There is a mystical charm to the sound of ocean waves crashing down shorelines. It is sweet, yet you can’t taste it. It brings peace while its existence is a never-ending ebb and flow. This mesmerising sound is what we, tourists and beach-lovers alike, dream of hearing in our every morning.
It’s the “see the line where the sky meets the sea, it calls me…” kind of thing. Some travel hours by car or plane just to feel the sand between their toes. As luck would have it, I happen to live a few minutes away from Baler, Aurora.
Baler, Aurora: My humble abode
My current place of residence is famous for the huge waves of its beaches. Home to the earliest surfing community in the Philippines, it is regarded among the top destinations of today’s surfers. It has several surfing spots with varying degrees of difficulty. Whether it is your first time using a surfboard or you have already spent hours riding the tides with it, there’s a beach perfect for you.
Baler is a surfer’s paradise, dare I say the best one in the country. Though I am saying that with every bit of bias I can muster.
Aside from having renowned surfing spots, Baler offers a lot more to see. Embraced by the thick forests of the Sierra Madre on one side and engulfed by the Pacific Ocean on the other, my home is painted masterfully on a canvas of green and blue.
We have calmer waters on white-sand beaches. Crystalline, free-flowing rivers are abundant. Towering waterfalls with ice-cold waters can be found a little further inland.
Just how fast the night changes
Over the years, our province has been unravelled as a top tourist destination. Our small town of tricycles and habal-habals suddenly had to go through heavy traffic. Slowly, our picnic stations and kite-flying fields turned into crowded tourist hubs.
Consequently, there was a nostalgic voice inside my head that kept growing louder. It whispered of a distant memory, where all I see are lush natural wonders and only a few familiar faces. I wanted everything back to the way they were before.
It was selfish wishful thinking; a bit hypocritical, as I love travelling and exploring new places. Yet, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I want all the tranquillity and solace of Baler to ourselves, for old times’ sake.
When the lockdown began
The COVID-19 pandemic hit our town. Lockdown protocols and travel restrictions soon came as the virus spread all over the country.
With no tourists around, we could experience having the beach to ourselves once again. The streets felt a little wider. Trips to the town proper were smoother. The long lines at the entrance of our famed waterfalls became empty. Breakfasts by the bay were a little more convenient without having to share spaces with the crowd.
At first, it all felt like a granted wish. The solitude that I was longing for was right there for the taking. I took it, and for a while, it felt nice. However, it didn’t take long for the peace and quiet to turn into a deafening silence.
Chained doors on stores, abandoned constructions, closed signs on hotels, and empty restaurants became a normal sight around Baler. I hated the pre-pandemic traffic, but driving on empty streets was suddenly, unexplainably depressing.
One afternoon, we were strolling by the beach when we saw a group of surfing instructors. They were sitting on top of their surfboards, just talking to each other. Back when tourists were everywhere, you wouldn’t even be able to see them resting. Since tourists were no longer around, they were waiting in vain for some local clients to pass by.
Looking back at that exact moment, I had an epiphany. It was not the glamour of our beach and waterfalls that made me fall in love with my province. Ultimately, it is our community that makes my town whole.
Lifting barriers, reopening hope
Today, with travel restrictions lifted and the tourists slowly pouring in, our town’s soul is steadily coming back to life. Shops and hotels are reopening. The atmosphere around town is rising with positivity. Much like the rekindled night lights in our town park, our people’s smiles are once again bright and full of hope.
Whether it is the sepia colours of the past or the animated lights of today, Baler, Aurora will always be the special place I call home.
Change is fundamentally inevitable; sometimes, it comes in the strongest of waves. We just have to learn how to embrace it with a warm welcome.
All images credited to Martin Joseph M. Raymundo | Official Instagram Page