TJE 15: Quick (yes) and Easy (no!) – An Unexpected Adventure

Baler Aurora beach

I did mention that more stories about my 2-week vacation in July will come, right?  Oops, that was 3 months ago already! But here’s another one:

After I arrived from Singapore, I had about a day to rest.  Within that period, I unpacked and packed anew, for another trip.  This time, I was to have a quick road trip with my travel friends in the Philippines: Ces and JC!

We only had an evening and a full day for the trip.  It should be that short because Ces and JC preferred to take only 1 day of leave from work.   My weekends were blocked already, that’s why they had to take a leave, ha ha!  So the plan was to travel the night before, sleep after arriving to our destination, get on with the activities the next day and leave before nighttime on the same day.

So where were we headed?  San Juan, La Union – one of the top surfing destinations in the country.  None of us tried that sport yet, so doing it for the first time would be fun!

In my previous home leave (January 2012), the three of us also had a quick road trip.  We went to Tagaytay and Nasugbu (for Caleruega).  At that time, we used Ces’ car, which was then still less than 6 months old.  This time, it was my then less-than-six-months-old car’s turn to be tested.  And tested it was.

The trip was going as planned.  We started traveling by 8PM, had the car’s tank filled with fuel before going to the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX), had a quick dinner at one stopover, and then continued the trip.  We took a turn to Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX) to save time. Upon exiting it, we met a fork and turned left, for that would lead us to La Union.  But then we also read the sign pointing to the right.

“Uy, papuntang Baler yun oh!” (“Hey, that way is going to Baler!”)

The three of us have been intrigued with Baler, Aurora for more than a year already.  At the time when I wasn’t working in Korea yet, we thought of going to that place, but for some reason didn’t push through.  At this moment, a U-turn will make it happen!

Ces stopped the car (she replaced me after our stop-over at the NLEX). “Ano?” (“What?”), she asked.  JC checked Google maps and compared the distance between San Juan and Baler from our point.  Baler was nearer.  “Tara, Baler!” (“Baler – let’s go!”)

“Teka, teka, rough road papunta dun diba?” (“Wait, wait, the road going there is rough, isn’t it?”) I asked, thinking about my car.  “National road naman dadaanan natin.” (“We’ll pass by the national road anyway”), said JC.  For some reason, that convinced me.  I thought all national roads are paved.

And so we made the U-turn.

Our excitement just mounted after making the decision.  We were to finally satisfy our curiosity!  Actually, our purpose for the trip was still intact, for Baler is also a surfing spot!

One hour from the fork, the road was just fine.  We had 2 routes to choose from.  And we took the shorter one, according to Google Maps. 🙂  And amazing how this app also gave an estimate of our travel time!  So we expected to reach our destination before midnight.  That’s just right – life is good!

And then the ascending and winding road started.  We were passing by the Mountains.  That’s how you go to Baler, you traverse parts of the Sierra Madre Mountain range before you reach the municipality.

The road was still paved, so it was okay.  But then the pavement ended.  But still, the road was smooth, looking ready to be cemented soon.  So, it was okay.  And then the road became rough. Oh boy!

Because it was dark, and we wanted to be safe and to not stress the car’s tires too much, our pace was slow.  So our initial assumption of reaching our destination before midnight was changed.  Looking at the map, and judging by our pace, we thought, maybe we will arrive a couple of hours later.  That was optimistic, for we didn’t expect things we encountered next.

We were still having fun through it all.  As it was very dark and remote, we started scaring each other a little bit and making fun of our situation.  We developed an imaginary story of what would happen next to us, with the components of Filipino horror movies, no less. 🙂

Aside from my car, only a few trucks were passing through that road.  No bus, no nothing.  That gave us a hint that we were on a road less traveled.

It wasn’t raining that evening, thank goodness, but some parts of the road were wet.  There were little pools of water, and then a big one.  We stopped.  “Is that passable?” Ces asked.  JC got off the car to check if the water’s deep.  It was muddy, so I accepted the inevitable, the car will get dirty, inside and out.  After inspection, we continued with the journey.

