasn’t that short either. It was like 15 minutes of that one-way. When we arrived at the foot of the mountain, it was like a camp in there. And you’d be greeted a knee-deep fresh water stream that is really cold. After a really long day of touring, the most relaxing thing to do is just to sit down by the stream and let the water run by you.

The trek to the falls itself takes a good 20 minutes. You’d see more of the stream with some parts having stronger current. While we were there, there was a light drizzle which was expected of the area. It was bit of a struggle because some of the rocks are very slippery and you’d really fall if you aren’t careful. There are also parts where we will be walking on grass and land. I was at the front of the pack because they are so slow and I really want to get to the falls itself as early as I could.

There was one part of the river where a bridge made out of bamboo is built. To cross the bridge, you have to pay one peso. The river, though, could crossed without the help of the bridge because (1) it’s too shallow and (2) the current is not strong at all. We just paid for the use of the bridge to help with the livelihood of the people living there.

Towards the end of the trek, we walked by the concrete that covers the pipe that brings some of the water to a lower water storage facility. It was the easiest part of the trek because we don’t have to contend with rocks and uneven walking paths. We were introduced to the falls with a couple of baby falls that are found in regular intervals.

The water was so cold! It was like swimming in a pool made out of melted ice. The depth wasn’t even too. There was a part that is very deep and then it becomes more shallow by the middle. It was really refreshing. After a very long day of going around Baler and its nearby municipalities, this was a very great ending to the day. The water is so fresh that you won’t feel so sticky and icky despite the amount of sweat that is on your body.

The falls made all the trip worth it. It is definitely one of the highlights of the tour. I wished that we stayed long but it was almost night time and it’s hard to make our way back to the foot when it’s already dark. Also, I was shivering like crazy because I could not take the cold. So, I was a bit relieved when we were going back down.

Definitely, I’ll be back and I’ll prepare for a longer swim in the cold waters.

The Refreshing Stream of Diguisit Falls

Since Baler has mountains surrounding it, you’d expect that there will be waterfalls nearby. We weren’t wrong because just around the corner from the Aniao Islet is a small waterfall called the Diguisit Falls.

Actually, you wouldn’t easily notice it because it’s hidden behind a patch of trees at the side of the mountain. Only, you’d see fresh water running on the road and if you follow it, you’d see where it is all coming from. The climb to the falls is a bit steep and you need to be very careful in climbing because one wrong step would leave you rolling back to the side of the road.

It’s actually very refreshing in the area. After a sun-soaked stroll on the reefs, you’d really want to be under the shade. Since the trees provide a roof from the heat of the sun, it was an ideal spot to rest before continuing on with the journey. Also, the water is ice cold! The first relieved myself of all the heat that I have accumulated after the activities of the first half of the morning.

I wanted to submerge myself in the water but the tour guides told us that there will be time for that later. Also, we could not fit in the stream because the falls is so small and it cannot accommodate all of us.

We spent a short time in the area because it was already lunch time and we wanted to eat and relax in a place where there is air conditioning. Because of the experience with this falls we became so excited when we learned that we will visit a much bigger one later.

 

The Reefs of Aniao Islet

Remember when Baler was in the boundary of the mountain and the sea? After visiting Ermita Hill, we have our first ‘beach’ experience by visiting Aniao Islet. When you pass by it, you’d find three towering rock formations. I forgot to ask what there are made of and what brought them there.

They could be old boulders from the mountain and since it was a very long time ago, they were integrated into the reef. You would really wonder where they came from because before them, it was a stretch of nicely colored sand beach.

Along with the rock formations, there’s also a big area of dead reef with small ponds that accommodates different sea animals. So, despite the heat of the sun, we went on an adventure that includes having our foot massaged by the dead reef.

There is a small patch of sand that you have to go through before you reach the mini sanctuary. Then you have make your way through the dead reef before you get to the sand-less beach. And within the reefs, there are a lot of sea animals that you’d find. Small fish, starfish, sea urchins, differently colored fishes. We got intrigued by the mechanics of how the sea urchin defends itself. It turns out, when they are poked, all the spikes direct themselves to the area where there is an unidentified object.

We even tried to get a pet starfish. The starfish in this estuary (yes, I finally found the word!) aren’t the big fat ones that we are used to. They do not look like Patrick. Instead, they’re the skinny ones that looks like they have a lot hair. There were also brightly-colored fishes in the water (blue, green, pink). You name it, they have it.

