The Heart of Banana as local surfers would fondly poke fun of, is a phrase
that may invite quizzical look from the uninitiated. But for me, this would mean more than
the familiar dish or puso ng saging. It means thriving on whatever one will encounter as
he interacts with nature and the local community. Surviving in the backcountry after all
requires a good deal of ingenuity and pakikisama. Indeed, for the one bent for a unique
way to travel, Aurora might offer more than the usual.
The first taste of adventure might as well be the head-spinning zigzag road. Accompanied
by Olin Duaso (photographer cum model) and Marco Villareal, both fellow outdoorsmen, we
began our trip on July 5, late in the afternoon. We spent our first night in Digisit.
Rain-soaked though during the night, we were greeted by a wonderful sunrise.
Añaos or small islets added more mystery to the sun-drenched sky that change
colors every second. The añaos stood still in silhouette with a commanding presence that
would remind anyone of nostalgic memories. Yet, their presence also invites questions. Do
they outlive our gazes or does our ignorant appreciation spoil them? It was so
disheartening to see a bahay kubo implanted at the heart of a serene sight.
As we drove back, my dismay is even more heightened as we saw large stones painted with
environmental messages surrounding a waterfalls periphery. Clearly, it was plain
ignorance to vandal stones that somehow enhance the overall aesthetic appeal of a
waterfall. Obviously, the concerned environmentalists do not realize that
littering as their messages proudly conveyed is as much a crime as they do
painting an element of nature that must be left in its own state. A simple
karatula would do for example to remind visitors of wilderness ethics, without
leaving much evidence of our intrusion. They must be reminded I suppose of a simple but
hard to practice cardinal rule to leave no trace whenever we visit a
place beyond our habitation. And so it goes at least for the wild. But for the beautiful
beaches lined up with mushrooming cottages, communing with nature in all its pristine
glory is a thing of the past.
Our next destination, the Mother Falls in Dimutabo stroke an accent to the
already atonal symphony. My heart wept in tears. I can only imagine myself trekking in the
river then, wondering at the miraculously designed order of things, thanking God that
Im alive, and that he gave me a chance to witness his creation. What litter now as
you trek along the road with some traces of a river, are evidences of our
concern to extract what we can from nature electric power and its accessory. Wires
are dangling instead of vines. Steel carts and concrete posts adorn every corner. Wooden
slabs are scattered to connect boulders. And to my surprise, Mother Falls has lost its
grandeur, placing in second as one is greeted first by the slowly emerging concrete
structure. I had to scramble my way up slippery slope to get a good shot at the waterfall,
and to avoid that engineering feat blocking my view. I am least concerned with
meddling in politics. I was not aware of the good intention behind the project, but I am
also entitled to my opinion - that a waterfall is not only a potential kinetic energy to
benefit the province, but a beautiful sight as well to generate income through
eco-tourism. Maybe what is lacking is not enough funding but the use of imagination to
achieve economic goals without destroying the pristine quality of a destination that many
had always been proud of. For all we know, these beautiful places might arouse profound
appreciation of nature and of life itself for the many who busy themselves attending to
On our way north, past that beautiful Amper stone- formation in Dipaculao, awaits rocky
road and dirt, enough to bury ones intention to ambiguity whether to go on or
not. Yet as we approached Dinadyawan, long stretch of stony beaches, clear blue sky that
blurs in the horizon , the sea, the breeze, all compensate for the other wise sleepy small
villages. It is not a place for the fast paced. Slowly, Im beginning to feel
that hard to find word for city dwellers tranquility. In Dinadyawan, I was not
surprised anymore at how the town looks. The beach had its obvious postcard quality scene.
We had to use our discerning eyes to look for interesting subjects though.
Dinalungan is our first night stop. Access road to Bulawan Falls is impossible for trikes.
We insisted on hiking but the mighty Kuliglig took its toll. We enjoyed our
trip though and managed to set camp on time. After a while, we savored our first decent
meal outdoors. I must admit that we all enjoyed the night in Bulawan. What could be better
than lying around huge boulders flat enough for a drinking spree while puffing out tired
sighs on a moonlit, starlit night sky? Add to this the cold breeze and the
crystalclear spring water and you have enough reasons to be back. But then again,
one cannot help but generate sour notes as you find it difficult to capture in film or
view in full the waterfall enchanting enough, if not blocked by a steel bridge connecting
the two river banks. In fact the whole place leaves no room for some sense of adventure
and exploration, as the slopes are concreted with stairs and cottages and a viewing deck
to boot. Maybe our purpose is to make it accessible for as much visitors as possible. But
let us not forget that when we intend to bring people closer to nature, we must do so by
at least leaving them something to discover and learn from the experience. If the edifices
of convenience were built at least away from the main attraction, the thrill of trekking
and discovery is even more fulfilling. Unless our purpose to visit a waterfall is merely
for bathing which we can do at home, then the structures convenient as they are, will be
justified, but for the benefit not of the present and would- be nature lovers.