Our imaginary story resumed, and then we met a fork.  The right one’s going up, and the other’s going down.  We decided to take the road at the right.  Good thing we were driving slowly, for the road abruptly ended!  Oops, there’s a river below.  There was a bridge that seemed to still be under construction and hasn’t reached our side yet. So we took the road going down.  It was narrow, and we passed by a small bridge, which looked temporary, to go to the other side.

The journey continued, and we were just focused on moving safely.  Our pace was terribly slow.  We were passing by small spillways along the way, and then we stopped and doubted again.  Oh my goodness, there’s a river in front of us! Is this really the right way?  Good thing there was a truck behind us.  So we asked the driver of the truck if there was a way to go across.  The driver said that we didn’t have to worry, it’s a spillway and the water is shallow.  We took his word for it, and off went the car.  Whew, yeah, it was passable!

All that time, it was Ces who was driving.  Then we switched places a little after so Ces can rest, take a nap even.  JC took the front passenger seat; we wanted to have 4 eyes on the look at all times.  After some time, the thing I didn’t want to happen, happened.  The car got stuck in the mud.  As I am not an experienced driver, this got me really worried.  We woke Ces up for support.  We decided to switch places again when coaching did nothing.  We saw that a little more to the right, the road would’ve been better if not for the sharp rocks scattered.  So… we asked JC again to get off the car, this time to put some of the rocks out of the way. 😛

Such were the challenges we encountered in that it took a long time to get to Baler.  By long I meant, the sun rose already and we were still on the road.  Ces was really tired and I took over the final stretch, driving through San Luis until we reached Baler.  It was 8 o’clock in the morning.

Upon reaching our destination, we looked immediately for a hotel and checked in.  As Ces and JC were talking to the receptionist, I asked one of the staff about the roads going to Baler.  Then I confirmed that the road we took was not the common one at the moment.  “Daanan ng mga truck yun…”  (It’s the road used by trucks…) – so we’ve been told.

We had to see the beach right away.  We headed to it immediately after checking in.  And what we saw was beautiful. The sight washed away our stress and reassured us that the trip was worth it!

We took breakfast and decided to take a nap first before going out to surf.  We were to go back to Manila on that same day, so we better have a little rest.  By around 12 PM, we prepared and headed to the beach.  Surfing at noon, why not?  As it was lunchtime, we had to wait for the instructors to finish their meal.  We planned to have our meal after the lesson.  So we dipped in saltwater while waiting.

When the instructors finally arrived, we were pumped up for surfing! However, the waves didn’t match our mood – it was the lean season.  That meant the water was calm – the waves were not tall!  In one hour, perhaps less than 10 were acceptable for surfing.  So yeah, we were not able to maximize the lesson.  We spent most of the time waiting.  But we still enjoyed it!

I was able to stand with ease right from the very start, thanks to my wakeboarding experience.  JC and Ces had to try a few times before they were able to get the balance.

After the lesson, we had lunch, during which we took time to savor the food and the atmosphere.  That was the only other time we had rest, for we started preparing for departure right after.

By around 4 o’clock, we were already on the road.  We took the other route, the one passing through the municipality of Maria Aurora and Pantabangan Dam.  It was indeed faster because most of the road was paved and we felt safer.  Well, it also helped that the sun’s still up.

Post Trip

So what happened to our imaginary story?  We didn’t finish it since the “fork” incident.  We just focused on getting through the journey safely.

I took my car for a wash, including the bottom.  As the car was lifted, the crew was surprised as to how dirty it was.  The owner even called me and asked, “Where did you go?”  Apparently, it was the hardest under wash they did, they even asked me to pay a little extra.  LOL

I told our experience to a friend of mine here in Korea, who hailed from Baler.  She told me, and I confirmed in the Internet, that the route we took going to Baler used to be the more common one.  She called it Villa, and in Aurora’s official website, it was termed Baler-Bongabon Road.  However, the bridge in Nueva Ecija, was destroyed a few years ago because of a super typhoon.  Okay, so what we thought was a new bridge under construction was actually a destroyed one.

Now here’s an interesting bit.  According to my friend, the other route, Canili-Pantabangan, which is more commonly used today, is actually more dangerous.  It is because there are more steep slopes and at one portion, where there is a sharp turn, many vehicular accidents already happened.  She even told me we were lucky to have chosen the other road on our way to Baler.   Well, after what we’ve been through, I’m not sure about that. 🙂

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