When traversing the area, people should always wear slippers because you’d never know when you’d step on a sea urchin. We wanted to go the place where the water is a little higher because of the sun but we soon found out that it was infested with a lot of sea urchins. Also, we tried to go to the rock formations to examine them but we need to pass by the water and a lot more corals before we get to them. It would have been nicer to examine them and identify what they’re made of.

We just enjoyed the site and it looks like a place that’s good for taking jump shots!

The Climb to Ermita Hill

There was once a tsunami the wrecked the town of what is now Baler.The only survivors of such disaster were the seven families who climbed to the top of a hill which today is called Ermita Hill. Before it was Ermita Hill, it was Mt. Castillo. I don’t know (or I didn’t ask) where the name Ermita came from..

At the foot of the hill, you’d find the statues of the families who survived the tragedy. It’s like a commemoration of sorts. Could they be the families who repopulated the town and its surrounding municipalities? Hmm. Intriguing.

To reach the top, you’d have to conquer a set of uneven stairs. The fact that the stairs is uneven makes the climb a lot more exhausting. You’d have to deal with narrow steps and steps that are too high apart. The slope is also as steep as hell! I don’t know where that metaphor came from but something that is as punishable to the legs as that set of stairs merit a comparison to hell to me. Upon arrival at the top, there is still a short walk towards the ledges that will give you the most beautiful view of Sabang Beach.

The view makes the climb worth it. You see the length of one side of Baler, it’s beautiful landscape and the wonderful water that surrounds it. It really took my breath away and I wondered why I haven’t visited this place earlier. But, since we’re here already, I just savored the moment of seeing the beauty that is the Philippines. Then, I thought that I don’t want Baler to be commercialized like the other beaches of the country. I like it’s somewhat untouched beauty and the quietness of the place.

There is a park on top of the hill. We were resting when our tour guides / tricycle drivers informed us of another set of stairs that will lead us to a big white cross. Some where hesitant because of the initial climb we had. But, I thought, “fuck it, I’m here for adventure.” Well, there was really no “fuck it” because I don’t talk that way but it gives the emotions that accompanies the thought of being there for adventure.

The steps were easier to traverse this time around and it was fully covered by trees so we were not worrying about the heat. We were worrying about the length. The climb was almost twice as long as the initial climb. When we arrived at the top, we can only see trees so the majestic view was totally covered. There was a big white cross but its beauty wasn’t proportionate to the effort exerted in climbing. Definitely not so worth the view but the effort to try was enough.

Other than climbing, there wasn’t much to do. It could be a nice picnic grounds but would you subject your children to the effort of climbing? Still, the view was what we were there for and it definitely delivered the goods. It’s a great start to the tour of Baler and its surrounding municipalities.

Impressions on Baler

The entry to baler is through the Pantabangan Road from Nueva Ecija. From there, you’d get a feel of what is in store for you when you arrive into the ‘city’. Upon checking Wikipedia, I learned that Baler is not a city but a municipality. So, there. From its status as a town alone, you’d know what to excpect when you arrive in Baler.

All around us, as we passed Pantabangan, there were a lot of cliffs and farmland. It’s just fitting because Baler is on the other side of the Sierra Madre mountains. Traversing through it will be such a nice experience if you’re riding a vehicle with open air. The air, when we opened the windows of the bus is cool and I don’t think that they know of a thing called pollution.

Before we arrive in Baler, we’ll pass by the towns of Maria Aurora and San Luis first. These two are indications of what Baler looks like. These two are just very small towns. They are so small they fit at the palm of my hands. But, seriously, these are just farming towns at the foot of the mountains. Baler, though, is found at the foot of the mountains and at the mouth of the sea. Isn’t that a very nice combination?

We arrive at the bus terminal where there are tricycles waiting to bring us to our destination. We pass by the whole of Baler on the way to Sabang Beach. The most notable establishment we noticed was Mercury Drug. That’s as far as they go when it comes to commercialization. Heck, Jollibee and McDonald wasn’t able to penetrate the place. Bringing of supplies will be a very expensive if ever they decide to go with that idea.

The town is quaint and simple. Life is very much on the level of just the necessities. When you’re in town, you’d notice a lot more tourists than locals especially when they’re walking around in their rash guards. It’s also good that they speak Tagalog. We didn’t have much problem interacting with the local populace. Because if they speak a different language and they are in an isolated area like that, I doubt that they’d know the Tagalog vernacular.

Living beside the beach is a very relaxing experience. You’d wake up with the sun so high and you’d be having breakfast with the wind blowing in your face. The combination of the sun and wind makes every dining experience heavenly.

Baler is probably one of the places that I would never hesitate to go back to. It has such a relaxing and chill atmosphere that can make you forget the worries of your normal world.