If we tell people of decades ago that it is now a norm for one to post an invite for a trip, interested people would communicate by, let’s say, written letter or notes, and meet random strangers to join in said trip when it’s time for departure, I think it will blow their minds. Questions of safety, trust, and even money are at stake! However, this is the digital age, and that guts and a few finger strokes can be a start of a something wondrous.
So it happened that a new member threw the stone of invitation in this internet pool I would call Reddit and the ripples reached several people who seemed interested, most of them first timers to the world of surfing and I guess, traveling with unrelated people in general.
An aspiring surfing hobbyist decided to go back to dear Aurora’s watery embraces and tow a few people who were inclined to go and posted details in r/Philippines’s Random Discussion Thread. I was one of those who got interested. My reasons? First, I am getting old and still have not experienced out of towns with friends, let alone strangers. Second, it is part of my training for improving socialization skills and perhaps meeting new people and friends. Anyway, some of us met up beforehand to pay up, discuss the logistics and had some bonding over ramen and card games.
Lowdown on Logistics
So, the selling point of this weekend trip is its value for money. One Redditor would have booked us a house with pool via AirBNB but some people backed out, so we booked bunk beds at The Circle Hotel for P500 per each confirmed person. We added some more when others contacted us. The trip master rented a van for 11 people for P11,000 all-in plus P500 for additional trips near Baler. The rest of the expenses were variable factors and one may go cheap or go all out.
Early Morning Trip
We met up at one Redditor’s home Friday evening and waited for the van to pick us up by 2am. Van was a Toyota GL Grandia that can comfortably fit 11 passengers and driver. Early morning means faster travel and we breezed through NLEX, SCTEX and the winding highway along the mountains within 4.5 hours. We arrived at the hostel before 7pm and since we were too early for check in (9am), we decided to eat silog meals nearby. P60-75 per meal and P10 for coffee sachet.
Center of The Circle (Hostel)
9 am check in and we were given one pillow, blanket, bed sheet and pillow case each. Towels can be rented for a fee. We were lumped in together at one-coed room with 5 bunk beds = 10 persons. Two would just share a bed. Small lockers were in the room for valuables but we had to go to the town proper to purchase pad locks at P40 each.
The nipa-hut hostel was a no-frills area but it would be good for solo travelers. Cement grey walls were splashed with graffiti and inspirational quotes and drawings. Top-naked locals and visitor lounged around before going out for surfing.
• Lots of electric and ceiling fans
• Three shower cubicles with hot water per gender
• Three toilet cubicles with tissue and bidet (water spray)
• Area to practice balancing at the surfing board
• Open kitchen with microwave, toaster, refrigerator, water dispenser, utensils, dinnerware etc.
• Common Areas for socialization
• Next-day breakfast of pan de sal, bananas and peanut butter
Surf’s up at Sabang Beach
One hour surfing lesson and board rental is at P350 and can be coordinated directly at the hostel and to be paid upon check out. We got transported by van to that side of Sabang Beach with weaker waves and surf boards were brought in by tricycles.
Sky was a dull light grey and so were the waves.
A female Redditor and I shared one board and instructor for a 30-minute lesson. Man, I think we only lasted 15 or 20 minutes each. I did get a rare chance to be able to stand on the board on water and ride it for let’s say nearly 1 minute. A guy kept trying to sell us pearl earrings for P100 per pair. Not bad for the price, but it was cheaper by the garland (of pearls) in Palawan. Since we do not want to wet the van with our wet bums, we opted to ride tricycles back to the hostel for P17 per trip (three-four persons).
Downtime at the Nipa Hut
The best part of the hostel was the airy and spacious common area above the skateboard / surfing board practice area. We actually slept there later that night.
For the meantime, we ordered food from the hostel. For example, my Pork Salpicao with 1 cup of rice is at P80 pesos. Pasta was at P100 plus. Some tried the Cala-mint (P50-60, cannot remember the price) and it was a refreshing mix of cold calamansi juice and mint served in mason jars. We had our phones charged and claimed our bean bag chairs and pillows. We also got to meet an aspiring singer, a redditor – lurker, fellow local and foreign surfers.
Wonder-fall Ditumabo Falls
As the others opted to surf once more in the afternoon, some of us decided to pay a visit to Ditumabo Falls at the neighboring area of San Luis, Aurora. The trip was part of the P500 extra fee to driver and was shared among 7 people. It was a 20-30 minutes travel by car. Paid Parking (P20-30 I think) at the foot of the mountain was alright, good for 10 or more light vehicles. There were well-maintained restrooms and Eco-fee of P30 per head.
A tour guide helped us, well, mostly me, brave the 1 km trek to the falls.
I was the one adamant to visit the falls that late in the afternoon for fear that we would not be able to next morning, but the trek through uneven rocks and river crossings proved to be hard without slip-resistant footwear. It took us around 20-30 minutes one-way and it was faster when going downhill.
We saw a smaller falls and then the dam, and then the Mother Falls itself. The thunderous hitting of the water from above was strong that we could feel the mist of water spray from several meters away. It was hard to take a picture lest you risk wetting the gadget but the tour guides were surprising good with the imaging technology that were our smartphones, DLSR and compact cameras.
Jumping into the water basin took away our tiredness as the ice-cold water embraced us. We swam in its crystal-clear fresh water and took pictures with the Go-Pro. Unfortunately, the moment got cut short by rain threatening out already perilous trail and all of us in the area had to go down quick.
Again, I was the last to arrive at the food stop because of my clumsiness and inappropriately slippery slippers. We ate kakanin, hotdog and tokneneng (P10-20 each). At the end of the trip, we gave P200 for the tour guide’s fee and I added P50 for tip, because she helped me all the way.
