Friday, March 22, 2013

Baler, Aurora Travel Expenses and Tips


Dates of travel: February 9-11, 2013

If you just want to learn about travel costs, scroll to the bottom of the post. Spoiler alert: 2 days and 2 nights can cost just shy of P4,000, surfing, lodging, and all. Also, travel expenses are no funny business, so I don't even try to be funny when I talk about money because someone in our household certainly does not find travel expenses funny (itago nalang natin s'ya sa pangalang Jeff). 

Baler may only be about five to six hours away from Manila, but commuting to and from this town - which has been gaining popularity among novice and pro-surfers alike - can be quite a challenge.  Booking with the more popular inns for a weekend stay is a bit tough, too. The upside is, despite its being a tourist-y town, things in Baler are not pricey. Also, the natural beauty of Baler more than makes up for all the trouble (and phone credits used) of getting tickets and trying to book an inn that you like.

I'm not going to wait till the end of this post to state the obvious: to secure bus tickets and get a room in an inn that you like, make reservations as soon as possible. I'm not sure if it was because our travel dates coincided with the 7th Aurora Surfing Challenge, but when we started trying to make reservations three weeks before the trip, all the inns we were eyeing had been fully booked. We were also unable to get seats on the JoyBus to Baler. So, making reservations ahead of time aside, here are some other things to consider when going to Baler: 


Getting there


Only the Genesis Transport Service, Inc. has direct bus trips to Baler. Most people prefer to travel through their executive luxury bus (JoyBus) as it travels without stopovers, and thus, reaches Baler in about five hours. It has recliner seats and a portable toilet onboard. The P700 fare is supposed to include snacks and a bottle of water, Wi-Fi, a bus stewardess, blankets and pillows, and a morning kit. I'm not sure if all of these are only provided if you're Baler-bound, because on your JoyBus ride back to Manila, we missed the Wi-Fi, the bus stewardees, and the morning kit. So, well, you get snacks and some blankets.

If you can't go the the Genesis station in Cubao to make reservations, you can pay for your bus fare at a BDO branch. Call Genesis at 709-0803/ 421-1425 for bank details and arrangements.

If like me, you're not a fan of walking inside a moving vehicle and using portable toilets. But if you can't hold your pee for five hours, I suggest taking the a regular Genesis AC bus at P450. It makes two stopovers and reaches Baler in six hours. You can't buy your tickets ahead of time for their regular AC buses, but you can head to their Cubao bus station after lunch on the day of your trip and get a piece of paper with a number on it from the security guard. This will serve as, well sorta, your reservation. First trip to Baler supposedly leaves at 1:00 AM but you'll have to show up at the bus station at 11:00 PM, otherwise your seat will be given to someone else despite the number. The buses fill up really quickly. In our case, the bus was ready for boarding at 11:30 PM and it started rolling out of Manila at midnight.

There are three Manila-bound JoyBus-es from Baler. The first one leaves at 4:30 A.M., another one at 2:00 P.M. and the last one at 3:00 P.M. To make sure you get seats on one of these buses, call Genesis Baler at 09219828505 even before you reach Baler to make reservations (you will only need to pay the fare once you're in town).

Where to stay


The beachfront inns in Baler are located on an elevated area so you'll have to walk down two to three steps then walk a few meters to the sea. 

We stayed in Villareal's Bahay Kubo , a two-story nipa hut behind Bahia de Baler. It's a two-minute walk away from the beach. If you want a place with a fridge and cooking utilities all to yourself, then this is the perfect place. We got the nipa  hut for P2500/night, and it was up to us to stuff as many people in there as we found tolerable. The hut actually only has four beds, but we managed to squeeze in seven of us in there (two of my companions stayed in a room with its own toilet in a smaller hut for P600/night). According to the owner, she's had a group of 12 people stay in the bigger hut. 

Bahay Kubo is not some name that the owner thought would be a fancy way of calling the inn; it literally is a nipa hut complete with bamboo walls, thatch roofing, a small silong meant for keeping  chicken (if you're into that), and mosquitoes (you're provided with mosquito nets though). So, if you're travelling in a small group or have no plans of house stuffing, I suggest staying in one of the following inns: 

1. Aliya Surf Camp. This is where I'll stay the next time I'm in Baler only because its exterior looks the best among all the inns I saw in Baler (oh yes, I'm superficial like this). Rates are about double the smaller places though .