After a quick Kuliglig ride back to Dinalungan proper, we rented a
banca for Dalugan, a haven for surfers somewhere in Casiguran. We anchored in a small
fishing village with a very few settlers. The place reminded me of a typical surfing
destination in other tropical countries. There are no concrete roads and the two stores
are in distant locations. However, the lush vegetation is a visual feast in itself.
Farmers crops abound, and yes, the heart of banana or Puso ng Saging can
be picked anywhere. If youre smart enough to bring a fishnet, fresh harvest on a low
tide plus veggies and coconut fruit for picking can be a mouth-watering dish. We literally
feasted every time with ooohs and aaahs at every sip of sinigang and ginataan. By this
time, I realized why the surfers do not worry for as much provision as I do.
Dalugan is a place for travelers, ideal for those who seek peace and quiet not often found
in jampacked and expensive resorts. Here, the beach, the people, the village, all kept
pace with the natural rhythm of life that seemed so calm, prolonged and still at every
passing moment. I just hope that when this place becomes an object of revenue, enlightened
entrepreneurs will respect and maintain that same tranquil and serene quality.
After two nights in Dalugan,, we headed off to Casiguran proper . We rode a banca on a
very still water that seemed like a mirror. We boarded off a fishing village, then rented
a trike, taking some time off to take pictures. The town of Casiguran,, not so much busy
as Baler is a welcome respite after several days in the outdoors. We did not intend to
stay overnight but managed to visit some places of interest. We went out and got lost
trying to find that swamp I saw several years back with the most beautiful landscape
especially at dusk. We realized that it was now occupied by concrete bungalows that have
expanded the towns infrastructure.
Our last destination for a weeks trip is Dilasag, the last town north of Aurora. It
was as if I have not accustomed myself yet to the same look of towns in this part of the
province. At four oclock in the afternoon, when we were still figuring out where to
camp for the night, I cant help but wonder as to what exciting discovery could
possibly await us in this sleepy as ever town. But one places name has registered in
my mind to reach though, Canoer. It took us to find Engineer Subia who generously
accommodated us for a nice chat and a decent nights rest. Diniyog, the place where
we stayed is already a prize considering that it is only a fishing village. Its white sand
beach is already comparable to Puerto Galera. But to our surprise there was a better
visual feast waiting for us Canoer. The fine weather was a blessing, revealing all
the brilliant hues available. The sky was a pale ultramarine, clear all through out the
horizon with blotches of white-as-cotton clouds. In contrast is deep Prussian blue
vanishing to cerulean and viridian green. These are the colors of the sea which further
contrast with the sand, jaun brilliant, light enough to reveal every shadows of footsteps.
I cant help but paint in words what I saw, but what I felt is impossible to express
unless one set foot on that beautiful sight. What could bring justice to that awe than
immerse oneself to the even prettier coral garden? The entire color wheel was there. All
the achromatic moving creatures underwater seem to be wondering at us mortals, as to how
detached and ignorant we have become, destroying the very magic that may actually bring us
non-material but equally fulfilling rewards. This may be the magic that our host felt,
confessing that he envy us for living the life that we chose, for discovering a paradise
nearby, unnoticed by him for decades.
Clouds still roll by and change their shapes every moment. And so do distant horizons that
get hazier and colorful as the sun sets. I can hear Tatangs voice reminding us to
feel at home still. Horse drawn carts with fresh harvest and the ever smiling
farmers and fishermen still occupy our hand-held lenses. The taste of native Tinola is
unforgettable, and so too the hospitality of the man who served it. The sand, the wind,
the chill, the soup, all creep in my mind even as I try to close my eyes , as we sat on a
bus on our ride back home. Even if we have remaining destinations to be visited and
explored like Dingalan and other coastal towns of San Luis, I already felt home and at
ease. I had been to Aurora in the truest sense of the word. I had been to where Ive
always been. Only this time, a sunrise or bukang liwayway is even more
beautiful, more meaningful.
Photos: Olin Duaso
Visit this BatangBaler website and discover Poppo Olag. A Baler native who have been to
most places on Earth - including the South Pole - but still remains enchanted with his
Click the following topics for a quick link to the differrent Olag Stories.
Finally It Was Over