I’d strongly advise to schedule the visit early in the day to make the most out of the falls’ basin.
Heaping Servings at Kusina Luntian
Tired from the trek, we rested for a while then looked for Kainan Luntian, an unassuming resto-bar. We sat on the bamboo floor and was served our food in banana leaves without utensils, kamayan style.
Many of us opted for the Wapang-Wapang na Liempo meal at P95. This came with a large cup of rice (more like 1.5 cups of rice), the meaty goodness of liempo, topped with half a salt egg and the pako (fern) salad. The fern salad was delightfully drenched in sweetened kalamansi juice dressing. This meal was so good and heavy on the stomach that some of us had difficulty finishing it off.
I also tried the Home-brewed Calamansi Juice with Thyme at P65 per mason jar. This one tasted sweeter with a barely distinguishable hint of thyme. Calamint from The Circle was better.
Octobrewfest@TheCircle – The Night Life
We got a taste of the Night Life at Baler with houses converted to bars and inns having their own drinking sessions and singers for the night. We looked for Smirnoff Mule and and found it at the jam-packed house compound-turned Cauti Bar. We went back to the hostel and enjoyed listening party music, then to one group’s impromptu singing session, then to chill late-night music. The local brewery present offered craft beer by the liter (P150-200 per liter).
Tired and drunk for the day, we went up the airy common area to play games with our resident game-master Redditor leading the Uno game, then the Categories game, which revealed too many “feels”. It was really cool at the common area so we slept right here and there.
(Peanut) Butter, Bread and Banana Breakfast
We woke up to a sunny morning and loud crashing of waves. The hostel staff brought bananas, pan de sal and peanut butter for a power breakfast. We also got the time to chit-chat with fellow bed spacers there. One of them was this Fil-am guy with sun-burned skin, nearly grey eyes and can speak a bit of Tagalog as well. We mostly talked about history and government.
Sunny Days at Diguisit Beach
While some of us were mastering the art of surfing and some were sleeping again, I visited the other, cleaner side of the beach where the sand was black mixed with yellow and the waves were strong. As I get pounded by the waves crashing onto the sand, I watched the pro surfers glide effortlessly along the water.
I came back quickly to invite the others, and then one of guests at the hostel told us stories of their motorcycle trip the day before. Apparently, they rented motorcycles (P250 or P350 per day) and went to the other beaches like Cobra, Cemento and Diguisit. Struck with an idea, I asked our driver to bring us to Diguisit Beach and Rock Formations.
Only 30 minutes ride from Sabang, Baler, Diguisit Beach was a tiny white sand beach with a kiddie pool nearby, with corals and rock formations abound instead of fine white sand on water. On shallow areas you could see tiny fishes and sea creatures or float in deeper pockets of coral / rock floor. Many would walk gingerly on uneven rock formations to take picture.
There was a hidden small pool by the rocks where strong waves may crash on it. The beach was not ideal for chill swimming as the rock formations were sharp and serrated. There was the pool, anyway.We paid P30 per head for the entrance fee.
Our other companions trekked the sand and reached the hill with a lighthouse. Not sure if it was the Dicalasarin Cove light house of another one altogether, but they could not get nearer because of natural barriers.
We went back in town after 1 hour at the beach to eat and our driver took us to where he usually ate. We spent P60 to P120 for our meals. The Bulalo for 4-5 people was P300, the inihaw na posit or grilled squid was P200 and was for 3 people, rather than 4.
Afterwards, we got ready for check out. Our trip master collected payment from various expenses like the food, items, fare, fees etc. We surrendered the pillows, blankets, bedsheets and pillow cases at the front desk, and chilled at the common area while waiting for our van.
Back To Reality
We left Baler at around 3:40 pm. We stopped at the first gas station in NLEX for some Jollibee goodness. I requested the trip master and the driver to drop me in one of the exits so I could travel back home faster. It was more expensive than if I dropped off with the others in QC, but the travel time was cut short considerably. If I were correct, the van reached the Quezon City stop at around 9:30 or 10pm.
It was a fun first trip for me, my companions were game to do thing even if tired and we did not have issues with the shared expenses. My only regret was that we did not have a group picture. Introverts that we are, perhaps, it was not necessary anymore. The memories and a chance for future trips and meetups are enough.
Summary / Itinerary
- Van Rental for up to 11 people – from OLX – P11,000 all in (driver and his food and lodging, GL Grandia van, toll fees) + P500 for tour trips nearby
- Accommodation – The Circle Hostel – P500 / head at in dorm / bunkbed / hammock or P1000 in a room for 2-3 persons
- Surfing lesson and board rental – P350 / hour (tip encouraged)
- Food – P60 above per meal depending on location and preference
- Alcoholic drink – P30 above per bottle
- Tricycle – short trip to Sabang beach – P17
- Tricycle – rental for visiting attractions – P500 – P800 for 3 persons
- Motorcycle – one day rental – P350 excluding driver
- Diguisit Beach entrance – P30 / head
- Ditumabo Falls Eco Fee – P30
- Ditumabo Falls Tour guide – P200
- Ditumabo Falls parking – approximately P20-30
2-3am ETD from Manila
8 am Arrival and Breakfast
9 am Check in
10 am Town visit (museum, municipal hall, church, Aurora’s house etc) OR Sabang Beach surf (interchange with trek to waterfalls)
12 pm Lunch
1 or 2 pm Ditumabo Falls Trek and Swim (interchange with town tour or surfing)
4 or 5 pm Surfing
7 or 8am Breakfast
9am Sabang beach / Diguisit Beach and Rock Formation / other beaches and sites to visit
2-3pm Check out
3:30 or 4 pm Balete Tree (if it’s on the way home, we scrapped this one)
10pm ETA in Manila