2. Bay's Inn. This place is both lauded and criticized for their restaurant. Lauded because of the good food, criticized because of the noise as some dining tables are directly in front of the rooms. If you decide to stay here, make sure you get a room away from the resto. Room rates are similar to that of Aliya's. An AC room good for four people is at P2400/night with breakfast.

3. Pacific Waves Inn.  This is supposed to be along Sabang Beach, but I didn't see it. Head on over to the travelling dork's blog for his review and photos.

Where to eat


Grabbin' some grub in Baler is easy because restos line up the beachfront of Sabang (including those of the popular inns. 

After our P120 breakfast at Bay-ler's View, which we felt was a rip off, the group decided that we'd try the cheaper alternatives (read: carinderia/ turo-turo). Well, that didn't really pan out. We were like addicts who regressed into the comforts of the beachfront restos, then felt guilty afterwards for spending more than we should have on our meals, then made that resolve again to eat at a carinderia the next time.  

The only time we ate at a carinderia really was when we asked the tricycle drivers-cum-tour guide to bring us to a place at the town center and they brought us to the "Rolling Stores." It was good actually. Food was okay  (typical carinderia food okay) and we paid about P60 each for our meal.

If you want your food served right away, I say eat at the carinderias as restos in Baler take forever (read: about 30 minutes) to serve food. 

You might also wanna check out the raved about all-day buffet at Gerry Shan's at the town center. They charge P185/head. Or if you wake up early, catch the breakfast buffet at Bay's Inn. 

Bay's Inn in the morning. Breakfast after surfing lessons. How can one resist eating at Bay's Inn when it's right in front of the surfing lessons area? After an hour of surfing lessons, who has the energy to walk to the far side of the beach to hunt for cheaper food? (That's just me trying to alleviate the guilt of not spending less on food).  Photo courtesy of Paul Tamisin Garcia. 


Bay's Inn at night. Pizza with chicken and herbs was superb. Seriously, how can any dish compete with a "may pizza ka na, may ulam ka pa?" Photos by Jason Baco. 

Don't miss the buko shake beside Bay's Inn. It's awesome. 

Surfing Lessons


The standard rate is P350 an hour. You can get it for P300 at Baler Surf (beside Bay's Inn) if you don't get the small towel and the bottled water that typically come with the package. If you're only renting a board and a rashguard, you'll only pay P200.




Getting Around



There are tricycles lined up at the back of Bahia de Baler that offer (the drivers, not the tricycles) tours. Locals will tell you that the fee is P800 for a day of touring the spots in Baler and in nearby towns, and half that amount if it takes half a day. 

In our case, when we asked the tricycle drivers-cum-tour guides to take us to the Ditumabo Falls and the giant Balete tree, they initially  asked for P600 for each tricycle (there were nine of us so we needed three tricycle because the tricycle drivers-cum-tour guides that each trike could only pack three people). When we asked if we could pay P400 instead since it would only take half a day, they said we could decide how much the tour was worth afterwards. 

At the end of the day, our group decided that we'd pay each tricycle driver-cum-tour-guide P800 because of the rough road to Ditumabo Falls and because our tour took eight hours (that's one work shift right there). 

Tricycle fare to the town center from Sabang Beach is P15/head. 


Travel Expenses


Here's what I spent for two days and two nights in Baler:

Baler, Aurora 2013

Pre-departure
Cab fare to Genesis Cubao bus station
140
Bus fare to Baler (Regular AC Bus)
450
Total
590
Baler
9-Feb

Tricyle fare from bus station to Sabang Beach
15
Breakfast (Bay-ler View longganisa meal)
120
Tricylce fare for the day tour
267
Lunch @ Rolling Store (turo- turo in Bayan)
60
Dinner @ Bay's Inn (with 2 bottles of beer)
135
10-Feb

Breakfast @ Bay's Inn
90
Surfing Lessons (2 hours)
600
Dinner @ Aliya Surf Camp (with a bottle of beer, baby!)
150
11-Feb

Accommodations (2 days and 2 nights)
734
Bus fare to Manila (Joybus)
700
Cab fare from bus station to home
140
Total
3011


Total Expenses
3601

What I was really looking forward to on this trip was catching the sunrise at Ampere Beach, which is famous for its rock formations. It's forty minutes away by tricycle from Sabang Beach, so getting up really early was a must. However, I got knocked out cold by what was supposed to be a nightcap. Oh well, more for next time.

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